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 write this to you from my soul-home in Maine where I can smell the ocean on the air upon wakening. I await those in my little family who can make it up here for even a day or two in the coming weeks and miss those not joining us this year. But while I fully sink into life back here where it feels so very familiar, I’ll admit that part of my heart is still under the enchantment of a week of music, magic and mayhem that is the Swannanoa Gathering. You will know that in year’s past there were much shenanigans (and one year even a wedding!!) amidst the musical goings on. This year, it seems that while we had an immense amount of belly laughter and all around craic, the music itself took front and center.
The trip down to Swannanoa this year began, blanketed by a low hum in my heart- consisting of worries Big and small, varying in proximity to me personally. Some closer to home, some via merely a glance at any news, at any time. It seems that the world-at-large continues to fly a bit close to the sun, cosmically speaking, and I don’t feel like I am the only one sensing it. Everyone I know seems to be feeling chaotic and a bit frenetic. These summers of mine, so gypsy-like from the outside-looking-in, are my way of assimilating the year past, and of lighting a way forward as the arc of each year moves on into the darker months ahead, to fall and winter. They are a necessary re-set button and I am glad of it.
My week of workshops in North Carolina last week (was it really just last week?) began Monday morning with classes with the fabulous flute-player and singer, Nuala Kennedy. You might remember her from her beautiful Behave the Bravest, for which I made the album art.
It was so wonderful to be sitting back again in music class learning a few new tunes. I have let my Riley School doings fall aside of late as I work to build my art and workshop-offering practice and I have missed it dearly. Nuala always teaches interesting tunes that strum the heart’s harp-strings and this year was no different. The first three tunes we learned – a march, a strathspey and a reel were all in the key of B minor.
Now I am no musical theory geek but I know enough to know that the minorish keys tend to be a bit more moody and pensive. For me at least, this key fit the mood of the early part of the week and we gobbled the beauty of them up in class and in our flutilla-led rehearsal time which we kept each day between classes, open to any of our classmates who could make it. It is here we made some new friends, which is a bonus each year.
Some days in Nuala’s class we had a special guest, for whom we played a gentle version of our March.
…or who graciously took our class photo.
Between classes we practiced more, occasionally napped or snuck in a shower- as camp life can make for late nights and sweaty days. And by afternoons we found ourselves in the presence of the one and only Kevin Crawford who keeps us on our toes and usually laughing a good bit too throughout the week.
Kevin hears every note. Good or bad. Especially if he sits right down in front of you….
And as if the flute weren’t difficult enough, he’s taken to trading instruments with his bandmate Colin Farrell and playing a jig now and again just to get a laugh from his class. If you are not a musician, you might not realize how hard this is. These guys make it look simple.
The week wore on and little by little, the key of things changed a bit. We came fully under the spell of music and the people who make it and there were moments of magic to behold along the way.
One evening a few of the staff snuck away to one of my favorite corners in which to play, the Kittredge breezeway, and had a bit of a session. Here is just a snippet….
It’s amazing when this happens. The staff at Swannanoa give their all to this week between teaching and hosting other goings-on, but much like us, sometimes they might simply want to run off and have a tune with old friends. Sometimes these are situations we students might join in if invited, other times, it’s nice to just sit back and listen awhile. And so I did.
This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song. All of these artists listening to one another along the way.
There was even a bit of step dancing by dance instructor Siobhan Butler to add to the magic of the evening.
Our week at Swannie always seems to fly by but this year it seemed exceptionally quick-paced. One day it was Monday with the whole week ahead of us, then suddenly, just like that, it was Friday. But as I look back, there were at least a few shenanigans along the way….
There was a ceili to attend on Tuesday.
And I was sure to catch up with my new flute friend Julie so we could snap a picture of our matching flutilla swag!!
There were late night sessions with loved ones from near and far, and we enjoyed music and many many laughs.
By day the skies might open and deliver thunderous rains on occasion, but always the clouds parted, and the sun did shine once more, as it goes in these misty mountains.
Each day we packed in as much music as we could, learning from our teachers. It was fun to approach tunes we may have heard on recordings and to listen to the nuanced differences in how each player approaches each tune along the way. The goal is, after all, to take this music into our hearts and make it our own somehow.
