We got a little gooseneck filming tool in the post today just minutes before I started today’s drawing so I did a quick movie to see how it works. I like the gooseneck tool, but I need to change my angle. It’s all an experiment.
Anyway! John Joe Badger and I have been diligently working with the poor shocked drone reeds, trying to get them into tune. My pipes teacher Cathy has been sooooo patient, teaching me all about how to remove the reeds ever so carefully and place bits of booger shaped beeswax here and there to teach the reed where to be and how to sound. It’s one part wishful thinking, two parts magic and 1 part engineering. But it’s fun to fiddle with as an escape from this frightful world on some days.
What are you doing to escape reality now and then?
We are returned safely from travels and settled in, but more on that later……
Recently we heard from Mickey Dunne over in Limerick, Ireland that the half-set of uilleann pipes he is carefully crafting for me is nearly complete. I am very sad that I cannot go to Ireland this fall to collect them in person, meet Mickey and thank him properly. But this is just the way of things, and we soldier on.
Meanwhile, I am as a new parent preparing a nursery with all the necessary accoutrements for the new arrival. This week’s Twist of Hemp offering finds John Joe Badger diligently shopping for all the necessities and sundries so that we will be ready when the pipes (with drones!) finally arrive.
It is week 39 of our weekly adventure, John Joe and I. I am slowly learning a few tunes but still feel clumsy and more at home on the flute. Making a drawing for this series each week helps me keep track of how long I’ve been at this pipes thing while reminding me to just have a little fun with it along the way. It’s been a very long time since I purchased a proper instrument outside of a whistle of delryn flute here or there. I am nervous about it all and trying just to treat it like an investment. In myself, in the music, in the world.
These covid times can mess with our heads if we allow them to. What are you doing to keep yourself sane, grounded and invested in the world? I’m learning tunes, painting and drawing and walking many miles.
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…..
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.
Meet John Joe Badger. …. and his story in the coming weeks.
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!!