It is week 34 of my illustrative journey with John Joe Badger, an intrepid, though somewhat shy, uillean pipes playing creature. This week finds John Joe discovering that his long awaited B whistle from one Jerry Freeman has finally arrived after much anticipation which will allow him to play along with his favorite recordings. This will, in turn, possibly improve his pipes playing in the long run.
So much to learn as we await the arrival of the new half-set from Mickey Dunne which will include DRONES.
We are abuzz with excitement over it all to be sure.
Since the beginning of the era in which we found ourselves in a state of lockdown and isolation, a few of us faithful session-goers loosely affiliated with the Riley School of Irish Music community have gathered weekly on zoom to have a few tunes, check in with one another and have a bit o’ craic (i.e. chats, jokes, catching up, sharing stories – a crucial part of a good session.) As with all things coming at us on the mycelial network ad infinitum these days, zoom is an imperfect way to connect musically. But we take what we can get.
Somehow, I have managed to find myself as moderator each week for these online gatherings. I attempt to keep proceedings least awkward as they can be, making sure those who have something to say or play get a chance to do so. It’s a good job for one with long internal antennae and I do the job gladly week to week so that our beautiful community will be there when this whole pandemic eases and we can be together properly once more.
I jokingly call it the Dog and Pony Show because sometimes it feels that way. But at the heart of it all, it’s a sincere offering to my musical mates. It’s just hard to be social.
There are a lot of people out on the interwebs putting together online shows and bits of shows to put together with bits of other shows to keep the music and the communities surrounding it all alive. It can be frustrating sometimes to be sure (such as when the neighborhood lawn mower starts when the recording begins! *kevin*) but the gifts in return are wonderful. I do my small part with our little session here in town (and we sometimes have old friends in from Ireland which has been lovely!!) The professionals continue to do their best to keep us tapped into the tradition properly along the way as well. And we must support them.
Go donate to Tune Supply if you love traditional Irish music, or any place your favorite artists and musicians might be hanging out online doing their work. Reach out to them, buy some gift cards or a painting or a song or tune, an essay or a poem. Artists are still working, making the world a more magical place.
It’s what we do.
Join us at the Riley School for session each Saturday from 4-6 pm EST (message me for the link), or consider taking a class from one of our esteemed instructors sometime! Hope to see you there.
In the meantime, here is this week’s Twist of Hemp illustration featuring John Joe Badger, and some new friends from the dog and pony show. It’s week 33.
It is also for ‘cute’, and maybe ‘cuddly’ (to look at maybe).
To John Joe Badger (and to me, his ‘c’reatrix) “C” stands especially for ‘community’, which is at the heart of this music. So many of the early days are spent in the woodshed, alone, learning our way around a new instrument. But in the end, the tunes are meant to bring us all together. The goal is to elevate a simple tune into a momentary, never-to-be-repeated magical thing that reminds us that we are all in this life collectively, come what may.
And what a May has come.
This week’s illustration (while, of course remembering that “C” does, indeed, stand for ‘cookie’) is dedicated to two other “C”‘s. Caitlin Warbelow and Chris Ranney, the brains and brilliance behind an amazing project called Tune Supply and who put together a concert featuring 45 artists from around the world this past weekend in celebration of Mother’s Day.
In the comments of the video from this virtual concert are a variety of links to support individual artists involved in this heartwarming project. Or one can just go here to donate to the project as a whole and the artists ‘c’ollectively, in ‘c’ommunity.
Give it all a listen. It’s wonderful. It’s hopeful.
Also in the interest of ‘c’ommunity, but a bit more close to home, I personally have been leading/moderating an online version of a session each week with the folks from the Riley School of Irish Music. It’s not sleek, and it’s imperfect, but we take turns leading tunes or sets of tunes and we play one musician at a time, knowing that somewhere in the world, our mates are playing along with us. We can see them, but not hear them as we play, and we all go unmuted then to chat in between sets. Mostly, we catch up with each other, just make sure we are all playing a bit week to week, and not spending too much time staring into the abyss of a global pandemic. While not an ideal situation, it beats a blank. And let’s face it, few people are in an ideal situation these days.
The same goes for monthly Urban Sketchers virtual outings, both locally here in Cincinnati, and all around the world. (pssst! There is one here this Saturday!! Come join us for a zoom throw-down!) It’s not about the drawings so much as it is about the ‘c’ommunity that can come together again eventually to draw as a group. For now we do our drawings from an online prompt on a mutual theme, then we “throw down” our drawings all together via a zoom call (noon this saturday). Not sleek, not perfect, but it keeps us ‘c’onnected.
These adjustments may need to be in place in some form for some time to be sure. But in the meantime, I am thankful for the virtual world to keep things at least ‘c’onnected. Send me a comment or a message if you are looking to join a virtual session or sketch group and I hope we can connect.
I wonder if I will ever get to my places again. To Taos, the west of Ireland, Guatemala. (I will walk to Maine if needed, eventually.) Flying could be tricky from here on out. We are in changed times. I try to be open to what needs to happen from here. I know there will be choices.
Yet there is much hope in the world, though it’s hard to find it on a windy day. I find that merely being in my body properly (something I’ve worked decades to achieve) is difficult some days just now in this time with its fear and uncertainty so familiar in my bones.
The wind howls outside.