Many evenings saw us attending concerts where we could watch our instructors do what they do best, which is perform. These folks are the best at what they do and it’s a true treat to hear them live. Especially when they gather together and make music perhaps never heard before.
When our days weren’t too full, and we weren’t too tired, we attended what are called ‘pot-lucks’ where some of the staff shared a topic of their choosing for an hour or so. I attended one by Cathy Jordan called The Happy Subject of Death. She and some of her fellow instructors sang murder ballads and other dark songs and there were many tears and a good bit of macabre laughter as well. This all felt in keeping with the minor key of the week for me and I loved it. I also attended a chat by Martin Hayes, sometimes referred to as the Buddha of Irish music. We talked about why we play music. Some folks look to perform perhaps, others might just want to play along with a recording by themselves or sit in the kitchen over a cuppa having tunes with friends. There is no wrong way. But the biggest goal for him, and I must say, for me, is to play with real Joy.
I read this week somewhere that on CNN, someone was quoted as saying,
“Joy is active resistance.”
I believe this to be true and I am holding on to it with all my strength and fortitude. What else do we have? It is this joy in the making – of music, of art, of laughter – which gives us the strength to do the hard things along the way in this crazy world. At least this is how I feel.
As I have stated, Friday came along on the heels of Monday far too quickly for our liking, and suddenly we were rehearsing for the student showcase. The showcase is a fun evening where we get to play a few new tunes together as a class to our fellow ‘gatherers’ and to hear the work of the other classes as well.
It was a steamy, North Carolina style evening and though we were all feeling sticky, we gathered down at the pavilion for the showcase. The photos that follow are some captures by photographer Tom Crockett who’s brother Tim was in class with us. He hiked and took pictures out in the mountains most of the week but attended the showcase on Friday and snapped a few photos of the Flutilla. I share them here with you by permission.
(Thank you so much Tom for the gorgeous photos! They are truly treasured.)
And now here we are. Back in Maine once again, soaking up a bit of the seaside and lake time which we will draw upon time and again in the year ahead. These weeks of art and music, friendship and fellowship, always set me to thinking about things in a deep way. They remind me to practice what makes my heart sing. To play my flute, no matter how clumsy it might feel when not backed up by my flutilla. To push a paint brush around even when I don’t know where it’s going.
To remember to head out into nature more often, as She is the real conductor of things.
And most importantly, to trust my inner knowing along the way. A lesson I am trying so hard to take more and more on board.
If you are reading this and attended the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week, do leave a comment with your favorite moment(s) of the week. I’d love to read them!
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
I am returned, once again, from the magical world of the Swannanoa Gathering, which this year celebrates it’s 25th anniversary. And once again, it was quite the week of music and mayhem, tunes and tricks, laughter and love, friendship and food, beverages and beauty.
There are many ideas floating around in my head for drawings and illustrations seeded by this past week which I shall soon share here of course. Art begets art and by spending the week with so many talented and creative folks, I am fairly swimming in artful thought-glitter!!
But in spite of dark times and a world awash with so much hatred and violence, we came together, once again. A dear friend of mine from Swannanoa overheard someone say one night at a ceili where everyone dancing seemed to have a smile on their shining faces, “Why can’t we be like this all the time? All of us?” I don’t think he meant just us at the gathering, but maybe more the world at large.
So hard not to smile in the midst of this music. Heartfelt, Joy-filled….
And in the midst of all of the fun, we were there to learn. Everyday, we went to the classes available to us to soak up all the tunes and tips we could from our multi-talented instructors. For me, this was Nuala Kennedy in the morning, and Kevin Crawford in the afternoons.
The rapport and sense of play these two bring to teaching and playing and performing is simply infectious and I find them both incredibly inspirational in my own teaching work as well as of course, the music itself.
Neither one of them lets us get away with anything but our very best work and so on the edge of our seats, we huffed away on our flutes and learned so very much. My mind is still quite thick with all of the information we gained over the week!
The week was not all classes though….
There were concerts, lectures, opportunities to play more slowly on a new instrument. There were sessions till all hours of the night. And of course lots of laughter and community with friends. Here is a small sampling…..
