Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 325 of Practice: Making Noise with Moyse

There's nothing like spending the first hour of the day in a bar with a Frenchman.

Don't get too excited. The one I'm talking about has been dead since 1984. And it wasn't really a bar; it was our basement practice room. And, we weren't alone. There was also an ant wandering around til I got all Joan of Arc-y on him with the back of a checkbook.

Marcel Moyse was born in 1889 in France, a famous flute player who pioneered the French sound that those post Romantic guys like Debussy were looking for when they wrote their ultrafamous flute solos like Syrinx and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

This morning I started working with Moyse's book, De La Sonorité: Art et Technique, which all real flute players know about. You know all about it, don't you? Of course you do, which proves to me that all flute players actually are crazy.

This book offers 25 pages of longtone exercises, for developing tone and control over your sound. Early exercises have the player focus on simply moving from one note to the next, chromatically, and to really listen, to ensure sameness of tone and color between them.

It's a little like asking a construction worker to work on his form by lifting his shovel and moving it toward the ground. Then, without ever touching the ground, stop, then do it again. And again, for like 20 minutes a day. Just to work on form, you know? I know a lot of construction workers who do that, actually. They dig really nice holes.

Just to be one of the guys, like, I gave it a try this morning. Played long notes and listened to them. I do this every day anyway, to start my practice session, but this time I did it with a beret on and a croissant nearby. Voilá! Sonorité instante!

People. Long tones are not as fun as ripping off a ton of reels with the metronome set to 115 BPM.

But they work. Je suis contente.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 324: Lessons from Another Lesson

Yesterday brought two shocking events:

1) I cleaned my fridge. It's not that it needed it; I only did it because the CDC had left a note on my door about it.

2) I discovered that I don't suck. (Sorry for the truck driver language, but on the scale from BRAT to Mack, that term is really only a 2WD Ford Ranger.)

What precipitated this remarkable discovery? I took another lesson, this time from a wonderful classical flutist named Matthew Cross, who is the principal flutist for the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra and also owner of Cohasset Music Shop, a sales, rental and lessons music shop on route 3A. If you must know.

I scheduled this particular session because I've been working too hard to still feel like the flute isn't sounding the way I want it to. Thought it should feel more free, more easy, more in control. Shannon Heaton did suggest that it may be time to upgrade the flute, and I don't disagree, but I also thought that perhaps a little old-fashioned classical tone exercises would be of help.

It took us about a half hour of playing and exchanging flutes for Matt to realize that it wasn't a technique problem so much as a technical problem. The shocker: The flute needs repair!!!

Two keys are leaking, which interferes with a nice clean sound and also affects intonation. A repairman about five years ago had replaced all my cork pads with leather...but apparently most classical wooden woodwinds use cork, and cork most likely will make those notes really "pop." Matt suggests that wooden woodwind instruments have had cork pads for hundreds of years; maybe they're onto something. Call your flute maker and find out, he instructs.

And then, there's maintenance. This is the gross part, but... I haven't been cleaning out the headjoint due to a very strange old world superstition or perhaps voodoo tradition. (See paragraph 1, above. There may be a connection.) As a result the tone hole has about five years of stuff on it... and the tone hole is the edge that makes the sound... It needs help. And that may be the key to much of the problem. And, there's corrosion inside the headjoint, which would also interrupt smooth airflow.

We got a start on cleaning the tone hole, then he put some brackets on the leaky keys so it looked a little voilá... a good sounding flute. Still much work to do, particularly on richening up the lower end, but that means hours of long tones with a classic Marcel Moyse flute technique book over the coming months. Matt lent me his well-loved copy. Here's Matt, with his repairman hat on, and the flute all clamped up:

Sure glad I brought the flute for repair the day AFTER I finished my parts on our CD. Well, not so much.

This proves and amends one of my favorite teaching adages: Just when you think you suck the most, it can mean one of two things: 1) you're on the verge of a breakthrough, or 2) you need a new instrument. Now, I add a third item.

3) Your instrument needs repair. Go see Matt.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 323: I'm taking a break today!

I love practicing, but you all know that there are days when a cup of tea and the kitchen table seems more appealing than the musty basement practice room. (Musty, but very cool, mind you.)

So, today I'm rewarding myself with a break day, at least from morning practice.

What I'm celebrating: Last night I was back in the studio, finishing my parts (for the second time). I went back in because my centerpiece on the CD, three tunes written by Brendan Tonra, were just not happening the way I was playing them.

Can we talk? I've been practicing these tunes for over a year, in prep for this recording. I've wanted them to rock... because they're cool tunes, because I love Brendan, and because ... um. Because.

Last night, I finished them. The track will sound great.

But easy or hard to play perfectly under pressure?

Take a guess.

