The woodland is quiet all around. Everyone, sheltering in place. But if you listen closely to the ground, and in the trees, you might hear the whisper of music and conversation….
It would seem that the magical mycelial network has been working overtime making sure that all our animal friends are counted and cared for and have enough company, even for the most solitary among them.
The kettle is on, the tunes are being practiced, and we all merely….
wait. Patiently. Kindly. alone, but together.
*author’s note. This is WEEK 20!! Thank you for following along on the musical misadventures of sweet John Joe Badger. As you may have guessed, he’s a bit of me combined with the best bits of others as well to become his very own self. I am really enjoying this series. JJB’s world reflects our own, of course. But hopefully with a bit more whimsy and sweetness in this dark and uncertain world of our own.
It is generally held that piping can be thought of as a relatively solo pursuit. Especially at the very beginning when no sane individual (even a true fan of the music) wants to be within a mile of one new to the uillean piping tradition and practice….
But there is one day a year when all the practicing adds up to getting out to play. That day is St. Patrick’s Day. Now, John Joe Badger is definitely not ready for public prime time on the pipes (ahem, neither am I, dear reader, and so we stick to the flute for now when playing in public!!) but as he learns his tunes in lonesome fashion, he never knows who might be listening and taking note that more and more recognizable notes are being strung together for all of his solitary efforts.
It’s a sad St. Patrick’s Day this year, what with gigs canceled and missing my mates who make this time of year a real favorite of mine. But though we may feel alone in these uncertain times, we are not.
We must make our merry music still and know we are never alone.
There are plans in Ireland for everyone to sing together at noon in musical and cultural solidarity.
Inspired by Italians singing together whilst in quarantine, I look forward to seeing the results later today online. As for myself, and of course, good ol’ John Joe Badger, we will spend part of today playing music. I will keep drawing and painting as it all brings me such solace.
I do so from a place of deep gratitude for the ability to place my energy in these pursuits. I am safe and healthy while self-isolated. But there is much fear and uncertainty in the world just now. And for that, we must take courage and lead from a place of love. Always.
When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,
When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,
When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,
Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.
Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,
Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.
Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.
Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.
A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!
Often times, one must simply make a commitment to something. Sometimes these commitments are small, such as making one’s bed each day,, eating more kale, or promising to go for a long walk every day ~even without a dog. (to be fair, these can add up to big things in the long run.) But other times, these commitments are larger ones. Such as adopting a pet, becoming a parent, or…. investing in a new musical instrument.
Today I sent an email off to a renowned Uillean pipes maker in Ireland to acquire a “half-set” of pipes later this year, hopefully when I go to Ireland for my artist’s residency. The maker is someone recommended to me by my teacher, dear friend and fellow musician Cathy whom I trust whole-heartedly. I guess this means I am diving full on into this piping stuff. I will continue to play the set I have on loan here, with all it’s quirks, and hope for the best with the new set when I pick it up in the fall. Praying I don’t drive everyone crazy with my practicing as I go.
In the meantime, St. Patrick’s day is coming. There are gigs to play with friend-musicians I am so fortunate to know and play with. A number of years ago, this would have felt like a pipe-dream of its own, really. So I have faith that with a bit of work, maybe my own “pipe dream” may come true and I’ll learn enough to play this wild new instrument along with others once more…. in the meantime, it is nice merely to grow and learn with a new project. I have some large canvases I plan to paint on as well. Big, new terrifying territory. But, like music, I am diving in. It’s the only way.
What are you doing these days that scares you?
ps. The above is week 18 of my little drawing series with John Joe Badger. While I was away teaching in Guatemala, I did manage to make a drawing each week, though sharing wasn’t as manageable. Here are week 16 and 17…..
As much as John Joe Badger loves his borrowed practice set, even with all of its idiosyncrasies (and don’t all sets have their idiosyncrasies?), he’s begun to consider the acquisition of a practice set of his own. Perhaps even a “half set”, which would surely complicate matters.
John Joe consults his latest issue of Piper’s Weekly……
Where does an average badger of modest means even begin to look for such a set? Does he go for a freshly made set of pipes? Or a well loved set, which might come along with adopted issues. Who are the best makers? Does he seek a maker near to him and to his climactic locale? Or does he dare contact one of the makers in Ireland….? These are the questions that keep our dear John Joe awake at night these days.
These, and the humidity levels (or lack thereof) here in late winter.
There are many varieties of the notion of “bagpipe” to be found in many cultures across the globe. The Uillean pipes are just one. But since we gather the air into the bag which activates the reed in our chanter with a bellows, versus blowing up the bag of air with our own lungs, we often get curious questions from onlookers….
Yes, they are truly and actually a proper set of bagpipes. Yes, we play “real” bagpipes. And we use a bellows, pumped by our elbow (Irish for elbow is uillean) to blow them up. Hopefully this clears things up for poor John Joe Badger and his piping friends who manage to field all kinds of questions while out in the world playing.
Thanks to my flute teacher (who also plays Gallician pipes) John, and my pipes teacher Cathy for the inspiration for this week’s illustration. Each of them have heard it all over the years!
Here are some examples of “other” piping traditions….
This time last week I was in Austin, Texas, visiting artful friends, meeting new trees and dogs. A good time was had by all and I was (and always am) deeply inspired by time spent with these women and their loved ones.
One can read countless articles about the food in Austin, or the music in Austin. But honestly, I really loved the trees.
There were two in particular which captivated my imagination. The first being the famed Treaty Tree – an old, intrepid Council Oak utilized by Native Americans long before our misguided United States was even a glimmer on the horizon. You can read the full story here about how this poor tree was poisoned back in the 80’s and nearly died. But it survives to this day and is loved and protected and shored up and supported in its growth.
The day we visited it, there happened to be officials on hand, measuring and taking stock of the tree and I asked permission to come inside the fence and place my hand upon its trunk. I was permitted and nearly cried when I touched it. Trees are truly miraculous beings and I have a bit of a thing for them.
A second tree which I befriended just happened to be in the back yard of the very friends we were visiting. This tree, now called Bonnie, was a primary reason my friends chose this of all houses and they brought in an arborist to make sure they could care for her properly in the coming years. I think they are glad to know Bonnie. And perhaps Bonnie is glad to know them.
I am guessing there will be more paintings of Bonnie. I spent a bit of time just watching how the evening light played upon her stately form. She’s lovely indeed.
But Austin is not all trees, there are the dogs. One dog especially seemed to sum up all of Austin’s playfulness. Mr. Pickles.
One cannot NOT sketch a spectacle such as Mr. Pickles. Apparently his mom works in the mobile dog grooming world, hence the painted on color. I think Mr. Pickles knows how cute he is as he greeted us with enthusiasm on our visit to the Contemporary Austin art museum.
There was much more to tell of Austin. A beer garden in a grove of trees in the hill country, cocktails made of a desert plant….
Vintage finds in the second hand shops. But mostly we merely enjoyed one another’s company. And this was enough. Even in a city as cool as Austin.
And now I am home. Nursing a cold…..
And deeply worried over our own pup Iris. Our Wild Iris Rose has been unwell of late. Deer poo is nasty stuff and we can only guess that she may have sampled some in the yard leading to intestinal distress. We got her sorted out last week and were in the clear, but this week, among everything else, she was overcome again.
Tonight she is hospitalized and getting fluids. We are hopeful for the best, but it’s up to her. And so tonight we wait.
I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on anything, tea is helpful, yes.
And good books to pass the time…
But it’s worrying, to put it mildly. She has been greatly weakened by this latest illness and we are giving her the best care we know how. And only time will tell. Of all the dogs, Iris is really my girl and I miss her presence here in the studio tonight as I write this. Hoping she’s back home resting comfortably tomorrow perhaps. But we shall take it all as it comes.
John Joe Badger hasn’t been much of a piper these last few days. He has traveled many miles to visit different forests than his own. He thoroughly enjoyed the company of his friends from other places. But he missed his musical practice and the comforts of his very own hut.
We shall brew a cup of tea to nurse this head cold, often a side effect of getting out into the world at large. And perhaps we will coax the pipes out of their slumber a bit in the coming days. What do you like best about traveling, and about coming back home….?
It has been one of those weeks for John Joe Badger and company. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. Life intervenes with unexpected catastrophes, things are dropped and perhaps broken, loved ones fall ill and must be attended to. We are all in this together.
When things are a bit shattered and scattered, and we have taken stock of damages, the next thing to do is to put the kettle on. A good strong cup of tea is called for.
After a few flying fecks have shot through the air, we always come back around to the tunes – once the dust has settled, and the tea has warmed and soothed our frazzled nerves.
Hopefully John Joe will have a more musical post for you all next week. He’s been fiddling with the reed in his pipes and is beginning to “get his crow back”. Stay tuned!!