(side note: during the storm, a huge lighting strike occurred on campus. it hit a tree and out went the power. it was captured in this amazing sound byte by my friend Mary….. listen for at least 40 seconds…..)
There is so much more in the world of sweet snapshots I could share with you here. Special thanks to my flute friends Kate, Bob and Colin who generously shared their pictures for this post. And I could leave the update here and that might be the end of it. But while we were at camp, the world was continuing on its crazed path of recent self destruction. News was leaking in. The music we were making took on a whole new gravity.
As is often the case, the ‘Flutilla’ was planning some mischief for the end of week student showcase. In years past we had made fun with the ‘rivalry’ between Nuala and Kevin, as our allegiance to them both made them often wonder, ‘hmmmm, who do the flute kids like best?’ But of course we love them both equally and we get something different from each. So this year, we took on the fiddles. Which seemed a fun direction to go, based on the hijinks at the concert the other night. And so I drew up a little drawing, and we made a plan for take over in the form of wearable art…..
Update!!!: Due to the high level of interest in this design, I have created a tidied up version of it to put on products such as totes, shirts and the like which you can order from the link below. Proceeds will go toward a scholarship to Celtic Week at the Swannanoa Gathering. Viva la Flutilla!!!!
But then we awoke the next morning to read the dreadful news of Nice and beyond and we approached the day more somberly. I had the feeling that my blog post from before leaving for camp was even MORE important and we all talked about how important and actually ‘serious’ the ‘fun’ we were having at camp truly is.
My dear friend Joe Bly wrote a gorgeous poem, in true mythical epic poem format that had begun with the ‘let’s take down the fiddles’ sort of approach and idea. But as he wrote it, it changed. Into something bigger and better than all of that. With his poem, the ‘tyranny’ we speak of became all that is evil in the world at large. All the violence and negativity. The work and fun we embarked upon at the Swannanoa Gathering is the rejection of all of that. The folks I know from the gathering go back to their real lives as doctors, teachers, paramedics, therapists, healers, parents, lawyers and beyond. They are bright and active in their communities and keenly aware of the news. And into that work in the outside world, they bring the laughter and creativity that a week of music camp can ignite. I simply marvel.
Cloaked in the mists of Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld of Swannanoa, Where three hundred days pass as three, Rival Clans of the Blackwood vied in feats of strength and skill, Lost in the Loop of myths and legends.
Come! Ye Fianna of the Flute! Daughters of Méabh, Sons of Cúchulainn! Come forth from the mists and meet in the ford of the river that divides us, For now is the time to cast arms beneath the waves And in Friendship and Honor Unite.
We are reborn as warriors anew as we march forth into the shining day.
For are we not free? For do we not face the shadow of a common foe, Hearts and eyes open wide?
For we shall not grovel in fear of the Darkness But serve the light of the clear morning.
We cradle the sacred rite passed down through the mists of legends, And it is our sworn honor to push together against the night, With our strength and our weapons of music and laughter.
Now, more than ever.
I do believe that Joe may have channeled something divine in this poem. He read it aloud at the showcase before the flutes came together as one and played a jig together in unification.
The evening wore on and there were so many gorgeous tunes and songs put on by everyone…. We soaked up and steeped in the final evening together.
As the week came to an end, we all talked much of not only the music we had experienced, but also of the wisdom we were given by those who light this musical path.
A highlight of the week for me was a ‘potluck’ lecture-talk put on by Martin Hayes who is a great fiddler, not only in the traditional sense but also as one who is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music itself. He spoke of being truly present in our music and that to do that we must be present with ourselves. This notion of presence really struck me.
When I play music, or make art, I am most truly present. And the doing of these things over the years has enriched my life and caused me to be more present in all aspects of my life. Presence. It’s crucial. Presence in ourselves. Presence with each other. This alone could help heal a lot in this world, I do believe.
some notes jotted down from martin…
“…raw beauty of a melody.”
“simple music, heartfelt.”
“connective tissue between musician, instrument, and player”
“anything that further releases inner expression is valid”
“trying is an obstacle” (yoda?? is that you???)
