Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Great Ideas and No Time!

Hiya folks. Lots of blog entries inside me but no time to write them down. End of the semester is a busy time. Just a note as to what we're up to today... performing with concertina player Chris "Junior" Stevens at the Bridgewater State College World Music Festival. Because of rain, daytime performances will now be held at Crimson Dining Hall (East Campus). The Crimson Dining Hall Building is located next to the Bookstore. (Evening performances starting at 7:30 PM will continue to be held in Horace Mann Auditorium, Boyden Hall).

This is a family-oriented event... bring the kids! Or just come in the evening for African and Brazilian drumming and more at Horace Mann Auditorium. Evening concert starts at 7:30.

Here is a link to the directions to Bridgewater State College: www.bridgew.edu/directions.cfm

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 287 of Practice: Lindsays News

Goodness, folks, sorry to have disappeared on you, but it's just one of those busy times again... too busy to even be blogging, apparently!

Tuesday night was a concert with the Bridgewater State College Wind Ensemble, in which Miss Suzy played baritone saxophone. Fortunately, my bari sax broke a couple of days ago so I got to borrow the college's shiny late model, and it was a little like trading in a trusty Chevy pickup for a 2007 Volvo. Not new, not flashy, but so solid and so fun to drive!


April 27, The Lindsays open up the Bridgewater State College World Music Festival, with traditional Irish tunes from 11:00-11:45. We'll be joined by concertina player Chris Stevens, and are looking forward to that adventure... as we've never played together before and probably wouldn't recognize each other if we walked straight into each other on the street. That's Irish music for you, lads.

May 8: The Lindsays perform with the Plymouth Philarmonic Orchestra for their Irish Pops night. Looking forward to it!

Still finishing up that CD, and coming real close now... since we can only book studio time about once every month or so, it's coming along slowly, but it's coming.. .and it's almost done. Very exciting.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Day 281 of Practice: Musical Practice and The Vast Plateau

It's foggy... but I do remember back to studying Mahayana Buddhism in college and reading Naagaarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way (David J. Kalupahana) Oh, who am I kidding? It's not foggy at all. That class was a life-defining awakening of my intellect, because I learned a very simple but very important fact: Without the mountains and the valleys, we'd never know what the plains are.

Translation/abstraction/gross use of statement out of context solely for humor: If everything was good all the time, we'd have nothing to complain about. So stop complaining.

Mr. Kalupahana, you most certainly did change my life, but I have something to say, my Nag Champa-burning, yellow-robe-wearing friend...

Though you have made a very important contribution to the field of philosophy, I am sorry: Musicians know all about plateaus already. We don't need no stinkin' mountains to recognize that we spend most of our time on a vast plateau characterized sometimes by great bucketfuls of fun but also punctuated, alternately, by two questions:

1) "Seriously? So if I want to do this for real, then I have to do this every day? Like forever?"

Answer: Yep.

2) "Why is this so hard?"

Answer: No answer. Keep doing it.

So, we keep on practicing. Every now and then, we spend a month or two just maintaining. Barely making it (but making it) to the practice space. Every now and then calling a three-hour rehearsal a substitute for true, focused practice. And making no major improvements, feeling no tingling inspiration, just doing it because it's our practice to practice.

That's the plateau, right there. A plateau that, if you keep moving forward, you find is not a plateau after all. It's just one very wide, extra long landing on the winding stairway to mastery. Perhaps you can't see the next step, but that doesn't mean it's not there.

It's there. It's always there. But there's only one way to find it: keep looking.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Day 277: On Ballads and the Irish American Memory

One of the nicer things about getting older is that we learn that the things we thought to be empty, in our cynical youth, are actually quite full.

Take cult-chah, as we call it in Plymouth.

At fifteen, I decided that this place has absolutely none. I smirked and kept my arms crossed for seven years, then at 22 took off on an anywhere-is-better-than-here backpacking trip that very quickly landed me penniless in Ireland. I was in good company, penniless in a town of empty pockets and full voices. Hanging around in that dark, grey town for six months, I got my first introduction to balladry, filling my heart with all those Wolfetones, Fureys, Paddy Reilley, Christy Moore, and Dubliners songs that some people in Boston traditional Irish music circles would later implicate were rather "empty," compared to those much older Childs ballads and translated sean nós poetic songs.

