Sunday, January 28, 2007

Starting to Play in Sessions

Traditional Irish sessions are a social time when players meet, usually in Irish pubs, to play tunes together. This presumes they have many tunes in common. A newcomer to Irish music, particularly one with a classical background, can be pretty intimidated by session playing. At least that was the case with me.

My first two years were spent learning tunes and acquiring enough technical skill to approximate an acceptable tempo and sometimes even add a bit of conventional Irish ornamentation. I rarely played in sessions in 2003-2005. In 2006 I attended sessions maybe once every month or two. Until last Tuesday, I considered session attendance to be an exercise in humility. I listened more than I played. When familiar tunes were selected, I couldn’t play them up to speed. I was terrified of being asked to lead a tune. However, all Irish traditional players seem to think session playing is an essential part of musical life so I just keep dusting off my classical ego and hauling myself back to have another go at it.

This year I’ve decided to go as often as possible to the session at Dempsey’s Pub. It’s close to where I live. The age range of the players varies widely. (I like to see a few heads of gray hair so I won’t be discouraged by trying to keep up with gifted youth). The range of abilities among the players varies as well, which probably helps keep this group's tempos more moderate than some of the other sessions around NYC. The Dempsey’s session employs a “round robin” format; going around the circle, players take turns starting tunes. One advantage of this method is that you’re assured of getting to play at least a few familiar tunes at a comfortable speed. However, if you start a tune that nobody knows, you’re stuck playing a solo. That happens to me a lot, and I find these unintended solos quite unnerving. Once I totally blanked out and forgot the second half of the tune. Another time I started a tune in the wrong key. (Exercise in humility, remember?)

The last time I was at Dempsey's, however, I finally picked a pair of tunes that were more or less familiar to most people. I felt good about that. During the session I noticed how many tunes I actually do know, how often I could join in the playing, and that my fingers were finding familiar patterns and executing them more easily. Hmmmm, could it be I’m getting the hang of this?

At the end of the evening, one fellow played a waltz. Mostly what’s played in sessions are reels, jigs and maybe a few polkas. Hearing that waltz brought immediately to mind a waltz that Mike Rafferty taught me more than a year ago. He called it "The Old Man’s Waltz." I learned it really well – even played it on the whistle as a prelude in church once. Maybe it was the beer, but I decided to play Mike’s waltz for them on the whistle, knowing it would be a solo. For moral support I asked a guitar player to accompany me. Even though his chords were not always what I would have chosen, it worked. I remembered the tune accurately. I put in a few ornaments and even varied them a little on the repeated portions. (Something the more experienced players do as a matter of course.) The phrasing was nice but not overdone, and the upper octave was in tune. I was so pleased. (Allow me to brag just a little. I have suffered through so many embarrassing moments at sessions) Yessiree, I really nailed that waltz! For once I played Irish music like I want to – and not in my bedroom while practicing, not in church in a performance situation, but in an entirely Irish context, in a session. It was a glorious moment!

Besides gaining confidence, I’m seeing other advantages to attending sessions. I’ll get over my emotional block about playing fast. When playing along with the group, I can more easily keep my hands and arms relaxed during the faster tempos. I’ll become less self-conscious if I play in sessions regularly, and then I’ll be able to take more risks. And finally, session playing will help me learn tunes. Particularly if I go to the Dempsey's session regularly, I will learn the unfamiliar tunes of their repertoire as well as get a regular review of the tunes I already know.

I am realizing how different session playing is from classical performances. Competition and critique of others’ playing is much less prevalent; acceptance and sociability is much more prominent. I’ve heard people at Dempsey’s play one set of tunes really well, then fall apart the next time their turn comes around. I’ve heard beginners encouraged and accomplished players congratulated. And people look forward to seeing each other, having a beer, and sharing some music.

So now I’m telling myself to commit to one session each week if at all possible. And riding on my encouragement from Tuesday night, I think I’ll show a lot of improvement by the end of the year if I can do that. I’ll also have made some new friends and had a very good time. So that’s the goal. One session each week if at all possible. We shall see. . .

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sea Turtle Rescue Update

Photo from Sea Turtle, Inc., used by permission.

I went to the Sea Turtle, Inc. website tonight for news on the turtles I blogged about in my previous post. Wow! They have been BUSY down there in South Padre Island! Over 120 green sea turtles have now been rescued. So far only 4 were found dead (although a few others died afterwards). Apparently in "cold stunning events" like this, the live turtles turn up first, and the dead ones follow over the next several days or even weeks. I guess it's still too early to estimate the loss.

Many organizations and volunteers are working together to find and care for the green sea turtles. To mention just a few: the CCA/CPL Marine Development Center operated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Corpus Christi is caring for 52 of the turtles. The Texas State Aquarium Sea Lab, also in Corpus Christi, has another 43 turtles. Many other groups have helped in many ways, and the Sea Turtle, Inc. website names a good many of them. Volunteers are still needed to search beaches - and cash donations are badly needed for medicines, supplies, transportation, etc. Please consider giving what you can. Click here to donate.

Please note that I've added Sea Turtle, Inc. to the Turtle & Misc. Animal Links on the right side of the screen. And if you liked the picture above, be sure to catch the TV show called Animal Planet on the Discovery Channel tomorrow January 26th at 7 AM. They are running a feature story on sea turtles.

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

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sea Turtle Rescue in Texas

Today the New York Times published a story about the current efforts to help some young Green Sea Turtles. This rescue is important since Green Sea Turtles, chelonia mydasare, are considered endangered in Florida waters and the Pacific Coast of Mexico including the Gulf of California. They are listed as threatened everywhere else. In a nutshell, here's what happened:

Young Green Sea Turtles, born last spring off the coast of Yucatán in Mexico, were stunned by the cold in the rapid temperature drop earlier this week. Water temperatures fell 18 degrees in 48 hours. Since turtles are cold-blooded and can't generate their own body heat, this drop in temperature sent them into a hypothermic state. They began washing ashore in South Padre Island, Texas. Animal rescuers were afraid the sluggish turtles would die from the cold or be eaten by sharks, their only predators, so between January 17 and 19, 36 nearly immobile turtles weighing anywhere from 3-65 pounds were scooped up by volunteers and staff of Sea Turtle, Inc. The turtles were scrubbed and warmed and are being held at their facility until weather permits returning them to the sea. The webcam at Sea Turtle, Inc. lets you view the turtles in their temperature-controlled tubs. Check it out!

Green Sea Turtles are amazing creatures. The are named for their green body fat. Although we don't really know their lifespan, we know they take 15-20 years mature. By then they are four feet in length and weigh 250-450 pounds. They are the largest of all the varieties of sea turtles. They are found all over the world in tropical and subtropical waters. They are known to swim as far as 1400 miles between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they lay their eggs. Females lay 75-150 eggs per clutch and can lay as many as seven clutches in a season. Turtles lay so many eggs because so few of the young survive. How about this for a rough start: After a two-month incubation period the hatchlings break out of their eggs. That's just the first step. Next they have to dig out of the hole in which the clutch of eggs was buried by the mother turtle. Believe it or not, they do this as a group! Working together, they scrape away at the top of the nest until they are about an inch away from the surface of the beach. The hatchlings nearest to the surface actually stop digging if the sand feels hot, indicating that it may be daytime. They wait to resume digging until the sand feels cool, indicating nighttime. This instinct to wait for cool sand helps them avoid predatory crabs and birds as well as death by overheating. Once on the beach, they find the sea by navigating toward the brightest horizon. (Artificially lit beaches can mean death for turtles, as the lights make them lose their way to the sea.) Once they hit the water, they have to swim continuously for 1.5 to 2 days to reach their feeding grounds. They do this on their own, again as a group, with no mother to guide them. In the water, some of them become snack food for sharks and carnivorous fish. In the end, only a few baby turtles from each nest reach adulthood. Their very long lifespan counterbalances the high mortality rate of the hatchlings.

