Wednesday, December 30, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 77: Short Term Goals

New Year's resolutions are nice, but short term goals are so much easier to achieve--and just when I thought the Christmas hubbub was over came BCMFest to steer my attention away from Jan 1 and focus it entirely on Jan 9.

Yes, the Boston Celtic Music Festival is coming on January 8-9, and there's nothing like a big deadline to get you moving. There are ten of us working together on a Dudley Street Irish dance hall "remake" band for the festival, recreating and updating the sound of the typical Boston dance hall band of the 1950s. We're calling ourselves the Boston Highlands Ceili Band, and we're learning music directly from a record of the Johnny Powell band from the 1950s. Translation: learn and memorize twelve tunes on soprano sax, to play in fourteen days at dance-hall speed (read: not slowly).

Intimidating if you let it be, but so far it's just a lot of fun.

The group performs from 2:10-2:45 pm on the Sanctuary Stage at the festival. For more info, visit

And after that? A Lindsay hiatus (more or less) until a March 7 concert at the Scituate Library. No performances, we think -- just working on finishing our CD, and more importantly, spending time as a family enjoying each other's company as the cold winter days lengthen into spring. Can't think of anything more appealing!

Monday, December 28, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 75: Pre-Concert Practice Technique

Good morning on the morning after our two Highfield Hall Christmas shows. Both terrific shows and all four of us -- Nikki Engstrom, Sean Brennan, Steve, and myself -- felt like we finished our Christmas season on a high note with these concerts. A receptive, laughing, foot tapping crowd made all the difference, and many thanks to music director Robert Wyatt for giving the audience "permission" to enjoy themselves!

Many thanks also to Rob Pemberton, who was there to do an amazing job on sound and on recording the show. Stay tuned... there could be a live Christmas CD next year...

A pre-concert practice technique that worked:

The morning of the concert, run through every piece, but slowly -- almost painfully slowly at times. Just once or twice, a straight run through all alone in the practice room.

It really, really helps, when coupled, of course, with months of practice on the tunes ahead of time.

Even if you don't perform in concerts, you can try this if you're going to a session and have a few tunes in mind that you'd like to play. Just sit, calmly and slowly, work through the tunes even more slowly than you'd ever do in real life...then watch what happens.

Most likely, you'll feel more confident and secure, and that right there is probably the key to successful performance.

Preparation is 99% of the game. And preparation breeds confidence. And once those two are there, the mind is free so that the soul can fly, and then you're making music for the ages!

This still rings in my head:

"Use what talent you possess: The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 73:

Day 73, yet Day 72 feels like three weeks ago. How does that happen? Glad it's over?

I am, except that it's not.

We still have two concerts to do tomorrow, postponed from last Sunday due to snow. But now that Christmas is over, it doesn't seem like stress anymore. It just sounds like fun, now.

True confessions: These concerts, while fun, are also hard. There is immense pressure on the musician standing in front of a full house of people who've paid to be there. You really feel like you have to do it right, make it worth their money, give people a wonderful experience. You can be joyful and excited about it and perform beautifully, or you can get really worried that you might not play it right, and then... not play it right. I know this is true, because it happened to a very close friend of mine. Know her?

Secret (Please don't tell anyone): I was so burnt out from the intense focus on these concerts leading up to Christmas that once the holiday was upon us, I did not even touch the flute for four days, from Tuesday through yesterday. We love, love, love music, but performing can be really challenging, especially when you're also focused on performing for family and friends in the rest of your life: Will you meet your work deadlines? Will your children enjoy the holidays the way they should? Will you find just the right gifts for hubby? Will you get all the gifts bought and wrapped? Will the cards get out in time? Will you have time to visit the most important people during the season? Will you have enough butter for the Christmas mashed potatoes? Will the house be decorated so that all who arrive feel the joy?

Yes, to all. Except the cards. But yours is in the mail, I promise.

Alas, the pressure's almost off now! This morning, the day after Christmas, all I wanted to do was go straight downstairs and play, which I did, and I enjoyed it. Funnily enough, one of the first things I decided to work on was the particularly difficult harmony part for "Joy to the World," which we're playing in our Christmas concerts... Up until the concerts, I'd been having a really hard time memorizing it. Working on it over and over, singing it to myself, and still I couldn't get it down. Guess what? This morning, I pulled out the flute and played it perfectly, first time. Sing it with me: "Joy to the world! The lord is gone!"

Uh-oh, I think I see a lesson here.

My mind keeps returning to that poster that we found: God made music that we might pray without words.

When music is about performing, impressing, perfecting, it's not so much about praying or playing. That's what keeps many, many fellow musicians away from performing. They love the informality and camaraderie of the house session, but they hate performing. Many say they really don't ever want or need to be on stage. Too much darn pressure. Once you're on stage, the expectations go right up. You're not supposed to screw up. And if you do, you're submitting yourself to the judgment of every person in that audience, never mind the world's harshest critic, yourself.

But then there's this, a new quote that a friend sent on Christmas, just in time:

"Use what talent you possess: The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best."*

The question remains: do you just sit happily in your own tree and sing away, or can you be happy when you find the tallest tree in the forest and sing for the hikers who are passing through? Are you singing when they're not there? Do you keep singing when they leave?


How about this: Let's all sing like no one's listening... even when they are! And for God's sake, keep singing when they leave.


*Thank you, Auntie Hen.

Friday, December 25, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 72: Lessons of a Lindsay Advent

Okay, people, I've done the profound and moving part of Christmas. I'm ready to get real. And here, at 1:00 am on Christmas eve, after just finishing the Christmas wrapping, and half in the wrapper myself (not true, but you know my motto: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story), it's time to share my tips for making Christmas simple.

A Lindsay How-To:

How to...remove the stress of a huge concert just three days before Christmas: Get 24" of snow and get stuck inside all day, enjoying family.

How to...beat the crowds at the post office: Send your Christmas cards at 11:00 am on Christmas eve. No lines! No waiting!

How to... have the greatest Solstice party ever: Cancel it, then wait and see what happens instead.

How to... have the most beautifully decorated house ever: Buy four massive poinsettas for a concert, with intent of then delivering them to friends after concert... then... never... quite... get... to... it...

How to...avoid wrapping a large and bulky gift: Leave in car for two weeks, warning husband repeatedly not to look there, right after he repeatedly looks there. Leave gift in car. Forget about gift. Then, ask husband to do dump run at noon on Christmas eve. Then, at 12:45 a.m on Christmas eve (which technically is Christmas Day EST), look for gift and discover it's not there. Tell husband you can't find gift. He says, "Uh... you mean the glass shelves? They're right at the bottom of the basement stairs."

How to...make wrapping happen fast: Go to church at 7:00 pm, then stop into the local fire station with neighbor to drop off gifts, and get a 75-min tour by the Battalion Chief, seeing every corner of the entire station, including all of the trucks, the storage closets, the office, the workout room, the break room (where all of the firefighters were watching A Christmas Story on individual, matching maroon recliners), the control room, the training room, the sleeping quarters, the Captain's private quarters, the inside of the scuba ambulance, and the Pepsi machine where all the cans were two years out of date but free. Throughout, Daughter looks unspeakably cute in box-pleated red coat, white Mary Janes, and little red fireman's hat.

How to... Get nine plastic bowls and twelve plastic water-filled cups dirty as fast as possible. Leave them out on back step to feed reindeer.

How to...enjoy wrapping ten thousand gifts in 90 min. on Christmas eve, when you're already exhausted: Do all that stuff above, then wrap gifts so badly that you find yourself laughing out loud, repeatedly, all alone.

How to...ensure that the tape sticks: Run out of the four rolls of tape you bought (a bargain!!!) two weeks ago, because it turns out that each roll only had appx. 3 inches of tape on it. Use whatever you can find instead, because after all, it's Christmas eve. Aha! Super sticky packing tape, beginning at 11:30 pm with frugal, meticulously torn little pieces, but ending at 1:00 a.m with six-inch slabs of tape slapped on 4-inch stocking stuffers. (Continue laughing hysterically.)

I agree with Jimmy Stewart. It's a wonderful life.

Merry Christmas from our crazy house to yours!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 71: Praying without words.

A funny thing happened on Solstice...

The Solstice party cancelled, I abandoned my inner Pagan and embraced my inner Capitalist. Instead of adorning the house with greens, I dashed out early on one of those little bits of heaven on Earth: a shopping sprint, all by myself.

A couple hours of wandering and four bags of goods later, I returned home to find Captain Hook in the middle of the playroom, a Kitchen Aid bread hook stuffed up his sleeve. Wendy stood across from him waving her sword. This part of the movie is scary. I returned to the kitchen, where I could safely put away groceries.

A few minutes later, Captain Hook came to the kitchen and unrolled a door-size poster, and asked, "Where did this come from?" On the poster was a piano, a violin, and a flute (and yes, a red rose), and emblazoned in massive letters was this: God gave us music that we might pray without words.

The world stops turning, briefly. Breathe. Exhale.

I don't know where it came from. Captain Hook doesn't know where it came from. We're not the most organized people in the world, but usually we know where things in our house come from.