“leave the safety zone behind”
“trust the unknown.”
“create a spell.”
Last week at Swannanoa was more than just music. It felt a lot like activism. Pursuing creativity and kindness, music and beauty in a world so hell bent on the opposite seems like an insurmountable challenge at times. But I accept this challenge. As best as I know how to. I share my approach to art work in the form of teaching and I’ve been told it has changed lives for the better. Much in the way my instructors at Swannanoa and beyond have changed mine.
I am deeply grateful to be on this beautiful planet at the same time as these people. These musicians and friends of mine. The world needs their beauty. My beauty. and Yours.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
Today is my 46th birthday. As is often the case this time of year, things are in a state of semi-controlled chaotic flux, what with school starting soon and Big Moves happening for both of the kids. Jack returned from Brazil just in time to join us on our annual summer sojourn to the coast of Maine and is now in the process of returning to his collegiate life across town. Meanwhile, in similar fashion, our youngest, Madeleine, is making lists and preparatory pilings of her own as we move her into a dormitory at Ohio State University next week. Things are getting real. They are embarking on a world of their own making….
All of this is, as expected, a little on the bittersweet side of life. But it is also the Way Of Things. This is why we raise them. So that they can hopefully head out into productive lives of their own. It is time for us to focus back on ourselves for the first time in ages. I for one am feeling a delicious fire burning in my art work, music and in my inner life, while the Hub, Tony, has plans of his own involving far flung watery places to explore. It is an exciting time for all of us.
So let me just catch you up a bit on happenings since I last wrote. As you now know, I am in the process of putting together a new workshop, launching in February. I’ve had quite a bit of interest, and a few sign ups too! And while I have been mostly on the road since the announcement and not able to ‘blast’ it properly as of yet, it is my hope that this class will be a ‘go’ with just enough folks to make it a reality. Do let me know if you have any questions!
Ah yes, the road. How it beckons!! Last I touched base here at my online home, I was off to a week of full on music at Swannanoa.
This was a week of complete bliss for me personally. Tearful reunions with people I only get to see once a year. We fell straight into tunes and laughter and musical mayhem that only ‘band camp’ can provide. I opted for two classes, both in flute, with two of my favorite instructors/musicians/people on the planet, Kevin Crawford and Nuala Kennedy.
They are not only brilliant teachers and players but they are absolutely hilarious to spend time with. In my own teaching I try to emulate the sense of fun and level of laughter I’ve known in classes with these two. It is through a childlike sense of play and creative experimentation that the best learning is to be had. Learning a creative pursuit as an adult can be daunting! Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, or painting a picture, adults take themselves (ourselves!) so seriously. Getting out of our own way is half the battle. I am still riding the wave of magic and beauty of that week, with renewed gusto to practice my tunes, to keep learning and improving. I intend to make it back to this week again next year. There is such a sense of ‘Brigadoon‘ to it all, magically happening each summer and then just like that, it’s gone….
Of course, if you follow my summer patterns at all, you know that no summer is complete without a dip of my toes into the ocean in my soul’s home, Maine….
Ginger Small and I were reunited up there as I’d heard very little from her all summer. And we have much work to do!
I spent a fair amount of time just gazing out to sea and doodling….
…that is, when I wasn’t partaking of the bounty of the ocean. YUM!
Our time in Maine usually allows for a bit of the ocean and a bit of the lakeside as well. I did a fair amount of oogling and doodling there as well.
It is a time we treasure, and each year we know it might be the last where everyone attends. Any next year could see the kids doing their own thing elsewhere. So while I painted and sketched a good bit, and came up with a number of tiny paintings, it is never enough.
Maine tugs at my heart strings harder and harder each year. Every year, it gets more difficult to leave the fresh salt air and cool breezes available there.
“She loves the serene brutality of the ocean, loves the electric power she felt with each breath of wet, briny air.” ~Holly Black
Having lived there once upon a time, I know life in New England is not all summer time and roses. Winters are cold and long. But I simply must spend more time there.
“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.” ~Ranier Maria Rilke
For a while now, my dear, long time friend Amy (she who attended to the births of my children, my soul-sister) and I have admired the whimsical, colorful world of artist Henry Isaacs.
