Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 365 of Practice: The Big Day. (Except It's Not.)

Today marks the last day of 365 days of practice. I've been expecting that something magical would have happened by now. As it turns out, no angels sang from on high this morning, but I know that if there are angels, they're smiling.

What we've got here is a girl who's got family in town and who's been sick for three days and so hasn't practiced, coming in on the final stretch. Somehow I lost count, because according to my last entry, today should be day 356. That's a lot of days to miscount on, but alas, today has to be day 365 because we started last July 1.

Well, folks, it's not over 'til the fat lady sings, and based on my steady consumption of the five bags of cider donuts my sister bought at Atkins Farm in Amherst last week, you might think that day is coming soon. But it's not. We shall continue. Are you with me?

All year, I expected that today would include a meaningful, moving recap of the last year. What you're getting instead is real life: the ten-minute recap, written quickly knowing that Soul Fry will be awake any minute now.

1. Consistency is everything. Picking a regular time to practice, always the same time, always the same place, has made a huge difference. For me, if it doesn't happen at that time, then it doesn't happen. We got lucky, because sometime in this year, Soul Papa built a soundproof Irish bar in the basement. We call it a practice room. And it is.

2. Family first. When you have a family, it simply may not be possible to practice every day. But practicing most days is a really good thing.

3. Having concrete goals are very important. But when you don't meet them, just keep trying. I still haven't managed to fit daily sax practice in with daily flute practice. That's my goal for the next year: play both, every time. (Maybe not every day, but every time. Or almost every time.)

4. Structure is very helpful. I have a basic plan of what I do every time I practice, and it makes it much easier. Practice goes best when I have a big show coming up; I work specifically on those tunes and feel good about it. When there isn't a specific concert, a recording, etc etc, then practice gets a little more squirrely, and I end up sitting down with a Catherine McEvoy recording and playing along.

5. Being accountable helps. Boy, it's made a big difference for me to know that at least two of you (you know who you are) are out there, practicing along every day. As far as I know, both of you have done every single day. You beat me! Sometimes I feel badly that I haven't been able to do every day, but then I have to remember that I've still got Soul Fry here in the house. She gets to be first. Second in line is making a living, and sometimes work deadlines require that I'm at the computer in the morning instead of the practice room. So be it. The roof over our heads is also important.

6. Sometimes by looking for one thing, one discovers something else. I discovered, much to my dismay, really, that I am as much a writer as a musician... As soon as I figured that out, I got writer's block for the first time in my life. But it lasted only a couple weeks, then it was over.

7. I need to disconnect the blog from my website. During the year, I read a blogger's comment on his own blog, and he said that more important than anything else in a blog is complete honestly. Well, I've had to sugarcoat the truth a few times, because this blog is connected to our website, and thus, I don't always tell the full story. This year look for the blog to be less prominently connected to our site. (This is a boring discovery only relevant to me; pardon my navel gazing.)

8. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Some blog entries are great, some are personal and self-serving (as above). Likewise, some performances are wonderful and others are uninspired. Some practice sessions are productive, others are just going through the motions. Whatever. Keep going.

Throughout the year, I've been reading books on Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese fung shui, as well as deep and inspiring American novels, and a little bit of beach trash. All except the latter tend to underline the fact that every single issue identified in my numbered list above is simply native to human existence.

The Buddhist philosophers would most definitely advise us all to stop counting the days, and just keep on practicing. As soon as we grasp on to what we're doing and start expecting some result, we predetermine ourselves for disappointment, disruption, or simply torture ourselves with an overexamined life. It was Socrates who said "An unexamined life is not worth living." Not sure if I agree with him.

Here's the big discovery:

Starting today, I'll keep on writing but I'm going to stop counting. It's really not about how many days one does it; it's about simply doing it, with focus, with intention, and with balance. As often as possible.

