The season is beginning to wind down now. The weekly Saturday sessions are over but the weekly Sunday sessions are starting up. I’m still missing Ireland and all it holds for me. Friends, family, its towns and country side and of course the music.
The days are getting shorter with fewer gigs in the offing. So it is time to get back to the practice room and learn some new tunes.
“It’s all about time, the more you put in, the better you will get!”
I LOVE the silent language between players. A look, nod, a foot stomp. Non players think that musician is just getting “into it” or miss the cue altogether. And then there is always that top musician staring at the floor who hears every note you play, but says nothing.
Solitude in the practice room.
“There are simply no short cuts.” A music hero of mine once told me, “It’s all about time, Peig. The more you put in, the better you will get”. I try to hang onto that advice.
This music presents its own challenges. There are no charts, sheets of music to rely on while playing. This music is handed down through other players - “At my Father’s knee” It becomes the very essence and fiber of yourself. I count the “beats” of my indicator in my car as I’m waiting for a traffic light to change. Sometimes subdividing them if it’s a long light. It has to be memorized. It is all in the fingers and in the ears. The other challenge is every session plays different selection of tunes. It is very parochial and provincial. Kerry plays polkas and slides at deadly tempos, while Clare has the best reels and jig anywhere. So to be a traveling musician you need a mental data base of well over 500 tunes in your arsenal.
I cram practice time throughout my day. Twenty minutes in the morning before I race off to work. I listen to tunes I am learning during my commute. I play during TV commercials when home on my own working out triplets, I barricade in my music room after my workday building my “chops” Luck is with me on this as my only neighbor is deaf as a haddock and I am married to a musician who owns a Big Band. So as the noise that pours out of my room may be less than beautiful music that works on stage, no one is offended. Practice isn’t pretty or a performance. You have be willing to sound horrible to improve, hence solitude.
If there is going to be any progress there has to be passion and commitment. When all of that is engaged, it’s not at all lonely.
Another music journey through Ireland.
Most people schedule their trip to line up with the Fleadh Ceol. Although I think this is a very exciting week for all Irish Musicians, I try to schedule my trip before the Feast. My reasons are: The town is so crowded it is difficult to sit in any session as thousands flood the town. All of the top Trad players are there, Blackie, Cyril, Siobhan, Eoin, Quinten, Davan, Joe, Paddy, Tara, Kevin, Joannie, Dessie, Colin and too many more to count. The Fleadh is a fabulous time to be had. Great for the students and players to match their skills and be held to a standard. It puts a torch on the music for the world to notice. For some it represents years of hard work. There is an un paralleled energy in the air.
For this traveling musician, I hunt out the small out of the way Pubs where they all play the rest of the year. I was privileged to sit in a few high level sessions with some of my music heroes. One in Linnanes in Kilfenora with some of the members of the Kilfenora Ceili Band, one in The Roadside Tavern in Lisdoovarna with Christy Barry and Colin Nea and in Kilgarvan at O’Sullivan’s Pub with some very fine Kerry players. I did a drum solo for Christy, I played countless slides and polkas in Kerry. I met and played my Saltarelle Box with some Kerry people. The atmosphere there is very different. It is relaxed and all about the tunes. Don’t be fooled, they take no prisoners. You have to be able to hold your own and get through all of the tempo and rhythm changes they throw at you as your individual test. It was wonderful to catch up with old friends and meet some new musicians. We all promised to stay in touch through social media and return next year.
It is hard to leave a place where the music is so encouraged and revered. It feels like a very long 50 weeks till I am able to return.
As the fall sets in I have been invited to take a course on my Saltarelle Accordion, finish up the summer weekly session with my Trad group in Falmouth and begin the winter season sessions with Rose, Clayton and Greg in Chatham.
Just edit this element to add your own HTML.
So not much in 2018 but here we find ourselves in 2019 with lots of new opportunities. I have retired the Trad group Rossacroonaloo and founded a new group Happy Out. Maybe a session over the next few months. Stay tuned!
So March is the month we wait for all year. One of the things I love about playing is the subtle and constant silent conversation that goes on during the sets. While the audience “sees’ little talking and maybe an occasional smile, we the musicians are always talking to each other.
It may be a gentle tilt of the head, a look in the eye, a heavy strike of the bow and we all react to the change up. It is a language shared by Trad Musicians world over. To the audience it is mostly missed and to the beginning player it is daunting. This “language” keeps the musicians engaged with each other and the tunes. I love being bi lingual! HUP.
A savage good time altogether!
I asked Maureen Kelly, on her full piano accordion, and 12 year old All Ireland Whistle Champ Jonathan Ford to join us at Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub. The three hours flew by. That Accordion!!! What a sound. Takes me back to the Celli days of my youth watching my parents and their friends dance to those lively jigs and reels. The Accordion carried it all. What a joy Maureen is to perform with. We settle into our chairs and the melody players put out one or two bars of tunes to decide what the set will be. When agreed by all, Maureen starts the bellows and the magic begins. Such a distinctly Irish sound.
