Monday, December 31, 2007

100th Times Square Ball-Drop

picture by Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
(used with permission)
The Times Square New Year's Eve ball is raised during a test drop
in New York on Friday, Dec. 28, 2007.

Did you know that 2007 marks 100 years of dropping a decorative ball atop a high building in Times Square to celebrate New Year's Eve? Sitting in my company's Times Square office, directly across the street from this year's much heralded new ball, I became curious about it and spent some time reading the websites that appeared in response to my "Times Square Ball" Google search.

First off, I learned that the idea of dropping a ball to signal the passage of time did not originate with Times Square promoters. In 1833 the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, installed a rooftop ball which would drop at one o’clock every afternoon so that ship captains could set their chronometers for accurate navigation. Based on the success of that venture, approximately 150 public time-balls were installed around the world. Only a few still work, and the Times Square ball has become the most famous. Watched by over one billion people around the world on New Year’s Eve, it has become “a universal symbol of celebration and renewal.” *

There were only four balls used in Times Square before this one.

  • In 1907 the first ball to be dropped in Times Square was made of iron and wood and lit by 100 25-watt light bulbs.
  • In 1920 a ball made entirely of iron replaced it and was used for 35 years.

  • In 1955 an aluminum ball was installed. The aluminum ball saw many years of use and underwent various modifications, particularly in the 1980’s when the lights were red and the addition of a stem lit in green transformed it into a Big Apple.

  • On New Year’s Eve 1999 a new ball, made by Waterford Crystal in Ireland, was installed to usher in the year 2000. It featured 504 crystal triangles of different sizes, all bearing images related to the theme of peace. It was lit by 600 halogen bulbs.

This year a new ball was created, again by Waterford, in honor of the 100th New Year’s celebration in Times Square. Following this ball's theme, Let There Be Light, the new design includes technical innovations which allowed for the addition of 168 more crystal triangles. In addition, all the triangles are cut on both sides which will maximize the light refraction. 9,576 Philips Luxeon LEDs equipped with solid state wiring will make this year’s ball more than twice as bright and capable of millions of colors and billions of patterns. Should be quite a sight!

So... there's some trivia you can share with friends as you watch the ball drop tonight. Happy New Year!

* This quote and most of the information in this post comes from the Times Square Alliance website, in particular the pages About the New Year's Eve Ball and History of New Year's Eve in Times Square. Please visit those sites to read more details and to see the interesting pictures found there.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lessons and Carols at MMF (2007)

With my recent spate of Irish music performances now concluded, I was able to give my full attention to planning the 2007 Lessons and Carols service at Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship (MMF). Since I prefer the traditional format of paired readings and music, I decided not to include a pageant like we did in our 2006 service. Instead, I organized an adult choir, a children's choir, and a couple of duets.

Here is the order of service used on December 16th, 2007, and a few pictures taken by my friend, Mervin Horst. 62 people attended this year's Lessons and Carols service. 27 were involved in reading and presenting music.

Prelude (Mory Ortman, pianist)
Welcoming Greeting (Sylvia Shirk Charles, pastor)
Introduction of visitors
Candle Lighting of the Third Advent Candle
Opening Congregational Songs:
"Oh, how shall I receive thee"

(we sing this song every year in memory of our former pastor, Arlene Pipkin, who introduced it to our congregation in Advent 2001, the year before she died.)

Lesson One: Psalm 96: 1-4 and 11-13
Praise to the Lord, the righteous judge
the First Carol: "Let the heavens be glad"

(MMF Adult Advent Choir)

Lesson Two: Matthew 25: 1-13
You know not when the Lord will come
the Second Carol: "Sleepers, wake!" (congregation)

Lesson Three: Luke 1: 57-79
Zechariah prophesies the birth of the Savior
the First Carol: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence/Bless’d Be the God of Israel"

(Linda Hood - flute, Robert Charles - guitar)

Lesson Four: Isaiah 9: 2-7
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a child who is born for us
the Fourth Carol: "O come, all ye faithful" (congregation)

Lesson Five: Luke 1:26-31 and 46-56
The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive a son, Jesus
the Fifth Carol: "My soul is filled with joy" (congregation)

Lesson Six: Luke 2:1-12
The birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem
the Sixth Carol: "The Friendly Beasts/Away in a Manger "
(MMF Children’s Advent Choir)

Lesson Seven: Luke 2:13-20
Angels and shepherds praise God at the birth of Jesus
the Seventh Carol: "O Holy Night"
(Sharon and Sarah Hewitt - vocal duet, accompanied by Mory Ortman - pianist)

Congregational Carol: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Offering
Offertory Music: Concerto for Violin, by Antonio Vivaldi
(Maya Petkovitch - violin, accompanied by Mory Ortman - piano)
Pastoral Prayer / Congregational Prayer

Closing Congregational Song: "Keep your lamps trimmed"
Postlude - Boil the Cabbage, a traditional American tune
(Anya Petkovitch - violin, accompanied by Mory Ortman - piano)

The Children's Advent Choir was this year's big hit. The age range of the kids pictured above was 3 to 13. We had only two rehearsals. The first one left much to be desired, and I was sure my inspiration to pull together a children's choir was symptomatic of some holiday lapse of sanity. However, one of the nonreaders practiced every day and memorized the words. All the kids worked hard at the second rehearsal, and in the service they were transformed into a choir of angels! They sang two songs - The Friendly Beasts and Away in the Manger. They pronounced the words clearly. They sang in unison on pitch. They held onto the tune against a varied and flowing piano accompaniment. Some children even sang solos on the internal verses of The Friendly Beasts. I was so glad I hadn't lost my courage. They were quite good, and I was very touched by how hard they worked and how happy they were to be part of the service.

