There are many mysteries in this thing we call piping. John Joe Badger has heard whispers of a mysterious thing some call ‘The Backstitch’, and he is intrigued. On occasion he thinks he can hear it, in the playing of one further along the piping path, but he does not yet know what it really IS.
Perhaps one day he will figure it out.
For now he will leave backstitching efforts to the mending basket, and merely play the little tunes he knows as best he can.
In which John Joe Badger takes to the spring time forest in search of a snack. He discovers woodland based culinary treasures so fleeting this time of year. It is difficult to gather with loved ones just now and so, we take to the quiet end of the woodlands to gather food, and otherwise stick close to home in our hut or possibly out in the woodshed when it’s time for practicing music.
The tune in this little film was newly composed just for John Joe himself by Andrew Finn Magill. John Joe and I are deeply grateful for this beautiful gift.
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.
Rain is falling and it is said snow is coming. What a perfect time to share this……
So excited to finally share with you a little drawing I made in late summer or so. It is the cover art crafted for a beautiful collection of pre-twentieth century European Christmas carols, all arranged for fiddle and guitar and performed with such delicate grace by Finn MaGill.
You can obtain this music digitally via the link below during pre-order days for just $7 until Nov. 29:
In a world so mad with the day to day, it is really nice to find a pensive work of music to set the tone. Especially for the holidays. Truly, it’s lovely. Go get it.
In other news, I have been pulling myself up by the bootstraps a bit as I dig back into colder weather and grayer days. I look back at older work to see where newer work might come from. My friend Rima Staines posted online a week or so ago a weeklong set of prompts for “Folk Tale Week” and at the last minute, I decided to play along.
It was good for my mood. Here they are….. (but to read my reasoning behind choosing these particular images for these specific prompts, go to my instagram page.)
It really was fun to re-visit some of my older drawings, and fun to feel inspired to make a couple of new ones as well. New ideas are a funny thing. We need the space and time in which to create them, and in a busy modern world, finding that is a feat in and of itself. But we must also seed new work with perhaps pieces of our own old ideas, or maybe some new things from people and things that inspire us. and so, we strive for balance.
This balance is always up for scrutiny, at least for me. Too much time alone with my own thoughts can be dangerous. Too little, is equally or perhaps more so. But I keep wandering the artful path. Trusting that time spent playing my flute or learning new things on the pipes is time well spent (let’s face it, no money is being made and in this modern age, that can seem like a waste of time!!).
In pipes class the other day we were lamenting the piping path, fraught with peril. And a new idea occurred to me of a series that might happen showcasing a newish piper, a Badger perhaps, clumsily finding his own way along the road to piperhood. And so I may have a new friend. He may look a bit like the fella singing in the album cover above…. John Joe? is that you?
More soon on all of it. In the meantime, treat yourself to the quiet beauty of Finn’s new album. It’s gorgeous. And for once, I am excited to put on Christmas music.
Today my Kerry companions and I head north on a little road trip to Ennis in Co. Clare, endlessly chasing the music. There is a gig to attend by a friend who makes this music professionally and a session in the works up the road after the concert. And so, this day will be a traveling day.
I know I am not painting “enough” in recent days but writing feels like the art this week. Gathering imagery and words. Following the threads of inspiration. This is “enough”. Whatever that means.
As I left this space in my last post, I was off to don wellies and wander up the road with my hosts here to visit a bit of bog land that has been a part of their family and culture for generations. The bog road goes well off the Ballybunion road and so traffic, if any, is light, and consists of other walkers and wanderers seeking a bit of quiet time in Nature.
We dodge raindrops and keep an eye on the horizon for rainbows. Of course there are rainbows.
The bog is quiet with only the sound of the breeze, the rain falling, bird song and a an occasional gentle mooing of a far off cow.
Bogs are natural wonderlands, filled with all kinds of flora and fauna for those with eyes to see. Ferns and heather, native grasses and mosses. It is a lovely place to behold.
The silence of the bog is infectious and exactly what I have been craving. I find it interesting that this segment of Brain Pickings is about silence and it comes across my digital path this morning as I build a little blog post before hitting the winding road to Clare.
