Tag Archives: irish music

Virtually in Tune

~  Twist of Hemp Week 20  ~

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.  

 

Lying low in Splendid Isolation

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

~John O’Donohue

“Hiding is a way of staying alive… One of the brilliant & virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world.  Hiding, done properly is the internal faithful promise for a future emergence.”

~David Whyte from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and meaning of everyday words.  (I was reminded of this snippet via the lovely Tanya Shadrick who’s work you should read as well.)

Here we are.

Our worries so collectively numerous as to be overflowing.  Amidst all this corona-consumed madness it is difficult to sort out the complicated feelings we are all experiencing as we navigate an unprecedented global crisis.  I find it hard to believe that just a week ago I was newly home from a few weeks away in a land blessed with color and volcanic breezes.  I’ll admit I am a bit homesick for lovely Guatemala.

Now I am on lockdown here at home.

This is not out of fear for my own safety, but rather a trust in those who study the paths pathogens take, and knowing that to hide away for a few weeks, or more, is to be a good citizen of the world.  I worry for my older relatives and friends and hope they keep to their promises to lie low.  This too shall pass, yes?

An old friend and co-worker of mine, who’s name I won’t mention here, is treating this time of crisis with online mockery.  He is, thankfully, one of just a few.  I know his mocking stems from fear.  Fear of losing his income with gigs drying up.  I remember when he was tenderly tending his ailing father many years ago, and I wonder, would he have mocked if this crisis occurred then?   I do not know.  I try not to judge.  I really try.  Those he mocks are panic buying all the essentials – yet another behavior borne of fear.

Fear and anxiety are so thick in the world just now one can almost smell it.

As a country and as a world community, we are being asked to come together (or rather more truthfully, to stay apart) for the good of those most vulnerable among us, and to allow the hospitals to do what they can with the inevitable scenario as it plays out.  It’s been generations since this level of selflessness was asked of us all – especially of Americans.  Our overriding culture is not one which rewards selflessness, or slowness, or quietude but these are the very things necessary at this crucial time in history.  As I write that though, I am also struck thinking about all of the beautiful offerings I have seen online from people reaching out to one another to give assistance in some way or other.  Propping each other up with offers to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor, offers to help with child care, calls to be kind to those manning the shops and stores still open with necessities.  And I think, perhaps our WWII era ancestors might be proud of us after all.

What would the twitter feed look like back in WWII???  I wonder……

One can almost hear a shifting of universal paradigms.  This morning I went outside with the dog and a cup of coffee.  Sunday mornings are often comparatively quiet, but this hush was exceptional.  The occasional car went past on the local highway which usually sounds like an angry seashore.  Birdsong was raucous and beautiful.  A sign of spring, yes, but also a sign of the human world having hit the pause button for now.  It’s eerie and beautiful, this quiet.  It’s a quiet I have been craving my entire life.  I find it sad that it has to be a crisis of this level which brings about such a wished-for hush.   But I’ll take it.

A sad time of year for the world’s social calendar to get canceled. As you may have guessed, St. Patrick’s Day will be a quiet one this year.

In the coming days, weeks (and who knows? maybe months) we are all adjusting to this slowing down.  Yesterday my hub and daughter spent the day painting with Bob Ross.  They chose a “calm” painting video of his and got to work.

I too did a bit of painting myself……

….. in a little book I obtained in Antigua and which I covered with a beautiful textile “scrap”.

I painted abstractly from photos I have of the ruins……

I wonder about the state of the world and feel that we find ourselves in a new and unexpected era.  I wonder what we will learn from it, if anything.

With St. Patrick’s Day essentially canceled, many of us are woodshedding tunes we hope to learn.  I like to call these “quarantunes.”  One is called Splendid Isolation, which is apt.

And another couple of tunes….. (I about have the first but still working on the second. And oh, June, your tone.  What is your secret?????)

Sometimes during times of strife, I turn to the music and remember that many of the old-fashioned Irish tunes were composed and shared in times of great turmoil and sadness.  During mass emigration and scattering of loved ones, during times of brutal occupation and ensuing troubles.  I am reminded that we can get through this, together and will once again rollick as one.

We are all just doing the best we can just now, and this is crucial to remember.  We must go gently.  Those unaccustomed to staying at home with little to do might feel a bit stir crazy in coming weeks.  Those unaccustomed to the constant undertow and thrum of anxiety will have some adjusting to do.   This gives me a chuckle as an anxiety-prone introverted wanderer and I think, ‘finally, a scenario I was built for!’