Today, I am thankful for digital recording technology.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 322 of Practice: Mini Me is Now Soul Fry

Last week I didn't write too much because the Lindsays were away, visiting friends in Vermont. It was a vacation for the female 2/3, and a work trip for the other 1/3... Soul Papa is officially launching a carpentry and restoration business. We told a friend this, she had work, et voilá, vacation. For us.

Now, this is just by the by. The real reason for writing is just plain old Mother's Pride. Really, every day brings an occasion for mom pride, but I promised you that this blog is about music, right? So I don't really tell you about these examples of what makes me proud: Soul Fry (née Mini Me) wakes up cheery and stays that way. Soul Fry shares the coveted swing with a friend. Soul Fry looks irresistibly cute in a dress. Soul Fry says thank you to someone on her own, without a reminder. Soul Fry wants to give a friend a gift, so selects one from her own toy collection, asks for wrapping supplies, and wraps it herself. Soul Fry invents new lyrics to one of Daddy's songs on the upcoming CD, because it's funny. Soul Fry uses Irish colloquialisms in her casual sentences. Soul Fry uses "overjoyed" in a sentence. "Ah! Stop!" you say. Enough with the Sprog Blog banter.

But this photo from our Vermont trip? I'm sorry, but I can't resist. Perfect form! Perfect bow grip! Great posture! Thanks Nikki Engstrom, fiddler and teacher extraordinaire, and also Auntie Hen (Helen Kisiel) for giving her the fiddle for Christmas. Thanks, Suzy Knapp for the photo, and thanks Joey for joining the band that day!

Now, if we could only figure out how to get Soul Fry to practice....

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 320 of Practice: Lessons from a Lesson

Yesterday, I took a lesson. I like to check in with a more accomplished musician from time to time, for coaching and outside input on style, technique, to correct any errors that I am not seeing/hearing, and for creative input on tunes that I've been playing. Me, I've been studying with Shannon Heaton off and on for eight years or more. When I still lived in Boston, we did nearly weekly lessons, but more recently, once or twice a year. And it's always incredibly helpful.

Shannon is a fabulous teacher and I recommend her to everyone.

Here's what I got from my own lesson... my own things to work on:

Putting A cuts in the right places. For a long time, I had trouble doing good A cuts, so had developed a habit of simply not using them in lots of places where they really belong. Cuts often work well in the 2s + 4s of a tune to accentuate the upbeat and drive the tune forward. This, of course, depends on the tune, so it's not a hard and fast rule, just a tendency.

Not tonguing quite so much, using more "throat" stops for Double-D notes. Over the last few months, I've noticed that I've been developing a specific articulation style to accentuate phrasing, and that's okay sometimes... but often, using a cut is a better way to articulate a phrase in Irish traditional playing. And, because I came from a classical and jazz background, I tongue notes. But... please, Soul Mama, don't use so much tonguing in Irish flute.

Breathing before you run out of air. Breathing more often in tunes varies the phrasing and it makes all of the notes more solid because your air is supporting them. In flute playing, typically you breathe in place of a note. However, you really have to know the tune to be able to land in the right place when you leave out a note to breathe. Practice breathing in more places than you may even need, to get used to a variety of phrasing possibilities.

Slowing it down, being more deliberate. This makes for a more confident sound, but it also allows you time to pay attention to the tune, and not to anything else, while playing.

Refining my cran. The cran must follow a specific rhythmic pattern, and I knew that. Yet, for the last year or so, I've been practicing my own brand of cran nearly every day, and guess what? That cran doesn't work. I knew it didn't work but couldn't bear to open up Grey Larsen's book (I have it only because someone bequeathed it to me) and read technical text about it. Not my thang. In my mind, I had to learn it from a real person. So, I did, and now I understand.

And finally, perhaps you will also find inspiration from a few good reminders:

Good reminder 1: You can't just "do things your own way" when playing traditional music; there are a certain number of stylistic conventions in the music that you must master, and from a firm foundation in traditional style, you certainly may venture... but as always, if you stray too far from traditional Irish ornamentation, you are no longer playing traditional Irish music. First, master the style and from that foundation, you can refine a personal playing style.

Good reminder 2: Get with people who can play, better than you. Learn traditional music from a PERSON not a book.

Good reminder 3: No one can see or hear all their own mistakes. Find a teacher you really like and who's supportive. You'll feel all warm and snuggly inside, and you'll learn something.

Good reminder 4:
Everyone plays it "much better at home," and flubs it up in lessons. That's part of the Law of Musician's Evolution. The second Law of Musician's Evolution is that eventually, this won't happen anymore. If you decide to work on it.

Good reminder 5:
Listen to as much great recorded music as you can.

Good reminder 6:
Don't get worried if you make mistakes while you're playing. If you're playing a tune and you flub up a few notes, just watch them go by and keep moving forward. If you let those mistakes get to you, your focus won't be on the music. It will be on your mistakes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 319 of Practice: The CD... What's taking so long?