There is not much that equals the energy and perfection of a twelve year old who is so engaged in his music. Effortless in his playing. A typical pre- teen who sits in comfortably with adults and matches or out plays us with a complete lack of arrogance. Jonathan plays both whistle and fiddle. I particularly like his fiddle” voice”. It is a very old style as if he just hangs out and listens to 1930 recordings. He is part of the group Keltic Kids who study in Dennis, MA at West Bend Music.
Saturday before Paddy’s Day at Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub. Here we go. Rossacroo-Na-Loo is kicking off the Paddy’s week. It’s been a long winter leading up to this week. The first time we are all together on stage since New Year’s Eve. As I am setting up for the group there is a warm familiarity turning on the stage lights and looking out to the bar. It is a beautiful sunny day as people are walking Main Street. Families are on the Library lawn with children and dogs. The Cape is awakening after its winter sleep. There is a happy vibe from people’s faces as spring approaches.
The crowd starts to build in the second set as the day’s activities draw to an end. Families come in for dinner. Some are here to catch some Irish music and avoid the crowds of Paddy’s Day, others are here to start the week of celebration. Children dancing near their parent’s tables, toes tapping, hands clapping in time, and so it all begins.
For the band it is as if we never took a break. Feet moving in time together, rhythms driving and melodies flowing. Back under the lights at Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub.
2nd Sunday in March at the Squire. The guitar player and I get there early and save a parking spot for the two fiddle players who have the sound system. We all grab something to carry in and set up in a quiet rhythm we have all done before. I like this sound system. It is digital and can be run from an IPad. It is a smaller group this week. The original four of us and two guests. I enjoy it when the group is smaller sometimes. The tunes get tighter. The two fiddle players are in complete sync tonight as we start off with a Strathspey set. This is one of my most favorite group of players. The tempos are steady and quick. The tunes are interesting and we do some specific settings and orchestrated tunes they audience loves. The two hours fly by and before you know it we are breaking down the sound set and telling each other our plans for Paddy’s Day. Three days to go……
The Day is here. St. Paddy’s Day 2016 at Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub
And the people rejoiced. They are all hopping and jumping, drinking, singing, and feasting on wombats and breakfast cereals!!!
My Face Book is lighting up with people celebrating. All of my Trad Musician friends are posting where they are playing, Pubs, house parties, street busking. There is an electricity in the air both for the revelers and performers alike.
I arrive at our local at 10 30 am to check the stage and mic set up. Rory sets the levels perfectly. The staff is buzzing all over getting ready to open the doors. One final staff huddle, the staff photo and they are ready. Doors open at 11:30. In past years there has been a steady line down the Main Street of Falmouth throughout the entire day and night and today is no exception. Formidable looking Bouncers are at the doors, tables all set for the early crowd.
It all starts with the sound of the Pipes outside signaling the Pub is open. The que begins to file in and get their tables. In moments the Pub is full. Wait staff is ready, the Bar is poised as food and drinks begin to flow.
Not 40 shades of green, more like 4000 shades of green. Shamrock tiaras, all sorts of green necklaces, most illuminated. Hats from scully caps to giant green Guinness cat in the hat styles. As my Dad used to tell me, “If you are not Irish today you would want to be”.
The stage is set and we begin. We have the first set, jigs and reels at savage tempos. We go for an hour and then Liam takes it for the next hour. We are treated to a lovely meal during our break. The Pipes play during the stage transition so there is no break in music. The tables turn over and we are up again. Trad fills the room. Small children curious of the instruments come up to the stage to get a better look. People taking videos and phots to capture their day. We play three sets during the day that takes us to about 5:30pm.
As fast as the day came it is now over. The phantom music in my head goes on well past midnight. Four more session and the March Madness is a part of history for this year. HUP.
Blue Sunday. Ever heard that term? It's when you know the weekend is drawing to an end and the work week is looming before you.
What drives us to be musicians anyway? What temps us away from the lazy Sunday late afternoon in front of the fire place to drive an hour or more into the dark cold winter night?
As I push down the empty roads of Cape Cod on a night just past the winter solstice, I begin to get excited for what the evening will bring. Driving into the sleepy fishing village now quiet after the holiday madness, it could almost be a scene out of a Dickens novel. The shop fronts still decorated with Christmas lights, the streets empty of shoppers presents a serene backdrop.
I park behind the Pub and get my drum. Not many here tonight as the other three musicians arrive. We like a well-orchestrated team unload and set up for the Session. Speaker stands, mic cables, mic stands are all connected with ease in a pattern we have all performed before. As we take our seats a few customers begin to arrive. The Pub begins to fill up with people who come for the music on this Sunday night. The clatter of dishes, the hum of conversation all provides a platform for us.
Now the magic we all are chasing happens. As long echo of the footfall is heard, the fiery bows that pull the heat of the tunes begin, the primal heartbeat of the Bodhran drives us all back to where the music came from and then the open strings of the guitar casts a web to gather us all in it's perfect rhythm With our eyes closed we are one. The other guest musicians arrive and slowly seep in. Now the brakes are off and the Session is happening. We are all where our hearts tell us to be.
