Category Archives: music

Isolated Holiday

Twist of Hemp ~ Week 19

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!

~John O’Donohue

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit !!!!  

Twist of Hemp Week 18

On Dreaming.

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…..

Week 16 ~ In which John Joe Badger feels the warm breezes of a land far from home and practices a few tunes on the rooftops
Week 17 ~ JJB was thrilled to hear about the cessation of the badger cull in the UK. This is good news indeed.

Dawn of a new year ~twisted hemp week 8

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.

Floating on Air(s) ~twisted hemp, week 7

It is the eve of Christmas.  There are parties to attend with fellow creatures, many feasts to enjoy, gifts and food to share.  John Joe is careful to capture solitude amidst this holiday chaos.

Along the way, while practice may fall wayward, John Joe Badger takes some time to listen. Playing is important, yes, but the real trick to learning is the listening.  So between parties and other such social mayhem, put on a favorite record of your favorite player, playing your favorite tunes.  It is yet another way of learning.

Merry Christmas season to all.  May you find light returning to you in whatever form it takes.

The Staredown ~Twisted Hemp, week 6

Pipes are nigh on impossible to keep in tune.  Especially in winter!  John Joe, and so many like him, take to more magical ways of dealing with temperamental reeds…..

Like a good, long stare.  That should do it, yes?  Yes.

*I have heard it said that the great Liam O’Flynn would do this on occasion when a reed was acting up.  He would remove it from the chanter, take a long hard look at it, and then put it gently back into place without saying a word.  Miraculously, the reed would then be in tune.  But of course it would.  No reed would misbehave long for Liam O’Flynn.*

 

 

Joy of a Simple Tune

~Twist of Hemp~ Week 5

John Joe Badger has worked and worked for weeks on his own, amidst countless cups of tea, and twigs on the fire in the woodstove.  This week, in spite of his misgivings, he accepts the invitation of friends to share a few tunes.  Perhaps he will try to play the one simple tune he’s (mostly) learned for them on his pipes.  Or, more likely, he will play his flute or penny whistle.

But tunes are made to be shared.  And for this John Joe is grateful.

In my ears

In this past year, I had the opportunity to do some album cover art for a delectable collection of Christmas tunes crafted by Andrew Finn Magill.  You can hear a sample below or contact Andrew directly for a copy.  It’s worth the effort to obtain, I can assure you.  A gentle take on holiday music which really sets the tone of things.

And while we are on the subject of setting the tone of things, this gem has been on repeat here this morning:

I’ll let this write up tell you about the project, but for me, the album simply casts a magical spell.  It’s perfect music for artful gleanings….

And this, via my friend and flute teacher extraordinaire, Nuala Kennedy.  It too is lovely and mood changing.  And I highly recommend it.  Here’s a review which sums it all up beautifully.

And lastly, you know me, I adore what’s known as “pure drop” traditional Irish music.  I picked up this album while in Ireland and I’ll admit that it’s my go-to happy music to play in the car recently.

What are you listening to that helps to create your world as you would like it?  What might happen if we were to more carefully curate what comes into our sphere of consumption?  For me, the world becomes a slightly gentler place in which to forge the beauty I am so keen to offer.

 

The Dryness of Winter – A Twist of Hemp

~A TWIST OF HEMP – humidity~

….. in which we deal with dryness.  It is far too cold in the woodshed for John Joe Badger to practice his pipes.  He must bring the noise making inside where it is warm and dry.  Dry, yes.  Winter is dry.  And the pipes find themselves leaking air in all directions.  What is John Joe to do???  Well, he shores up leaky connections on his borrowed practice set with a twist of hemp thread, made sticky with a bit of beeswax.  He puts a full kettle on the stove top to boil.  These two things may help get John Joe through these trying, leaky, dry times.  For today at least……

John Joe’s struggles are my own.  I practice the pipes as much as I can, when I can find time alone in the house.  They are loud!  And not yet pleasant.  (For others at least.) The dryness that comes with a “forced air” heating arrangement is mitigated a bit with cool mist humidification and of course, putting the kettle on as much as possible.  It does help.  And so does the bit of hemp and beeswax.  It all feels very old fashioned.  It’s testing parts of my brain and motor memory which need the exercise!  I may never get to the point of playing this contraption out in the world.  But who knows?  I will say that I already have next week’s John Joe drawing idea in mind.  And it involves flying curses.  Til tuesday…..

Keep on playing!

 

Let us keep courage

Fine Folk grace the pages of my sketchbook, along with wise words from the wisdom keepers I trust.  I look to these wisdom keepers as beacons, following their light,  as will-o-the-wisp….. into the darkness.

One such beacon, writer Robert Macfarlane, was featured in an interview with Krista Tippett of the program On Being.  They discuss a recent book of his called Underland which is a gorgeous, lengthy tome; an exploration of the world beneath our feet as seen and sensed from a variety of angles.  It’s the kind of book that deserves to be by one’s bedside to fill the mind with juicy and delicious language as a doorway into dreaming.  This book apparently took Macfarlane 6 years to complete.  He dipped into other projects along the way of course, but this one crept along, under everything else it would seem.  It was worth the wait.