As is our custom, the Lessons and Carols service was followed by a potluck dinner at Menno House. SoupFest was the theme of this year's Christmas potluck which featured four delicious soups and various salads as well as many homemade desserts. We all enjoyed time to visit with each other and bask in the glow of the service.

To all of you in various parts of the world, let me extend Merry Christmas greetings. I hope you find time amidst the frantic shopping and holiday parties to enjoy warm moments with people you love and to be engaged in activities that bring meaning to your life.

Photos by Mervin Horst, used with permission.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra performances

Graphic by Scott Spencer, used with permission.

Hello again! No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth or give up blogging. I've just been really busy. The primary activity that's been swallowing up all my leisure time is practicing flute and whistle for the many recent performances of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (WSHSO), New York University's student/community Irish ensemble in which I play.

On October 24th the WSHSO played for the cocktail hour at the Irish Georgian Society dinner at the exclusive University Club on Fifth Avenue. The Georgian Society preserves historic architecture in Ireland. Posh though this fundraising event was, we were not impressed as there was some mixup about our food and the chef threw it out before we ever got to eat it! In fairness, I will add that they treated us to dinner at an establishment of our choice, but it was not the same as eating at the University Club.

On November 28th the WSHSO played 30 minutes of cocktail music for an event at the Torch Club, a private facility where NYU faculty events are hosted. Another fundraiser, this time money was needed to digitize and catalogue Mick Moloney's collection of Irish-American music and memorabilia which documents nearly two centuries of Irish- American popular culture and music, particularly between the years of 1860 and 1940. Mick has donated it to the NYU library. For more details, click here. After we played, we attended the sit-down dinner and heard Mick's fascinating presentation. For those of you who know him only from concerts and recordings, rest assured that as an academic, he's everything you'd expect from a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D (in Folklore).

On November 30th the WSHSO performed at NYU's Skirball Hall at the World Music Institute's concert of Irish-American National Heritage Masters. Headliners were Mick Moloney & Friends, Liz Carroll & John Doyle, Joe Derrane & John McGann, and the Donny Golden dancers. Mick often performs under the name of Mick Moloney & Friends because he plays with a few core people, then adds whoever else might be in town for the event. On this particular night his group included piper Jerry O'Sullivan, fiddler Dana Lyn, pianist Brendan Dolan, accordian player Billy McComiskey, guitarist John Doyle, singer Robbie O'Connell, flutist Joanie Madden, and the indomitable WSHSO. Well! I think this may have been the most extraordinary musical event I've ever been part of. During the 3-hour concert, the WSHSO was on stage for only three sets - two of them at the very end - but it must be said that our bits were among the most exciting bits of the evening. The final set of reels was electrifying! I overheard someone tell Mick we were the "big guns" adding fire power!

On December 10th the WSHSO played 90 minutes of music at the Irish American Bar Association of New York's holiday party at Glucksman Ireland House. The Irish lawyers gave us a warm reception and indicated they'd like to employ us for future events.

And on December 13th we performed at the Airneál na Nollag: An evening of traditional music and song at Glucksman Ireland House. This annual event is organized by NYU's Irish Language Lecturer Pádraig Ó Cearúill. In addition to WSHSO's music, Padraig's students performed songs in Irish, and my friend and singing teacher Ashley Davis sang as well. The lovely evening was followed by appropriate seasonal partying.

This Sunday evening, December 16th, the WSHSO will be leading the session at Jack O'Neill's pub in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.

I'm having a blast. I am appreciating how lucky I am to live in NYC and to rub shoulders, sometime even share the stage, with some of the world's finest Irish musicians. While I can't sustain this pace forever, I figure I can sleep through January and February. That way I'll be rested up for the St. Patrick's Day onslaught of performances!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sorcha Dorcha Meets the Calliope

On Sunday, October 21, Sorcha Dorcha performed for the second time on the barge above, which is docked on the shores of Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood. This time we were part of the Grand Showboat Weekend sponsored by the Theater Museum and the Waterfront Museum’s Showboat ‘Round the Bend series, a continuation of the June event. Throughout the Grand Showboat Weekend visitors studied the gallery displays, listened to panel discussions, watched video clips, and heard various types of entertainment illustrating the role of the showboat in early 20th century American life.

Sorcha Dorcha played a 15-minute set of traditional Irish music. We also accompanied Paradizo Dance, a dance team that combines modern dance with acrobatics. The piece they performed was entitled Sleepers and can be viewed from the Gallery section of their website, where it's set to a very different accompaniment from our mix of slow aires, jigs, and reels.

Sorcha Dorcha and Paradizo Dance were not exactly representative of the entertainment of the showboat era. However, a reading and a temperance play illustrated the melodramatic style popular from that period as well as some turn-of-the-century attitudes and concerns, and a banjo player/singer gave historically correct renditions of some Stephen Foster songs.

Conrad Milster, Chief Steam Engineer at Pratt Institute, gave a lecture about the construction of calliopes and their use on showboats. He brought with him the steam calliope he had built for the year 2000 celebrations at Pratt.

