Category Archives: music

Virtually in Tune

~  Twist of Hemp Week 20  ~

The woodland is quiet all around.  Everyone, sheltering in place.  But if you listen closely to the ground, and in the trees, you might hear the whisper of music and conversation….

It would seem that the magical mycelial network has been working overtime making sure that all our animal friends are counted and cared for and have enough company, even for the most solitary among them.

The kettle is on, the tunes are being practiced, and we all merely….

wait.  Patiently.  Kindly.  alone, but together.

*author’s note.  This is WEEK 20!!  Thank you for following along on the musical misadventures of sweet John Joe Badger.  As you may have guessed, he’s a bit of me combined with the best bits of others as well to become his very own self.  I am really enjoying this series.  JJB’s world reflects our own, of course.  But hopefully with a bit more whimsy and sweetness in this dark and uncertain world of our own.  

 

The Basket Times

Oh y’all.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a hug.  I get them here from my hub now and then, and I am grateful for that to be sure.  But I also miss my mom, and my friends, especially the musical ones.  So many of whom are the most generous huggers.  Out on my run today I encountered many others outside enjoying the (for the moment) mild weather.  We crossed the road to avoid one another.  I think we are all terrified of what’s coming, or is possibly already here among us.

Today I heard from one far flung friend who said that yesterday she felt like a basket case.  And that today she was doing all right, all things told.  I told her that I was feeling the exact opposite.  Yesterday felt like things were going to be ok…..

Then, after last night’s tornado warning, complete with sirens (thank the gods however, not the tornados) and a sleep filled with vivid dreaming that was no true sleep at all, I’ll admit to feeling a bit more fragile today.

Some days we fill the baskets, other days we are busy making the baskets.  And then, some days, we are just the basket cases.  These are the Basket Times.

My sister is an Emergency Nurse.  We chat on the phone occasionally and she gives me the update from her ground level view on this crisis.  She and others like her have heard what’s coming from places far away.  They are as ready as they can be.  I salute these heroes just now with their uncanny ability to thrive and shine in mayhem.   I marvel.

Not all heroes wear capes.  

Grace under pressure.

Cooling palm across my brow.

Eyes of an angel.

Lay me down.

~Elbow

When we were expecting our second child, we were under the care of a team of midwives.  They were much less ‘medical’ in their approach to birth.  Much more willing to let things be as they needed to be as they moved forward.  Our Madeleine was 16 days late.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea in recent days as I ponder the notion of control, and the human thinking that we might actually have control over anything at any time.  Especially with regard to the state of things in the world being what they are.

Right now we are in a time of waiting.  A time of deep un-knowing.  It is like that expectant time before the birth of a child.  But darker, of course.  I am reminded of the depth of similarities between the energy in a room awaiting the birth of a new one and that of a room on the edges of greeting death.  I have witnessed both many times and in spite of the differing circumstances and people involved, there is always that moment of stillness, just before and just after this crossing that feels somehow transcendent over all other times.

We are in that moment as a country.

“Sunsets over the city, clouds are rising
And you can see clear up to the night time sky
And if you’re feeling precious, you want to do well
Think of others, ask for a prayer underneath Christchurch bells”

~Hothouse Flowers

We all have our ways of being in the world.  Some doers.  Others shining in ways I can’t comprehend.  There are those (perhaps one leading a large country, for example) who seem built to wreak havoc and sadness where e’er they roam.  I for one am a bit of a watcher.  raised in a variety of settings which helped build long internal antennae, I merely observe.

People are dealing with this crisis in an array of ways.  There is panic and grief and creativity and generosity.   There is judgement and finger-pointing, joy-making and a renewed sense of community in some unlikely places.  Aside from the obvious, there is no wrong way to deal with it all and we must each follow our own path, depending on what kind of basket day it might be.

I’ve heard it said, “this slowing down is such a gift.”  Well, yes, for some.  Those with the privilege to weather the economic storm this slowing down brings, sure.  It’s lovely indeed actually.   I’ve also seen others’ online contributions ramp up in a near frantic wave of “doing, doing, making, making!” which is indeed inspiring in this time of being home-bound and maybe a bit restless and in need of entertainment.  But this level of doing is only right for some.  We must all just do as we can and as we must as this all pans out.

“Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves”

Queen & David Bowie

We mustn’t forget to take breaks from the online sphere now and then, to admit to friends (yes, perhaps even professional contacts) that maybe this afternoon, we aren’t quite ourselves.  We must check in on one another and do what we can.