Still, it arrived just in time. Music has been feeling more like a job than a prayer. Thank you, God of the Lost and Found, for this not-so-subtle reminder. This was one of those moments that if you believe in signs, you might get goosebumps.

About an hour later, two friends arrived to play music. Though we had canceled the party, these two beautiful people, the Goddess Helen of the Moon and St. Brendan the Voyager, have been at the heart of our Solstice celebrations for the last four years and will certainly be so, forever. They still wanted to come at least for the visit and the food. And we couldn't imagine the day without them. They play... um... piano and violin.

I don't believe in signs, but when I showed H. and B. the poster, I got goosebumps. But then again, I believe in signs.

Do you believe?

In what?





Or, just nothing?


Or maybe everything?


You can't believe in both nothing and everything.

I believe in belief. And in nonbelief.


I didn't practice yesterday. There are two times each day that I can practice: before everyone wakes up and after everyone goes to bed. Yesterday, my practice time was interrupted by the arrival of one of the Wise Men, bearing coffee. ("Come in, come in!") My evening time was superceded by a Christmas party, where we heard the Marcus Monteiro Quartet, a fabulous electric John Zorn-ish jazz group out of New Bedford. Alto front man Monteiro is a killer horn player who knows every corner of that horn. I told him so on a break. He said, "Not every corner; the goal posts keep moving." Ah, true musician.

So, I didn't practice, but instead, I honored practice, by watching this young player, in awe, and thinking, "So this is what practice does..."

And on Solstice, I didn't really practice either, but we played a lot, sharing music with family, close friends, and also with neighbors, who came for dinner with their three young children, one of whom was celebrating his eighth birthday on the solstice. May he always remember the birthday that he got to sing, shake sleigh bells, and play African drums to "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and "Rudolph" with a full band at the house next door.

That, most certainly, is what music is about. And it is also what the spirit of the season is about.

Where there is music, the spirit is always close by. May we never take it for granted. Music is a prayer without words, a gentle breath from heaven that impels us to say, "I believe."

Monday, December 21, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 69: Sunrise on Solstice

3:50 a.m. Plymouth; 8:50 a.m., Dublin. Literally at this very moment in Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland, the sun is rising over the hills across the Boyne River and shining its first rays into the little space called a "light box" above the doorway of a massive burial mound built around 3,200 BC and rediscovered in 1699. The sun's golden rays (if it's sunny, and it being Ireland... well, you never know) will creep down a chamber and, for 17 minutes, they will illuminate a stone cruciform chamber that holds three small spaces, one to the front, and one to each side. This happens every year on Solstice, and for a few days on either side of it. At all other times, the chamber stands black.

About 100 people are at Newgrange now, standing outside the massive circular mound. They are winners of a lottery, as every year, the folks at Newgrange draw 50 names from some 28,000 applications, and the winners are given the opportunity to observe the sunrise at the megalithic site.

In 3,200 B.C. when the place was built, how many were standing there, and why? No one knows for sure what Newgrange and other megalithic structures like it were used for: burial tombs, temples, or astronomical observatories? If a burial mound, what did the remains of these apparently VIP dead farmers do with the light? Write letters? Patch up holes in their rapidly decomposing tunic? Read that book they never had time to get to while they were busy administering rules and regulations for the local farmers?

Either way, it would seem that renewal would be the order of the day, even for dead farmers. Winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, and after it, days lengthen by just a few minutes a day. It's easy to imagine why this would be a sacred event in a country whose days last just 7 1/2 hours at this time of year. A bit of light in the darkness.

This Biblical passage comes to mind, Matthew 4:16: "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Early Christians in Ireland were wise to place their important Christian events in line with pre-Christian tradition. Christ's arrival at Christmas as a light in the darkness, as God-comes-to-Earth, makes perfect sense at Solstice. It is midwinter's day, the return of light in the Celtic season in the heart of Samhain, the dark season when the Celts believed that the veil was thinnest between this world and the other. Good time for the heavens to arrive on Earth.

And what does this mean? We pray a little with our morning coffee? Catch the sunrise on the beach? (I would try that, but I'm afraid I won't make it back up my driveway.) We've tried to bring this tradition into our home, this sense of renewal amid darkness, by holding a solstice music session. The one we scheduled for today got cancelled, though, as there's nowhere to park, thanks to the 24 inches of snow that fell yesterday. Now what do we do? One tradition we probably can manage is to adorn the home with greens--another pre-Christian tradition that has been appropriated by Christmas. Somewhere, I once read that the Celts would keep them in place until Feb. 2, the transitional day of the new season, Imbolc, at which point, the greens were burned. So we'll try that, but we'll really miss our session. I'd say, "Darn snow!" except that it's gorgeous out there.

A very happy solstice to you, and wishing you joy and renewal on this the shortest day!

For much more information on Newgrange, visit

Sunday, December 20, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 68: Almost Solstice!

The shortest day is fast upon us, and after tomorrow each day grows longer by a crow's foot. The darkness is waning, and there's nothing like 12" of snow to remind you of lightness! (Talk to me again after three hours of shovelling, and I may be calling it "heaviness.")

It's been a super busy week, and though I haven't written much, I've continued practicing. A four hour gig on Thursday at the Plymouth Farmer's Market "Winter Market" left my hands in bits, though, so Friday was a light day... and yesterday, I admit it, I skipped! But look what we woke up to...

Today, we were supposed to have two Celtic Christmas shows at Highfield Hall; both were sold out, but now that it's been rescheduled to same time, same place on Dec. 27, there still may be tickets available...

Bummer that we won't do the show, but the consolation is that we get to spend a day with our girl, making snowmen and sledding. That's the best gift of all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Definition

Entropissimo. Adv. An extreme state of entropy in a musician's home, in which every single room in the house incites musician to say "Ugh!" upon entering. Typically occurs midway through a stream of gigs.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Days 62, 63: She's So Kind, She'd Take Off Her Shoes Before Kicking You

I got an email from a friend today, and in it she said that she was finding that trying to make money with music is exhausting. She said that she felt she was enjoying it more when it was all just for fun with no expectations.

Even though we love playing, it's true that sometimes the "making a living" part of music is no fun. Then again, neither is sitting in policy meetings for hours, being at a desk all day, suffering through bogus "motivational speeches," talking about "teamwork," and pretending you like the guy who works in finance. It's rather nice not doing an office job.

But boy, do I understand the exhausted part. We are halfway through our nice little Celtic Christmas tour, my semester is almost over at Bridgewater, I'm almost caught up with my course editing at, I just guided an author through her first draft and just today she sent me her final revised chapters, I have another book waiting to be edited, my publisher is still waiting for me to sign my contract for my next book (they sent me the contract in September), I just did my final exam for the course I'm taking toward my music teaching license, and, well, I'm only making about half as much per year as I did back when I worked full time at Berklee. Oh yeah, and I've been practicing and writing every day.

All this not to complain, but to prove a point: Musicians work hard for their money, man. Not complaining, I swear. (Denya of My Fabulous Five reminded me yesterday that we chose this living.)

I think we're part of what industry theorists are calling a new "middle class" of musicians. It used to be that there were the stars at the top, and the pitiably poor, and nothing in between. Now there's a middle class, they say, who are making a workable living. Music Marketing course author Mike King at says that this middle class is made up of "musicians who are making viable businesses out of their music. That is, they operate on a lower volume, at lower risk, but with a higher profit margin. They are in the position to earn more annually on their own than they might get in the form of an advance from a record label."

Oh yeah? How? Not CD sales. The same course also said this:

CD sales have been dropping consistently since their its peak in 2000. According to Nielson SoundScan, CD sales have fallen from close to 800 million in 2000, to 360.6 million in 2008. Although purchases of online music are up, the increases in digitally downloaded albums and songs were not enough to offset the nearly 20 percent plunge in CD sales in the U.S. The market research firm the NPD Group revealed that there were nearly 17 million fewer CD buyers in 2008 compared 2007.

Then, to keep our chins up:

According to The NPD Group, the number of Internet users paying for digital music increased by just over 8 million in 2008 to 36 million Internet users. Purchases of online digital music downloads increased by 29 percent since last year, and now account for 33 percent of all music tracks purchased in the U.S.—a huge figure, considering that the iTunes store launched only five years ago.

In mid 2008, iTunes surpassed Wal-Mart as the largest music retailer, and as of January 2009, iTunes has sold in excess of 6 billion songs (accounting for more than 70 percent of worldwide online digital music sales).

So there. The industry is changing and we just have to find new ways to carve out a living, but that's not so different than what artists, writers, carpenters, plumbers, professional gymnasts, and anyone born without a silver binky in his/her mouth have to do.

We all have to work hard so stop whining, goshdernit.

And I mean that in the kindest, sweetest, most supportive, loving kind of way.

There. That said, it appears that it is time to swiftly tiptoe... away... from... the ... computer...

Monday, December 14, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 61: Who Needs Drugs? We Have Minwax.

Here's the practice room about a month ago. Looks nice, huh? Steve did that work. It used to be a gray concrete hole. Gotta love that guy.

