Tag Archives: music

tools, upgraded

Snow, in summer, at Independence Pass which had just opened up a couple of weeks before our arrival in Colorado.

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.

Pictures and video were not permitted during the concerts in Aspen, but I did capture a couple of snapshots during warm up.

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 Foot that 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.

More on the Big Work at Swannanoa here:

Musical Activism

Response on the Eve of Brigadoon

For now, I bid you fare well, and I’ll see you in Maine…….

 

 

 

 

Breathlessness and Brilliance

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!

Warming up just before the show!

“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.

I’m not one for selfies in general but sometimes one can’t resist the temptation for silliness.

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.

 

 

 

 

I did wonder how the wind players were faring with the altitude, but apparently they have über efficient embouchures and were therefore all right. The poor reed players on the other hand were carving new reeds for themselves day to day due to the intense dryness of the climate. I marvel.

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.

More selfie shenanigans.

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.

I’m told the NRO is the only summer festival that provides a host-family experience for the musicians. It really helps them feel at home and part of the community for the summer.
Soon it was time for ice-cream….

 

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….

 

 

 

A story of Petrushka

It all began with a request, from my first born, to create a special gift for his long time university level private-lesson teacher/ coach / mentor, Paul Patterson.   If anyone could understand our complex and multifaceted young musician, and light a path ahead for him through the throes of life in a conservatory setting, Paul has been that person.   He enabled Jack to see that there was no need to choose one musical path over any others – that to study jazz music was not to abandon the classical tradition.  This forked path is not for every musician, and it takes a great deal of extra work, but over the years, with the help of some other amazing instructors as well, Paul has quietly given our Jack many tools to follow his musical nose down whichever path that may lead.

Words simply cannot convey how grateful we are to Paul for his patience, his belief in this kid, and for truly shaping a young life in a way none of us thought possible.  Maybe in some ways, he even saved that young life and placed it on a more hopeful and focused path when he needed it most.

I had in mind perhaps a painting, of a master and his young student. Or perhaps a handmade book.  In typical fashion I thought and thought but was dragging my proverbial heels, artistically speaking, as Jack’s end-of-conservatory recital drew nearer.

Finally, Jack came up with a brilliant, though rather lofty, idea for a gift.  The kind of gift which might suit a teacher who has everything he may want or need.  What if I were to create a small puppet-styled doll, in the shape of Stravinsky’s famed Petrushka ballet?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQY24hwvkEU

And so I sourced some scrap wood from a carver friend, and set to experimenting.

This red cedar is incredibly beautiful, but difficult to carve in the time scope we had (and with my ever-so-rusty carving skills!).  So I fell back on some basswood I had up in our attic space which is softer to work with.

After a number of practice runs and false starts, I finally had a serviceable head with which to build Petrushka’s figure and so I set to work on the rest of the body.

I carved and carved.

Shaping things out of little blocks of wood and slowly bringing character and a bit of life to them.

I’ve worked with puppets in the past, most notably with the brilliant Frisch Marionette Company.  But my work there mostly centered on the performance aspect of puppetry, not necessarily the building of them.

And so my goal with this particular work was not a proper puppet necessarily, poised and balanced for nuance of movement, but rather a doll, with puppet tendencies, to be presented as an artful gift.

Soon I had pieces of this puppet-doll put together and able to move hither and thither in his own way.

To me, a representation of anything, be it animal, person, or puppet character, doesn’t really come to life (two-dimensionally or three) until the eyes have been gifted the spark of personality.

Creepy as this may look to those averse to clown-styled imagery, it was upon painting this Petrushka’s face that the personality of this tragic ballet-theater character truly fell into being.

Soon I was crafting a little outfit for him, all handmade, as proper gifts often are.

After awhile he was complete, except for the semblance of strings to give him the feel of a proper puppet, if not necessarily the movement of one.

This Petrushka is full of quirky personality, much like our Jack, and much like his amazing mentor, Paul himself.

It’s been a great joy to put time and energy into this project, even if it meant getting behind in and left behind by a few others.

This Petrushka’s workings are a tad on the clumsy side…

 

But he is a lovely sculptural gift for some one who loves music.  Someone who has himself, done much to sculpt the abilities, thinking and sensibilities of our young musician.  Things we as parents can’t always do.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  I firmly believe in the truth of this and I take pride in the other adults we’ve invited into our lives over the years to help us in raising ours.  We are deeply indebted to all of them, and this trend continues into the young adulthood of both of our kids.  All that said, Paul Patterson is exceptionally close to our hearts for all the hours he has spent shaping and carving out the musical life of Jack.  We often ran into him at gigs Jack had, even outside of University life.  He always had much to report on all of the hard work Jack was putting into his music, and how we might best support him in our own, non-musical ways.  We can’t thank him enough!

Paul, this one is for you.  With love and gratitude.

Edgeness. 3 funerals and a birth

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I have heard it said that in 7 years, a person’s whole body – every bit of it, down to the cellular (and perhaps beyond) level – is replaced in that time by a new set of cells, ready to take on the task of the day to day life of being human.  But what of the soul?