There is a lot of pressure via the online world to turn this time of quarantine into a hub of productivity.  There are posts about Newton and his genius calculus figuring.  And Shakespeare and his writing of King Lear in the time of the Plague.  While I do plan to paint and play music,  these are things I do anyway in my day to day.  I reject this notion that we must produce in order to have value somehow.   Let us give in a bit to boredom.  To not doing all the time.  This slowing down to think and feel on a deep level may be the greatest thing that comes out of these dark days.

Like many, I am nervous about the future.  Besides my day job at the concertina shop (and thank the gods for it!!)  Nearly ALL of my paying work comes from my travel journaling workshops.  We got Guatemala done and dusted just as the virus was beginning to really affect travel plans and the psyches of my participants.  I have canceled my yearly spring trip to do the 2-day workshop in California.  Perhaps things will have come back to some level of normalcy by June and Taos will go off without a hitch.  But I do not know and I am steeling myself for all possible scenarios.  As we all must do in uncertain times.

As we move forward in the coming days, let us merely be gentle.  Gentle with ourselves and kind toward one another.  Most people acting badly are doing so out of fear.  I believe it was fear that elected our current president (and will ye look where that’s gotten us?!).  May we feel our own fear and honor it while at the same time not acting from that place of fear, but rather from a place of love and tenderness for one another.  Keep reaching out online, keep digging in those gardens if you can (dirt is good for the immune system!), keep playing and creating if you feel like it.  Allow yourself to just shut down too if you feel the need to.  It will all be ok.  Somehow.

Cran Central Station – Twist of Hemp week 9

The pipers are learning a new march this quarter, their fingers attempt the gymnastics of a classic pipers move, The Cran.  They bubble and dwiddle, sparkle and dribble, deedle and didle and work their way toward the classic cran and that “stuttering warble.”

Carry on pipers!!  Carry on John Joe!  The world needs your music.

 

 

 

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.*

 

 

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.

 

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!!

 

Pacing

Too fast paced of late.  Frenetically crossing to-do lists off as if penance for up-coming traveling.  Only time out of doors can check this process.  Finally the temperatures drop to comfort level, leaving “hotumn” behind us.

October temperatures in the mid-nineties will make one crabby.

I find myself outside on a beauty-filled day.  Collecting leaves, plotting a small hillside in the back for a new vegetable bed slated for next spring.  Tunes wander through my head.  I take a break to capture a bit of this ochered season with my camera.  The old sweet gum tree in front is particularly lovely, dropping her petals into the main creek which is, miraculously, always running with a trickle even in the driest of times.  There are little skimmers paddling along in their own little world, which I suppose they do with or without our observation.

I put together a slow paced little gathering of sweet gum and skimmers for you here.  The music is used with permission and is by Nuala Kennedy.  Once upon a time I did a little art work for the cover of the album where this track can be found.  The whole collection is divine and if you haven’t heard it, you should.

It is my hope that in this busy time of harvesting and preparing for the darker days of the season, you too might find the time to settle down for a spell and take in the small wonders.

Like a River – Flowing

(give the video til  30 seconds in…..)

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 flute sisters are off to class Day 1. Many thanks to Kate McFadden for this capture.

“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….

I don’t yet read music from the written page, but I purchased Gerry O’Connor’s gorgeous compilation “Rose in the Gap”. It was so lovely to meet him!
Two of the worlds top teachers in the Irish flute tradition, Nuala Kennedy and Kevin Crawford. I am deeply grateful for their tutelage and friendship over the years. (Kevin has a new album out with Colin Farrell and Patrick Doocey called Music and Mischief. Nuala’s latest project is called the Snowflake trio. Both albums are gems!!!!)

…..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.

Thanks for the new tunes this week Kevin!!

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.

Originally crafted as a gift for my dear friends Ellen and David in honor of their Swannanoa Wedding.
Occasionally difficult to stay focused with this view out the windows, but we managed.
We are surrounded by words of wisdom, reminding us we are but water in the river of this tradition.

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.

The Bamboo Cathedral, managed and utilized by the WWC farmers.
Flutes are ancient, once made of even our own bones, or perhaps the bones of the bamboo plant. We bow low to honor the old ways when we can.

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!!!!

resistance is flutile stickers in the wild at Native Kitchen in Swannanoa and Black Mountain Ciderworks.

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.

 

 

Comings, Goings. Doings, Beings.

Our front creek, captured magically by Imran Nuri.

“I don’t want realism.  I want magic.”  ~Tennessee Williams

There is much coming and going of late.  Hither and thither we work and play.  I’ll share a bit here as I set aside remembered things to pack away for upcoming workshops.  Antigua beckons…..

A sample of the magnets I have designed as give aways for my workshop participants! I figure if they see these on their fridge in the day to day, they will remember to work in their books more often, yes?