Here it is today. Note that the wood is much darker. (Plus, we have a new camera, so the photo is much better -- thank you, Soul Sister.)

But the aroma: Thank Minwax. Looks beautiful, but it's smelly. Three days after staining in an unvented basement, and my Lord, practicing tonight was like Woodstock '68. The music can only take you so high. Leave the rest to Minwax.

Practice conditions not perfect, but they've been worse. In another phase of construction, here is where I practiced. I took a picture because you can't capture this beauty any other way. I'm so glad the neighbors let me practice in their basement.

At our Cotuit show yesterday, I was reminded that just because you've been playing a tune intensely on an intermittent basis for the last year, it doesn't mean that you can suddenly stop working on it and then play it live. No, no, my friend. You gotta keep this stuff active. Practice room or no, sometimes you just have to suck it up and practice anyway. Because there's nothing like a live show to remind you of the music you've been taking for granted.

So, in preparation for Highfield Hall on Sunday, I brought my Brendan tunes to the basement and mellowed out with the fumes. It was the Summer of Love in the Bleak Midwinter.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 60 Part II: Motherhood on Stage

Great Christmas show today with Stanley and Grimm! A warm crowd at Cotuit, and the joy of doing a nice show almost erased all the stress that led up to it...

The hardest part of doing these special performances for Steve and I is the continual worry that our little one is somehow missing out, as we run around like lunatics getting ready for gigs. Sometimes when you're doing what you love, it's hard to remember that it's also work, and therefore, it's okay to do.

But still, the question: How to be a good parents AND good musicians? Living here in small town America, there are few models. Most parents around us lead a more straightforward life--and to many of them, our life seems odd, impossible, maybe glamorous at times, but mostly a cause for wonderment. "How do you do it?" What they don't say, but what is often clearly implied, is "WHY do you do it?" Why not just settle in, lead a quiet life, take the kids to soccer practice, go home, relax? Why do we do all these gigs? Because, I suppose, we have to. We are musicians, and we love music with all the passion in our hearts. This is what we do.

We are fortunate to have connected with Nikki Engstrom, who is managing the musician/mom life beautifully. She seems to have it down: Bring the kids along on the trip. Nikki's four were a highlight of Christmas show today. They joined us on stage for three pieces, including a beautifully sung "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" by her six year old daughter Haylen.

Overall, a great show. Sean Brennan did a tear-jerking version of "Christmas in the Trenches" and some snappy step dancing on our last set of reels. Steve gave us "Rising of the Moon" and reminded us of why we honor this season. Nikki, as always, rocked the house with some killer fiddle tunes, then we all played the hell out of some reels, and were joined throughout by stepdancers Haylee McHugh and Shauna Leonard, both of whom were in the Bridgewater State College Traditional Irish Music Ensemble this semester. We're looking forward to Highfield Hall next weekend!

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 60: When Selling Out is a Good Thing

Today just a pic from yesterday's show. 'Tis the season, yes indeed. Yesterday was a Celtic Christmas concert at Scituate Library, then took Mini Me, a neighbor, and a niece to the Nutcracker, danced by the South Shore Ballet Company at Derby Academy in Hingham. It was a sold out show, and they did a terrific job. Wish you could go, but today's matinee is sold out too!

And now, the view from backstage: Little Miss Writer is too distracted to be inspired. I'm leaving the inspiration for the flute today at Cotuit.

Then again, I saw true distraction last night. The woman who parked next to me at the Nutcracker ushered her car full of five granddaughters out of the vehicle and into the show... but left the car running the entire time. Then, in the show, wondered where her keys were. The car was still there, and still running when she got back. Bet she's glad she had a full tank. Kind of makes you think twice about sending your five kids off with someone else....

Friday, December 11, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 58: And the World Said....

For the last month or so, my practice routine has included Christmas music, and the World said, "Thank you."

That's how I'm interpreting our upcoming sold-out Christmas shows with the Lindsays and Stanley&Grimm. Now, really, it's only you and I who know how hard I've been working, but I've decided that these shows are my little Christmas present. We are really excited.

This Sunday's show in Cotuit is completely sold out, though they say they may release 25 balcony seats on the day of. If you wanted to catch that show, arrive at the box office early. More info at

The Sunday, Dec 20 Highfield Hall 3:00 show in Falmouth is also completely sold out. The 7:00 show, as of yesterday, had only a handful of tickets left. Those tickets may be purchased from Highfield Hall at

Looks like a fun couple of weeks for the Lindsays!

Whether or not you can make it, thanks for being here all along.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 55, Part II: Happy Endings

Remind me never to say I won't be writing much in the next couple of weeks. I jinxed myself; now I can't stop.

What a nice day music brought today.

Woke at 5 to practice.

Brought Babycakes to school (after I snapped this picture, the very first photo to be taken with our new camera!), and off to Bridgewater to hear student reports on some interesting contemporary artists: Pink, Michael Buble, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, John Mayer, and my favorite today, James Morrison. No, not THAT James Morrison, and not that other one either.

Then, off to Irish Traditional Music Ensemble, where the students played tunes they'd been working on all semester, then our dancers gave us a workshop in how to dance a reel. What fun! Can't help it; I feel kinda proud of them. (The two dancers in the class will be joining us for our Celtic Christmas concerts, by the way.)

Then back to my office to listen to a 28 min. piece titled "Urban Requiem" for sax quartet and wind ensemble, by Michael Colgrass, Pulitzer prize winning composer whose memoir I recently copyedited. A gorgeous programmatic piece that is a musical representation of Miami and its varied and colorful cultures. Colgrass is a genius. I am proud to have had the chance to work with him on his book.

Then I checked email found out we've sold all but 14 tickets for our Celtic Christmas Concert with Stanley&Grimm at the Cotuit Center for the Arts show on Sunday. That's big.

I ran to the practice room because I was too excited to do anything but play.

Then, off to rehearsal with the wind band, followed by a couple hours of really fun chat with students, and grading a few music papers.

Then, a concert with the Bridgewater State College Wind Ensemble, directed by Dr. Donald Running, AKA Brassdoc. What an incredible job he's done with the wind ensemble, and what fabulous taste. For tonight's concert, he put together a very interesting program of neotraditional modern compositions, all with a theme related to sleep, dreaming, the big sleep, etc. Much fun to play wind ensemble music again (I filled in on second alto), and what great pieces. Don is a wonderful conductor: expressive, emotive, fabulous composure. A joy!

Stopped at the convenience store on the way home for two of my favorite starches, and decided that since things had been just so lovely all day, I'd try my hand at a lottery ticket. And I won. A dollar. So I got another one. And I won. A dollar.

What did I do with the third ticket? I lost.

What a buzz kill. But that's what beer is for.

Of course, what's much nicer is this: the cheery home that greeted me, with my two favorite people sleeping peacefully in their beds. How nice it is to be home.

Thus ends a 14-hour day of doing just what I love.

Not that we questioned it recently, but: Yes, practice is worth it.

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 55: A Late Thanksgiving

Make no mistake about it: it was not easy waking up this morning at 5 a.m. to work, practice, and write, after being up til midnight last night working, practicing, and writing. But man, does it feel good.

The heavens have put aside a reserve tank of energy for people who need a little extra zing in order to do exactly what they're supposed to be doing in life. How fortunate the person who knows their calling, and who is heeding it.

Not easy. I spent a lot of time in my early 20s with those silly What Color is Your Parachute and Zen and the Art of Making a Living "find yourself" books. Then, one day in my late 20s, I was doing yoga with a yogi-musician friend when, mid hamstring-stretch, I had a revelation: Music • Writing • Fitness. Aha!

I was already writing, for my job, but I've always done that. Soon after, I started mountain bike racing, taking Irish flute lessons, and then applied to grad school and enrolled in Tufts' ethnomusicology program. First day of school, I was walking along thinking about all the wonderful colleges at the university: dental, pre-med, engineering, veterinary medicine--and realized I could have done any of those things but had chosen music.

No, music did not choose me. I had to work to make this life happen.

I'm still working. Lots of writing, lots of music. Haven't gotten the fitness thing down yet, but 2 out of 3 ain't bad, for now. I must say: this musical life is an awful lot of work, but also an awful lot of fun. I am thankful. And I am especially thankful to be sharing it with you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 54, Part II: On Perfection

Today, in a rehearsal, I played a set of tunes I'd been working on for some time. My friend and musical partner was here listening as I played it mostly correct, but with a few errors, missed notes, etc. After I played, she very kindly and not critically said she'd heard me play the set much better.

I agreed. Well, my mouth was dry and it was hard to play. But that's not really what was going on. What was going on (I didn't tell her this part) is that while I was playing, I was hearing all sorts of interesting variations in my head and had reached for them unsuccessfully.

The good part is, I reached. The bad part is, I missed.

We all know this, don't we: If you want to extend your bounds, you must reach, but there's always the risk that you might miss. But better to have tried and missed than to never have tried at all.