We've been talking about this Lindsays studio CD for some time. Since October, to be exact. Seems like a long time, doesn't it? Several people have asked: What is taking so long? Here's what goes into the making of a CD.

As soon as our first CD came out, we started thinking about this one. After deciding on what material to record (which took us about a year!), we book studio time at Sounds Interesting Studios and follow what has become standard practice. Some folks record their whole CD live, all at the same time, in the same room. Our first CD was live. But this time around, we wanted a different feel, one closer to the "perfect" sounding CD that people have come to expect. Live, one can get away with a few wrong notes, an out of tune instrument, a mixed up vocal line. But a recording must stand up to repeated listening, and those little mix-ups can become like the proverbial pea for the princess...

So, to take care of all us audio princesses out there, here's how we've been doing it:

Guitar tracks: It took the equivalent of about three days to do all 12 songs. Some of the time gets sucked into just getting a good sound. Then, there's finalizing the arrangement, tuning between every take, deciding on a good tempo (that can take a while!) and then playing with a click track to get the rhythm rock solid... and then the take and retake and retake, because it's not easy to play perfectly when you HAVE to.

Scratch tracks: Once we have solid guitar tracks, we spend time recording "scratch tracks" of vocals and sax/flute. Scratch tracks are not final; they are just placeholders for all other instrumentalists to work with when they do their own tracks. Steve sings all his songs with the guitar track, and I play all my flute and sax parts, but none of these are considered final because the idea is that once the full band is present on the recording, the feel will be different, and thus the way we sing or play with also be different, and theoretically more impassioned.

Then, we bring in all our friends, most of whom we paid either directly or with barter time:

Percussion: Most tracks have percussion, and that has meant studio time with a variety of percussionists, including Salil Sachdev on water drums, dumbek, and cajon; Brian Haley on conga/dumbek; Peter Smith on bodhran; Rob Rudin on bones and washboard. Several hours per drummer, per track.

Lead guitar: Tom Rohde joined us to put gorgeous background lines on "This Is the Day."

Bass: Sean Farias came along to put upright bass on most tracks. One full day.

Accordion: Evan Harlan appears on several tracks. Half a day.

Fiddle: Nikki Engstrom on several tracks. Half a day.

Piano: Ian Hudson, a former student of mine at Bridgewater, came in for a few hours to record piano on one track.

That brought us from October up to last week.

Sue's stuff: Final sax and flute, the equivalent of about a day and a half. These are now final tracks, so the time comes in simply getting the playing just right, creating solos and lines that work.

Between each studio date, we take copies of the tracks home, decide what we like and what we don't, what the track needs, what we want to fix. Fixes happen on the next studio date, which for us can be weeks apart from each other, because we have to coordinate our own schedules with the studio's available time. In a perfect world, we would have just scheduled a week solid in the studio but that wasn't possible, so we just do it little bits at a time...

Next up:

Next up: Chris Barret is coming in on Thursday to put some keyboard tracks on one song, and I'm also going to re-record one set of reels that so far just hasn't gelled for us, despite the fact that I've been playing it almost daily now for a year. No explanation... it just hasn't worked yet.

THEN, finally, Steve will go in, and hopefully in one night, do all the vocals. Then, I go back in to put harmony parts in. We do these separately, mostly so that we can adjust tuning. It's easy for me, as an untrained singer, to go out of tune... recording separately allows me to fix those spots that are a little out.

So, it looks like about two more full days of recording and we're done. But next is all the production work. Our engineer Rob Pemberton will spend about one full day mixing EACH track, which is about 12 days of work. After mixing is mastering, which means the engineer listens to each track and ensures consistency in volume and sound between each track so that the overall record sounds smooth. That's usually another full day. On major productions, mastering is often done by a dedicated "mastering house," but I think Rob does it all, in our case.

In the meantime, Soul Mama writes the liner notes, then we work with a photographer and designer on the CD design, which is also several days of work and lots of back and forth. Then, finally, we take the final graphics and the fully mastered CD to a duplication house. Lots of people use Disk Makers these days, and we most likely will, too.

How much will all this cost? Please don't ask. Suffice it to say, a lot less than it would've in the '70s and '80s, when studio time was running up to $300 an hour... Nowadays, a pro audio engineer alone costs from $50 to $75 an hour. Thanks to digital recording, however, lots of folks are recording at home. Prices AND costs have come down, and for the professional audio engineer, supply and demand has made a major dent in what used to be a lucrative career. Still, a great professional audio engineer can still make a living.

...If, of course, people keep making CDs, which relies on other people to keep buying CDs. This is why it's so hard for music professionals these days to make a living. Most of us think nothing of just "making a copy" of a CD and sharing it with friends. So, fewer and fewer people are actually buying music, making all this effort and expense feel ALMOST futile... except that it's not. Everyone expects pro musicians to have great recordings, and a top-notch recording is a calling card for any professional.