T. S. Eliot was more poetic, but I must adjust his quote. "Not with a bang, but a shrug."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 352 of Practice: Launch

"The human heart is a frail craft on which we wish to reach the stars." - Giotto

This quote came on an email forwarded to me from an artist friend. My heart goes out to her -- if we envision our hearts as frail craft, are we dooming ourselves to a tortured journey?

So many of us confuse what we do with who we are. And so, too many of those who lose their job, botch their performance, receive a heavily marked manuscript back from their editor, or get well-meaning feedback on their paintings or page designs, take it personally. It's not personal. It's just the world telling you to keep trying.

The real journey is not to reach the stars, but rather to fortify the heart, let loose the ballast, and launch.

That's enough.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 351 of Practice: The Sign Says "Mine."

See this lovely shot? Isn't the road inviting? Ignore it. It's NOT an invitation. See that big orange sign to the right? It says, "This is mine. Don't fish here. Don't hunt here. Don't trap here. Don't stop by the side of the road and take pictures here. In fact, I'd rather you not even LOOK here, okay? That's why I picked bright orange. Because I don't want you to look."

Just in case you missed that sign, the owner of this gorgeous road that winds between two luscious horse pastures has also put two white signs on either side of the gate, just where the fence ends, just to remind you. In case you missed it, like.

We didn't miss it.


Just got a call from a dear friend who's just lost his low-paying, menial job. He didn't love the job, but it's a job and he has a family. See, he was told, he wasn't paying attention to directions, work wasn't up to snuff. By the way, this fellow who just lost his job just happens to have a head injury that makes it impossible to follow directions. Of course, he told his bosses that when he got the job. But alas, he lost the job, where he was tending gardens for people who live behind big white gates in a private community whose entrance is marked by a gate and guarded by a little "MINE" booth right at the entrance, with someone in it to tell you to turn right around just in case you thought you might like to see what they have. Lucky people, those people. They still have their jobs, lots of them.

The MINE people have sent most of the boring jobs to China. For the other jobs that they just can't send away ("Who will mulch for me? Who will sweep my floor? Who will paint my house trim?"), they hire illegal immigrants because they work cheaper. But you can't blame them, of course; everyone else charges too much. Or so everyone seems to say.

That's fine. We understand. But has anyone figured out what will happen to people who have head injuries and can't follow directions given to them by the "MINE" people? What do they do to have just a little of "mine" for themselves?

That's not a crack to fall between. That's a fissure.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 350 of Practice: The Reluctant Gourmet

Despite hours of meditative long tones on the flute for the last 350 days, I discover that I am not sufficiently spiritually advanced for placid pea picking. Still, I can joyfully weed the heck out of my own garden when there's nothing else to do. The latter (having nothing else to do) happens only at 7 a.m. on June 24, 2010, when I lock myself out of the house after a morning bike ride.

In other words: Once. Like ever, in forever. Musicians always have something to do. We can always practice, at least when we can get to our instruments. Which brings us to why I haven't practiced yet: The cat ate my house key.

Hopefully, the cat will also like peas, because we have a lot of them. Yesterday was CSA pickup day at Plato's Harvest, and it was summery hot. Just the day to step away from time and find peace via peas in the organic fields. Or, curse every pea as it came off the vine, wondering how many thousands of peas it takes to get to two pounds. It takes about ten thousand.

The Organic Farmer's Wife wonders if I even like vegetables. Oh, I do. When Denya the Fabulous cooks them, for example. All other times, I'll defer to the bread from Artisan Kitchen in Rochester, Mass., because all you have to do is unravel the tie wrap, sit down with a snappy friend, break off a few chunks, and you're good to go. Right, Sasha?

Now Hiring: Private Chef with Knack for Locally Grown Organic Peas.