I once saw an interview with clarinet player Artie Shaw ("Begin the Beguine"). A contemporary of Glenn Miller in the big band era, but with his own, more edgy big band, he said this:

"... I didn't like Miller's band, I didn't like what he did. Miller was, he had what you'd call a Republican band. It was, you know, very straight laced, middle of the road. And Miller was that kind of guy, he was a businessman. And he was sort of the Lawrence Welk of jazz. And that's one of the reasons he was so big, people could identify with what he did, they perceived what he was doing. But the biggest problem, his band never made a mistake. And it's one of the things wrong, because if you don't ever make a mistake, you're not trying, you're not playing at the edge of your ability. You're playing safely, within limits, and you know what you can do and it sounds after a while extremely boring."

Agreed. Playing perfectly is nice. It sounds good for a while, but playing safe eventually gets us, well, nowhere.

Let's make some mistakes. It, also, may get us nowhere. But how much more fun it will be!

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 54: ALJASHU (Gesundheit!)

Say "Yes" to ALJASHU at Berklee on Thursday:

Not that I want you to miss the chance to see me play baritone saxophone with the Stage Door Canteen swing band during the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest at Liam Maguire's in Falmouth on Thursday night ... but.... my friend Julia is putting on this most amazing-sounding concert at Berklee:


On Thursday, December 10,, 2009 from 4:00 – 4:50 PM, the newly formed Sephardic music group ‘ Aljashu’ will be performing at Berklee College of Music’s ‘Loft’ space at 939 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215 (enter through 921 Boylston St., take elevator to 3or 3-A and pass through the student activities lounge). The concert will be a set of 12 songs of all-acoustic music sung in Ladino, also known as Judeo-Español, and played on the stringed instruments of guitar, oud, saz, and cumbus with percussion including cajon, dumbek, riq, zils and chimes. This is an all-acoustic music concert.

Aljashu is the dreamchild of vocalist Julia Madeson. Along with her music partners Tev Stevig, and Brian O’Neill, the trio form the foundation of the project whose name derives from a Turkish-Jewish Passover dessert of matzoh piled with dried fruits and nuts, drizzled with honey. With this metaphor of an often afflicted past wherein Jewish populations have been forced to exit from various places over their history, while adopting the sweet and savory local gifts, and the intention to find happiness, Ms. Madeson hopes to bring this exquisite modal infused music to a wider audience.

This concert is one of two planned by the group under the grant sponsorship of Berklee College of Music’ s Office of Cultural Diversity. The December concert’s theme is Hanuka – A Celebration of Light., and is dedicated to the joyful legacy of singer, musician, songwriter and ethnomusicology scholar, the late Judy Frankel. Judy Frankel performed Sephardic music around the world, and wrote down the songs she encountered from her travels, and from mebers of the Ladino speaking community in and around her adopted city of San Francisco.
Ms. Frankel recorded several albums of music, and she is the subject of independent documentaries. Her generously spirited legacy has helped make this concert possible. The Spring concert (date and location to be announced) is titled Everlasting Spring.

The concert songs will all be sung in the Ladino language, also referred to as Judeo-Español, that has traveled with Sephardic Jews since the Judaic and Islamic expulsion from Spain in 1492. Having lived harmoniously in a multicultural religious environment of Catholics, Muslims and Jews for several centuries before the rise to power of Ferdinand and Isabella, it is widely believed that 90% of all Jews lived in Spain and Portugal at the start of the Inquisition. While many Jews remained on the Iberian peninsula, openly converting to Catholicism but secretly practicing Judaism (Conversos), there was a large exodus by ship to the welcoming Ottoman Empire. Jews relocated from Spain to cities such as Istanbul, Izmir (then Smyrna) and numerous locations extending beyond the Greek islands including Rhodes and Salonica.

The music to be performed on Thursday has also traveled over this distance and time. Songs range from several centuries old to two modern compositions by Ms. Judy Frankel. The choice of instruments is based on current practices ranging over the span of geography and time indicated by the pieces. As Ms. Madeson is surrounded by talent in the Berklee guitar department, she chose to feature players on the Turkish oud -- a lute and guitar relative, as well as the banjo-like cumbus -- manufactured only in Istanbul, and fretted and fretless guitars.
The percussion instruments represent the cajon -- widely used in Spain, and the dumbek, riq and zils, played extensively in Turkey.

Julia Madeson has been a vocalist since she could speak, and has performed a range of styles from blues and folk to opera. She has appeared as a soloist with orchestras and choirs from New York City to Australia. Formative childhood experiences with her parents’ involvement in social justice and peace activism work stoked her interest in cultural preservation. Ms. Madeson works as staff at Berklee College of Music as the Guitar Department Coordinator.

Tev Stevig is a graduate of Berklee College of Music where he studied jazz as a guitar performance major. He now works for the college in the City Music program, teaching guitar to students at the Roland Hayes School in Roxbury, MA. Tev leads several music projects and plays a wide array of instruments he has collected on his travels. Most recently this includes a custom made guitar he received directly from the luthier in Granada, Spain. Tev’s musical explorations include Ottoman Classical music to contemporary Bulgarian folk-fusion, and he has performed in festivals of Balkan music in Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

Brian O’Neill is a graduate in percussion of Northern Arizona University. Brian comes from a background as a vocalist and pianist, leading him to vibraphone and currently he plays percussion and leads and performs in world music groups from trio to orchestra. Well versed in styles ranging from opera to disco, his musical pursuits have brought him on journeys from Hawaii and Japan to Mexico.

Also joining the group for this concert will be five Berklee College of Music students from four continents. This Thursday’s program features Sabi Saltiel on guitars and saz. Mr. Saltiel was raised in Izmir, Turkey in the Sephardic tradition and is set to graduate next week and move to Los Angeles to pursue his music career. Enamored with metal guitar music, Sabi did not expect to find himself playing the saz when he first arrived at Berklee, but that all changed when he decided to perform with the Middle East Ensemble led by Berklee faculty member Christiane Karam. One of the songs on the program, Los Bilbilikos (The Nightingales), is credited as originating in his home city of Izmir (ancient Smyrna), and he is showing the group the way it is played around the homes at family parties and gatherings in Izmir.

Fellow Turkish student Cagri Erdem was born on the European side of Istanbul, but more recently lives in Asian Istanbul. Cagri performs jazz guitar and his recent jazz compositions and arrangements were heard in the Berklee Performance Center for the Berklee College of Music’s guitar department 2009 Jazz & Blues Student Showcase Night. That evening also featured student Jussi Reijonen performing an original piece dedicated to his private guitar instructor the iconic jazz improviser Mick Goodrick. Cagri and Jussi also play in Berklee’s Middle East Ensemble. Jussi purchased his first oud while backpacking in Morrocco six years ago. Rounding out the program are classically trained guitarist Jean-Pierre D’Alençon from Santiago, Chile -- Jean-Pierre has also been arranging and performing tango for guitar, and guest vocalist Sarah-Jane Pugh. Sarah-Jane is a musician, singer, and songwriter, as well as an accomplished dancer and actor.

For further information, contact Julia Madeson; 857-389-2434

# # #

Sunday, December 6, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 53: From Where I'm Standing

Ah, it's all about perception, isn't it? If I'd only been standing 20 feet further north last night, I woulda got my stinkin' Jingle Bells. Still, from where I'm standing, I keep hoping that what I see is universal.

This blogging thing can be a bear. I have no particular interest in sharing my innermost thoughts, except in hopes that my speed bumps may mirror yours, and together we can drive over them without spilling a drop of coffee.

This morning, I saw a flier for Antje Dukevot's upcoming Dec. 12 show at the Driftwood Folk Cafe in Plymouth. I thought the Globe's writer did a beautiful job here:

She believes in the redemptive power of the shared secret; and is utterly unafraid to mine the darkest corners of her life for songs that turn fear into resilience and isolation into community.

Beautifully stated. Yet.... "the redemptive power of the shared burden"... does this mean something similar to "overly personal female singer songwriter?" Likewise for the blogger: shared burden or whiny writer? New journalism or public journal?

Either way, I am here to tell you that we're over the hump of our second 100, and from what I'm hearing, we're all getting better, and having more fun playing. I must say, I have never felt so in-command of the flute. A terrific feeling.

If you don't hear much from me in coming weeks, it's because the end of the semester comes at the same time as four major Lindsays concerts, intensive prep for the unveiling of an Irish Big Band at the Boston Celtic Music Festival in January... and of course, the holidays! The tree! The cookies! The friends and family!

Dozens of tunes to learn before I sleep soundly again, and I do I do I do feel joyful about it. But mostly I'm looking forward to January 10, when it's all over!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 52: Ghosts of Christmas Past

The ghosts of Christmas past were a little frazzled last night at the Kiwanis Christmas in Downtown Plymouth, the town's longtime annual tree lighting event. I'm a big proponent of both pomp AND circumstance... seeking music to set the mood at every occasion (oh.. you noticed?), and especially at Christmas. Last night, we had the circumstance, but where was the pomp? I WANT MY JINGLE BELLS! I missed hearing more music, but still, there were a lot of terrific things going on downtown. It's worth the trip next year, if you can handle the crowds.