This bog is a working bog and local folks have utilized the turf to heat their homes and light their hearths for years. This is all now up for discussion nowadays as bog turf holds a great deal of carbon. My companions are gentle stewards of this patch of bog as well as of the land which holds their cottage and grows much of their food. They know this place well and appreciate its limitations. I for one hope that a least a bit of turf can be burned here and there in future as the smell is divine.
After the bog walk, we return to the cottage for a cup of tea and a game of fetch with Pancake, a lovely pup indeed.
I am treated to a bite to eat and evening descends upon us. Tea turns to wine, conversation turns to tunes, just myself and Michael – flute and accordion – and I hear slides and marches which are new to my ears. They are local to this place and I wish for them to be collected and played back home, to celebrate this beautiful quiet patch of Kerry. Mike and I talk about how the old tunes are really the best tunes. Flash and musical prowess are lovely to behold, but there is something so rich and lovely about a few solid tunes in the kitchen with a local farmer. I am blessed beyond belief.
Later I return home, my head fairly swimming with music (*finally!*) and I am reminded of the date. It is the anniversary of the death of one of my best and most influential friends of this life time – Mia. If she could see where life has taken me, she would beam, I am sure. When she was ever so ill, I had just begun on the whistle – awkward and shy about it. But she insisted I play what I knew for her and so I did. She laughed and clapped in delight and told me never to stop playing. I haven’t. I miss Mia on a regular basis and think that perhaps the magic of this special day, from pre-dawn beach time, to a bog-walk under a watery sun and into the evening with new tunes and dear friends may have just been a blessing from the beyond. I am deeply grateful.
Too fast paced of late. Frenetically crossing to-do lists off as if penance for up-coming traveling. Only time out of doors can check this process. Finally the temperatures drop to comfort level, leaving “hotumn” behind us.
October temperatures in the mid-nineties will make one crabby.
I find myself outside on a beauty-filled day. Collecting leaves, plotting a small hillside in the back for a new vegetable bed slated for next spring. Tunes wander through my head. I take a break to capture a bit of this ochered season with my camera. The old sweet gum tree in front is particularly lovely, dropping her petals into the main creek which is, miraculously, always running with a trickle even in the driest of times. There are little skimmers paddling along in their own little world, which I suppose they do with or without our observation.
I put together a slow paced little gathering of sweet gum and skimmers for you here. The music is used with permission and is by Nuala Kennedy. Once upon a time I did a little art work for the cover of the album where this track can be found. The whole collection is divine and if you haven’t heard it, you should.
It is my hope that in this busy time of harvesting and preparing for the darker days of the season, you too might find the time to settle down for a spell and take in the small wonders.
Laundry hangs on the line, drying best it can in this humidity before we hit the road again. On my desk are half written lists of to-do and to-remember along with the fragments of last week’s fun in various states of unpacking, unfurling into readying and re-packing. My mind and heart are full to brimming with a collection of new tunes I can carry with me into the next journey which is to Maine. A yearly homecoming of sorts, much like many of my trips tend to be.
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Last week we leapt into the mists of yet another magical “Celtic Week” at the Swannanoa Gathering in beautiful North Carolina. Much like the story of Brigadoon, we picked up right where we had left off the year before greeting old friends as family, getting to know new friends as well, as if nary a day has passed, let alone an entire calendar year. Irish music does not follow the rules of linear time. The only line it truly follows is that of tradition. The river of music flows along over top of that tradition, above and below it, side-stepping occasionally into other musical paths, (this IS a living tradition after all.) Eventually though, it always comes home once again to the thing itself. We came to the week with no agenda except to improve our playing a bit by spending time with masters of the craft.
“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” ~Socrates
Somehow I have carved my way into classes and sessions loosely labeled “advanced”, and yet I come to this week with my mind fully open to learn new things, to be -always – the beginner. There is no place at Swannanoa for ego or agenda.
Our musical “rock stars” who tour the world with their gifts come to camp not only to ply their musical wares….