I’ve returned from some magical travels to a more equatorial part of the world with my beloved, and have landed amidst the mud and mire of early spring back home.  Normally a joyful season for most folk, what with the coming of green things and the promise of new fawns in the bulging bellies of the local mama deer, early spring has, in fact, proved challenging for us over the years.  This year marks the 7th anniversary of Esme’s death which was a sea change in the lives of both of my children, in our own lives as parents, and in the collective life of an entire close-knit community.  Not to mention, her dear family.   Everything is now measured against this tragic event.  And in March, we are called back to the season to take stock, re-visit ourselves and our losses and re-calibrate our lives to a certain extent.

And so we did.

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Es’s weeping cherry tree in Spring Grove Cemetery is thriving.  Under the now formidable presence of the tree, little offerings of love and memory are present….

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We were glad to see them.

Madeleine and I drove around the cemetery just to take in the beauty and the years of memorials present there.  It’s breathtaking, the number of stories held by this place.  Just the names and birthdates alone get you thinking, ‘ Why did this person die so young?’  Or maybe even, ‘wow, that guy sure lived a long and hearty life for the time!’.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to any of it.

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There really doesn’t.

It was strange that M. was home for Esme’s anniversary as it was only to mark the passing of another family friend, the loving mama of a dance friend of her’s.  Lucinda, a wonderfully witty, thoroughly engaging fellow dance mom I’d known over the years, passed away from cancer, leaving behind a kid just a year younger than my own, amongst many others she loved and whom cherished her.

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We are all heartbroken.

And so from memories of one to memorializing another, March seems to be funeral season.  We are all glad we have each other.

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Amidst all of this funeriality, I was called upon to play some music with friends at the wake of someone dear to them.  And so we did.

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It was fascinating to me to see the effect of the presence live music has in the environment of grief.  Music, especially live music, seems to punctuate the moments of celebration of a long life well lived, while simultaneously allowing for the pauses for tearful acknowledgement of great loss to a tune perhaps more in the minor key, or slowed down enough to capture the depth of that loss.  I was honored to play a small part in all of it.

And today, M and I attended Lucinda’s funeral.  And then made our way back up to Columbus to plant her back at school where she belongs.

Like I said, it’s been a heavy season.

But every edge has two sides.  Alongside the grief in recent days, was a fair amount of hope-full worry in our family, which has thankfully come to  a bright and beautiful homecoming.

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Our nephew, wee Frank came to us on Monday, just over a week ago.  He arrived early, amidst some worry as to The State Of Things regarding how he was faring.  Sure enough he had a bit of a struggle for a number of days as he caught his breath from his early oncoming.  Eventually, thanks to the tremendously brave parenting and caregiving he was fortunate to receive, Frank went home to get to know his siblings. Things, for perhaps just one wild moment, seemed completely right with the world…. (though in this shot, Big Brother Harry might not be so sure.  I’ve heard he’s come ’round in the mean time. )

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This is the crazy balance of it all.  Walking the knife’s edge of life’s beauty and heartbreak.  Making time for all of this Big Life Stuff, while trying to fit the work of Making a Living, or perhaps even Getting a Little Art Made, into the grooves of life’s floorboards.

Even though I didn’t feel quite up to it with these recent heavy days, I met up with some fellow sketchers to challenge the blustery breeze of Esme’s day with some drawing downtown.  Christina had invited a few of us to join her while WCET filmed her segment for a show on her work.  I can’t wait to see it, and of course share it with you, as her work is fabulous.  Sketching is a strong part of her work and we all enjoy sketching together.  In spite of the chill, we all managed a sketch of Music Hall, as well as some lively conversation…

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Why is it always a lesson?  That making the time and effort for some music and some art, are the things that make sense of a difficult season?  Perhaps because I am only human and by that I mean, I have still much to learn.  This is the development of the Soul.

It is March.  I have many hours to make up at the Shop and many, many more hours to make up to my own solitude and writing and sketching of new ideas.  In times like these when life comes at us reckless, I wonder, how do they do it?  The successful ones.  Those produced, published, and promoted.

Perhaps they just stomp the work into the floorboards of life, between the moments of birth and grief.  I have heard that music happens between the notes.  Perhaps I am onto something…

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More soon…

 

 

 

In Praise of the Day Job

Carroll Concertinas from Soapboxmedia.com on Vimeo.

It’s a rich and full existence I inhabit.  Here on this long-running and still lowly little blog of mine, I often highlight the adventures of my home life via kids, dogs, and tales of travel to other lands.  More often, I share what’s what in the realm of art-work and life imagined by my mind’s eye.  Only occasionally do I make mention of The Day Job, my part time employment at Carroll Concertinas where I have the gift of being a small part of a team of talented folks who craft gorgeous musical instruments.