Picture this: You're in a crowd of about a thousand people in Shirley Square. You've got your own kid, your friend's three energetic boys, four adults, and one stroller, and you're ducking and dashing through the other groups of kids and strollers, not quite sure what your destination is, except maybe a spot with less people (which doesn't exist)... all of this while trying to stick together, despite the fact that one of you is constantly running into someone you know, requiring you to stop every five minutes, shout ahead to the others (who are already sixteen heads ahead of you) to wait, then while one chats, the others do their best to corral the excited little sheep. So there's that.

Suddenly, the Plymouth high school marching band appears from the south, turning the corner from Town Square. We heard the drum cadence and knew Santa wouldn't be far behind on Michael Pincelli's antique fire engine, a Plymouth tradition we can count on. We lined up and watched the band go by, and they looked fabulous--but the sound! Where was the music? Just the drums, and not even a glockenspeil playing a familiar Christmas tune. It was a wee bit exciting to see Santa on the back of the fire engine waving at the folks on the other side of the street. Nice red suit, but I really could've used a little Jingle Bells.

The band and truck stopped at the tree. I couldn't see them above the crowds, but about three seconds later, at 5:58, the lights went on. No drum roll. No lead up. No band playing a Christmas tune. No chorus singing Silent Night, Hark the Herald, or Deck the Halls. No singalong carols, where the whole town joined in, as they'd done in past years. That was always a tear-jerker for me, I admit, but I also cry every time I see the Plymouth high school marching band go by--touched by the kids looking so intense, trying so hard to do it right (Yes, I cry at all parades. All of them.) The lights on, everyone cheered, and two minutes later, that part was over. Santa made his way to Memorial Hall, and everyone stood around wondering what to do next. And still... no Jingle Bells.

Thank you, DPW. The trees are done so beautifully in downtown Plymouth. The 25-foot tree covered in hundreds of tiny red Christmas bows is a testament to someone's patience, and the piece de resistance, of course, is the perfectly spiralesque, meticulously decorated white lighting on the deciduous trees along Shirley Square. Lovely!

What was also nice was the sleigh rides, behind the Hobby Knoll Clydesdales from Duxbury. Those are central to the celebration, though if you waited til 6:30 to buy your tickets (which we did), you'd find that the rides were already sold out til 8:00. Good to know for next year. Particularly because this was the site of our three-year-old's Cataclysmic Meltdown #1.

Ah, the public meltdown. An event to warm the cockles of even the most frosty mother's heart.

After this heart-warming event, motion was the only solution. We quickly made our way to Memorial Hall, hoping to beat the crowds a little and get a ging at Santa, who was upstairs for photos. Ha, ha! Beat the crowds. As if there were such a thing! Silly Mommy!

By the time we'd dodged the crowds, climbed the stairs, and entered the Santa room at Memorial Hall, the line for Santa was out the door. Fortunately our little one didn't mind; Santa's still a little scary, so we got our glance and left. We really missed the crafts that had been there in the Santa room in previous years; always a chance to do a little early shopping for handmade gifts. (Maybe the crafters were somewhere else in the building, but there was no signage to tell us so.) Anyway, it was just as well. We went back downstairs just in time for Cataclysmic Meltdown #2. "MOMMY BUT I DON'T WANT TO GET IN THE STROLLER! NO, I DON'T WANT TO WALK EITHER! I DON'T WANT TO WEAR MY COAT! NO, I DON'T WANT YOU TO PUT MY COAT IN THE BACK OF THE STROLLER!"

This is when the wise parent says, "Tired! I'll take her home!" But no... there was more to see. Silly Mommy.

Back downtown to North Street, for the final destination of the event, and site of Cataclysmic Meltdown #3. A major highlight of the entire evening, really, was the activity at the Plymouth Center for the Arts. It was teeming with children and parents, who'd come to decorate gingerbread cookies and snowflakes, while soprano Jodi Mulcahy and a cellist performed in one the center's galleries. I happen to know that the volunteers had worked tirelessly all week to bake the cookies, decorate the center, and staff the event, and even at 7:00, after two hours of chaos with kids in and out of the center's small rooms, they were still cheery and having a blast. That was real community, and even though our little one chose that venue for her third and final cataclysmic meltdown of the evening, the smiles of art center volunteers extraordinaire Carol Raymond, Deb Calvert, Nancy Sealey, and Ruanne Amado that night will remain shining spots in my memory of Christmas 2009. But no smile can outweigh a public meltdown... That's when we took our cookies and ran home.

Many congrats to the Kiwanis folks who put this together. Yes, I missed the music this year, but I'll do it again next year. I'm a die-hard, though I admit it is a challenging event to be the parent of a small child in. Due in large part to the mild weather, the crowds were overwhelming. Maybe the music was there, but I couldn't hear it over the crowds. In past years, when the weather was bad and the crowds were tiny, it seemed that there was music everywhere. There were carolers at Shirley Square... Paul, Pat the Fabulous, and friends from Middle Street School of music dressed in Victorian garb and singing carols in multipart harmony. And, there was the bagpiper, who in past years had stationed herself in front of the old Woolworth's and played Christmas tunes that echoed over the whole downtown. No bagpiper this year. I missed them. What also was missed was last year's Brewster Gardens light show, because in addition to being beautiful, it did one important service: it spread the crowds out, giving people something worthwhile to see outside of the immediate downtown. And finally, I missed the smiling Kiwanis people handing out programs to tell you what was going on, and where. Either they weren't there, or they were lost in the crowd.

Note for next year: Get there when it starts at 5:00, and stay late (if no one is having a meltdown) to take advantage of the many events available. We were sorry to miss face painting at Church of the Pilgrimage, holiday music at the 1749 Court House, and later in the celebration, school band concerts at Memorial Hall--I know I would have gotten my Jingle Bells there, but Memorial Hall, being the site of Cataclysmic Meltdown #2, meant we had to put Mini Me in the stroller and run like hell.

Dear Kiwanis:

Next year, please can we have a little Jingle Bells? Thank you.

Signed, Mom.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 49: The Kindness of a Night's Sleep

She who walks a fine line between cynic and Pollyanna would be well advised to write her blogs after a night's sleep has reset her attitude clock.

This morning, staring into the darkness at 5 am, I was thinking about Jedward, the young Dublin twins who'd recently made it through several rounds of the British talent show, X-Factor.

I was too hard on the poor fellows.

I said they couldn't sing, couldn't dance. I am not the only one who said that, but isn't that part of the fun of these talent contests: everyone has an opinion and joins the discussion. Fact is, Jedward CAN sing and CAN dance. Given, not at superstar quality, but they certainly do a job that would quickly steal the show at a community event, and maybe that is perfectly good enough. Still, it's easy to see why the entire country was cheering them on: While they weren't quite polished enough to make it to the final round, they were genuine, enthusiastic, and innocent... Local boys who had a shot at the big time. Who can't get behind that? Hooray for our team.

The sad part is, now they're off the radar. It's a pity now that the boys will go home feeling like they had failed because they didn't make it to the top; hopefully they have either the inner wisdom or the outer wisdom (AKA supportive parents) to remind them that it was only a lost shot at fame, but not at success--and hopefully they've still got a pile of songs and dances in them.

One of the things I always appreciated most about music in Ireland was that, at a singsong, every person is encouraged to do their party piece, regardless of the quality of their voice. While they may neither be Luke Kelly nor Andreas Botticelli, they're still asked to "give us a song, Gary," and in many corners, they do—without introduction, apology, or self-consciousness.

Maybe Jedward just took it out of the sitting room and brought it to network television. Yes, they were surrounded by hot, barely dressed professional hiphop dancers during their act. Yes, the lighting and pyrotechnics were way over the top. And, yes, I am not a fan of most pop music.

But even the diehard anti-sports-tribe cynic can root for the home team now and then. Congrats to the boys for giving it their best shot. Now, get back to school and do your geography homework.


As for myself: Step away from the computer and start playing that flute.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 48: December!

Oh my, it's December and it didn't take long for the vacation buzz to wear off. But back on a roll with the practice.

A few new gigs I haven't mentioned: Tomorrow night is a session at Bridgewater State College from 7-9, One Park Avenue, Rondileau Campus Center. Everyone welcome! Spread the word. Larry Flint provides guitar and singing support! (Not that Larry Flint. That Larry Flynt was already booked for some sort of bunny party or something.)

Next week, Sue performs with the Bridgewater State College wind ensemble on Tues Dec 8 at 8 pm...

ALSO NEW: Dec 17, Plymouth Farmer's Market... Winter Market! Stock up for Christmas. S&S will play from 3-6. At Plimoth Plantation.

And as you may already know:

Dec 12, 2:00 Celtic Christmas at Scituate Library, 85 Branch Street. Scituate. Free.

Dec 13, 2:00 Celtic Christmas at Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit, MA

Dec 21, Celtic Christmas at Highfield Hall. (Tickets are going fast, and approaching sell-out.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 47: Progress?

Since 1991, there hasn't been a return flight from Ireland (and that's about twenty flights we're talking about here) on which I didn't "start a book." Always with the good ideas, I scribble wildly in my journal, or lacking that, an airplane napkin, a used beer mat I'd stuffed in my pocket at the session the night before, the back of my print-out ticket, or once, a barf bag. But this very well may be the first of such journals I actually will publish. Hooray for the unedited, un-peer-reviewed blog!