Narry a week ago, I was working in my own sketchbook in a warm place called Key West.  When I wasn’t strolling the colorful streets filled with colorful people, feasting my eyes on color and light, I was bobbing in a pool or better yet, in the sea herself – buoyed by salt, water and sun.

pay no mind to the chitter chatter in the clip above, we were on a sunset cruise.  I was captivated by the murky depths.  And miraculously I did not get sea sick.

Key West enchants with its embedded quirk round every corner.  Some folk come here to drink their cares away, but I for one came to drink in more than just rum.  Though to be fair, rum has its place.

If one but stays just off the beaten path, there is charm at every turn and lovely sunsets to behold.  And it can be a balm for the soul of a weary, land-locked midwesterner nearing the end of a long, gray winter…..

Hens, chicks and roosters are to be found everywhere. They are well socialized and cry the song of their people. A lot. Cockadoodledooooooo!!! (and chuk-chuk and peep-peep as well!)
The Young Man And The Sea, our ship’s crewman Dale.
The captain and crew of the good ship Sarah took great care of us on a sunset cruise on the ocean. If you are ever near Key West, I recommend Danger Charters, in spite of their name.

We paid homage to the sea and to the rich history of the place, even visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway which boasts 55 polydachtyl cats living their best lives on the property.

I found Key West to harbor great juxtaposition. The locals care deeply for the ocean, that is clear, and yet single-use-plastics are still the norm at local businesses. We declined all straws/utensils/bags when it was an option.  It’s a small thing, but it’s worth doing.
Cemetery Sentinel

There is magic around every turn there.

Tree guardian being? Or a large fairy fist, offering us a tropical green bouquet?
Our Queen City-scape, with a river running through it. Quite lovely from the sky, though I am not a city girl at heart.

Too soon we must return home once again to the gloom and gray of Ohio.  But we look for the quiet magic to be found here.

My daughter and her boyfriend are home for break and he has some new camera gear he is eager to test.  He stunningly captures the magic of our yard in the dark.  With his extended exposures, our criss-crossing creeks become fully laden with an Otherworldly quality and I am reminded how lucky we are to have this little patch of land of ours.

Our front creek, captured magically by Imran Nuri.

Art has a way of reminding us of the beauty in the world.  Music as well.  This week ahead is the high holy season of Irish music and we are quite busy indeed.

Tuesdays there is always a session here in town, even on ‘normal’ weeks.  This Tuesday we are at Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue.  It’s one of our favorite places to play.  Saturday March 16, I join the Roving Rogues to play St. Patrick’s Day eve at Arnold’s Bar, Cincinnati’s oldest tavern. and on Sunday, we once again will play in the evening at Palm Court in the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel.  Come on along and enjoy a fancy cocktail.  Escape the green-beer fray, won’t you?

I am so grateful for the music.

And this music as well….

Our Jack was part of a concert celebrating the music of Bach which we attended last night.  It was divine and captivating, as Bach can be, and we were swept away on this stormy evening to another world indeed.  There is more this evening as well, I can’t recommend it enough.

All is not angelic and ethereal round here however.  As I mentioned, I am busily getting last minute things in line for my double workshop endeavor in Antigua, Guatemala.  This is keeping me on my toes instead of at the drawing table or in the journal where I belong.  I embark on that journey later this month.

But before I go to Guatemala, I am attempting to complete a somewhat hefty hand-made project, which in it’s own earthy way is keeping me grounded in work.  That of a 3′ X 4′ latch hook rug project for the annual May The Fourth Star Wars Tribute show.  

I’m using a grid to help me keep track of my design on the canvas.

All the yarn I am using for this project is either from my own stash of leftover yarns or has been acquired second hand at Scrap-It-Up over in Pleasant Ridge.  This has added some complexity to the rug itself and is helping me to make Chewbacca extra fluffy and scruffy.

My studio assistant Ian takes his job quite seriously.

Until he’s ready to leave the room, at which point he rings the bell to let me know.

Working a bit on this rather ridiculous project each day keeps me grounded and working with my hands which is good for my head ironically enough.  And this is good.

And so, the fitting in of all the pieces of this life’s puzzle continues.  While I must admit to this being a rough winter in many ways, things are looking up now that the light seems to linger longer in the days, even when it’s snowing. The sun is even shining today as I write this.  We must always remember that change is the only constant and we must at least attempt to move forward.

I say this as a reminder to myself really.  Behind the scenes here I spend a fair amount of time applying to and being rejected by various opportunities such as with publishers (who often don’t/can’t respond, which feels like throwing work into a great dark abyss…. hello- oh    –      o         –    o   …….. receiving back only the boniest of echoes)  This is all part of the process.  I will say, while it does continue to smart, it does get easier the more one applies.