These days, musicians are trying to find ways to spend less on their recordings, and many are recording themselves at home. And lots of these CDs sound great. But the reality is that quality costs money and you just can't compare the skills of engineers like Rob Pemberton, who have spent their entire lives refining their professional skills, to Joe Schmoe (or Joe Lindsay), who bought professional recording software and are just learning to use it. Not to mention that the pro audio engineer has all the finest microphones, some of which are worth far more than my car (which isn't saying much), and the quality of the sound is really the next best thing to being there.

Buying a paint brush doesn't make you an artist. At the same time, an expensive canvas doesn't make a better painting. But for the artists who want a great painting AND great materials that will stand the test of time, some expenses are just worth it.

And hopefully you'll agree when you hear the result. Coming this summer.... please buy it for yourself and all your friends, and even a few enemies. The baby's gotta eat.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 308: Guiltless Motherhood. Is It Possible?

Oh, I'm supposed to be in the basement practicing parts to play tonight at my friend Chris' CD release at the Rosebud Cafe in Boston. But instead, I'm sitting here thinking about my kid, who's upstairs sleeping after a not-so-pretty night. Someone was tossing their cookies in the Toddler Bed Wonder Whirl ride, and it wasn't anyone taller than 48 inches. And I'm the carnie who gets to wash the blankets.

What I'm thinking about while she sleeps is yesterday. I spent the afternoon with Denya the Fabulous and Sasha the Organic Farmer's Wife. (Ooh, I hear a joke: Two musicians and an organic farmer walk into a bar...) Anyway, we were sitting in the living room sipping tea before the fire (yes, the fire) while MiniMe conducted an animated conversation with her dolls in the next room.

The subject of my blog came up. Denya, one of my most supportive readers and dearest friends, said, "Poor little MiniMe never gets written about." She didn't mean anything by it. She was just saying.

Imagine. All this talk about music, and no talk about the kid? A mother who has other stuff going on besides play dates and playgrounds? Is it possible? Yes, folks it is, but boy do we worry our pretty little heads about it. It seems to be so rare that many of us present-day mothers of wee ones don't realize that before this generation, it used to be that way. People used to go out. Do things. Play tennis together. Visit friends. Have cocktail parties. Or so I'm told.

Last summer, I had a sherpa, a five-session liaison with executive coach Susan Braverman, as a gift from my sister. Most of our meetings were on the phone, but for our last meeting, I got to meet her in person, in her über-cool vintage 1960s Brady Bunch-avec-Buddha house in Bethesda. I remember saying to her that it felt a little funny that I was thinking so much about music and not bringing any motherhood issues to the table.

She stopped for a moment, looked at me, then surprised me. "But you don't HAVE any motherhood issues. Congratulations! If you ask me, too many mothers these days are so focused on perfect parenting that they're not trusting their own judgment. The current way of parenting puts way too much emphasis on the kids, and on theories and ideas, but not on instinct. We already know what to do."

Instinct. What does that mean? It means love. L. O. V. E. It means forgiveness when milk is spilled, compassion when tantrums rage, sensitivity to the priorities of three-year-old, whimsy when shaking your shamrocks to Elmo is most fun thing to do... and worst of all: taking risks. We won't always know what's right, so we'll take a guess, or we'll simply react. Things may go horribly wrong. But... so? Sometimes we don't do everything right. We learn from it, try harder next time. Then, we forgive ourselves and move on. And that's it. Don't you think?

Denya said something like that, too. When she had first arrived, I was sitting next to MiniMe on the couch. Annie was watching PBSKids and I was grading papers on my laptop. I made some sort of apology to Denya for not being 100% attentive to my child and worse (GASP!) letting her watch TV. Denya looked at me, aghast. "But you're HOME. You're here next to her. And you HAVE to work. This is a wonderful option. You're both together. And then I see that she comes to gigs with you, you're engaging with her while you work, and you're both very happy. Too much guilt!"

Too much guilt, man. Let's stop worrying about parenting perfectly and throw away the parenting books and just start having more fun together. Crazy idea?

At the risk of sounding hard: I've thought about it. This blog IS about musicianship and motherhood, but it ISN'T about MiniMe. And it doesn't have to be, because everything else is. Just ask her.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Day 307: Living Your Passion Never Gets Old

Ah, the musical life.

After waking up at 4:00 am to finish a wind ensemble score study, then an early morning drive to Bridgewater to take an 8 a.m. conducting final exam, editing online music lessons and grading final exams for four hours, then giving a final exam in Music: A Listening Approach, I rushed to Sounds Interesting Studios to record low whistle, whistle, and soprano and alto sax on four of the songs on our upcoming CD, tentatively titled Blue & Green. Arrived home at 11 pm. A long day, but what a joy!