We must learn to be openly alone.

Together.

This is a time of great change and uncertainty.  And we do not know what is ahead.  But perhaps we might learn something from the springtime emerging all around us here in the northern hemisphere.  We can learn to begin again.

“Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.

Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark determination
and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and the future
old friends passing through with us still.

Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.”

~Brendan Kennelly

From what is broken and empty in our western, consumer driven, capitalistic culture……

……perhaps we might bloom again into something different, better, brighter.

Perhaps we might feed each other in new ways, locally and in balance…..

Perhaps we might make light out of ruin.

Happy first day of spring.  May we, here at Equinox, come to balance once again.

Balance. It was all about balance. That had been one of the first things that she had learned: the centre of the seesaw has neither up nor down, but upness and downness flow through it while it remains unmoved. You had to be the centre of the seesaw so the pain flowed through you, not into you.”

~Terry Pratchett

Oh and ps, if you need a good, cleansing cry,  check out this new work from my dear friend Kim.  (click the green letters!!)  She makes musical magic with word and song.

 

Isolated Holiday

Twist of Hemp ~ Week 19

It is generally held that piping can be thought of as a relatively solo pursuit.  Especially at the very beginning when no sane individual (even a true fan of the music) wants to be within a mile of one new to the uillean piping tradition and practice….

But there is one day a year when all the practicing adds up to getting out to play.  That day is St. Patrick’s Day.  Now, John Joe Badger is definitely not ready for public prime time on the pipes (ahem, neither am I, dear reader, and so we stick to the flute for now when playing in public!!) but as he learns his tunes in lonesome fashion, he never knows who might be listening and taking note that more and more recognizable notes are being strung together for all of his solitary efforts.

 

 

It’s a sad St. Patrick’s Day this year, what with gigs canceled and missing my mates who make this time of year a real favorite of mine.  But though we may feel alone in these uncertain times, we are not.

We must make our merry music still and know we are never alone.

There are plans in Ireland for everyone to sing together at noon in musical and cultural solidarity.

Inspired by Italians singing together whilst in quarantine, I look forward to seeing the results later today online.  As for myself, and of course, good ol’ John Joe Badger, we will spend part of today playing music.  I will keep drawing and painting as it all brings me such solace.

I do so from a place of deep gratitude for the ability to place my energy in these pursuits.  I am safe and healthy while self-isolated.  But there is much fear and uncertainty in the world just now.  And for that, we must take courage and lead from a place of love.  Always.

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

~John O’Donohue

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit !!!!  

Twist of Hemp Week 18

On Dreaming.

Often times, one must simply make a commitment to something.  Sometimes these commitments are small, such as making one’s bed each day,, eating more kale,  or promising to go for a long walk every day ~even without a dog. (to be fair, these can add up to big things in the long run.)  But other times, these commitments are larger ones.  Such as adopting a pet, becoming a parent, or…. investing in a new musical instrument.

Today I sent an email off to a renowned Uillean pipes maker in Ireland to acquire a “half-set” of pipes later this year, hopefully when I go to Ireland for my artist’s residency.  The maker is someone recommended to me by my teacher, dear friend and fellow musician Cathy whom I trust whole-heartedly.  I guess this means I am diving full on into this piping stuff.  I will continue to play the set I have on loan here, with all it’s quirks, and hope for the best with the new set when I pick it up in the fall.  Praying I don’t drive everyone crazy with my practicing as I go.

In the meantime, St. Patrick’s day is coming.  There are gigs to play with friend-musicians I am so fortunate to know and play with.  A number of years ago, this would have felt like a pipe-dream of its own, really.  So I have faith that with a bit of work, maybe my own “pipe dream” may come true and I’ll learn enough to play this wild new instrument along with others once more…. in the meantime, it is nice merely to grow and learn with a new project.  I have some large canvases I plan to paint on as well.  Big, new terrifying territory.  But, like music, I am diving in.  It’s the only way.

What are you doing these days that scares you?

ps.  The above is week 18 of my little drawing series with John Joe Badger.  While I was away teaching in Guatemala, I did manage to make a drawing each week, though sharing wasn’t as manageable.  Here are week 16 and 17…..

Week 16 ~ In which John Joe Badger feels the warm breezes of a land far from home and practices a few tunes on the rooftops
Week 17 ~ JJB was thrilled to hear about the cessation of the badger cull in the UK. This is good news indeed.