Recently, a friend of one of my co-workers came for a visit to the shop to document some of our process for Soapbox Media . He has created a beautiful video that gives a small peek into the world of wonder in which we have the great honor to work.  It is said that artists who’s work comes along in feast-or-famine style must attempt to maintain some sort of Day Job for the leaner times.  In our world, where clock, calendar and contract rule the day, this is a difficult task.  I am incredibly fortunate to set my own schedule to do the work I need to do, in the studio, for my travel workshops and at the concertina shop.  I am also even more fortunate to work with fellow artisans and musicians who love what they do as much, if not more so, than I do.

So here is a peek into my ‘Other’ work; work I love as much as the artwork and teaching I do.  Do you work as a creative? I’d love to know what other wonderful ‘day jobs’ are out there that enable us to cobble this creative life together in a world that often seems hardwired in the linear.

the music in the video is by fabulous concertina player edel fox.

On Impermanence

Are we having the time of our lives?

Are we coming across clear?

Are we part of the plan here?

It’s about the last day of school for most kids around here, give or take some final exams (which are nothing compared to the AP’s of a few weeks ago!)  My Madeleine is now officially a senior in high school.  We head to Montreal next week to finish up a slew of college visits with her that have given us an idea of what she might be interested in pursuing for university studies.  All of this, combined with my travel plans for the summer are providing an orbital feel to life in general.  It is not lost on my that time is flying.  It isn’t lost on me that these times are precious either.  Part of me is so ready to get to teaching in Taos, and the other part of me pines to capture the beauty we have outside right now in the form of the late spring garden.  So I do capture it, as best I can.

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A dear friend of mine has been down the rabbit hole of various meditation retreats of late and I am fascinated by her journey.  We have talked at length about what makes up a meditation practice, and what we hope to get out of meditating.   And I think it’s just the sense of being fully present in our lives.  Making sure that we aren’t so busy looking forward to the future, or pondering the past, that we forget to really be here now.  Occasionally I will let myself see the seemingly flawless practices of my more centered acquaintances and begin to compare my own messy monkey mind to them and see it in an unkind light.  But in chatting with my friend on her journey, she was quick to remind me that not all practices look the same.  That what we do in our sketchbooks is a form of meditation.  She’s so right.  (and, that said, so is running a few miles every day!)

In this book, on most days, I ponder the beautiful, cast out mental lists that might be driving me crazy, get them down on paper and off of my mind.  I note what’s important.  Noteworthy.  Quotable.  But mostly I just draw.  And for a little bit each day, that act of drawing removes me from the pool of time and I am outside of it.  It’s just me and that peony, which will never again be the peony it was this afternoon.  I note that my 17 year old kid will be a day older tomorrow.  We will put our visit to McGill in Montreal in the sketchbook.  Maybe she will even grace the pages of my book with a drawing of her own like she did when she was little.  We will mark a small moment in time.  Bottle it in a sense.

Somehow, we are part of the plan here.   I’m not sure exactly what that plan is, or what part I play in it.  But marking the here and the now, day to day, is one way to pin down the impermanent.  At least for the time being.

 

 

Postcard from Ginger Small: Alighting the Darkness

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In a northernmost land, where the sun is not inclined to creep above the horizon for long in the winter months, we must stay warm and inspired by keeping our huts well lit, singing songs and celebrating together when the pendulum of time swings again toward longer days.

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Ginger Small, has traveled to the Nordic climes to celebrate the feast of St. Lucia, as only a Gypsy Hamster can, of course.

She made many friends.  All who shared in the beauty of lighting up the evening’s festivities with candles and song.

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I imaging the music she heard may have sounded something like this…

Which would have been lovely to sing along to, don’t you think?

What began as a doodle in a sketchbook during a beautiful choral concert at the local conservatory….

ginger st. lucia sketch

…was soon alive with color, warmth and light.

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What is lighting up your mind and sketchbook during these darkened months?  Ginger, and I, would love to have a peek!

Riley School Saturday

As most of my long time readers know, Saturdays are sacred.  We spend them, mornings at least, and often early afternoons, attending music classes (sometimes teaching), gathering for lunch and performance time over home-made soup and band time practice – either ceili band, kids band, or slow-jam band.  It is a sort of weekly cultural church of sorts where those of us of the Church of Irish Traditional Music (I use the word Church here loosely, with no intended offense to those who attend actual Church) come together to share our love of this Great Gift of Music.

Today wasn’t much different.  We gathered for classes.

We had soup.

We admired new paintings by our more artistic community members…

And we danced in our rainy day puddle boots to the music of our esteemed lunch time musical guests…

Our guests this day were none other than Randal Bays and Davey Mathias who treated us to new ways of thinking of all things musical and some new tunes too.  But in the end, and the reason we like this music in the first place, was one of our own fiddlers, Justin Bridges, teaming up with our esteemed guests, and having a tune…

It was a good day indeed.  Safe travels to our musical guests and best wishes, GodSpeed and all that, to the many marathon runners who are here in our fair city to run the Big Race tomorrow morning. (Yes that’s you, our Chicago Mike!!)