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!
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and we all know the level of crazy this can mean about town, and frankly, the whole world. I was up before dawn to accompany my young dancer to a ‘Kegs and Eggs’ event at one local Irish establishment where she and some fellow McGing Irish Dancers stomped their steps in front of a packed house as well as the local news crew. Then it was off to the school day for her and a couple hours in the studio for me. She heads back out to dance the bar circuit later today and I will join my musical friends for a couple of gigs ourselves. It’s High Holy Season for Irish musicians. And we love it!
Before I head out and get lost in the tunes and the mayhem, I figured I would engage in a little paint play, exploring the many facets of the lovely color of the season.
It’s a greening time of year, so the green theme is appropriate I suppose. Traditionally though, I have heard that St. Patrick actually wore the color blue…..
I am grateful for this day, the one day when Irish music is sought after by the unwashed masses, and we get to play, play, play the day away. It’s really a gift. If you are local, a few of us are playing at the Brazenhead Pub in Mason, Ohio between 4-5.
After that gig, we will meet up with a few others at a favorite venue of ours, The B-List bar in Bellevue, Ky.
Do stop in and give us a wave hello as we do our thing. This crazy thing called Irish music. Here’s a taste:
Last fall I borrowed my friend Cindy’s wooden flute to try my hand at playing it; a rather large jump in the learning curve for me in music. Since then, I have had a few lessons and even signed up to take a summer course with my teacher from the Riley School, John Skelton. Cindy’s flute was made by Dave Copley and Marlene Boegli at Celtic Lands Irish Flutes and I have enjoyed playing it immensely. But there comes a time when one either has to fish or cut bait, as the saying goes, and I decided a few months ago that I was ready to commit to buying my very own flute from Dave and Marlene who fortunately live right here in Cincinnati and are part of the Riley School of Irish Music community.
Today I went over to Dave’s workshop to see the flute as it was being built and to take a few “baby pictures”, as he calls them. I am very excited. The plan is to build the flute with mounts already in place so I can add keys later on as I become more proficient at playing. Above is a picture of the head joint, freshly drilled. Below are pictures of a finished flute with keys already mounted on it and after that, the pieces of my flute, in the same layout, ready to have its shaping begin.
I am feeling a bit spoiled, having this instrument built just for me, but I am trying to get over that guilty notion and just enjoy it. I hope to have years of learning and playing on this thing; I might as well have a good one. My Grandpa Kelley used to say “ya pay a penny more and go first class”. This was his way of saying that sometimes, quality things are worth the investment.
Meanwhile, the seemingly endless renovation project here at Chez Bogard continues. After much discussion, research and visits from flooring specialists from all genres, we have decided to put in a polished concrete floor with areas of radiant heat to keep our toes warm in the colder months. I have never been a fan of carpet from a housekeeping and allergy perspective and it didn’t look like wood, bamboo, or cork would hold up to the dogs and our rough-house lifestyle. I like tile but I don’t want any more lines in this space so visually driven by lines in the first place. This really left us with with only one option and we are taking the plunge. Today Tony is taking conference calls outside to avoid the noise of the grinding and I have stuffed towels and blankets around the door to keep the dust out of the studio.
Slowly but surely, the forward progression continues. We have left the dated, termite-eaten, fuse-blowing space behind and are starting to see the beauty of the light at the end of the tunnel. Kudos to our contractor Jerry Westerkamp who built the gorgeous soffit in our new space. Yep, slowly, but surely….