His paintings are impressionistic, energetic, and brimming with color that is at once straightforward and complex. They are the kind of paintings that make me yearn to pick up a paint brush and paint. But not in my usual sketchy fashion.
I’ve had this yearning to paint for awhile now. And I have painted. Here and there. I’ve made some paintings that I like a fair bit. While others have lacked the intensity I wanted them to have. They often feel too cautious to me. I’m not quite sure how to approach the materials, having had only nominal amounts of instruction in this particular way of art-making. Often as soon as I have found my way into a painting, it’s time to quit to attend to Life. And by my next visit to it, I’ve lost the steam. Clearly, I need some help.
So in honor of everyone in this household going off and learning new things and forging exciting new paths, I am heading back to the coast of Maine in just a few weeks to take a workshop with Henry Isaacs. I am so very excited to learn some new ways of approaching paint and then applying these lessons to the sights and sounds I find so enchanting by the ocean.
“I have sea foam in my veins, for I understand the language of the waves.” ~Le Testament d’Orphee
Perhaps I may get the opportunity to paint the ocean of sage in the high desert of New Mexico at some point as well. Again, something I have yearned to capture, but outside of my sketches, have never seemed to accomplish successfully.
I believe in following the voice of one’s heart. That intuitive voice that whispers ‘this, yes, this!!!!’.
I’m following that voice as much as I can these days. My Right Work seems to be a three-pronged dance made up of teaching workshops in beauty-filled places, making up whimsical stories and pictures for the young at heart, and just painting/sketching/drawing by myself (also in beauty-filled places). In between there I’ll work the day job when I can, manage the comings and goings of these adult children of mine, and try to keep this house in some sort of working order. Oh yeah, and music. Always music.
Today is a day of musing. Pondering my life’s path. I feel like the 46 year old me is waving enthusiastically to a younger version of me as if to say ‘This way! This way! Aside from a few bumps in the road here and there, life’s going along quite nicely just now! Just hang on!’ Because it is going along quite nicely actually.
I’m excited at the timing of this painting workshop opportunity, as it falls just as I have a moment to catch my breath before really needing to buckle down to work this fall on February’s offering. I get another taste of salty Maine sea air before they must batten down the hatches for yet another winter. My kids will be off doing their own thing for the first time really ever. I’m thrilled and excited and incredibly grateful for all of it.
Happy birthday to me.
….and here are some of the new Tiny Offerings from recent travels. Let me know if you would like to own one!
As promised awhile back here, I want to share with you the story of a fairy tale wedding which happened this summer amidst the magic and music of the Swannanoa Gathering. My summer friends, Ellen and David, who hail all the way from Massachusetts, and whom I only see at summer camp, opted to tie the knot amongst friends of the musical variety with the mountains of North Carolina as a back drop.
It was, in true south mountain fashion, a rather unpredictable day from the weather gods. All day it rained and rained and we began to steel ourselves for the wedding to be a drippy affair. Though we knew, that there was a pavilion to keep heads dry during the ceremony, a large hall for the ceili reception, and multiple tents for evening sessions. We certainly would not melt. And besides, we had work to do that day which had little to do with the wedding. We had new tunes to practice!!!
A strange thing happened while we were in our afternoon classes however…. the skies began to clear, just a bit, and hopes began to rise. The bride and groom went off to have a bite to eat, and to get ready for their magical evening and the rest of us gathered at the pavilion to begin arranging things…..
There were chairs to make into rows, flowers and cakes to welcome…
Champagne to open, of course.
And favors to welcome guests to the wedding…
Soon it was time for the processional. The ‘Flute Cousins’ all played a gorgeous Scottish march called The King’s House. This is one of those tunes that can give you goose bumps for all it’s soulfulness and it was the perfect choice for the event.
The wedding itself went as so many weddings have gone since time before history. There were lovely words and thoughts, tears and laughter amidst the solemnity of it all.
I was honored to be asked to read a poem called How Falling In Love is Like Owning a Dog, by Taylor Mali. This was a great choice for Ellen and David as they love all creatures great and small, especially dogs.