Some really nice music is coming your way. The most inspired moments last night were a couple of soaring whistle solos to accompany Steve's beautiful singing on "John of Dreams" and "Smoke and Strong Whiskey." Some soprano sax reels are also in store, as are some straight ahead rock and roll work on Ordinary Man, a song from the recession of the '80s that is timely again. And that's just some of it.

Do I sound proud of all the activity? I think I am. That's a full day, and I'm still amazed just about every moment that a person can actually make a living following their passion... and further surprised that one of those persons happens to be me. Mind you, I'm still only captain of the whale ship Corolla (vintage appx. 1848) but we're doing it. And it's great.
You know, I stopped writing the blog for a month or so and it was partly because I was feeling self-conscious about all this "writing about me, us, me, us, me, us" thing, feeling embarrassed to suggest that we have something other than some great Irish songs and a few tunes to offer you.

As if you care. Well, I suppose if you're here, you do, and that's why I came back.

Reporting in from Plymouth, it's the Lindsays, with nothing to offer you but joy.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 306: Poor Herman Melville

Call me Ishma-elle.

In the late 1800s, Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, one of the world's finest pieces of literature, a detailed account of the whaling fishery at the time—an allegory for American expansion, a deep exploration into the human psyche, a meditation on man's relationship to God—but his timing was off. The public had turned its eyes to the romantic West. The brilliant piece of literature was too deep for its time; it marked the decline of his faintly rising star because it didn't make the New York Times Best Seller List. Everyone was too busy reading Mark Twain. Not that you could blame them.

But still. The poor chap spent his last days as a customs inspector and died in obscurity at 72.

I've got a white whale of my own this morning, and I call it "Conducting." I'm about to unfurl the rigging of the whale ship Corolla and head off to slay the leviathan: the final exam. Aye, mate, instead of waking up to play saxophone, I reheated yesterday's leftover coffee, finished writing a score study of Robert W. Smith's seven-minute wind band piece, "Ireland: Of Legend and Lore" (due today... of course), then inhaled and dove deep to the musty hold to practice conducting patterns to some of the wackiest meter changes I'll ever encounter.

My harpoon is feeling a little dull this morning.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day 304: No More Waxy Buildup

Happy Mother's Day to you!

It's the morning after our special spot with the Phil, and never did a Sunday look so sunny. We had a great time playing for a warm and very large audience, though it went so fast I barely remember it. The Philharmonic, led by Steven Karidoyanes, is a class orchestra, and their program choices of Irish-themed music for the event were lovely. (My favorites were the pieces from Leroy Anderson's Irish Suite, especially that little bluesy countermelody he tucked into the Rakes of Mallow.)

The lesson today: Preparation pays dividends. In preparation for the show, I played my two sets every single day for at least a month, with the goal of getting them down so well they would be second nature. And they were. It feels wonderful now to move forward without that concert waiting in the wings...and I'm really excited about diving into some new tunes, a joy that was neglected because the focus was on May 8.

Ah... All that buildup, and it's over in 15 minutes. A nice 15 minutes, mind you. Thank you for being there.

A few more things to scratch off the list now (including finishing our CD...two studio dates this week, to lay down sax lines), and we're ready for summer! The new list:

1. Practice
2. Beach
3. Cookouts with friends and family
4. Walks along the waterfront
5. Beach
6. Lotso tunes
7. Ice cream
8. Beach

In preparation, I'm going to pour me a cup of coffee and wander the Lindsay compound. Enjoy the gorgeous day. Tra-la!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Day 303: This is it, kid.

I can hear Barbra Streisand talking to herself now in Funny Girl, doing her best Fanny Brice Brooklyn accent as she's about to take the stage at the Ziegfield Follies, "This is it, kid. Your big break."

It's the morning of our Phil performance, and I admit that it's pretty exciting. No pre-show jitters... just to prove it, I woke at 4:00 a.m. and fell back to sleep. That's progress.

Actually, it's pretty exciting to have this show tonight. A completely different environment for Irish music, and how did my friend put it, "It's good that our 'Yankee Establishment' venues have discovered that we troglodytes have emerged from our caves and are somewhat in the light. But seriously folks..."

Long time no troglodyte, but some shoulder chips last forever. The Chieftains do the Boston Pops, well, every year, don't they?

Either way... we're really looking forward to tonight at Memorial Hall. If you think you might come, I hear that tickets are only available at the box office now via walk-up.

Onto much more important things, now... what to wear?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 301: The Horse Is at the Shore, and Yet...

I may be your teacher, but be darn glad you're not mine.

For the last eighteenth months or so I've been working as an editor for Ellen Lubin-Sherman, the under-the-radar arbiter of all things fabulous, on her forthcoming book about... well, how to be fabulous.

Among a thousand other things, Ellen has reminded me of some basics:
-E-mail is a real letter. Pay attention when you hit Send.
-Crocs and burquas do the same thing for women.
-Toss the red tartan footless tights. (I can't.)
-Stop saying "I'm so busy." We're all busy.
-Do what you love, and love what you do. And do it well, dammit.