Took a few months off for family issues.
So for the end of this year,
. . don’t just memorize notes; memorize the feeling of playing them
So another year on my musical journey. Last night’s gig was very festive indeed. We opened for a Big Band. The pub was beautifully decorated and everyone seemed happy.
This year my focus may shift a bit in Trad. I am committing to my little Salterelle Irish Bouebe
This is a fun, quick action button box. Of all of the melody instruments I have tried, this has captured me completely. It is so funny this is what my Father tried to steer me too at the Ceil dances. I wanted no part of it. Probably because Ii was five years of age and the fellow playing it appeared to have angry eyebrows!! Now, here I am back to my roots in Sliabh Luachra.
Interesting the places music takes us. I was asked to accompany The Falmouth High School Choir for their spring concert. They were working on a Sea Chanty piece. The Director contacted me, sent me a few You Tube videos of what he was trying to accomplish and we were off. The song was Heave Away. The choir had been working on this for a few months. I was invited to the rehearsal the night before the show to work out the drum part. I suggested we have a fiddle player. He had a senior whose Mother runs a Fiddle School in town. Perfect!! Hunter played a piece her Mother wrote out for her to play during the interlude. She was exquisite. We sat for about 15 minutes and went through the song a few times.
Next night we did the sound check. The kids were excited and nervous. This was their moment in the spotlight. The transformation from the tee shirts and jeans was complete. Beautiful gowns and suits. When it was our turn to perform, we all took our places in perfect order. The Director gave me a nod and the drum kicked off an intro to the song with a deep bass jig rhythm filling the auditorium. His vision was spot on. The fiddle and the Bodhran gave the Choir the lift and feeling they were looking for.
In my wildest dreams I never expected to sit in with a Choir with my drum! Grand night altogether, so.
MARCH is Here!!!
17 days……. All year leads up to this month. This is our Christmas, our Day, and our Heritage. The world over everyone wants to be Irish on the 17th of March. Green beer, green hair, leprechauns galore add to the celebrations. But it’s the music they all want. Rebel tunes left to the Yanks by their Fathers and Grandfathers. Traditional tune for those closer to OLDE SOD remind them of times gone by, images of family and friends gathering in small Smokey Pubs and houses sharing voices and tunes.
Did you know the difference between a tune and a song? Songs have lyrics, tunes do not.
It all weaves the tapestry of who we are. As Trad Musician there is a sense of responsibility to all of those who have played these tunes before us to keep the music going. It evolves with the ebb and tide of time but always holds to its core of Ireland and her people.
The long hours in the practice room that filled the dark winter now has given way to light and music. Hopefully with new tunes, better technique and timing, we are ready to join all of our friends, both musicians and followers for many nights to come.
So as all of the Pubs fill up and we play No Nay Never one more time…….
1st Sunday in March Session:
We had a keyboard player sitting in for one of the fiddle players. She is an especially talented player, steeped in Cape Bretton music. I was seated right where I wanted to be, next to her. We played all of our usual tunes and then went right into the Cape Bretton tunes. She lite up that keyboard! The last set of the night was a full 15 minutes long. We held all of our favorites till then. The High Reel was one and set the pace for the rest. I still have that tune in my head. The fiddle player was in her zone and the crowd was screaming for more. I think it took me hours to fall into slumber that night. Only the first weekend into this magical month and I am Shtone Mad for more.your paragraph here.
New Year’s Eve/New Year 2016
Most musicians would do anything to play on New Year’s Eve. I was lucky to have two gigs this year. As I was packing up the Fiat and driving out I was thinking what an odd holiday New Year’s Eve is. For some it’s a romantic moment with a new love, or an evening with family wrapping up the holiday season, and for some it is a very lonely night. I continued along the quiet roads to the first gig. What a gift we as musicians have to share. To add some live music to those who have none in their lives and to ride the wave of excitement of the revelers into the next chapter of their lives.
It was fun as an Irish Traditional musician to play to people all dressed in sequences and tux. The pubs were decorated beautifully. Gold stars hung from the ceiling, table centerpieces were just the right amount of glitter all set beautifully on white table clothes. I felt as if I was in a Boston or New York restaurant. The atmosphere was buzzing. On stage the Flute locked eyes with the Bodhran and did the silent count, our feet in perfect time, and then tunes poured out.
Now as January is upon us it is time to retire to the music rooms. I love this time of year. Sitting in my music room looking at new tunes to learn and trying to perfect the ones I have learned. Listening to all of my music hero’s CDs in the tranquility of a winter’s peace.
This is the time the public doesn’t see. All of the solitary hours spent honing our skills in preparation for the next season. This is where all of the hard work happens.
The reward is playing with friends and for all of you.
So it's here again. So excited to be traveling to the West of Ireland to join friends and make new ones in the Sessions. One full week in Doolin, Clare and then below to family and friends in Kerry. I wait and practice for this all year.
OVER THE MOON ALTOGETHER