…..but to have a laugh and a tune as well, to bask in the amazing community that is the Swannanoa Gathering. It is so readily apparent how hard they work all week, but it is also clear that this week is as special to them as it is to us.
As the space which holds this special time, Warren Wilson College does not disappoint. It is nestled in the mountains near Asheville North Carolina, with views and vistas at every turn and even in some of the classroom spaces which remind us of what is possible if we but relax into it all.
The week was one of metaphor and depth. We talked of honoring those who have come before us in this music by looking back often to older playing which may have gone out of vogue for a time. We must never forget those who have come before us.
Sometimes we wandered through cathedrals of bamboo and dove into the depths of the river Swannanoa for a bit of wild swimming. This returned many things back to center, especially our core temperatures. It was a warm and steamy time.
There were concerts and a bit of dancing. There were classes filled with new tunes, but not too many. Just enough. There were moments of goosebumps up our arms and spines as we felt things bump against the root of all things. Music and art making are conduits to this great source.
A few of us have been attending this week of music for many years and we opt for dinner and a bevvie or two out in town one evening each year. I was thrilled to see a bit of our musical shenanigans have made their way into that other world….. viva la flutilla!!!!
Soon, we had crested mid-week into late-week, then late-week into last night. The mists of time descended upon us that final night as if to tell us it’s time to go back…..
Many years, this thrust back into what some might call “the real world” is painful and we find ourselves pining and weepy. This year was different. This is not to say that I don’t miss my flute family. I really do. Instead, I think it is clearer than ever that the real world, at least for those of us willing to live in it on a daily basis, is that of art making and the sharing of a tune or a story. The real world is that quintessential Irish humor and side-eyed self deprecation which puts everyone at ease and the belly laughs that come along with this “craic”. We live in difficult, trying and combative times. Perhaps we can learn from the Irish tradition and its history that even in the most dire of times and conditions, there is always room for a tune.
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse
Thanks again to the staff and everyone who makes this gathering possible. til next year!!!
if you are new to the reading of this blog, I have other posts about other years. Just type Swannanoa into the search bar.
I am between traveling. Home from a brief visit to Aspen, Colorado, where our son Jack is part of the Aspen Music Festival, living his musical dreams to the fullest. It is truly something to witness, one following their truest path. He is at home in music.
While he worked and practiced and performed, we took in the natural splendor of Aspen and surrounds, grateful to Jack’s wonderful hosts who took us in and treated us like family.
It occurred to me while sitting at the base of the Maroon Bells that the best people in our lives, many of the most important connections moving us ever forward and truer in our own lives, have come from a few simple things – art, music, and the pursuit of what makes our souls sing most heartily.
I think about the time years ago, sitting at the base of those same iconic mountains, when I made the decision to pursue a proper art degree upon returning home from a metalworking class I’d taken at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass near Aspen. What is it about the clear mountain air and the presence of a stately, ancient mountain which affords us such lofty notions? I do not know. But I’m beginning to pick up on the fact that if I have something to think about, I should find myself at the foot of Taos Mountain, Volcan de Agua, or perhaps those lovely iron-laden Maroon Bells to find my answers.
Aspen felt like a proper vacation after the rich and deep work done in New Mexico. While the Hub and I did sketch quite a lot in some gorgeous locations, there were often times I personally just sat and took it all in. Jackie Morris of The Lost Words fame recently stated on an episode of Folk On Footthat one of the most difficult things for her to learn as an artist was that the sitting and thinking and looking and thinking some more, are as important to her job of Artist as the pencil and paint to paper practicalities of her craft – perhaps even more so. Having not come from a background and family of practicing artists, she’s found this notion difficult in past, and has only recently begun to truly take it on board. I feel much the same.
That said, the watercolors and pencils do beckon in beautiful places, and I did make a few drawings.
Aspen is steeped in the arts, with ties to the taste and aesthetic of the Bauhaus tradition in its design and of course in the music festival itself held there each summer. Everything is better with the arts involved.