Dawn of a new year ~twisted hemp week 8

It is the dawning of a new year, nay – a NEW DECADE!!!!!  With this comes the courage to try new things, to meet new friends and learn to trust more in the old friends we have.

John Joe Badger is keen as ever, and maybe more so, to continue his journey into this new and exciting chapter of his playing.  What will you do this next, new year to challenge yourself?  With whom shall you share these times?

Old friends or familiar, known tunes or new, let this next year and new decade be one of brave new adventures into the challenging and unknown of what you love most.

Bliain nua shona duit, mo chairde.  We will see you in 2020.

Floating on Air(s) ~twisted hemp, week 7

It is the eve of Christmas.  There are parties to attend with fellow creatures, many feasts to enjoy, gifts and food to share.  John Joe is careful to capture solitude amidst this holiday chaos.

Along the way, while practice may fall wayward, John Joe Badger takes some time to listen. Playing is important, yes, but the real trick to learning is the listening.  So between parties and other such social mayhem, put on a favorite record of your favorite player, playing your favorite tunes.  It is yet another way of learning.

Merry Christmas season to all.  May you find light returning to you in whatever form it takes.

The Staredown ~Twisted Hemp, week 6

Pipes are nigh on impossible to keep in tune.  Especially in winter!  John Joe, and so many like him, take to more magical ways of dealing with temperamental reeds…..

Like a good, long stare.  That should do it, yes?  Yes.

*I have heard it said that the great Liam O’Flynn would do this on occasion when a reed was acting up.  He would remove it from the chanter, take a long hard look at it, and then put it gently back into place without saying a word.  Miraculously, the reed would then be in tune.  But of course it would.  No reed would misbehave long for Liam O’Flynn.*

 

 

Joy of a Simple Tune

~Twist of Hemp~ Week 5

John Joe Badger has worked and worked for weeks on his own, amidst countless cups of tea, and twigs on the fire in the woodstove.  This week, in spite of his misgivings, he accepts the invitation of friends to share a few tunes.  Perhaps he will try to play the one simple tune he’s (mostly) learned for them on his pipes.  Or, more likely, he will play his flute or penny whistle.

But tunes are made to be shared.  And for this John Joe is grateful.

In my ears

In this past year, I had the opportunity to do some album cover art for a delectable collection of Christmas tunes crafted by Andrew Finn Magill.  You can hear a sample below or contact Andrew directly for a copy.  It’s worth the effort to obtain, I can assure you.  A gentle take on holiday music which really sets the tone of things.

And while we are on the subject of setting the tone of things, this gem has been on repeat here this morning:

I’ll let this write up tell you about the project, but for me, the album simply casts a magical spell.  It’s perfect music for artful gleanings….

And this, via my friend and flute teacher extraordinaire, Nuala Kennedy.  It too is lovely and mood changing.  And I highly recommend it.  Here’s a review which sums it all up beautifully.

And lastly, you know me, I adore what’s known as “pure drop” traditional Irish music.  I picked up this album while in Ireland and I’ll admit that it’s my go-to happy music to play in the car recently.

What are you listening to that helps to create your world as you would like it?  What might happen if we were to more carefully curate what comes into our sphere of consumption?  For me, the world becomes a slightly gentler place in which to forge the beauty I am so keen to offer.

 

The Dryness of Winter – A Twist of Hemp

~A TWIST OF HEMP – humidity~

….. in which we deal with dryness.  It is far too cold in the woodshed for John Joe Badger to practice his pipes.  He must bring the noise making inside where it is warm and dry.  Dry, yes.  Winter is dry.  And the pipes find themselves leaking air in all directions.  What is John Joe to do???  Well, he shores up leaky connections on his borrowed practice set with a twist of hemp thread, made sticky with a bit of beeswax.  He puts a full kettle on the stove top to boil.  These two things may help get John Joe through these trying, leaky, dry times.  For today at least……

John Joe’s struggles are my own.  I practice the pipes as much as I can, when I can find time alone in the house.  They are loud!  And not yet pleasant.  (For others at least.) The dryness that comes with a “forced air” heating arrangement is mitigated a bit with cool mist humidification and of course, putting the kettle on as much as possible.  It does help.  And so does the bit of hemp and beeswax.  It all feels very old fashioned.  It’s testing parts of my brain and motor memory which need the exercise!  I may never get to the point of playing this contraption out in the world.  But who knows?  I will say that I already have next week’s John Joe drawing idea in mind.  And it involves flying curses.  Til tuesday…..

Keep on playing!