I'll be downstairs practicing; call me when dinner's ready.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 348: Losing David O'Docherty, 1935-2010

We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand, and melting like a snowflake... Let us use it before it is too late! —Marie Beyon Ray

We're sad to learn of the loss of a great musician, poet, artist, and character in the Boston scene, Dublin-native David O'Docherty. O'Docherty passed away while swimming in Martha's Vineyard. According to the Vineyard Gazette, he had gone to the Vineyard to play tin whistle at the annual Bloomsday celebration in Vineyard Haven, as he does every year. (Bloomsday is June 16, the day the James Joyce's Leopold Bloom character, of Ulysses, set off on his exploits throughout Dublin.) He had gone swimming on Sunday, June 21 at 10 am, and never returned, apparently suffering a heart attack or some other medical event while swimming. He was 75.

It was sad news to the crowd of musicians and friends who gathered here at our house last night to ring in the solstice with Irish music. But, no doubt, O'Docherty would have approved. Just as solstice is a time to celebrate the light that comes out of darkness, so the loss of a friend can remind us of the life we must embrace while we have it. O'Docherty was a real inspiration, and it is only mildly comforting to know that he passed on to the Great Seisiun in the Sky while enjoying the world around him.

For a lovely tribute to O'Docherty, visit today's article in the Vineyard Gazette.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 345 of Practice: Doe. A Deer.

Oh my great people, I have gone Native. Henceforth, I shall be called She-Who-Spots-Deer-Standing-Near-Highway-Onramp-at-Midnight.

Not just one midnight, but now two midnights in a row. Last night, at the Bourne Rotary, after a Stage Door Canteen gig. Tonight, on the onramp to I-95 exit 13B in Canton, after a session at the Irish Cultural Center.

Of course, I did the only logical thing one does when one spots a deer standing by the side of the road at midnight. I called a friend.

Not just any friend, mind you. I called the Great Rudini, a musician, unmarried, and likely to be wide awake at midnight. He was awake, as it turns out, and my call interrupted him while he was photographing his friend's cat and saving it as the wallpaper on her phone. (I'm quite sure that there is no cause/effect relationship between these last two conditions.)

The Great Rudini is a college buddy, a dear friend, and for nearly fifteen years now, we have played together in a band called Einstein's Little Homunculus, a Celtic/Klezmer concatenation that specializes in children's songs for grown-ups. ("Daddy, what does Kooky Floozy mean?") In the band's heyday, we traveled together all over the folkin' place en route to coffeehouses and contra dances, and it was on these journeys in the Great Rudini's old Volvo wagon that I earned the nickname "Secretary of the Interior," for my great skill in spotting roadside wildlife attractions. Deer, moose, foxes, groundhog, beaver, hawks... if they were there, I saw them. And pointed it out.

Tonight, the Great Rudini was mildly impressed with my consecutive sightings, and asked me only one favor: If I should ever—"God forbid"—strike a deer with my car, please call him immediately. "There's good eatin' in them deer," he said.

On my mysterious roadside doe, however, he had no sage observation. Oh Great People of Blog Spirit, how can it be that I saw the same deer in two places, miles away from each other, on two consecutive nights? Both at midnight? It can only be one of three things:

1) Mother Earth is sending me an important message.

2) Deer act suspiciously as summer solstice nears.

3) I'm way super extra wicked overtired. There was no deer.

Should you have any insight on this matter, I implore you to write your thoughts on the back of a peyote root and send it to me at my home address. I shall await your message.

In the meantime, I shall sit here drinking tea with jam and bread....which, I have on very good authority, will bring us back to Doe.


For further insight on Native American deer symbolism, do visit the highly scientific, peer reviewed, and academic Web site of extensive international acclaim, Actually, do. I think I know the deer of which she speaks.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 344 of Practice: Cool Parents, We Love You.

Sometimes at bedtime, Soul Fry and I go over the events of the day and pick out our favorite part. I'm thinking about yesterday, one of those days when 343 days of practice paid off. Two gigs, totalling seven hours of playing, and twelve hours of the day.

The musical day began at the Farmer's Market in Plymouth, with ten children heralding in the start of the season with tambourines, shakers, and plastic instruments, and ended eight hours later with a 14-piece big band at Liam Maguire's in Falmouth playing "Brown Eyed Girl," the universal over-40 siren song for barroom dancers.