Residencies are yet another application process I find myself often involved in,  always looking for some way to go somewhere inspirational, seeking a deeper sense of time and place to make and grow my work.  I can’t tell you how many of these opportunities I’ve applied to, heart firmly tied onto the application via the proverbial string, only to be denied for my efforts.  I really try to envision myself there when I apply and so I do pour heart and soul into each application.

To those who’ve never thought about these things, one has to remember that merely applying is often a great deal of work – writing essays and statements, gathering photos of work, recommendations, tweaking one’s CV, etc. etc.  I fit these efforts into the small spaces between the usual goings on of my day to day.  And I just keep trying, allowing a bit of grief and maybe some ice-cream when a particular refusal really gets me down.

But I do keep trying.   And sometimes, like throwing spaghetti at the ceiling, something sticks……

 

I am beyond over the moon to announce that my Maine based friend Julie Persons of Adventures of Claudia and Chicks In Hats fame and myself have been selected to share a month long residency in Ireland next year for the month of October.   We are thrilled!!!!

In which Amy and Julie get together for a cup of tea once each summer.  Don’t mind my lake hair – we are usually at camp!

We have put up the party flags and are doing a little happy dance, albeit virtually for now.

I’ll share more about this exciting news as things formulate into firmer plans.  But for now it is enough to have the invitation from Olive Stack in lovely Listowel and to know the dates we are to be working there.

So much rich stuff ahead.  And the challenges too that we face in this world on a personal level of course, and globally as well.  I said to someone the other day that this is the new normal for artists – to be able to hold in our hearts and minds, at the very same time, the dual notions that all will be well, and that things are really wrong too. –  This is not an easy task.  But I aim to try, as I have for years now.  To highlight and showcase beauty, to work for positive change.  It’s what the artists I most admire do best.

Baby steps, Micromovements (as this blog has long been named) is how we move things along, how we take the leaps to grow into new opportunities and to try new things that challenge us.  It’s terrifying really.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”                   

                                   ~Georgia O’Keeffe

A week in a minor key

 

One of the small things I love most about Maine is that in the 70’s billboards were outlawed. There is nothing but green and granite to contemplate when on the roads. It’s so part of the charm of this place and I wish it were in my day to day.

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.

Surely Wee Lochlann is soaking up every note. He’ll be playing circles ’round us in no time, I’m sure of it.

…or who graciously took our class photo.

Thank you Julie Adams for sending this along!

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.

Here Kevin expresses to us that he hopes at least a bit of the tips and tricks of the trade he teaches us will be something we take home and apply to the tunes we already play. Always a challenge. Challenge accepted.

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.

Yes, that is Grainne Hambly, John Carty and Martin Hayes. Royalty in the Irish music world, really and all around great folks indeed.

This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song.  All of these artists listening to one another along the way.

Eamon O’Leary and Cathy Jordan take in the tunes 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.

We talked of the importance of being silly together. Why must we be so serious all the time? The world is serious enough as it is. Let us laugh together more often, yes??

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.

Here we were listening to Paddy Keenan play Condon’s Frolics from the album Poirt An Phíobaire. I love how delighted Kevin is when listening to one of his old favorites. He passes this delight on to us along the way. Thank you Kevin!

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.

The flutilla force is strong here. For the record, the bodhran player shown here, Matt Olwell, is also an amazing flute player himself. Maybe next year we will add a couple more flutes to this routine….

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.

In between acts, we shared stories and laughter. Ellen and I have shared so much over these long years at Swannie, we have decided we simply must get together more often. Let the wild rumpus begin, I say!!
Here is Kevin’s flute class playing a set-dance into a Jig. The air was so humid, I am surprised we could even play!
Kevin is one of three of my musical mentors in the flute department. He, and my dear friend Ellen Redman here, have changed and enriched my little life for the better. I am beyond grateful for their teaching and their friendship over the years.
This is a rare capture of myself with my flute instructor John Skelton, whom I work with back in Cincinnati when I can at the Riley School of Irish Music. He too has changed and enriched my life for the better through music and a lot of laughter.
This week Nuala Kennedy taught us a couple of interesting reels and we added some harmonies. This is another week where I learned how to use one of the keys on my flute. Nuala is a brilliant teacher.
How did I get so fortunate to have such amazing, caring teachers to work with???

(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.

I love the little boat called Intuition.

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!

Til next time….

Sometimes, I day dream of tunes in the pavilion, to the rhythm of tree frogs singing.
If you’re even remotely curious about Irish music, this is a fantastic read