Today, just now, I write to you here fairly giddy with relief, gratitude and a sense of overwhelming possibility. I have *finally* (after literally years of frustration and hemming and hawing) upgraded my tech tools here in the studio.
I’ve invested in a more travel worthy laptop machine for writing and photo-manipulation on the road, and even opted for a large home-base monitor when I am at my desk in the studio. Sometime today (*hopefully*) a little scanner will arrive and I’ll get that set up as well. All of this is in keeping with the plan to get more work made and into the world. Let’s be fair, I work. I work a lot. In some ways I am never NOT working. But so much of my energy was going into technical glitches and the waiting and slowness of manipulating photos on outdated technology. If I was to engage in a blog post, I needed a solid day to get it made. And so, I found myself putting off writing. I have so much work to share, but with an old scanner, my work never translated well to digital, and so it took a lot to get it tech-ready for sharing online or presenting for publication or applying for grants and residencies. With some encouragement from Vanessa at NessyPress and moral support from the Hub, I took the plunge and threw the necessary gold coins into the abyss to get the tools I needed.
It took some doing, and a few trips to the computer store and calls to the tech folks at apple, but we managed to get it sorted. And here I am, knocking out an update here in a more prompt and succinct manner. This feels sustainable. It was time for this investment.
But tech tools aren’t the only important thing, of course, merely being the vehicles by which the work is dispersed in this world. I also took a bit of time to make a traveling oil paint set up.
Watercolor is generally my go to travel companion. I have the set up I love, a little traveling “van” in which to cart it all, and it really works. Even so, I pine for the oils when I find myself in beautiful places. Our family trip to Maine, coming up later this summer, is a perfect combination of loads to do combined with plenty of “down time” to just play. That play might be on the water, catching up on books we’ve been meaning to read, or perhaps trying new recipes with one’s best friend in tiny kitchen at camp. But there is always more time, and that is when I start feeling restless, wishing I’d brought some oil paints to play with.
So I put together a handmade pochade box of sorts, crafted from an old wooden cigar box, plus a little carrier for any wet panels I may want to bring home.
The pochade box is pretty sturdy, and the wet panel carrier will do until I decide if this is something I may do again and again. All in all I spent about $20. A worthwhile investment on vacation satisfaction I do believe.
Upon returning from Aspen, I felt overwhelmed with home chores and the work needing caught up on at the shop and in my own studio. And so for the first day or so, I just painted and played music.
This practice set my head on straight and I was then able to sink into the tasks at hand. I am deeply grateful for all of it. I often think that in this day and age, it is difficult to remember to take a few minutes to breathe. To play a tune, paint a picture. There are Big Things we must tackle (did you hear Amy McGrath is taking on Mitch McConnell??), situations we must face, as heartbreaking as they are (there has to be a better, kinder, more humane way forward at the border, don’t you think?). Life is complex, and tormented at times, but it is also beautiful and simple in many ways as well. It always has been.
Next week I am off once again for my own musical adventure at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina. On the one hand, this week is truly a get-away-from-it-all Brigadoon of sorts where we forget the world outside, focus on learning tunes and improving our craft and catch up with dear friends who have become musical family over the years. But on the other hand, it is so much more.
This week at music camp, and for that matter, my week of teaching in Taos each year, are a form of deep magic. Magic which in some way counteracts all of the darkness we see through our screens in this modern age. The very human physicality of coming together to play tunes, sing songs, laugh and cry together over the year’s happenings, somehow counteracts the “badness” in the news. It’s not a cure all to be sure. But it is the way many of us take respite from it all, if only for a moment, in order to get back out into the world and do the work.
Artists confront the difficult in this world. Just look online at the work of artists during WW1 who were interpreting the previously unimaginable through their paintings. I personally have taken to avoiding the echo chambers of social media for my own outrage over the state of things nowadays. But I have my ear to the ground. I support candidates who are doing good things in the world. I take to the streets as needed. I volunteer with and support the vulnerable. But I also seek joy. And beauty amidst the outrage. For if I, or any of my artist friends begin to lose perspective (and isn’t it so easy to do?) then we amount to nothing.