Still, despite her excellent leadership, I find myself right now trying to look all proctorish while giving a final exam, before a live group of Bridgewater undergrads desperately trying to remember the historical significance of Newport '65, wearing this:

Ellen, please forgive me. We can lead the horse to water... .

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day 300 of Practice: The Music of Dawn

Day 300 of Practice and the birds woke me... a cacophony of crows, robins, and one way-too-loud chickadee whose singing would have been welcomed were it not 5:00 am... Harry would have reached for his camera. I reached for my slingshot.

But, still: It's day 300 and that's a nice thing. We've been working on this daily practice thing in 100-day stints, and folks... are you still with me? How's it going?

True confessions: This third 100 was particularly challenging for me. This was a very tough semester at Bridgewater, with a heavy load of teaching, plus taking a conducting class, rehearsing with the Bridgewater Wind Ensemble, rehearsing and performing with Caravan, working on the Lindsays CD, St. Patrick's Day (pigtails!), and a host of writing and editing projects on the side. And then there's living a life, having a family, finding one's way through a detour, and let's not forget: shoveling snow. (We can leave out cleaning the house. Who does THAT anymore?)

Suffice it to say: It was hard to practice every day.

In this third 100, I most certainly did not practice every day, though I did certainly practice most days. This time around, I just had to give myself a little slack, allowing a rehearsal, a concert, a recording date, or a session to substitute for practice. Of course, these things are NOT practice per se, but they are most definitely part of the practice of being a musician. At the very least, daily connection with the instrument is critical because these instruments we play rely on muscle development, and almost-daily exercise is critical to keep those muscles moving the way we need them to for optimal performance. Never mind the unbroken ribbon of concentration, the flowing river of creativity, etc etc... sometimes it's enough just to roll out of bed and hit the practice room. A brave feat, considering most are content with rolling out of bed, period.

So far: The real challenge has not been the music. The real challenge has been balancing expectation with reality.

Onward to the next batch o' days. This one is only a 65-day batch... taking us to one year. Whoah.

Thanks for sticking around! I hope you're getting as much out of this as I am.

Upcoming Show: The Lindsays with the Philharmonic

Just found out that the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra is offering a special deal for Saturday's Celtic Pops Concert at Memorial Hall... they say:

"Buy one ticket, Get one Ticket FREE" in the Pot 'O Gold section for this Saturday's "Irish" Pops Concert. Offer only valid by calling the Phil office at (508) 746-8008...remember to reference facebook "Pot 'O Gold" offer."

Full details below.


Plymouth Phil presents festive ‘Irish Pops’ Concert

PLYMOUTH, MA - - - The 94th Season of the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra concludes with a sonic extravaganza celebrating the Emerald Isle. Steven Karidoyanes conducts Celtic Pops: A Feast of Irish Music, a festive Irish Pops event, hosted by amiable Irish-music radio personality, Seamus Mulligan. The program includes Leroy Anderson’s Irish Suite, Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry (Danny Boy), music from Finian’s Rainbow, selections from Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, plus a bounty of traditional Irish fiddle tunes and sing-along songs. Featured guest ensembles are traditional Irish acoustic duo The Lindsays and the Irish Fiddlers from Quincy’s Congress School of Irish Music, Aidan Maher, director. This fun-filled affair takes place on Saturday, May 8th at 8PM in Plymouth’s Memorial Hall. Tickets are on sale now. Limited Cabaret-style table seating is available. Memorial Hall is fully accessible.

“We’ve put together a real party of a concert!” exclaims Conductor Karidoyanes. “There’s so much great Irish music for orchestra. This concert is full of tunes that are both happy and gorgeous.” He concludes with a laugh, “If you’re not singing along or tapping your toe, check your pulse!”

Local radio personality and entrepreneur Seamus Mulligan serves the event as guest host and brings a wealth of musical and cultural experience to this concert. In addition to broadcasting his “Feast of Irish Music” program every Sunday afternoon on Quincy’s WROL Radio (950 AM), Mulligan is the longtime general manager of the popular specialty Irish gift shops, The Irish Cottage.

The Lindsays are an accomplished husband-and-wife acoustic duo based in Plymouth. Stephen Lindsay is a guitarist and sings. Susan (Gedutis) Lindsay performs on Irish-style flute, whistle, and sax. Their music is inspired by the Irish tradition but colored by rock, jazz, and folk. The Irish Fiddlers from the Congress School of Irish Music also perform traditional music. These young-yet-seasoned musicians, ages 15 to 17, regularly perform throughout the greater-Boston area and have already performed in concert halls in Dublin, Ireland.

The Concert Sponsors are The Hallamore Corporation and Sullivan Tire and Auto Service. The 94th Season of the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Individual ticket prices are $50, $45, $35 and $20. Limited Cabaret-style table seating is available for $65 and $55. Senior, Youth and Group discounts are offered. $5 student “rush” tickets are sold at the door one hour before the performance, as available. Advance tickets can be purchased from the Phil office by calling 508-746-8008 or online at

Memorial Hall is located on 83 Court Street/Route 3A, Plymouth, MA.

For more information about the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra’s 94th Season, visit


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 299: The Bottle and the Pint

The odometer's about to turn... all those 9s disappear tomorrow into 300 days! I spent much of yesterday at Sounds Interesting Studios with Stanley and Grimm (Nikki Engstrom and Sean Brennan) putting flute on some jigs and a really cool hornpipe. Their CD will be coming out this summer; watch for it.

One of the challenges of being a musician is that sometimes you have exactly four days to learn a tune that's going to be on someone's CD. That's not easy, and you really do have to let go of the panic part and embrace knowing nothing if you're ever going to learn.

Let me get all yogic on you. This one's a quote my sis sent yesterday. It is a reminder of what it's like to allow ourselves to be in a state of continual learning, that is, learning new musical things, accepting new challenges. Practice can most certainly be about maintenance but most of us, whether we choose music, yoga, art, weight lifting, distance cycling, or Olympic Pint Guzzling (don't laugh; they're considering it for an Olympic sport in Europe), are always trying for better/more. Thoughts on this from In Search of the Warrior Spirit, by Richard Strozzi Heckler:

"The metaphor of the cup and the quart: The cup represents who we are now. It's the amount of love, responsibility, power, what have you, that we have come to call our own.

"Across the table we see the quart. The quart represents what we can become, our potential.

"Realizing that the quart is within our reach and that the cup is no longer satisfying to us we decide to go for more, to reach for the quart of our self. As we put down the cup in order to take up the quart we realize...that we are empty-handed; we have left the known, yet we have not yet reached who we can become.

"Passing through this 'empty-handed' state is...crucial..."

This is the path of yoga. Feeling and honoring the fullness of This Cup that
is Who You Are Today, while you reach toward The Quart, or more correctly,
into The Universe of Possibilities, that is also What You Are.

(Music, like yoga,) ... can be a study of relationships: our relationship with who we are, who we are becoming as humans, but also recognizing the essence within, the unchanging, the eternal.

Yes, it's a little New Agey and Soul Mama would never get that way, no sirree Bob, not me. Oh, not me. Not me at all. (Doth I protest too much?) However... I read it, thought about it all day, and am still thinking about it now. It is a lovely metaphor for an expansive musical practice... Thanks, Sis.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Day 298: On a Road to Somewhere

There's been a detour on my trip to work at the college. It all started with those torrential rains in March, when the normally lazy Taunton River that passes under Summer Street in Bridgewater turned into the Mississippi, and flooded my beautiful little backroad to Bridgewater State College in three feet of water. If you remember, I drove through it once. Just once.

For four days, I continued to follow the road to that same flood, hoping that maybe this was the day the waters had receded. Honestly, it never was, and every time I had to backtrack, find a detour, and arrive late to class... again. It took about two weeks for the town of Middleboro to post a "Road Closed" sign. Of course, they didn't mark a detour. Oh joy. Late for class already, and now I have to pick my way through the Middleboro wilds to find the Ivory Tower.

I called my professor, Brass Doc. (Surely you remember conducting class? The pool...?) I said,

"Hi Don. I'm on a road I don't know hoping it'll get me where I need to be..."

...and then spent the rest of the drive thinking what a cool metaphor that was.

I found myself on route 105, part of what Middleboro has officially deemed its "Heritage Landscape," and I can see why. Stunning farmland—real, working farms with Australian sheepdogs—where farmers sell aged cow poop for $3.00 a bag. Same price for a carton of eggs. I bought both: six of one, and a dozen of the other.

I enjoyed the detour, which is good because it remained in effect for over a month, only that little river was back to normal, and I could never figure out why the rest of the road wasn't open. As far as I knew, this was the only place that water crossed under the road for its eight-mile stretch from route 44 to Bridgewater State College. Finally one night last week, the suspense got too much. I decided to drive around the detour sign to see what the problem was. I traveled about a mile in the dark, feeling a little bit like an unsuspecting canoer in a Disney movie (watch out for the gigantic waterfall!!!!) til I came to two massive cement blocks stationed in front of a ten-foot wide gulf where the road used to be. My beloved route had fallen into a cranberry bog. Uh-oh.

Didn't matter because the detour had turned out to be much more pleasant than the original road. Now the semester's almost over, and I'll miss it.

I keep thinking about that statement. On a road I don't know, hoping it'll get me where I need to be. As it turns out, it was an unexpectedly gorgeous road, and it took me to a road I'd been on a thousand times before, only from a different angle.