For anyone unfamiliar with this odd invention, the calliope can be compared to a pipe organ which utilizes a piano keyboard to direct air through pipes tuned to the western musical scale. The steam calliope differs from the pipe organ in that steam is directed through boat whistles of various sizes. The steam builds and builds until it is released when someone strikes the keys. We learned that it's best to use both hands and play chords, depressing lots of keys, thereby creating a controlled release of steam. If just a single note is played, the sound is deafening!

A pianist played a few songs on the calliope to demonstrate its sound. The keyboard faced the steam whistles which, thankfully, were positioned on the gangplank outside the barge. Tuning the steam whistles seems to be tricky. Milster admitted that he was still working on that.

After that demonstration, the fact that steam calliopes on showboats could be heard offshore for 5 miles was entirely believable. The loud, gay sound of calliope music announced the arrival of the showboat and the promise of many evenings of revelry.

After the lecture/demo, folks from the audience including members of Sorcha Dorcha took turns at the keyboard. Here's Tyler, having a go at it...

If you’re interested in reading more about calliopes, the Mechanical Musical Digest's Calliope Home Page provides a great picture and links to many informative articles.

All in all, we had great fun! What a beautiful day to be at the water's edge, taking a step back in time to revisit the era of the calliope.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Playing in Sessions - an update

In my post of January 28, 2007, I set myself a goal of attending a session each week. I can't say I've consistently met that goal, but I've probably averaged two sessions a month. In that same January post I decided to "claim" Dempsey's as my session pub, and I've been there often enough to become acquainted with many of the regular players. When the session temporarily moved to a different bar last summer while Dempsey's was being remodeled, I started attending the Monday night Landmark Tavern session run by Don Meade. Friends from the NYU Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra play there every Monday, so that's an added draw for me. Although I'm still not comfortable starting tunes, I'm making progress in other areas. I know a lot more tunes than I used to, and I find the quicker tempos less daunting now. Currently I'm focusing on practicing tunes in pairs, as that's how tunes are played in sessions - and once you start a tune, you need to be able to successfully navigate into the second tune.

Photo courtesy of John Nevin

The picture above is what inspired me to reflect on my progress in the area of session playing. It was taken last Tuesday at Dempsey's. There I am, on the far left, trying to figure out if I'm going to start the next tune. To the right looking a little tired (it was after 11 pm) is Tyler Leinhardt, fiddler from my Sorcha Dorcha group. The woman in the white sweater is Mary Coogan from Cherish the Ladies. She was a surprise guest! She wasn't getting paid or anything like that. She just came to play tunes with us and enjoy the craic. Well, I can't actually remember if I started the next tune or not, but either way, one might conclude that my session playing must be improving if I'm playing with the likes of Mary Coogan. It was a fantastic night!!! Couldn't resist sharing...

P.S. The picture above belongs to John Nevin, banjo player on the far right who runs the Dempsey's session. Many thanks to John for all his hard work in keeping that session a vital part of the NYC Irish music scene.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saving Mortimer Mouse

Last week Sorcha Dorcha rehearsed in Tompkins Square Park. As we were unpacking our instruments, Tyler noticed a small white mouse near the fiddle case at his feet. Having spent a fair amount of time on Lorcan Otway's Flikr site, I immediately recognized the little fellow as none other than Mortimer Mouse. Having owned an assortment of rodent pets, I didn't hesitate to scoop him up and introduce myself.

Photo by Lorcan Otway, used with permission.

Lorcan confirmed that, indeed, this was the one and only Mortimer who belonged to one of the "crusties" - a group of rather grungy young people who more or less live in the park. Since none of them were in the immediate vicinity, Lorcan left to have a look around. Mortimer stayed with me. Accustomed to being handled, he didn't mind a bit.

After about 10 minutes Lorcan returned with someone who took one look at Mortimer and said said, "yep, that's Mike's mouse." He gladly agreed to take over the temporary guardianship of little Mortimer and set off into the center of the park, presumably to find Mike.

Like I always say, you never know when you will need to save the life of a homeless person's mouse when you go off to rehearse Irish music in an East Village park.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, October 05, 2007

Alternative to Baseball

Ok - here's what some people who are NOT baseball fans do while their TV is occupied with World Series playoff games: they watch YouTube! ... sad, I know, but what can I say?

Anyway, after checking out a Japanese tin whistle player employing circular breathing, I started viewing what YouTube designated as "Related" videos. Soon I stumbled onto the only flute quartet I've ever heard that didn't sound like a calliope. Listen to the whole thing - it's quite beautiful (despite the fact that it's not Irish). While you're listening, read the comments to learn a bit about the circumstances surrounding the composition of this piece. Nice, right?

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, September 28, 2007

Baby Walrus at the New York Aquarium

© WCS/Julie Larsen Maher

The New York Times today ran an article, complete with pictures, about the baby walrus born earlier this summer at the New York Aquarium. The public watched with joy as he made his first public appearance, taking a swim with his mother in one of the aquarium's larger viewing tanks.

From the NY Times online I hopped over to the New York Aquarium's website. At the present time they are running a video banner of the calf and his mother frolicking in a shallow pool of water. There's also an article on the calf's birth and his parent's history. Still following the trail of hyperlinks on the NY Aquarium's site, I found this page with a fascinating baby book of photos as well as videos. You can even go to the Today Show's website and vote for a name for the little fellow!