Funnily enough, I'm not sure I had much to say. Here's what I wrote on the return flight on Sunday, slightly edited

Well, big deal. Another trip, and happy to be returning home. Friday, I wrote that "everything is better in Ireland." To which I say: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

It's a bit surprising that I even have the chance to write on this plane, as I've got my wee friend beside me, but she's finally self-occupied with one purple horse, a tiny mouse in a dress, and a pile of plastic accessories. Six hours into the flight now. Two to go, and to be honest, so far Mini Me has been fabulous.

Somehow, today I'm fresh as a daisy--at least on the inside. Coulda used a shower before the flight, but what the hell. I'd only get dirty again anyway. Last night's going away party finished up at 4 am. There were five of us left, and we were milking every second we could from each other's company. No one wanted to give in and go to bed; we kept asking each other for just one more song. It was great to hear our friend Gabo Roberts singing again. His voice is so powerful and natural, his delivery so heartfelt, it's really hard to understand why he's not famous. Seems to be people like that under every rock in Ireland, and Ireland has a lot of rocks.

Last night was a good old fashioned house party singsong, where eight or so people gathered around in a tight corner of the living room, and sang song after song, everyone chipping in on the ones they knew, which was most of them. This part of Ireland, I always miss. In America, if someone pulls out an instrument and begins to play, one or two people may listen, but most will continue to talk to each other loudly, often directly next to or in front of the musician, no matter how good the individual may be playing. In Ireland, if you're in the room with the session, then you either participate, listen, or leave. If you want to talk to your neighbor, it seems that you generally leave the room to do so.

Music is participatory, not background--and that has been one of the most difficult adjustments Steve has had to make here in America, though it's fair to say that it's an adjustment he hasn't made--and I hope he never does. Oh, you can find situations here in which people really will listen and sing along, but usually the room is lacking an ample supply of carnivores, and there's always this sneaking fear that someone might break into "Kumbaya" at any moment.

Let me just tell you, though, that even in Ireland, this sort of environment is quickly disappearing. For example, our first two days in Ireland, the talk everywhere was of "Jedward"--John and Edward Grimes, two Dubliners who'd made it through several eliminations of "The X-Factor," the British equivalent of American Idol, in all of its glitzy, grossly excessive glory. It appeared to be a novelty to have Irish artists make it so far on the show, and everyone was talking about it.

So, the big show was on, on our first Sunday in Dublin. It was George Michael night, and the twins did a version of Wham!'s "I'm Your Man," wearing all white: skinny jeans, blazers, high top sneakers, and "Choose Life" t-shirts, good Catholic boys they must be. Then there was the hair: an exaggerated bouffant rising five inches off the tops of their heads. They could barely sing, couldn't dance, but had those Elvis Presley crying eyes, and perhaps therein lay their appeal. Actually, I'm not really sure what their appeal was, but it was widespread. We were in a pub filled with about 200 people when the X-Factor came on, and all fell silent to watch their performance. The barmaid shouted, "There'll be no drinks served while this is on!" and everyone glued their eyes to the TV. God, it hurt to watch. All over the news, of course. Ain't they cute?

It is almost certain that the old Ireland is nearly gone. That's what happens with progress, eh? The Celtic Tiger came and went, but in its wake, though most people complain about recession, things are a heck of a lot better than they were before the feline invader. They're speculating on how bad it is, but they're doing it from the kitchen tables of their 4,000 square foot houses, from their kitchen extensions, from their comfy leather couches. It is my humble opinion that things ain't too bad, folks.

When I first arrived in 1991, the EU didn't exist. Ireland had its own currency, and its own laws. Things were very tough then. Ireland hadn't recovered from the horrid recession of the 1980s, and in the little town of Thurles where I first landed, and subsequently ran out of money in, and further subsequently fell in love in, and still further subsequently spent about six months in, things were very bad. 20% unemployment, no tourism. Everything felt dirty and grey. In my memory, the town then was dingy, outdated, backward, and depressed. I revisited that town on this trip, and was amazed to find twice the number of shops open, brightly painted shops, fully stocked shelves, cafes and restaurants, a BENETTON right on the square, and a brand new two-lane highway belting out of town and cutting across formerly untouched fields. It was great to see that the town had come along and appeared to be bustling... but the highway? DEPRESSING! It made me sad, but I'm just a visitor. I'm sure the locals are happy that they can get around more quickly--that is, those locals whose land wasn't destroyed by a concrete ribbon. The ones who like it most probably also were watching Jedward with great interest.

Progress. Ireland has come a long, long way, and much about that is good—but it has left behind a great deal in the process.

Progress most certainly has a price.

* * *

Speaking of progress, how is yours? We're at day 47--nearly halfway there, and man, this is going quickly. I'm afraid that I fell off the wagon a bit last week, only managing three days of real practice in the nine that we were away. I'm back on track now, and I did miss it. How about you?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2 Day 45: Everything's Better in Ireland.

On Friday, I decided I’d had it. Must everything be better here?

That the Guinness would be better, I expected. I knew that.

The chat and the music: they’re always better here, and that’s why I’ve been continuing to come to Ireland at least once a year since 1991. Not to mention the men, but my preferences in that regard are obvious by now.

I could handle the fact that the bread is fresher, more fluffy, less sugary, and never tastes like plastic-laced cardboard.

I’ve even been getting used to the fact that the coffee is delicious just about everywhere you go.

The cream buns at Quigley‘s in Nenagh--so good I can’t even talk about them.

And I did accept, albeit with a great measure of resent, that the Special K With Red Berries has not one, but three, varieties of berries, and there are many more of them per bowl, and they’re all huge.

But here’s the one that took the camel down: Even the HAIRDRYERS ARE BETTER.They work faster. Listen, I'm the kind of person who goes to bed with their clothes on to save time getting dressed the next morning. With my American hairdryer, it takes about 20 minutes to dry my hair. So I don't bother. Here, it took five minutes. That just killed me.

I complained to Granda Pat. Why do Americans put up with such terrible quality?

Granda Pat, who is fond of metaphor (to put it mildly), said it’s like the man who trained the dog. Wipe that look off your face. I’ll explain this to you.

The man trained his dog by giving him a pound of beef the first day. The second day, the dog got 15 oz. The third day, down an ounce again to 14, until at two and a half weeks, he could replace the meat with shite and the dog didn’t even notice. Problem is, Pat adds, once he got the dog trained, he died.

Folks, our collective Special K is berry-less. And why the lack of public outcry? I always wonder.

Competition, Pat says. Hm. American competition: See who can provide absolutely no quality at all at such a low price that we don’t even notice its absence.

Alas. That’s the way it is. We’re back in Dublin after three days in Tipperary, which included a visit to the Rock of Cashel, a stop in an old stomping ground for me (Thurles… more on that in a subsequent entry…), a night out with a raucous session that mixed blues, Bob Dylan, The Cure, Cameo (Oh, yes… remember “Word Up” from the ’80s… and imagine it on acoustic guitar, in a pub in Ireland…), rather large hangover, and a long drive back to Dublin.

Which is where we are now. At the moment, there’s a going-away party getting into gear downstairs….Bags are packed and we’re leaving tomorrow. Must enjoy the night!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 43: Working on New Things

An excerpt from Berklee professor of guitar Robin Stone, from a forthcoming Rock Guitar Improvisation course that I've been editing for

"Musicians are creatures of habit when it comes to learning new concepts and as the saying goes, 'old habits die hard. Musicians who have been playing for a few years tend to play within their established comfort zones. They know some tunes, have some licks down, and for the most part stick to what they already know. The only way to evolve and progress as a musician is to explore those areas of your playing that you don't have together. I always suggest to my students here at Berklee that every time they practice, they should work on the material they want to work on for some of the practice session but also pick one topic or concept that they are not well versed in and work on that as well. A typical example would be a rock-based student learning a jazz standard. Practicing things you already know is a good idea—we all understand that repetition is an important factor in one's playing technique and vocabulary. However, learning new concepts, though frustrating at times, will advance your playing beyond your current comfort zone and keep your improvisational ideas fresh."

Remember to add "new" skills to your routine on a regular basis... but don't just dabble with them and then start something else that's also new. Keep them in your regular routine until you've mastered them, then add something else that is new.

Just like "there's no such thing as very pregnant" -- there's no such thing as "half learning." You've either learned it or you haven't learned it yet. You can be working on learning, but no such thing as "half learning."

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day Something or Other: On Vacation

Not that anyone’s checking their email today… but Happy Thanksgiving, from Ireland, where there’s no such thing.

Still traveling! Yesterday, we made a day long trek to Tipperary County, to visit Soul Papa’s sister. An evening of reunion and chat, and now we’re waking slowly, one by one, and trying to plan how to fill our day today, as it’s “lashing rain”--which, we hear, is not unlike what’s been happening for about three weeks solid in this part of the country. The talk everywhere you go is of the floods in all the low-lying areas of Ireland: roads washed out, homes destroyed. They say that there’s never been a situation like this. We are staying not far form the banks of the Shannon River, at Lough Derg, one of the largest lakes in Ireland, and the water is more than 6 m higher than usual. The news has captured some very sad scenes.

Other than that, it’s been an uneventful few days: visiting with family, and another day in Dublin proper. Monday was a highlight. We spent a day at Newgrange, a 3,200-year-old burial mound that predates the pyramids of Egypt by some three hundred years. (How they know this is unclear to me, but, sure, didn’t St. Brendan discover America long before Christopher Columbus?) Newgrange sits atop at hill in the heart of the Boyne River valley, among hundreds of other similar mounds… though Newgrange is the largest, and one of the few that have been fully excavated. It was discovered in 1699 by a local landowner quarrying its millions of small white rocks. Through the rubble, miners found the large standing stones that mark the entrance to the chamber. It’s said that a dog went in after a rabbit, and went deep into a cave. Workers follwed it, and soon discovered the innards of a cruciform burial chamber, perfectly intact.

At that time, Newgrange was mostly a pile of small stones (a big, big, big pile and lots of stones), and it was reconstructed decades ago, according to an archeologist's idea of what it might have looked like. I'd post photos for you but we didn't bring a cord to connect the camera to the computer. Bad blogger!

Newgrange's entrance is marked by a doorway of very large stones, and as wtih the pyramids, historians can only speculate that they were put there with some concoction of hemp, pulleys, and logs. Marking occasional stones at the entrance are carvings of a variety of ancient marknigs and patterns, mostly swirls and diamond shapes they call lozenges. It's not known what these markings meant.

Above Newgrange's entrance stones is a small opening, about three feet across and less than a foot high. Every year around the solstice, the rising sun comes up over the hills on the opposing bank of the Boyne, and illuminates the inside of the chamber. Sun worship is no surprise, as those who populated the area were a settled and agricultural people. The return of the sun at the darkest day of the year, December 21, would be a celebrated event, indeed.

Actually, the return of the sun on November 26, 27, or 28th, 2009, would be welcome as well! The weather hasn’t been too bad. People seem fond of discussing just how terrible it is, though we feel we’ve had good weather, for the most part. Rain every day, but only light, and just a little sun. But it’s okay. If we wanted a sun holiday, we’d have chosen Hawaii.

Now, about practice. Not a good story. I haven’t done a bit of it all week, and I must admit, I am missing it terribly now. But it’s hard to make it happen, when travelling with four other people (one of whom is our happy girl!), staying in other people’s homes, and not wanting to remove myself from the goings on to play. Soul Sistah tells me to just think of it like vacation from practicing… but it’s a vacation I didn’t need, in that regard. Alas. We’ll see what the day brings!

Monday, November 23, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 39: Defining Moments

Every trip I take to Ireland, there is at least one defining moment when I ask, "Why don't we live here?" Admittedly, this sometimes happens as a multi-pint "I love you, man" moment... but tonight it happened in the pouring November rain on Dublin's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street, with the unexpected convergence of two of my favorite things: sentimental holiday tradition and, surprise, my favorite Irish band.

It happened on Sunday, our second day in Dublin, when I took my Soul Sister to see downtown Dublin. M-I-L drove us to Connolly Station, and we ambled down Talbot Street, before turning onto O'Connell Street to pick up one of the open-top, hop-on, hop-off doubledecker city bus tours. Our 23-stop tour included all the expected sights, all of which I'd seen before but not in succession: Grafton Street, Trinity College, home of the Lord Mayor, Dublin Castle, Trinity Church, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Guinness Stores and back along the quay to where we'd started... when the bus took a short detour, skipping the Parnell Square loop because O'Connell street was to be closed down for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremonies. Soul Mama's radar went straight up. I'm a sucker for that s£$!te.

We had time to kill, but planned to return. We hopped off the bus, wandered back toward Grafton, had a coffee and a sandwich in the famous Bewley's, and took in a few tourist shops before making our way back to the tree lighting at 6:00. When we arrived, a choir of carolers was singing the known carols on a festively decorated outdoor stage, and we escaped the pouring rain by tucking into the portico of a lingerie shop until the automatic blinds came down at 6:00.

At the appointed time, and after a round of speeches from local city VIPs, the gathered crowd shouted a countdown, then the tree was lit. Ah, the tree--a 25-foot tinsel and steel construction. A stack of glittering balls, far greener than a real tree because it was lit by 78,000 LED lights (generously provided by the ESB--the electrical board--so the Lord Mayor told us in her introductory remarks).

And then, the unimaginable happened. The emcee told us to stick around for two more bands, the highlight of which was the psychedelic Irish traditional informed but world-music inspired Kila.

What better place to watch the seven-piece band than sandwiched between a stack of shimmering balls, the 120-meter stainless steel "Spire of Dublin," affectionately known as "the Spike on the Dike," and the historic GPO--the General Post Office, site of the first battle of the six-day Irish insurrection of 1916, a rebellion that was initially unpopular but that eventually touched off the Irish War for Independence.

The scene was not lost on Kila, who commented on it. Awareness of the world around them seems to be a hallmark of the band, whose music is a sort of trance-Irish malatov cocktail. Made up of fiddle, flute, and uillean pipes fired up with guitar, bass, drumset, and bodhran (on some... on others, a cajon). I have characterized this band as the Irish traditional answer to the Grateful Dead, only with refined talent on Irish traditional instruments, and, it seems, a more sharply honed sense of social consciousness. But, like the Dead, their performances can be trancelike communal experiences, enhanced with stilt walkers, acrobats, tightrope walkers, giant puppets, pyschedelic lighting, and the occasional fragrant smoke clouds...

Until the Kila show, we'd had a somewhat limited pallette of music. Our city tour had included about six rainbow sightings (testament not to some mystical magic but to the fact that it rained heavily about every fifteen minutes)and sampled an array of tourist shops from couture of Kilkenny on Nassau Street to the shite-and-shamrock of Carroll's on O'Connelly Street, each blaring something quintessentially Irish over their loudspeakers. I admit, there's nothing like the relentlessly ebullient pop-tinged Sharon Shannon to send you dancing and lilting up to the till, Aran sweater in hand. In between the shops, and everywhere on the streets were the Romanian gypsy street musicians, duos of alto sax and piano accordions playing some sort of tango-esque polka. And one lone woman on Grafton Street, playing a concertina.

Kila was an exciting change. They played about a 45-minute selection of tunes I recognized as "hits" from the six or so Kila albums in heavy rotation on our home stereo. The highlight for me was "Last Mile Home," title track from a recent album, and a song that lead singer Ronan O'Snodaigh introduced as a Christmas song that honors the plight of Dublin's homeless. I stood there entranced, and so appreciative that they were really saying something about the city's homeless, one of which knocked me out of my daze, reeking of the sweet sour smell of a long day of whiskey and trying to entice Soul Sister and I to dance. I admit, with a little embarassment, that I did not dip in my pocket to share spare change. Instead, being one of two women alone together at night in a foreign city, I chose to completely ignore him. He stood beside us, swaying for some time, but occasionally talking to imaginary friend on the handset of a white 1970s-era wall phone, which was connected by a curly cord to the base, inside his jacket. Completely mad, the poor creature. Which is how homelessness begins, so often.

Kila finished their set with "Silent Night," sung and played on acoustic guitar by the flute player, joined by the multiracial gospel choir that had preceded their set.

The festivities thus concluded, we did the only proper thing: headed for a pint. We walked 100 yards south and turned west along the quay of the LIffey, and ducked into the Arlington Hotel, a 6,000 square foot wood-and-brass rich pub that boasted "Irish music nightly." Well, it being only 7:30, the only music being blasted over the loudspeaker was, you guessed it, Sharon Shannon. This time alternating with the Dubliners and Christy Moore.

We left the city at 9:30 on a Malahide Train, getting off at our Kilbarrack stop, and arriving "home" to a meat-and-two-veg dinner cooked by Soul Mama-in-Law, and the loving embrace of my girl, who'd spent the day with Nana and Grand-dad.

I didn't practice a note on Sunday, but this thought has been running through my head: "How much do you need to practice?" The answer: "It all depends on how good you want to be, and what you're willing to give up." I wouldn't have changed one second of my day. Today, I was willing to embrace a fun-filled life of high-level mediocrity with not one regret.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 38: Upcoming Lindsays Events

It's the cozy season, and we hope you'll join us for one of our seasonal
December concerts featuring some exciting duo/duo concerts with Stanley and

Dec. 2: Open Irish Trad Session at Bridgewater State College, 7-9:00. One
Park Avenue, Rondileau Campus Center. All are welcome! Free, of course.

Saturday, Dec. 12, 2:00 pm: Celtic Christmas at the Scituate Library, 85
Branch Street, Scituate. One-hour concert features the Lindsays with fiddler
Nikki Engstrom and Irish Step Dancers. Free.