If that's not a metaphor for a musical life, I don't know what is. Let's welcome those detours. They may delay our arrival, but what wonder we can experience if we enjoy the scenery along the way. Added bonus: Sometimes detours can be a rich source of bullsh*t.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Day 296: Wide Awake in Mariachi Pants

Well, good morning from Plymouth.

I am so happy to have a few minutes to write that I'm almost not sure what to say. Except I am sure.

In the last two weeks, when I haven't been writing because I've been too busy working, I admit that I have also seen a most amazing array of music.

Check it out, if you want to catch up with some new music:

Lunása: Saw them at Liam Maguire's, a great small venue to catch such a "supergroup." Just released their new CD, Lá Nua. Flute player Kevin Crawford is most definitely the most entertaining front man ever. Perhaps even more than the music, we enjoyed the on-stage banter and craic between the guys. I gotta say, though, I've seen them a lot of times, and this was probably the least inspired performance I've seen. These are without question some of the best players in traditional music, but I'm taking a guess that we might have caught them on an off night, perhaps because Seán Smith had been celebrating his birthday in Boston the night before. We bought their new CD, and I'm still breaking it in. Produced by bass player Trevor Hutchinson, longtime formerly of the Waterboys, the CD is so polished sounding that, to me, it loses some raw sparkle. It feels perfect but somehow not exciting or inspired, and believe me, it HURTS me to admit this because this is most definitely one of my favorite bands in the world. Still, great band, and it really is absolutely worth buying the CD. In particular, Kevin Crawford's writing on "Tune for Dad" and "Island Lake" is dependably gorgeous, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

Classical guitar recital by Tom Rohde: Performing works by late Romantic Spanish composers. Tom performed a solo recital last week at Bedford Community College, and did a dress rehearsal in my Music Appreciation class. Beautiful pieces, inspired by places and culture in Spain, typical of late Romantic nationalism. While he might disagree with me, Tom is a master of the classical guitar.

Veronica Robles and her Mariachi Band. Oh, such fun. Veronica Robles is a star, for sure. Stage presence, absolutely gorgeous... and she wore these: Plus, the band... Honestly, I'd consider leaving Irish music to join a mariachi band if it meant that I could wear mariachi pants every night. Irish musicians, when it comes to costuming, we've been gypped. The band plays a range of classic Mexican folk, but also includes contemporary pieces like "Tequila" and my favorite, Patsy Cline's "Crazy" in their set. Great stuff. Look for Veronica on Facebook, too, and on Saturday mornings on the Spanish cable station Telemundo. She hosts a show at 10 am.

Marcus Santos: Brazilian percussionist and his band. Santos is a native of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil, but living in Boston. INCREDIBLE! So exciting I cried. Ok, ok. So you think you can't sit through over an hour of extremely loud samba drumming, while sitting in a dry auditorium in a small, underinspired looking audience? A performer's nightmare... small audience, spread all over the giant room, and you're playing dance music and they're sitting in their seats. But that's not a nightmare for Marcus... by the end of the performance, he had just about everyone up on their feet doing samba. Love this guy.

Annalivia - Irish nu-trad... they call themselves a "dynamic and original traditional fiddle band" and I think that's apt, but it also undercuts the contributions of vocalist Liz Simmons. Band also includes Flynn Cohen on stringed things, Emerald Rae and Brendan Carey-Block on fiddle, and super nice guy and great musician Stuart Kenney on upright bass, banjo, and probably more. They also just released a new CD, Barrier Falls.

Christian Stevens: Box player who joined us at World Music Festival... he also just came out with a new CD, that has gotten rave reviews from people in the know. I haven't had a chance to listen, but I trust my sources. Check it out: The Press Gang.

The Hot Tamale Brass Band. Five big guys full o' honkin' funky Boston-based New Orleans jazz. And they march, too. Watch for them in your next parade. I sat in with them a bit on soprano sax and it was a blast!

The Male Bonding Band -- bunch of guys who just like to sing and only a few of them really know how to play their instruments, but that's forgivable because they really were having fun.

Khakatay: The coolest African drumming ensemble in the world. A great bunch of Bridgewater State College students and even some staff, led by Dr. Salil Sachdev, department head. I've gone on and on about them before... see here...

The Alley Cats: So fun! They sang "Mr. Sandman," "Stray Cat Strut," and "Witchcraft"... all in leopard skin. I'd like to link you to their website, but there are about ten other a cappella groups with the same name. So, a photo instead.

The Big Apple Circus Orchestra
-- amazing!!!!! And the flying trapeze dudes aren't bad either. And Bello the Clown: The coolest, non-creepy and most talented clown we ever did see... Got pics of this too, but the camera is AWOL at the moment.

Bridgewater State College Chamber Singers
and the BSC A Cappella Group -- So much joy and so much talent. Of course, this is a more appropriate photo of the group, with Veronica Robles...

It's that time of year. Lots of concerts and lots of activity as the semester closes... but lots of fun!