The newly married couple shared their first kiss after the ceremony….
…and were ushered out with a flute arch….
And a wedding reel!
Within no time, solemnity had shifted into raucous celebration….
Which lasted well into the evening, first with ceili dancing and later, more music – on into the wee hours…. For that is what we were there for.
Upon returning home from my summer’s travels, I began to ponder what I might put together as a gift for Ellen and David in honor of their big day. And so I began to build a little painting. Not so much of the actual way of things, but rather the feel of that magical afternoon into evening in the liminal world…..
I loved how the skies looked that afternoon when the clouds miraculously parted and the rains left everything clean washed and ready for celebration.
I enjoyed the way the pavilion looked before everyone arrived, but more especially after celebrating ensued.
Folks milled through the misty evening, filled to the brim with love, music, and a bit of drink perhaps as well. And the session tents around the campus were all full that night.
Here is the little painting born of a wedding celebration. It’s not a big thing, only 9×12, but I think it will be well received as a reminder of not only their wedding day, but also of the magic of the gathering in general, to which we all look forward to throughout the rest of the year. Many congratulations Ellen and David! May blessings abound.
As spring unfolds the dream of the earth,
May you bring each other’s hearts to birth.
As the ocean finds calm in view of land,
May you love the gaze of each other’s mind.
As the wind arises free and wild,
May nothing negative control your lives.
As kindly as moonlight might search the dark,
So gentle may you be when light grows scarce.
As surprised as the silence that music opens,
May your words for each other be touched with reverence.
As warmly as the air draws in the light,
May you welcome each other’s every gift.
As elegant as dream absorbing the night,
May sleep find you clear of anger and hurt.
As twilight harvests all the day’s color,
May love bring you home to each other.
~John O’Donohue (To Bless the Space Between Us)
(wedding pics by fellow ‘gatherers’, Kate Bradford McFadden and Natalie Wurz, concertina snapshot by Tim Smith, and art by me.)
It is a deliciously delectable day here in the Ohio River Valley. We have the gift of mild weather recently making being here this season a rather pleasant thing, which for this time of year, isn’t normal. I am so grateful for this. My musician son and I pack off tomorrow for a week of music camp in the mountains of North Carolina, while my dancer daughter sets off for her final week at Irish Dance camp to learn her new sets of steps for the coming year. (a special shout out to my Hub for keeping all the animals fed and watered while we are away!!)
Once upon a time, when this whole ‘kid-at-camp’ era of our lives began, I was merely an observer; a parent along to chaperone the latest in whatever phase the kids were going through. But over the years, I picked up a few tunes, learned a little bit about playing an instrument or so and eventually had the courage to sit with strangers and have a tune or two. These strangers have become my friends, my son has grown to adulthood (and yet manages to have a tune with his intermediate level mama here and there) and I find this camp-thing has become my thing as well. Something I deeply look forward to the rest of the year.
I believe that a practice of life-long learning is crucial to staying young at heart, tapped into the world and into one’s self. This year I am taking a class in concertina, a big step as I only know a couple of tunes on this complicated instrument and I will likely be hiding in the back of class with my recording device, trying not to hold other students behind! But since I help make these beautiful instruments at work, it’s worth learning to play one, as there is always a new instrument there needing to be broken in and scanned for needed tweaks and tuning.
Besides music, another pursuit I’ve taken on in recent years is that of painting. I took a few classes in drawing and print making while in art school, but my focus there was sculpture. I am, at heart, a maker of things. I love tools and supplies and materials. And my Day Job feeds this side of me. But painting has been tugging at my soul more and more, especially with trips in recent years to places like Taos, NM and Monhegan Island, Maine; places where the dogma and history of painting is rich and full of history. While in Taos a few weeks ago (has it only been a few weeks??) my friend Harold over at the Pueblo took a few of us out to visit his herd of buffalo. At the end of one of our visits, he gave to me a buffalo skull to take home. I was taken aback by this beautiful gift and have been somewhat obsessively sketching and painting it since it’s arrival here from Taos.
Hopefully these will be dry when I get home from traveling so I can send one back to Harold as a thank you gift!