Sunday, Dec. 13: The Lindsays with Stanley & Grimm. Celtic Christmas
Celebration for the Whole Family at Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit, MA.
A two-hour program pairs up two Celtic duos for a round of seasonal
favorites. Join us for a mix of holiday themed songs old and new, alongside
upbeat traditional instrumental jigs and reels played on Irish fiddle,
flute, whistle, and saxophone all with a distinct Irish lilt. Alongside the
music, the program will include seasonal poetry, stories, and lively history
from Ireland and beyond. The presentation is warm and intimate, personal,
inspired, entertaining, fun and even humorous at times! Also featuring Irish
step dancers. Tickets $15 adults, $10 children.

Sunday, Dec. 20, The Lindsays with Stanley & Grimm, Highfield Hall, Falmouth
MA. Two-hour Celtic Christmas concert at the gorgeous and newly restored
historic Highfield Mansion, decked out in greens and lights for the season.
Elegant! Two shows, 3:00 and 7:00 pm.

For more info on the Lindsays visit
For more info on Stanley and Grimm visit

Saturday, November 21, 2009

100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 37: Practicing Quietly

Back when I was in college, oh, about (mumble mumble) years ago, I attended a workshop with baritone sax player Hamiett Bluett, who performed with the adventurous World Saxophone Quartet.

He was talking about the critical importance of daily practice when someone asked him, "But what about when you have roommates or live in a dorm and don't want to bother the people around you?" That question sounded so whiny; it was probably me who asked it. I don't actually remember who asked it, but I do remember his answer. He got scary. Firey. He boomed:

"Then practice playing QUIETLY."

Despite being shrunken by the response, funnily enough, I don't remember ever having done it in my musical life. Well, it takes some of us twenty years to get around to doing things right. I did just that tonight, in a beautiful attic bedroom of a Dublin row house, while Mini Me sleeps in the room next door, and big sister and inlaws sleep downstairs.

Tonight, I practiced my entire routine, but quietly: long tones, A rolls, B rolls, low D crans, and the eight or so tunes I've been working on lately.

How did it go?


It is VERY difficult to play quietly while also maintaining good tone. Mine got warbly, and the sound was fluffy. What a lesson. It took immense will to continue. But, playing quietly also had a side benefit: for some reason, I also started playing slowly, which is one of the best ways to test if you know a tune as well as you think you do.

It was very, very good stuff. Not quite as good as our windy, sunny walk along the hills of Howth today, our visit with the giant wild seals of Howth, or the chat in the Pier House afterward. Not nearly as good as watching Mini Me's joy at being with grandparents. And certainly not nearly as good as sharing the "other life" I've been living with my older sister, who is here on the trip.

But very, very good, all the same.

Goodnight from Dublin!

Friday, November 20, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 36: Have we packed?

Well, we're leaving for Ireland at 2 pm today.

I practiced this morning! Hooray!

We got a letter from Blue Cross stating that our health insurance has begun! Hooray!

After six years in progress, the woodwork on the downstairs practice room/bar is done, and the room is pristine! Hooray!

All the laundry is done! Hooray!

Passports located and ready! Hooray!

We've raked the leaves and the yard looks great! Hooray!

The yard is all cleaned up, gardening tools put away, ladders and rakes stored neatly! Hooray!

The bathroom closet has been reorganized and it's perfect! Hooray!

All the gifts are bought and ready! Hooray!

I'm almost done with all of my work! Hooray!

The house is nearly spotless! Hooray!

The fridge is clean! Hooray!

The mudroom is spotless! Hooray!

Have we packed, you ask? Well... um... it's like this....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 36: Miss McCleod Meets Bob Marley

Perhaps I was inspired by Danny Morris. Perhaps I was bored. Perhaps I'm a wee bit nuts. And irreverent. Today I announced to my Bridgewater State College Traditional Irish Ensemble that we were going to jam.

We've spent the semester studying the "right" way to play Irish traditional music. Now it was time to have a little fun. As Coltrane reputedly said, "You have to learn to play 'in' before you can play 'out.'" Before you earn the right to, that is. We've been playing jigs, reels,and hornpipes all semester. It was time for new jive.

I started The Old Copperplate,the fiddle joined in, the bass player got going on a deep groove, the pianist soon added upbeats, and we had a reggae reel. (Note: Bass player was wearing tie-dye today.) Under those conditions, it's only a matter of time before Bob Marley will sneak in like bong smoke through a door jamb. Oh, he did. We discovered that one of Marley's most famous bass lines works beautifully with Miss McCleod's reel. Of course, right behind good old Bob was the ghost of Michael Jackson and his Billie Jean bass line. Folks, we've got a reel for that, too.

Today, the bass player learned to simplify. Like many a bass player, he couldn't help but want to fill all the spaces left by our slow grooving tempo. But you can't do that with a reel, where the melody line is already busy.

Here, we can all take a lesson or two from the famous Muscle Shoals rhythm section, the Swampers. You know... "Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, and they've been known to pick a song or two. (Woo, ooh, ooh...)" That is, Muscle Shoals is the Alabama studio responsible for the sound on a list of anthems too extensive to list. Think Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Percy Sledge, Paul Simon, Bob Seger... and on. And on.

Soul Papa and I checked out Muscle Shoals tonight, thanks to suggestions from yet another course, Music Production Analysis, a FABULOUS course from Professor of Music Production and Engineering Stephen Webber.

Now, let's remember. Muscle Shoals are the dudes that played on Wilson Pickett's super grooving "Mustang Sally," not to mention Paul Simon's "Love Me Like a Rock" and "Kodachrome," Bob Seger's "Main Street" and "We've Got Tonight," and a million other songs. But we had to check out Rod Stewart's "Sailing." Funky does not come to mind when I think of this 1970s anthem, so I thought I'd see what David Hood, the groovin' est bass player in the history of r&b (excepting, of course, Bootsy Collins), does with this tune.

Guess what he does in the intro? One-note per bar! Just the root! All those chops, and he's playing one note. There's a lesson. Check out his recording with the Swampers on the Atlantic Crossing album for a lesson in simplicity and solidity.

That's what those chops can teach you: Less is more. Less, in fact, is almost always more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 35: Soul

I've spent the last several months editing an online course at titled, "R&B Bass" written and taught by Fender bass player and Berklee Professor Danny Morris, aka D-Mo. I loved what Danny had to say about practice and performance in his draft of lesson 12:

At a certain point in your development as a musician, you turn your instincts into sound. Call it a sixth sense—it’s essential when performing music. Your gut instinct provides impetus to play one way or another. To leave a rest, to play a syncopation, to play the root, the fifth, to play a slide into a note—all your choice! Your practicing pays off when you go onstage or enter the recording studio. You enter that environment with a healthy anticipation of creating magic. By this I’m talking about that one ingredient inherent in all great music: soul. You can’t put your finger on it, but you recognize it, and feel it when it’s present. This is why we practice, and why we continue to work on music as a language. Whether you are playing R&B or some other music style, your musicianship palette will be your springboard from which to choose your (musical) ideas. In the act of performance you rely on instinct and intuition. There is no time to question this or that, you simply do “it.”

Yeah, Danny. For more info on Danny's course, check out this description, which also includes a video of Danny discussing his course and his ideas on great R&B bass playing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 34: Inquiring Minds

One of the great things about teaching is what you can learn from your students.

Today in my Music Appreciation class at Bridgewater, a student asked me, "How much DO conductors make anyway?"

I said, "A lot. Like more than $100k or something."

But, unsure, I decided to look it up. Imagine our suprise when we read a 2006 Boston Globe article:

James Levine is not just among the most acclaimed music directors of his time. His combined salaries from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York's Metropolitan Opera make him the highest-paid conductor in the country, according to the most recent Internal Revenue Service filings.

The BSO paid almost $1.6 million for Levine's services during the 2004- 05 season, his first leading the orchestra, according to a tax filing the Globe obtained yesterday. The money was paid to Phramus, Inc., a New York-based firm. According to the Met's most recent filing, it paid slightly more than $1.9 million to Phramus, Inc., care of artist manager Ronald Wilford .

Good reason to practice with that baton.

But what about the musicians? tells us that the national average salary for orchestra player jobs is $37,00. Average orchestra player salaries can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits. doesn't have a category for musician in its database. Not a real job, apparently. But, they do tell us that a music teacher makes an average of between $31k-$65k. The average music PROFESSOR makes in the range of $64,540-$121,426.

These are decent reasons to practice.

I really liked what had to say about it, too.

Musician Salary Overview
"Music is a discipline, and a mistress of order and good manners, she makes the people milder and gentler, more moral and more reasonable." - Martin Luther

While it's perhaps not the goal of every musician to make people more moral and reasonable, it can't be denied that music and musicians play a huge part in human society and have for thousands of years. "Musician" is one of the oldest professions known to humankind. Long before there were accountants, biologists, lawyers or bartenders, musicians were already carving out their niche in society. As with a majority of artists, musicians are not typically the most well-paid group of people. When you think of "musician salary," do you picture a best-selling recording artist or that guy you just passed on the subway - the one with his guitar case open, playing for dollar bills? Those who become famous and earn a huge musician salary may be far and few between, but it's entirely possible for many people to make a good living as a musician. Salary will of course vary depending on a musician's skill level, the industry in which he or she works and more.

You can read the full article and salary report here.

This article on is also interesting.

Overall, a viable career... if you practice.