Contrast this happy story to the much sadder report published April 15, 2006 by the Washington Post that tells of a sighting of nine walrus calves swimming in deep water with mothers nowhere in sight. Biologists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said the walrus babies swam around their vessel crying for the entire 24 hours they were in the vicinity. Young walruses generally live on a shelf of ice close to shore and are rarely separated from their mothers during their first two years of life. Scientists postulated that perhaps a storm had separated the babies from their mothers -- but more likely was the theory that their ice shelf melted in the unusually warm waters.

Ironically, today's NY Times also reported on an international conference in Washington DC on climate change during which President Bush proposed an international fund to finance clean energy projects in developing countries. Sounds good on the face of it, but reading the article more closely you'll see that Bush thinks steps can be taken to halt global warming without giving up profits. He doesn't think strong legislation or international treaties are necessary either. Quoting the Times article: European delegates, in particular, rejected the administration’s insistence that any plan to reduce emissions be voluntary and devised by individual nations rather than as a part of a worldwide treaty. One European representative... called the meeting a “game” played by the administration to slow momentum toward an international pact. So the political games continue, while arctic ice flows melt and arctic wildlife dies.

Help! How did I get here? I tried to write a nice post about a cute walrus calf and ended up thinking about global warming. Argh! We must all do what we can to make legislators hear us on issues of global warming. We can write letters, sign petitions, and give money. For example, the NY Aquarium and the Bronx Zoo are both part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. We could contribute to their work on behalf of all wildlife - including arctic animals - by clicking here.

At the same time, however, let's not permit our concern over this issue to deny us the simple pleasure that comes from seeing a young, protected walrus calf take his first swim. If you haven't done so already, take a few minutes to hit all the NY Aquarium links above and savor each picture. Better yet, go on out to Brooklyn (if you live in NYC) and see the little fellow.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Visit to the Farm Sanctuary

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I’m a vegetarian again. Here’s how it happened.

On July 6, 2007, The New York Times ran a story called "Where the City's Runaways Roam Free" which recounted the happy tale of Lucky Lady, a sheep that escaped from a Bronx slaughterhouse and was sent to live out the rest of her natural life at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. My husband and I had been trying to decide where to spend a short August vacation. The Times article inspired us to choose the Finger Lakes region of western New York State, a five-hour drive from Manhattan.

On August 20 we visited the Farm Sanctuary. We joined the tour group congregated in the People Barn, the large building on the left below. First we watched a short video explaining the work of Farm Sanctuary and some background about the conditions of modern-day animal husbandry. Afterwards, our guide led us up the hill to the animal barns.

In the cow barn we saw Queenie, who escaped from a NYC slaughterhouse in 2003 and according to our guide “remains feisty to this day.” Indeed, I couldn’t get a picture of her face!

Next we went into a pasture beside the barn to visit the “special needs” cows – a herd of 12-15 cows with an assortment of problems. Some were deaf or partially blind; some had anxiety conditions induced by human mistreatment or by aggressive cows in former herds. Other cows had no real problems of their own but had formed a bond with a special-needs cow and had remained affiliated with that group. In this picture my husband (in the foreground) is looking at three special-needs cows. The one in the middle is mostly blind.

I never really thought about that fact that cows must be pregnant or new mothers in order to give milk, nor did I know that dairy cows give birth every year. To maximize their milk yield, they are artificially inseminated after giving birth. Dairy cows are milked during seven months of their nine-month pregnancies. Calves are taken from their mothers two days after they are born - sometimes even sooner - so the milk can once again be collected for human consumption.

Some of the male calves are destined to become veal. They live their short, miserable lives in very small pens where they can’t turn around or lie down comfortably. Instead of healthy mother's milk, veal calves are fed a special liquid diet designed to keep them in a near-anemic state so that their meat after slaughter will have the desired pale pink color.

Moving on, we visited the sheep and goat barn. Sheep and goats and one cow, actually. This particular cow was harrassed by the other cows, so she decided to move in with the sheep who accepted her as one of their herd. By the way, that's Lucky Lady buddying up to the cow. Being "the new kid on the block" - or in the barn, as it were - perhaps she thought it advantageous to have a very large friend.

We learned that sheep are bred to produce more wool than is natural, so they suffer more than the other animals on hot days. The wooly sheep below was particularly friendly.

The goats were separated into two groups – the frisky youngsters and the arthritic seniors. I didn’t pet this young fellow, but isn’t he a good looking? I think he knows it, don't you?

In the pig barn, we learned that pigs also form social groups of four or five within the larger herd. They arrange their straw so they can sleep with their group. They are very sedentary and sleep about 60% of the time. Pigs are also very clean by nature. In sharp contrast to hog barns that you can smell from the highway long before you see them, this barn had little or no odor.

That's me above, petting a very large old fellow. The youngsters below were about one-third his size. We nicknamed them “the three little pigs.”

When we visited the chicken and turkey barns, we learned how these birds are debeaked and have toes cut off - without anesthesia - to keep them from hurting themselves when the frustration of being crammed into way-too-small spaces inspires aggressive behavior. Did you know that turkeys bred for food have white feathers because brown feathers leave a mark on the skin when plucked? The proud male turkey below is trying to attract the attention of the females on the other side of the fence. Although he was busy, he didn’t mind being petted and his feathers were amazingly soft.

It was fun to see the variety of chickens and roosters. There was one chicken that looked like it had poofy hair and bangs! I didn’t get his picture though. Chickens move fast and are VERY hard to photograph. The geese move slower, so I was able to get a picture of them near their pond.

The rabbit pen contained about 18 rabbits who had not been bred for food; they had been neglected pets. Not any more.