Myself included, at times, I suppose. For example, for years, I refused to learn "The Lonesome Boatman," that very favorite Furey Brothers whistle tune, because I felt it was too poppy, and I was trying to learn trad. I thought I might sound a little silly playing it if I couldn't do the "seagulls" part. Likewise for the "Fields of Athenrye," in a certain way. Soul Papa and I will play it heartily at any pub gig, but there are precious few Irish sessions in Boston that we'd feel alright pulling that one out at. Oh, that long list of unspoken session rules: "ok," "not okay," "trad and full," "poppy and empty." If you don't believe me, next time you're at a "serious" trad session, watch the eyes of a few of the fiddle and flute players when someone pulls out a rebel song.

Still, I challenge anyone to tell me that the songs of the ballad bands were empty last Wednesday, when I was asked to play "The Lonesome Boatman" at the graveside of a prominent South Boston woman, for some 200 people who'd gathered to lay her to rest in a Dorchester cemetery at the banks for the Neponset River. As I played, the crowd fell silent and gathered close around the grave of this well-loved, first-generation Irish American, whose married life had kicked off at the Irish dance halls in Roxbury and who later ran a popular restaurant and bar until she developed pancreatic cancer in her late sixties. The priest said the prayers, all said a Hail Mary and an Our Father, then I was signaled to close the interment with the second request, "The Fields of Athenrye." The first verse, played solo on whistle, drifted out over the mourners, then spontaneously, 100 men and women at the graveside joined the whistle's air on the chorus, in full voice:

"Low lie the fields of Athenrye,
where once we watched the small freebirds fly.
Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing,
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenrye."

So beautiful to hear all those voices. Even the whistle player cried.

That, my friends, is not a crowd empty of culture. That is family and close friends full of memories, not only of their recently lost, but memories of their cultural history, of the Connemara stones their parents left to come to South Boston's pavement. There is nothing empty there: hearts full of memories, ne'er too old to hear new chimes. The grave once empty, now full.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day 276: Pop Quiz

Where is Soul Mama? Pick one.

A. Some weeks are just crazy.
B. Some weeks are just really beautiful so she's out moving hostas instead of playing longtones.
C. She's been sick all week and hasn't had the drive to write.
D. Time has been so limited that she can only pick one: a) practice or b) write about practice. And without a, there can be no b.
E. Still in a coma from an attack of the Chocolate Easter Bunny.
F. All of the above.

The Lindsays are still alive, kickin', and inspired, but ... if I don't get down to that practice room before the troops stir, practice will not happen. Ever.

Coming soon: reflections on a South Boston funeral, and inspiring words from Santana. After I practice.

(Day 276 of practice and haven't been perfect but haven't given up. That seems alright.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Day 270: The Tai Chi of Musical Practice

Most folks want to know how they can get their tunes UP to session speed. The best solution may actually be to slow them down.

Hitting the right notes on time in a tune does have something to do with remembering the tune... but that's only part of the challenge. Good rhythm also means hitting your notes at the right time, in the right part of the beat, steadily and solidly... and consistently, at a steady tempo throughout the whole tune. At any tempo.

It is not easy and there is no shortcut. There's really only one way to do this: Capture a disciplined bodhran player with perfect rhythm, chain him or her to a pole in your basement, and make him practice with you every day.

Ok, there is another option: Use a metronome.

Find a tune you know well. Set the metronome to a slower tempo than you're accustomed to, then try the tune again, and stay in tempo. You'll find that your fingers want to rush through--especially those nice little runs that fall so nicely under your fingers at tempo. Keep working the tune until you can stay right with the metronome. An intensive exercise in motion control. Think like Tai Chi -- slow, even and steady movements.

Then, do the same with your new tunes. It will take you miles toward excellent finger control and will really drill your knowledge of the tune. In other words, it will kick your heiney. The same thing the bodhran player will do when you set him free, so be careful.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 266: What are you wearing?

I think the sun returns today! Celebrate!

We spent a day this week in studio adding bass tracks and bodhran to our CD, plus working on a little flute/guitar, and it is very exciting. Just a quick note, becuase I have exactly nine minutes to change from mismatched flannel pajamas into Professor Lindsay. (So, forget about asking, "Hey, baby, what are you wearing?" Good thing we have Superman's phone booth in our house.)

Just posted photos from the recording session. Sean Farias was amazing on bass; click on that Facebook link over yonder (in the lefthand bar on this page) to see him. Peter Campbell put the bough in bodhran, and me and Steve... well, we just did our thing.

It's coming along great. And I never, ever, ever, ever want to play without an acoustic upright bass ever again.