A riddle:

Q: How many bar bands does it take to play "Brown Eyed Girl?"

A: Apparently all of them.

But back to our story. Thank you farmers of Plymouth for bringing your goods to Steven's Field, a place that we who grew up in town associate with tennis and swim lessons (yes, we all swam there til someone spotted toilet paper floating by), steamed hot dogs, a can of Pepsi, and a chocolate bar, purchased from Chet Downie with our weekly 50-cent allowance.

Now the concession stand, run by Side Dish, is all about organic energy bars and hibiscus iced tea. Oh, then there's the oven baked pizza at the Market, done by the man in the straw porkpie hat, while you wait.

My favorite part? Mighta been Sasha's hug. Also mighta been the awesome under-5 crowd at the Farmer's Market, especially Lana, who shook her little patootie for nearly three hours straight, dancing while we played. That's what life is about, my friends.

Thank you, you cool moms and dads, for bringing your kids right to the music and letting them let themselves free for as long as they wanted to, not rushing them off anywhere, but just letting them play and dance.

You are some seriously cool people. Maybe I'm a little biased, and I certainly am no expert, but I really like the track you're on.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 343 Part II, On Food: The Flute Smoothie, a Recipe

Here's a recipe from the Lord's most low maintenance chef.

An ideal drink to celebrate finding your lost flute. Five minutes to prepare, unless you insist on washing your fruit first. (Finicky, finicky you.)

-1 carton of Stonyfield fat-free blueberry yogurt that's been in the fridge for over two months because I hate fruit yogurt

-About 7 about-to-go-bad strawberries

-Half a package of fresh raspberries, also on the verge of saying bye-bye. I know because I had to pick out a few moldy ones. (Do you eat blue cheese? Then stop with the being grossed out thing.)

-A big handful of blueberries, still fresh. Miracle!

-Another big plop of fat-free vanilla yogurt... also Stonyfield. (Hey, they went to my alma mater, I have to buy their products.)

-A capful of "Mother's" brand toasted wheat germ. (Something to make you feel virtuous, even if you don't know what it's for.)

-Half a mug of tap water (I said low maintenance!)

-Half a mug of crushed ice

Run it through the blender for about a minute, and oh my goodness... You'll be set up for the morning.

Day 343 of Practice: The Cat Ate My Flute

This morning, conditions seemed right for an inspired day. The morning bike ride, the coffee, the return home with poetic thoughts in mind... Then I lost my flute. Or, to be specific, the cat ate it. We don't have a cat, but I'm pretty sure it was a cat that did it, because I understand that cats eat most lost things.

But, this is one of those times when apparent misfortune comes to our aid. You may recall that a couple weeks ago, I discovered that my flute needs repair, so I contacted its maker in Scotland, and arranged for my flute's European summer holiday... then contacted a friend to borrow a flute. This friend doesn't procrastinate, so it just so happens that I have an extra flute in the house. The cat didn't eat that one. Yet.

This is very fortunate, because the next several days are rather busy.


Today, June 17.
Lettuce, Lindsays, and Love. We're playing opening day at the Plymouth Farmer's Market. Catch local music, local food, and local color (you can always count on the latter) at Steven's Field today from 2:30 to 6:30. For more info, visit their Web site,

Tonight, June 17. I'll be playing my baritone saxophone (much to big for a small cat to eat) with Stage Door Canteen at Liam Maguire's in Falmouth.

Tomorrow, June 18. I'll be joining Bill Black for the Irish session from 9-11 pm at the Irish Cultural Center of New England, 200 New Boston Drive, Canton, Massachusetts, 02021.

Next up is June 30, a free outdoor concert at the Windmill in Eastham, Mass. with the Lindsays, and special guests Sean Farias on acoustic bass and Salil Sachdev on percussion.

In the meantime... if anyone sees a cat wandering around with a squarish looking belly, please note his license plate number and call the police. And me. I'd really like my flute back.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 338: Back to the Music...

After a short foray into organica, I'm back to what it's all about... the tunes!

Folks, if you haven't done it yet, do buy Comhaltas' session books. What a great selection of frequently played and widely known tunes. In prep for a session I'm guesting at on Friday, June 18 (Bill Black's session at the Irish Cultural Center of New England), I spent this morning's practice session dusting off the books and just playing through a ton of common session tunes.

Musician Moms don't have a lot of leeway to get out to sessions; the ones that still play are mostly just focusing on the tunes they're recording or performing. I know this is fact because there are only two of us, and we just talked yesterday.

So... such fun to be had with Foinn Seisiún 1. Yes, I know, it's much more real to be playing through these tunes with real people. Even better when those real people happen to be real friends. But see paragraph 3, sentence 2.

If you really want to get authentic (highly recommended), don't buy the book, but instead go to CDBaby and buy a copy of the CD that comes with it and play along with that massive session sound. (Oh, I have the CD somewhere... I beg you to again refer to paragraph 3, sentence 2.)

Long live the tunes!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 337: A Hot Dogger Cooks Organic

Let me begin by stating that yesterday's lunch was a hot dog and Kraft mac & cheese in Sponge Bob Square Pants shapes. With Tostitos.

Now, let me tell you about dinner. Organic chard sauteed with extra virgin olive oil and chopped garlic scapes. Panko chicken (Nature's Promise, of course, rolled in yolk from one little tiny blue egg from a free-range chicken). Mashed potatoes. Organic baby carrots (bought them at BJs). Be still my bleatin' heart. Thanks to Plato's Harvest Organic Farm, suddenly, dinner is fun again.

Wednesday was the official opening day at Plato's Harvest CSA. That's Community Supported Agriculture, and that means an end to a Dark Winter of Hot Dogs. Plato's Harvest is an organic farm in Middleboro, and it's a CSA where I and 100 or so other food freaks pay in advance for 20 weeks of locally grown organic vegetables. They plant, they weed, they pick. We show up once a week and take home fifty bags of lettuce.

But oh my goodness, yummy lettuce. And this week, we also took home 1 lb of gorgeous spinach, 1 lb of arugula, 2 large heads lettuce, 4 small heads lettuce, 3 kohlrabi (what the hell is that, anyway?), 3 white and 3 red salad turnips (sauteed 'em with garlic scapes and mushrooms... ooh la la), 50 garlic scapes (I think actually it's more like 10 million), 1 bunch chard, and pick your own herbs. I didn't pick. I took my leaves and ran. Ran home to Google recipes for vegetables that I didn't even know existed.

Please understand. I also run like hell whenever someone uses the word "organic" more than three times in a sentence. I roll my eyes when someone asks me if I BBQ'ed the veggie burgers on a separate part of the grill. I have been known to eat a whole bag of Doritos in one sitting. I like hot dogs.

But I also like fresh made pesto. Last night, at Farmer Dave's suggestion, I made it with garlic scapes, basil (some of which was from my own pathetic garden), fresh grated parmesan, the juice of one lemon, and a dash of salt. Together with the fresh loaf of ciabatta from Artisan's Kitchen--also part of my weekly CSA share--and the six-pack of IPA you bring when you stop by next, we've got a party.

Thanks, Farmer Dave and Farmer's Wife Sasha. You know what? You can't beat the flavor of your homegrown. Plus you're way more fun to talk to than the checkout lady at Wal-Mart.

Next week, another 20 bags of lettuce? Bring it on!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 334 of Practice: Up Early in Search of the Whole Person

This morning, it was cool and sunny on Old Sandwich Road. The long rays of the morning sun sparkled through the dewy grasses of Chiltonville, the oldest, preserved rural part of Plymouth. Mist rose off the pond and wrapped a swan in nature's tulle. Horses flicked their tails, and nearby a gang of wild turkeys leaned against a building smoking cigarettes in their usual spot. They ignored us, but I know that some day they're going to mug us and steal our sweet rides.