It is my hope to be a source of light in the darkness in this modern age. A reminder there is a place by the hearth-fire for anyone who needs a break between difficulties. We cannot do it all, let alone singlehandedly. Art and Joy, Music and Friendship, Beauty and Solitude are worthy pursuits, even in this fast paced, crowded, often seemingly ugly world. Let us make art and music.
A few days ago we flew and flew, with great love in our hearts, only to find ourselves in Breckenridge, Colorado – breathless with altitude and not without some concern over recent local wildfires.
Alas, while we were there storms did kick up, rain did fall and temperatures too, just enough to get at least this fire under some semblance of smoldered control.
Our travels to this high country were to visit our eldest, Jack, as he is working with the National Repertory Orchestra for their popular summer symphonic festival of music. Each day we were able to attend their rehearsals which are free and open to the public, many of whom attend with friends in tow.
In a whirlwind of just a few days we managed to take in not only these rehearsals but two fabulous concerts. The first included Shostakovich’s Fifth along with music by Mendelssohn and López. We enjoyed it immensely!
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ~Plato
When not taking in music we enjoyed a bit of what Breckenridge has to offer in the way of touristy fun.
While the Hub worked one day, I opted to go horseback riding.
I’m not entirely comfortable around horses but each day we should do a little something challenging. And so I did.
What is it about horse-loving girls. They tend to have a spot of admirable moxie I think.
Between rehearsals and concerts and everything else, we did get to see and feed Jack. And to catch up on selfie shenanigans, which was great fun.
We even managed to get in some sketching here and there……
My favorite is this sketch below from our drive up Boreas Pass where I was captivated by some yellow lichen on the side of the mountain. And so I painted it.
The views from up there weren’t half-bad either.
Saturday soon arrived and by then we were feeling a bit more acclimatized to the altitude.
Saturday was to be a special day all around because a dear and long time friend who now lives in Denver was to drive up for that evening’s concert featuring the music of Star Wars composed by John Williams.
We watched a bit of rehearsal, of course, getting in the mood for the evening’s Star Wars excitement.
Royalty was in attendance that night and the mood was light and energetic.
(side note, the first few notes of this bit of Star Wars music once conjured a whole slew of summer camp shenanigans as we were learning this Breton tune below from our beloved and brilliant flute instructor, Nuala Kennedy. See if you can hear what I heard….)
The evening’s concert ended with an encore presentation of the wonderful and iconic Cantina piece, with a solo by none-other than the NRO’s brilliant conductor, Carl Topilow.
Even though he must’ve been exhausted, Jack graciously posed for photos with us, as well as with our long-time friend Amy from Denver and his amazing ‘host-parents’, Tom and Darlena.
Tom and Darlena graciously sponsor a musician or two or three each summer. Taking them on wonderful hikes on their days off, and out for iced cream after concerts. (Not to mention the backing they provide to the NRO itself!) Even though Jack is a fully-fledged adult, it’s nice as a parent to know he has parental influences to call upon should he need them. We also enjoyed a wonderful dinner out all together before the concert.
As it goes with whirlwind weekends, our time in the mountains was quickly past. We bid goodbye to Amy who headed back down the mountain to her life in Denver. We told Jack we would meet him in his birthplace of Maine in just a matter of weeks. We too made our way back to Denver, not unaware of the toll the altitude was taking.
I for one was ready to get back to some oxygenated air, although a bit muggy as things tend to be back here.
There is more to come in this summer of wonders. I find myself marveling at it all lately. Dear friendships, these amazing adult offspring of ours (do click the link and see what Madeleine has been writing about in recent months) and the places we get to see along the way. Some days the world feels as if it is going to hell in a handbasket. But it’s good to step aside from that, if we are fortunate enough to be able to do so, and to bask in the brilliance of a host of talented and driven young musicians. In their small way they are making the world a much better place. We are thrilled Jack has has a part in it this summer!
As for me, I am attending to household to-do’s and re-packing for next week’s adventures down to an older set of mountains for some older sets of tunes. Til next time….