This last picture was taken from the vantage point of the animal barns, looking down at the People Barn where the tour started. The three small buildings in the center of the picture are the bed-and-breakfast cabins in which I had hoped we could stay. If you’re interested, call early as they fill up long before summer comes!

Iwas overwhelmed to realize how humans have genetically altered farm animals to increase profits. Chickens, turkeys, and pigs have foot and hip problems if they live to old age because their frames are not able to support their very large bodies. Thanks to hormones, dairy cows now produce 250-300 gallons of milk a week as opposed to the 30-50 gallons they formerly produced. As a result, they suffer painful udder infections and other maladies which required them to receive regular doses of antibiotics. Our guide told us that 50% of the pharmaceuticals produced in this country are used on farm animals, to make them grow larger and faster and to keep them healthy despite sickening living conditions.

Humans also suffer from modern factory farming methods. Farm workers also suffer lung diseases from breathing bad air in crowded and poorly ventilated barns, and huge factory farming pollutes the soil and drinking water. It is really very wrong, all of it. And there is so little public awareness of how unhealthy factory farming is - for us, for the animals, and for the earth.

After our morning on the farm, my husband and I went back to the town of Watkins Glen for lunch. Reading the menu, I thought about the special-needs cows, the pigs who smiled as they slept and rolled over to have their bellies petted, and the chickens whose freedom allowed them to run too fast to be photographed – and then I ordered a lovely salad topped with Portobello mushrooms.

I thought my reaction would lessen as the days passed, but it's nearly a month since our visit to the Farm Sanctuary and so far I still have no desire to eat meat. I guess that makes me a vegetarian (again).

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Monday, September 10, 2007

US Navy's Deadly Sonar Kills Whales

Did you know that U.S. Navy warships use underwater speakers during routine sonar testing and training that blast the ocean with noise in excess of 245 decibels? This sonic barrage is roughly comparable to a Saturn V rocket at blast-off. That onslaught is so intense it can drive whales to panic, to surface too quickly, and hemorrhage. Scientists have linked the use of mid-frequency sonar to hundreds of whale strandings and deaths around the world. The Navy is refusing to take commonsense measures that could protect whales from being needlessly killed by high-powered sonar.

Singer James Taylor is lending support to the current NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Action Fund campaign to bring attention and public pressure to bear on the Navy to stop this awful practice. Please click on the NRDC link provided above to read what he has to say - and while you're there, sign the petition.

Although sea turtles are not specifically mentioned, if they're in the testing areas, I'm sure they're suffering too!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Instrumentalists at the 2007 Catskills Irish Arts Week

Since I am primarily a flute player, it wouldn't be right to finish my reflections on the 2007 CIAW without commenting on the instrumental music I heard. A few performances and players stand out in my mind:  Martin Hayes, Mattie Connolly, Angelina Carberry, Joanie Madden and Mary Bergin's tin whistle duet, and Mike Rafferty along with various other flute players.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Singers at the 2007 Catskills Irish Arts Week

I went to the 2007 Catskills Irish Arts Week (CIAW) in East Durham, NY, to expand my knowledge and skills in the area of traditional Irish singing (in English). I had some fantastic exposure to a great many singers, most of whom I had not heard before. If you're interested in Irish traditional singing, I highly recommend all the people mentioned in this post. If you can hear them in person, of course that's preferable. If not, I've tried to find links that would help you learn more about them and order their CDs.

Tommy Sands from Northern Ireland was at the 2007 CIAW for only two days following his appearance at the Smithsonian Folkways Festival in Washington D.C. He's a political folksinger much like Pete Seeger. As a matter of fact, they're friends. He's a very dynamic and compelling performer who sings lots of songs about the everyday effects of dividing Ireland into two countries. I wasn't familiar with his name, but I recognized what may be his most famous song, There Were Roses, which has been recorded by Joan Baez and Mick Moloney and probably others as well.

Julee Glaub and Mark Weems gave a master class on Appalachian singing and its commonalities with traditional Irish singing. They also participated in the many of the evening singing sessions and appeared during the week on the main stage. I was particularly excited to hear Julee sing again. I fell in love with her voice at 2004 CIAW. She performs traditional Irish, blues, and Appalachian styles equally well, and she is also a fantastic backup harmony singer. I have listened to her two solo CDs -- Fields Faraway and Blue Waltz -- many times over the last few years. I'm a little old to be star-struck, but that's as close as I can come to explaining how thrilled I was to meet and talk with her this year.

On the last day of the festival, many of the singers appeared together on stage. Roisin White, whom I discussed at length in my previous post, kicked off the event and introduced the other singers. Then they took turns presenting their songs. Check out this exceptional singing lineup: (double-click on the picture to see a larger version)

Left to right: Roisin White, Tim Dennehy, Catherine Crowe, Kathy Ludlow, Shannon and Matt Heaton (Matt is seated, holding the guitar). Standing between them is Daithi Sproule.

I have no pictures of Robbie O'Connell, Roxanne O'Connell (Robbie's wife), and Pat Egan, but they were all there and I enjoyed hearing each of them as well.

Listening closely to all the singers at the 2007 CIAW was rather like a crash course in the Irish singing tradition. By the end of the week I came away with a much better sense of the broad range of expression and styles that fall within tradition Irish singing. Now that the festival is over, the challenge is to incorporate various aspects of what I heard and try to develop my own authentic voice, to find the songs that move me and sing them in a way that will move others. Stay tuned... I'll let you know how it goes!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Singing Class with Roisin White

Roisin White performing on the main stage
at the Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham, NY.