Why doesn't everyone wake up at 6 a.m. to go bike riding? Well, thank God they don't because it means that me and Design Diva (not her real name) can talk shop in relative peace. See, together, we're reliving the old days that we didn't share, when we were both bike snobs. The rides we used to do. The way we used to check out every single bike we passed on the road. (We still do, actually.) We launched a three-day-a-week regimen last week, meeting at 6 a.m. and riding for an hour. We started in sweatpants; after a week on the bike, the old school gear is getting dusted off, the 2-oz. racing bikes are back out, the silly shoes are on, the painful racing saddles are attached, and we're starting to feel like cycling hipsters. Out-of-shape hipsters, but as it turns out, no one's looking. We're old broads. And I don't know about the Design Diva, but me... I feel whole.

I did come home and practice. That was nice. My girl is sleeping, and that's nice. Soul Fry and I went food shopping last night when respectable parents already had their kids in bed, and we had a blast. Soul Papa and I are raising a kid who's fun to food shop with after 8 at night. That's really nice. Spent yesterday afternoon with a great friend, hanging with the kids and making smores and pinatas. Now I'm about to make the morning coffee, and get ready for a day of work, doing exactly the thing that I love doing. That's wicked nice.

Sorry to gush, but things are looking damn good today. The best part of it is, it's not luck. All of this came because we asked.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 329 of Practice: A Letter to Soul Fry on Her 4th Birthday):

June 3, 2010

Dear Soul Fry:

Today you are 4. You're sleeping, but you'll be awake soon and you'll come downstairs to a kitchen decorated with streamers and balloons. There are colorfully wrapped presents waiting on the table, and we're planning chocolate toast for breakfast. Or whatever you want. We can't wait to see your face!

See, you haven't yet figured out what all kids figure out eventually: your parents are completely and totally crazy. It's 8 a.m, and your mother has already gone for an hour-long bike ride and practiced for an hour. Your father was up 'til God-knows-what-hour organizing his workshop and working on his practice room in the basement. Some people might find this kind of wee-hour ambition a little distasteful, but guess what?

Nothing is difficult when you're doing what you love most.

If there's any wisdom we can impart to you today, it is this: Always follow your passion, and the rest will follow. We'll be here to support you all the way.

Happy Birthday, Small Fry!

Soul Mama and Papa

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 328 of Practice: Reminders for Irish Whistle and Flute Playing

You would think that a person could run out of things to say about the musical process. And it would be true, except that we human beings continually forget what we've learned, and then we get to relearn and re-encounter ourselves, over and over.

I've had to remind myself of a few things lately; thought it might help you too:

-Clean out your instrument regularly... yes, even you whistle players. Remember to regularly get the gook out of the mouthpiece and to swab out the inside of the whistle when you're done playing, to prevent corroded little bits that will interrupt smooth airflow and make you wonder why you ever thought music would be a good idea.

-Get your instrument looked at by a pro once a year, whether you think it needs it or not. Just like cleaning the fridge.

-Remember to practice playing quietly, with good tone. Most of the time in sessions, we lowly wind players are just trying to play loud enough to hear ourselves over the banjo. And we love those banjos! Sessions are good places to practice playing loudly. Practice rooms are good places to practice playing quietly. (Your cohabitants will thank you.)

-Record yourself every now and then. You're never as good as you wish you were, but often you're better than you think you are.

-Slow down. Set the metronome and play something much slower than you need to, and work on good timing.

-Sit up. Keep reminding yourself to sit up straight for good airflow.

-Stay awhile. Quality over quantity. Pick a tune or two and just sit with them and play them for a half hour sometime, rather than doing bits of this and bits of that. See what happens. (I keep telling myself to do this, and haven't yet!)

-Remember music? It's easy to get in the habit of playing tune after tune at one tempo, at once volume, at one feel. How about putting a little feeling into it? Experiment with dynamics... maybe playing an A part quietly, then a B part more loudly... that sort of thing. It helps drive the music. Get Martin Hayes-ey every now and then.