Underland explores a concept of Deep Time, one that is beyond human, but which can be tapped into by those of us with the proper notions to do so.  If you have been reading my ideas here over the years, you know this is something I hold dear, this time-bending.  I believe it is at the heart of the things we treasure as human beings.  Good art, rich poetry, the ability to go beyond the day to day.  To send our cultural tap roots down into the flow of All Things and perhaps channel something up.  All of this of course takes time and practice.  And there are no guarantees.

“CAESURA”

‘In verse, a pause in the rhythm of a line after a phrase; in choral work, a moment where singers might catch their breath.’

via Robert Macfarlane on twitter

I really admire the depth of the work of writers such as Macfarlane, and I look to them for clues as to how to dig deeper into my own work.  Art as well as writing.  Even on social media channels, he and others like him make places like twitter and instagram into arenas of culture and idea-weaving.  I aim to do the same, having curbed my own use of such channels into avenues of art and music.  It’s a tricky balance in a world filled with instant sound-bytes and the next great and funny thing.  Last week Macfarlane announced he will be off of twitter for a while with the word caesura and its definition.

I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to do that.’

The idea of taking a break from social media is by no means a new one, by myself or anyone else for that matter.  There are books on digital detoxing which I have looked to when desperate for a break from it all.  Lately, thankfully, I have not felt desperate to leave the online arenas of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.  I have them fairly well and carefully “curated” in order to see things which inspire me.  New books to read, artists to research and learn something from, science to pique my curiosity and better my stewardship of my little part of the world.   I choose when and how to get my “news” as that can be fraught with peril in this day and age.  We must be careful what we feed ourselves, body and mind.

And yet, although not desperate to leave per se, I could use a break.  What keeps me tethered to the usual channels is the business end of things.  Usually, I am in marketing mode this time of year.  Selling my classes to Taos and Guatemala.  Hustling to show the world that yes, we go to beautiful places, have an amazing time together and make a bunch of gorgeous work.  (WE DO!!!!! )  And this is all part of my job.  But this year, I have been given a great gift…..  My classes for 2020 are mostly sold out (there are two slots left in the second week of the Antigua offering. That’s it!)  For once, I can relax a little bit.  And so I am considering a break over the holidays.

If this idea comes to fruition, I’ll be off of twitter, facebook and instagram from Nov 29 – Jan 1.

I wonder sometimes, if I make something, or write something, but I don’t shout it into the void of the social media platforms, have I really created anything?  This is the culture we are sold in this modern age.  I would like to confront this culture, especially in my own mind.  I’d like to follow some breadcrumbs of my own making just to see where they may lead.  Without the pressure to report.

This will be an interesting experiment.  I just began a weekly story idea which will continue to grow here, but folks will have to come find it, or wait until the New Year when I get back into the swing of things of sharing.  Soon, I’ll be packing for Guatemala and sharing via instagram sun-kissed, color-washed images of our time in Antigua.  It is in this way I beckon to future students to step into the sunshine with me and come on along!!  But with the classes filled to brimming, and a lovely waitlist padded out for Taos, I feel I can take the social media break I’ve been craving for years, without having to crash and burn mentally to get it.  It’s a good place to find myself.

So we shall see.  It is always a balance.  I may yet shift this plan into something less stringent.  But I am always leaning toward trying a new tactic with regard to my presence in the online world.  And for once I have the space to do so.

In other news…….

With Riley School out for break,  I am back to sketching along with my mates in the Cincinnati Urban Sketchers.  Last week we had a “boUrban sketchers” outing where we tasted bourbon at New Riff distillery.  It was great fun!!  Come along with us sometime!

I have a few paintings up at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center’s winter Collective show, EMERGE.  This one below was the belle of the ball.  I received many complements and offers to buy it.  But alas, it was snatched up by a private collector just days before the show.  I think the theme is one I’d like to explore further.  The quietude of this piece seemed to speak to a number of people.

The other work on which I received a good bit of feedback is this little lovely, Bonny Hills,  whose skies are filled with subtle color.  This is a second theme I hope to explore further in more paintings in the new year.  This one has not yet sold….  One of my fellow collective members said to me, I get the sense you were meant to be in Ireland.  How right she is.

In the music arena, the Riley School of Irish music will present its annual holiday program Peace and Merriment,  at 2 pm December 14.  Our address is 2221 Slane Avenue in Cincinnati.  Hope to see you there!  We also play a weekly session out in town: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays we can be found at Ludlow Garage in Clifton, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays , Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue.  Stop in and say hi!

 

A Twist of Hemp

Meet John Joe Badger. …. and his story in the coming weeks.


….. and……

And maybe,

 

A borrowed practice set of Uillean Pipes. Loads upon loads of humility and patience. A fair bit of time. And patience. (Did we mention humility?) And humor too, of course.  And we mustn’t forget the tea. Cups upon cups of tea. (I hear he’s partial to Lyon’s, with a splash of fresh milk).

These are just a few of the things John Joe Badger will need as he begins his journey down the perilous and noisy road of learning a bit about the Uillean piping tradition in Irish music. There will be blowouts, embarrassment, hours alone in the woodshed. (And more ungodly sounds!) But our John Joe is keen. He’s made a few friends on this same tricky path already and he’s acquired a teacher whom he’s fairly certain is a saint or perhaps an angel disguised as a fellow Irish musician.

This is week one of A Twist of Hemp. A little set of storied pictures of a timid badger making his way, albeit clumsily, down this musical path. Stay tuned!!