During the Catskills Irish Arts Week I took a 5-day singing class with Roisin White of Northern Ireland. Although I was not familiar with her before this summer, I came to realize very quickly that she is well known and highly respected in the world of traditional Irish singing. As a matter of fact, she had just come from two weeks at the 2007 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, where the music of Northern Ireland was one of the cultures featured this year. She appears on a Smithsonian Folkways CD called Sound Neighbors: Contemporary Music in Northern Ireland. Her only solo CD - The First of My Rambles - was reviewed by Brian Peters for The Living Tradition newsletter. An excerpt from his review describes her niche in the world of traditional Irish singing:

… Roisin White falls in the grey area between tradition and revival; singing went on in her County Down family, but she has learned much of her repertoire from such impeccable sources as Paddy Tunney, Robert Cinnamond and Eddie Butcher, as well as living singers like Len Graham and Joe Holmes. Although not strictly a 'source singer' herself, White has absorbed the local tradition whilst establishing a style that is all her own...

Over the course of the week Roisin taught our class approximately 13 songs. In addition to making sure we knew the tune, she told us her source for each song as well as stories about the song itself or her experience with it. She impressed upon us the necessity to know and love the song's melody. She advised us to digest the words and understand the song on all of its levels. Finally, she encouraged us to make a personal connection to the song, one which would enable us to tell the story as though it were our own. Overall, she instructed us to remember that the song - not the singer or the performance - is of utmost importance. Everything the singer does should focus the listener’s attention on the song itself and the story it contains. Indeed, Roisin's singing embodies all of that.

Roisin’s voice is not what you'd call "pretty" by classical singing standards. It is a forceful, strong, and compelling voice. It is honest and unpretentious. Her pitch is very accurate, and her diction is flawless. Both in terms of style as well as timbre, nobody else sounds quite like Roisin White.

No one else delivers the songs in quite the same way either. Quoting Brian Peters again: "she sings with warm, earthy honesty, and bags of rhythm and swagger.” I think that’s his way of saying she personalizes each song she sings. She loves the stories and the history they hold, and the listener is interested because of the compelling way she delivers the song.

Throughout the week I heard many singers, teachers and students alike, and was impressed by the enormous range of difference in the voices. Interestingly, the voices with the sweetest or most appealing tone quality were not necessarily the most moving. The most stirring performances were always skillful, but the listener’s attention was not drawn to the skill of the singer but to the beauty or the humor or the tragedy of the song. It was amazing to hear some rather rough voices deliver such a wallop!

Roisin has helped me realize I can sing - indeed, that I want to sing. All that singing in the Catskills reminded me that singing can be a way to share experiences, to draw people together, to respond to the things that come our way in life. That’s what traditional music has always done for people, and still does in the pockets of society where it is preserved and cherished. I'm not sure where this present musical exploration will take me, but I hope the singing – whatever form it takes -- will never end.

Thanks for a fabulous class, Roisin. I hope our paths cross again!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mighty Craic in the Catskills

My blog posts have slowed down because I was in the Catskills from July 16 through July 22 attending Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham, New York. I took a traditional singing class with Roisin White of Northern Ireland as well as a master class with Julee Glaub of North Carolina. I also attended several great lectures, enjoyed many wonderful performances, and played flute in some marvelous sessions in the pubs around town. In the next few weeks there will be multiple posts on my adventures there, but at the moment I'm still savoring and digesting the experience.

I thought I'd ease my way into the heavier stuff by sharing the beauty of Greene County, New York. This map of NY State below shows that Greene County is about 150 miles north of Long Island, that bit of land at the southern tip of NY that juts eastward into the Atlantic. I drove up from Manhattan, the little island between the NY mainland and Long Island, not really visible on this map.

The hamlet of East Durham arranges itself around one road, New York highway 145. Every so often a side road like the one below branches off NY-145 and meanders into the countryside. I traveled on roads like this to and from the boarding house where I stayed. During the week I saw deer, adult and baby rabbits, a possum, a red tailed hawk, a family of wild turkeys, numerous chipmunks and squirrels as well as farm animals such as horses, cows, goats, and chickens. One of my housemates even saw a flock of peacocks crossing the road!

I stayed in a private Victorian guest house called. The Woodlands located in Roundtop, NY, 15 minutes from East Durham. (The owners rent it only occasionally, so please don't call thinking it is a year-round B&B.) My picture below shows a side view of the house and allows you to look across the spacious front lawn. Click on the link above to see the front view of the house as well as some interior shots.

Occasionally I was in the right place at the right time to see a beautiful sunset like the one below. Before I left NYC, I told a few people I was going to Irish music heaven for the upcoming week. They thought I was kidding. But with scenery like this, incredible music, likeminded folk, and plenty of Guinness, this week of Irish music in the Catskills is for me a bit of heaven on earth. Or, as the Irish would say, "the craic is mighty!"

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Night at Keyspan Park

My husband Daniel is a college professor. When he's not teaching, he's likely to be found on a baseball field wearing an umpire's uniform. Readers of this blog know that my serious avocational interest is music. Well, for Dan, the equivalent of music is baseball. From March through October he officiates anywhere from 3 to 5 games a week for teenage and adult players. The difference between his serious avocation and mine is that he gets paid.

June 11 marked a significant umpiring event for Dan. That was the day he served as an umpire in the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) high school senior all-star game. Each of the four umpires belonged to different umpire association. Dan was honored to be chosen to represent the Bronx Umpire Alliance.