A bard of the ages is lost to us this week; one who was the soundtrack to our era and many others as well. I wept at his passing and wish for his loved ones to know a gentle grief if at all possible.
Tomorrow I am told a delivery will occur.
The makings of a boundary here. To cordon off a bit of our small yard to keep for ourselves, away from the voracious overpopulation of deer. I’ve lain awake at night worrying over this deer fence, about its placement, its date of arrival (will it come soon enough for us to get our tomatoes in?!).
I know it’s not about the fence.
Perhaps I can carve a small safe place in the confines of this new garden bed. A place where I might leave my worries at the gate and tend to hopeful things there.
And there are hopeful things.
I keep on with the pipes. (If you missed it, I made a little video):
I’m working with Seattle based musician and song-writer Alex Sturbaum to create some art work in support of his latest album project which is appropriately called Loomings. His songs are timeless. A new bard for the ages.
A big box of really nice paper in a larger-than-I-am-accustomed-to size arrived just the other day and I hope to continue to explore the world of gouache painting. In discovering this new medium I have found a way to take painting on the road without all the solvents involved in oils.
Yet now I wonder if the road will still be there when this is all over.
I try not to think too far ahead. Some days I am not even sure what day it is. I just run. Doing my best to stay ahead of it all.
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.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a hug. I get them here from my hub now and then, and I am grateful for that to be sure. But I also miss my mom, and my friends, especially the musical ones. So many of whom are the most generous huggers. Out on my run today I encountered many others outside enjoying the (for the moment) mild weather. We crossed the road to avoid one another. I think we are all terrified of what’s coming, or is possibly already here among us.
Today I heard from one far flung friend who said that yesterday she felt like a basket case. And that today she was doing all right, all things told. I told her that I was feeling the exact opposite. Yesterday felt like things were going to be ok…..
Then, after last night’s tornado warning, complete with sirens (thank the gods however, not the tornados) and a sleep filled with vivid dreaming that was no true sleep at all, I’ll admit to feeling a bit more fragile today.
Some days we fill the baskets, other days we are busy making the baskets. And then, some days, we are just the basket cases. These are the Basket Times.
My sister is an Emergency Nurse. We chat on the phone occasionally and she gives me the update from her ground level view on this crisis. She and others like her have heard what’s coming from places far away. They are as ready as they can be. I salute these heroes just now with their uncanny ability to thrive and shine in mayhem. I marvel.
When we were expecting our second child, we were under the care of a team of midwives. They were much less ‘medical’ in their approach to birth. Much more willing to let things be as they needed to be as they moved forward. Our Madeleine was 16 days late. I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea in recent days as I ponder the notion of control, and the human thinking that we might actually have control over anything at any time. Especially with regard to the state of things in the world being what they are.
Right now we are in a time of waiting. A time of deep un-knowing. It is like that expectant time before the birth of a child. But darker, of course. I am reminded of the depth of similarities between the energy in a room awaiting the birth of a new one and that of a room on the edges of greeting death. I have witnessed both many times and in spite of the differing circumstances and people involved, there is always that moment of stillness, just before and just after this crossing that feels somehow transcendent over all other times.
We are in that moment as a country.
“Sunsets over the city, clouds are rising
And you can see clear up to the night time sky
And if you’re feeling precious, you want to do well
Think of others, ask for a prayer underneath Christchurch bells”
We all have our ways of being in the world. Some doers. Others shining in ways I can’t comprehend. There are those (perhaps one leading a large country, for example) who seem built to wreak havoc and sadness where e’er they roam. I for one am a bit of a watcher. raised in a variety of settings which helped build long internal antennae, I merely observe.
People are dealing with this crisis in an array of ways. There is panic and grief and creativity and generosity. There is judgement and finger-pointing, joy-making and a renewed sense of community in some unlikely places. Aside from the obvious, there is no wrong way to deal with it all and we must each follow our own path, depending on what kind of basket day it might be.
I’ve heard it said, “this slowing down is such a gift.” Well, yes, for some. Those with the privilege to weather the economic storm this slowing down brings, sure. It’s lovely indeed actually. I’ve also seen others’ online contributions ramp up in a near frantic wave of “doing, doing, making, making!” which is indeed inspiring in this time of being home-bound and maybe a bit restless and in need of entertainment. But this level of doing is only right for some. We must all just do as we can and as we must as this all pans out.
“Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves”
Queen & David Bowie
We mustn’t forget to take breaks from the online sphere now and then, to admit to friends (yes, perhaps even professional contacts) that maybe this afternoon, we aren’t quite ourselves. We must check in on one another and do what we can.
We must learn to be openly alone.
This is a time of great change and uncertainty. And we do not know what is ahead. But perhaps we might learn something from the springtime emerging all around us here in the northern hemisphere. We can learn to begin again.
“Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark determination
and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and the future
old friends passing through with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.”
From what is broken and empty in our western, consumer driven, capitalistic culture……
……perhaps we might bloom again into something different, better, brighter.
Perhaps we might feed each other in new ways, locally and in balance…..
Perhaps we might make light out of ruin.
Happy first day of spring. May we, here at Equinox, come to balance once again.
“Balance. It was all about balance. That had been one of the first things that she had learned: the centre of the seesaw has neither up nor down, but upness and downness flow through it while it remains unmoved. You had to be the centre of the seesaw so the pain flowed through you, not into you.”
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…..
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.