The hatchlings now in South Padre Island had arrived safely at their feeding grounds in Mexico. They should have been "home free," but the sudden cold transformed their warm haven into a death trap. They might have all died, were it not for the rescuers.

The last time it was cold like this was 2004; before that the 1980's. The polar bears' ice floes in the Arctic are melting and the turtles' tropical feeding grounds are freezing. What's wrong with this picture? As humans and guardians of the planet, I hope we can figure out how not to destroy the marvelous wildlife whose world we share.

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

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gossiping Ladies

[With this post I'm returning to the photo competition series that started November 9 and was interrupted on December 2. You can do a quick review of all those pictures by clicking on the "Fun Photos" topic label on the right.]

Here's the winning photo of the employee photography competition. This picture from the News category seemed to be the overall favorite of the judges. Not surprising, since I work for a news organization and the judges were the senior photo editors. I’ve included their comments with the caption.

The category with the least number of entries was News but it managed to generate, in the opinion of the judges, the best overall picture of the competition. Warsaw-based Sales Executive Anna Jelowicka sent in this great picture of two women deep in conversation behind the back of a new priest in Nowicka in southern Poland. Senior photographer Dylan Martinez commended Anna for having captured a nice off-beat moment. Selecting Anna's entry as the best in the competition Martinez described Anna's picture as "Wonderful, it just gets better every time I look at it."

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

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Supermarket vignette

An elderly man had apparently bumped his elaborate wheeled walker -- the kind with a seat for resting as well as a basket for carrying things-- into a fifty-ish woman who had inconsiderately paused her grocery cart mid-aisle and was unmindfully blocking a main thoroughfare in the Associated Food Store on Manhattan's East 14th Street.

Middle-aged know-it-all, in a condescending manner, says:
You don’t have to bump me like that.

Elderly grouch barks back:
I’ll do whatever I please.

Middle-aged know-it-all, with a little more urgency now, intent on getting her message across:
All you have to do is say excuse me.

Elderly grouch cranks up the volume as well as the nastiness of his tone:
and all YOU have to do is move your ass.

Well, that got her. She was done. He had trumped her with the coarseness of his response. Not wanting to appear totally defeated, however, she continued to mutter to herself as she moved her cart out of the way and headed down the aisle, away from him. The store was crowded, but nobody paid any attention to either of them. It was just another day at the Associated.

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

Monday, January 01, 2007

Thoughts on the New Year

First of all, let it be known that I hate New Year’s Eve. I live in Manhattan, but I’m never one of the Times Square revelers. The New Year holiday reminds me of all the things I’ve failed to accomplish in the last year, the last decade, my whole life. I’m generally an optimistic person, but on New Year’s Eve I look back and groan. I'm the New Year's Scrooge.

I’ve decided I need to shake things up a bit. Spending a month in Portland, completely removed from my usual activities, gave me the opportunity to see my life as though from a distance. As a result I’m re-evaluating the ways I spend my leisure time as well as my long-term aspirations. This year I want to try to break free from old assumptions and make sure I know why I’m doing the things I do. Adjust my expectations to an achievable level. Relax more, enjoy more.

As an inveterate list maker I find it hard to resist the urge to jot down New Year's resolutions. Working on this post I’ve already made several lists which I promptly deleted. No, rather than make more resolutions which will turn into recriminations come December 31, I think in 2007 I’ll keep a running tally of new insights I’ve had and practical changes I’ve made in my life. This idea came to me when I added labels to the 35 blog entries I posted here in 2006. It was fun to see the topics that had caught my interest. I felt good about the research I'd done to enhance each post. I even liked my pictures! I realized that changing jobs was a really significant accomplishment. All in all, I realized that this blog gives me great satisfaction. Perhaps this blog will help me keep better track of 2007's accomplishments so that I'll have things to celebrate next New Year's Eve.

I seem to have emerged my from this reflection with a more hopeful outlook. Last night's bah-humbug frame of mind is fading, being replaced with New Year's cheer. In hopes that I'm not stretching my Dickensonian analogies too far, let me close with a quote from Tiny Tim:

God bless us every one!

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