The game was played Keyspan Park, NYC’s new minor league stadium, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Although the 7500-seat stadium was not nearly filled to capacity, the fans included a good group of spirited parents and friends as well as some college coaches - and at least one umpire’s wife. (That would be me, of course.) Although players and umpires alike behaved as though this were just another baseball field, I'm sure they were all absolutely thrilled to be at Keyspan. It's a beautiful ballpark.

Before the game began, I had plenty of time to roam around the stadium and take a few pictures. Situated in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, Keyspan Park is especially scenic. This shot was taken from a vantage point behind home plate looking down the first baseline. Beyond the right field fence is the old Parachute Jump ride, built in 1939 for the World’s Fair. It has an interesting history which you can read by clicking on the link above. The Parachute Jump is no longer operational and has been been declared both a national and a New York City landmark.

Beyond the Parachute Jump lies the Coney Island boardwalk and the Atlantic ocean. I've magnified a portion of the picture above so you can see the lights over the boardwalk and the ocean beyond.

The next picture was taken from the stands behind first base, looking toward second base at the scoreboard behind left field. The Keyspan sign above the scoreboard bears a replica of the roller coaster for which the Brooklyn Cyclones were named.

Approximately one mile beyond the scoreboard is Astroland Amusement Park which contains the famous Cyclone roller coaster, also a national landmark, which was built in 1927. It still thrills riders with its initial 85-foot drop and the violent jerks it delivers on the curves. Astroland is also home to the Wonder Wheel which is the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, soaring 150 feet into the sky. Built in 1920 and declared a NYC landmark in 1989, it has both stationary and swinging cars. (Click on that link, and watch til the end. This Ferris wheel may be scarier than the Cyclone!) Riders of the Wonder Wheel enjoy extraordinary views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Jersey Shore and the NYC skyline. Once again I've magnified a portion of my original picture. It shows the Wonder Wheel from a rather weird angle. You're looking toward the center support from a position you might take as you climbed into one of the cars. Looking behind the Wonder Wheel, you can see a bit of the Cyclone - the real one, not the replica on the scoreboard.

While I was gazing at the scenery, some of the umpires were having a pre-game pow-wow.

It rained a bit before the game, and everyone hoped that would be the end of the showers. However, towards the end of the first inning there was a pretty significant downpour. When the inning concluded, the umpires called a rain delay which lasted about 30 minutes and precipitated (pardon the unintentional pun) the later decision to conclude the game after eight innings. For those of you who would like to see more details regarding the game itself, I recommend the nice recap on the PSAL website, which also has some action shots of the kids. Here are my action shots of Dan.

... looking down the third baseline

... and now, signaling a home run that has just cleared the left field fence!

And here's our hero, heading to the locker room after the game. Please note, it was not raining.

Shortly after I snapped that shot, however, there was a sudden deluge. Groundsmen quickly moved in and covered the pitcher's mound and the home plate area.

Dan and I both got quite wet on our dash to the car. However, the rain did not dampen the thrill of umpiring at Keyspan Park. This will be a night to remember -- certainly the highlight of this season’s umpiring. So congratulations, Dan. I was very proud to be there and share this moment of glory with you. I wish you many more such games in future seasons!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Music at MMF (July 1, 2007)

Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship - which meets at 5 pm in Manhattan's 15th Street Friends Meetinghouse pictured above - has a number of capable musicians who rotate the responsibility of providing music for services. My turn rolled around on July 1st. In addition to accompanying the hymns I was responsible for a prelude, an offertory, and a postlude. That's a lot of music!

Since I currently practice flute and singing much more than piano, I decided to do a flute prelude consisting of a lovely Irish slow air plus the first two hymns of the service.

How Can I Live at the Top of the Mountain
Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise (St. Denio / Joanna)
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (Ellacombe)

My arrangement employs principles from the traditional Irish music as well as some classical stylings such as key changes, melodic variation and ornamentation to build to a climax. Click here to listen. (If you hear only a few clicks - no music - when the Quicktime player appears, try enabling Pop-ups. In Internet Explorer, look under the Tools menu.)

For the offertory, my son Michael accompanied me on guitar as I sang a song by John Bell of the Iona Community called Don't Tell Me of a Faith that Fears. The tune has a folksong quality, and the words are very thought-provoking. Unfortunately, the quality on this recording isn't very good. I nearly forgot to turn on the recorder so the piece is missing a few notes at the beginning. Later, the flute volume level rather overwhelms the little microphone in my mp3 recorder. Despite the technical difficulties, I think this recording merits sharing. Click here to listen.

For the postlude. I selected an African-American Spiritual called Steal Away to Jesus, arranged in 1940 by J. Rosamond Johnson who was featured in my March 15, 2007 post. Click here to listen. Beware: there's a long lead time before the music starts.

All in all, it was a lovely service. Michael and I received many nice comments and compliments about our song. He doesn't play in church any more often than I sing, so people were surprised as well as blessed. Providing music which aids and enhances people's worship experience is very satisfying indeed.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lucky Larry

On Monday Larry the turtle nearly drowned. Since turtles don’t have gills, they will drown if they can’t get to the surface to breathe. Larry got himself stuck on the poles underneath his sunning dock and if we hadn’t intervened, he would have been one dead turtle.