Each painting I make I learn something, and this goes for every sketch I make in my journal, and every tune I hack away at in an Irish music session. All of it is learning. There is no true mastery of anything, really. Just a place on an endless spectrum of skill. Sometimes I look back at all the years of this blog and it’s amazing to see the learning I have accomplished and how so much of it is cataloged here. I am grateful for your readership over the years!
Likely I won’t get to blogging again here until the summer is near through as our annual family trip back home to Maine comes directly on the heels of camp week. It is not lost on me that this ability to spend most of the summer on the road is a huge gift. Sure, the Taos trip in June is work related, and technically summer camp is sort of a parenting gig…. but I know that I am truly fortunate to have these opportunities. While I may not do so much sketching in NC (seems the more music I learn, the less I draw while at music camp!) I will be sure to share some drawings and paintings from our time in Maine. Maine is a perennial soul home of mine and it fills my proverbial well of inspiration much in the same way Taos has come to do. If you want to contact me, you know how to find me.
Simply send a message on the wings of a bird, preferably a raven if you can find one, and send it my way. Or, if it’s more convenient, I’ll try to check in online now and then as well.
Happy summer to you. May it be filled with learning opportunities, chances for true joy, rest and communion with those you love who might be far away the rest of the year.
One of the highlights of the summer time for at least part of our family is a week of Irish Music immersion in the form of an intensive camp with classes everyday and sessions and concerts and ceilis in the evenings. This year we decided to try a change of scenery and headed south to Warren Wilson College, home of the Swannanoa Gathering.
The nice thing about the class schedule at Swannanoa is that we can take classes in multiple subjects. I took whistle with Kathleen Conneely and flute classes with Kevin Crawford. Jack got to have Martin Hayes as his advanced fiddle teacher and Angelina Carberry for mandolin. It was, as usual, exhausting, but – also as usual- we had so much fun. The Irish have a sweet way of saying something is of quality. “Absolute class”. I cannot tell you how many times I heard that expression during Celtic Week. Funny thing is, that pretty much sums up our experience at this camp. Classy from every perspective. Much of the food is grown at the campus farm and was generally delicious. Every morning between classes, we were treated to coffee and muffins. This is key during a week of very little sleep.
A highlight of the week was thursday night’s Old Farmer’s Ball, held on campus at the pavillion. Dancers come from all over the local Asheville area and the band is made up of the instructors for the week. Think Ceili Band Dream Team. It was amazing…. Thank you to my son Jack who is not only a fabulous musician, but also a really great photographer.
In the evenings there were sessions to be had all over the place. Often instructors were to be found playing right along with the more advanced students. They love the music as much as we do which is why they travel so far to teach at these camps.
I could go on an on about the fun at “band camp”. But I find that it really defies description to anyone who wasn’t there or who isn’t into the Irish Music. For Jack and me it’s a shot in the arm musically, providing us with tunes and techniques to work on for the next year, until next time. I think we will probably go back to Swannanoa again after the experience we had there. We missed being in lovely Elkins, WV, home of the Augusta Heritage Center‘s Irish Week and we missed all of the friends we have made there. But the pace at Swannanoa is a little less harried (even with the different class offerings). There was much more digging into the history and tradition surrounding the music and a little less peacocking during sessions. It was nice.
Once home, I had the opportunity to finish up a kayak course I began before camp. I am a newcomer to this sport and have still more to learn but already I am hooked. It is a wonderful way to see nature. Last weekend Tony and I went to Cowan Lake to visit the American Lotus which grow there. Below are some photos of these spectacular plants.
As I get more into the sport of kayaking, I am going to need to learn to “roll”, which means get myself back upright when I tip over. It is not lost on me that I spent all of Irish Music camp trying to get a handle on rolls on the flute, only to come home and realize that I’ll be working on rolls in this realm as well. Maybe the Universe is trying to tell me to roll with the punches or something. Hmmm.
Anyway, I have a brand new watercolor set (Jack calls it the mac-daddy of all watercolor sets) and I am having fun drawing the forms from these lotus plants. I’ll try to post some in the coming days. But for now, I’m putting this blasted computer aside for a few and going to go practice some tunes.