As you can see from this photo of the ZooMed Floating Turtle Dock, plastic poles pass through holes in the dock and attach to the sides of the tank with suction cups. This design allows the dock to adjust to the changing water level as evaporation occurs. The designers evidently didn’t anticipate that those poles could pose a hazard for an inquisitive and stubborn turtle.

Larry must have been trying to move one of the vertical poles just like he occasionally moves the weighted log which decorates the floor of his tank. That’s the only way I can explain how he managed to get the nubs at the front of his plastron (bottom shell) firmly clipped onto one of the poles underneath the dock. If you look carefully at this picture I found on Randy’s Turtles, you can see the little nubs that stick out from the plastron on either side of the turtle’s head. The shell between the nubs recedes a little to allow more room for the turtle to extend his neck.

I wish now I had taken a quick picture of Larry -- his body at a 90 degree angle as compared to the turtle pictured above, forming a T with the dock. His face was pushed against the glass, his head and neck sunk nearly all the way into his shell. His front legs were folded back against his shell and his motionless back legs extended straight out. His eyes were closed. It was about the strangest pose I'd ever seen.

Since turtles do sleep in odd positions, I chuckled and called this sight to my husband’s attention. He was skeptical, so we tapped on the side of the tank and tried to wake Larry up. He opened his eyes only slightly but otherwise remained motionless. We were immediately alarmed because red-eared sliders are very skittish, and our tapping should have induced frantic swimming and thrashing about. Suddenly we both realized Larry couldn’t move -- and might be dead! We ripped the suction cups off the glass, and my husband forced Larry’s shell off the pole. After a minute or so, Larry opened his mouth and it seemed there was hope. We checked his shell and thankfully it was not cracked. I held poor Larry in my hand as he caught his breath. When his breathing slowed down I put him back in the water. He swam normally, a good sign. Several times he opened his mouth very wide and finally burped up some water and particles. After that he resumed totally normal behavior and has seemed fine ever since.

So far Larry’s been lucky three times. (1) He ended up with me, bypassing the fate of most red-eared slider hatchlings. Check out this article if you want to see just how lucky! (2) His mild shell rot seems to be completely cured - a condition which, unattended, would have slowly killed him. (3) He’s been saved from drowning. If things come in three's, maybe his life will be less dangerous in the future. But if turtles have nine lives like cats are said to have, I hope his luck holds out, and my nerves as well!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Monday, June 18, 2007

Just a product of my times

I just hate it when I think I'm being original and then I read in The New York Times that there are lots of other "original" people my age doing precisely the same thing.

As you know from reading this blog, I'm enjoying being part of a celtic band. I love playing, singing, performing. Truth be told, I even love rehearsing. Except for two of the guys in our band (see pictures from my June 8 post), all the other people I know in bands are much younger than I am. Therefore I thought I was doing something rather unusual for my age and was taking a bit of pride in breaking out of the mold.

Well, tonight I read an article from last Sunday's Times (6/17/07) -- in the Fashion and Style section, of all places -- about the phenomenon of older folks forming rock bands. The Boys in the Band are in AARP. "The classic American midlife crisis has found a new outlet: garage-band rock ’n’ roll." Apparently lots of middle-aged men work out their midlife crises by forming bands and playing the rock songs of their youth. From Massachusetts to California these bands are springing up. So much for originality. Who knew!

Actually, that's not exactly what I'm doing. First of all, I'm a woman. Most of the people the article described were men. Secondly, traditional Celtic music is something new for me; it's not the music of my youth. Thirdly, I don't think I'm in a midlife crisis -- even though when I'm on stage I do all I can to downplay my age.

It's just that this happens to me all the time. I get involved in something -- and I don't know of anyone else doing anything quite like it -- and then I read in the paper that people my age all over the country are doing the very same thing! It's rather humbling to realize how much, albeit unwittingly, I am nonetheless a product of my own times.

Oh well, enough of that. So I'm not unique. Big deal. Back to practicing. The band is rehearsing later this week and I want to have my part down pat.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Alternate Fingering for C#

As you can see from my profile picture, I play Irish music on a silver concert flute. One of the difficulties of this instrument is managing the keys so that the ornamentation flows in the same way that it does with the simple fingering system used by the whistle and the wooden flute. Tonight I discovered an alternate fingering for C# which enables me to make the ornaments around B more graceful.

On the silver flute C# is played with all the keys open, all fingers up except the right-hand pinkie. Well, I discovered that you can get a C# even while your left thumb is depressing the B key. It's a slightly flatter C# -- but that note tends to be sharp anyway. You can do a really fast half-roll or cut on B if you only have to move one finger.

None of my very fine classical teachers recommended this as an alternate fingering to be used in fast passages, nor have I ever seen it published in fingering charts. Therefore, I was pretty excited to have stumbled upon this fingering for C#. This type of hunt-and-peck experimentation is how Joanie Madden made the silver flute sound Irish. Yes! I can do this too!!!

For all of you who aren't flute players, I'm sorry if this post doesn't make much sense. Just share with me the excitement of a new discovery.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sorcha Dorcha, the band

These pictures were taken by my friend Harry Peronius at Sorcha Dorcha's Lower East Side Festival performance.

Linda Hood (flute), Bob Godfried (guitar), Lorcan Otway (uillean pipes) and Tyler Lienhardt (fiddle).

Linda Hood (vocals), Bob Godfried (button accordion), Lorcan Otway (vocals & guitar) Tyler Lienhardt (bodhran)

and this little one which will become my profile picture.
Thanks, Harry!

Photos by Harry Peronius, used with permission.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement