Friday, December 19, 2008

Flute Choice Refined

As you may recall from my May 9 post, I ordered a keyless boxwood flute from Seattle flutemaker Peter Noy. At the time I placed the order, I told Peter I would confirm later whether or not I wanted an E-flat key as well as my preference regarding finger hole size. Recently, I had started to feel like my final decisions were a bit overdue.

I sought advice from Ben Power, an Irish musician I met in NYC who now resides in San Diego, California. Ben pointed out that each maker has his own design, and what one describes "large" or even "huge" finger holes might not be so big, comparatively speaking. Ben asked if there were any way I could play some of Peter's flutes. Since I don't actually know anyone who has a Peter Noy flute, I spoke to Peter about my dilemma. He agreed to send a couple flutes with the two finger hole sizes we talked about on the phone. Perfect!

On November 18th I received a head joint, a foot joint, and two middle joints. By swapping the middle joints I was able to experience both the small and the large holed models. The smaller finger holes were very comfortable, but it seemed to me that the flute's sound was freer and fuller when assembled with the large holed middle joint. Most importantly, I was pleased to realize that my hands are not too small for Peter's large holed design, so that's what I'll be getting.

The flute pictured below is Peter's large holed model, made of grenadilla wood with silver rings and a mother of pearl blow edge on the embouchure. That's an E-flat key on the foot joint, and it works the same as on a silver concert flute.

The discussion about finger holes brought up the question of keys. I was surprised to learn that ordering keys doesn't add much time to the waiting period. After talking to some flute players in the October 12th Mercy Center Benefit concert (Ivan Goff and Shannon Heaton), as well as to Ben Power and Linda Hickman, I decided to go for it! I'll be getting six keys: G-sharp, F-natural, E-flat, B-flat, and two C-natural keys.

My worst fear was that having Peter's flutes on loan and playing them for nearly two weeks might bring on a bout of second guessing about my choice of flute maker. After all, Peter Noy is relatively unknown here in NYC. Most of the serious players here either own a flute made by Patrick Olwell or else they're on his waiting list. However, I took the large holed flute to a few sessions, and everyone who played it said really good things about it. I was certainly happy with it. Trading flutes with people in sessions bolstered my confidence as well. I'm satisfied now that the Peter Noy flute I've ordered will be worth the wait.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Aquatic Turtle Species Found in Scotland

With apologies for my long silence on this blog, I'm back with news of the discovery of a new species of aquatic turtle! Called Eileanchelys waldmaniare, this new species dates back 164 million years to the Middle Jurassic period. Turtle remains found on the Scottish Isle of Skye provided the basis for this discovery. After months of painstaking work extracting turtle skeletons from the rock in which they were embedded, four of the skeletons emerged nearly intact and represent the best specimens to date from this period.

Actually, in the past two years scientists uncovered two other new species from the mid-Jurassic era. Those came from Russia and Argentina. Previously, scientists hadn't known that aquatic turtles existed before the Late Jurassic period. Now they're able to date more accurately the period during which land turtles dating to 210 million years ago (in the Triassic era) evolved into water turtles. Differences in the turtles' skulls provides crucial information which distinguishes the two types. Since these turtles found in Scotland were in such remarkably good shape, they confirmed theories offered when the turtles in Russia and Argentina were discovered.

Scientists believe that the turtles found in Scotland lived in shallow bodies of fresh water. They base this theory on the geological qualities of the rock in which the fossils were found (shale and limestone containing layers of mud) and the fossils of sharks and salamanders found with the turtles.

Appropriately, the name Eileanchelys waldmaniare incorporates the Gaelic word "eilean" meaning "island." Translated, Eileanchelys waldmaniare means "the turtle from the island."

As keeper of two aquatic turtles, I'm thrilled to learn more about their ancestry. And as a fan of traditional Irish and Scottish music, I absolutely LOVE the fact that the new species has a Gaelic word rolled into its name!

This post highlights information from the sources listed below. Please click on the first two, as they contain some rather amazing copyrighted pictures which I know you'll enjoy.

(1) "
Ancient Turtle Discovered on Skye," BBC News website, 19 Nov 2008, as viewed online on 21 Nov 2008.
(2) "
Earliest Aquatic Turtles Found in Scotland," Natural History Museum (Tring, England) website, 19 Nov 2008, as viewed online on 21 Nov 2008.
(3) "A New Stem Turtle From The Middle Jurassic Of Scotland: New Insights On The Evolution And Palaeoecology Of Basal Turtles," PubMed, National Center for BioTechnology Information website, 18 Nov 2008, as viewed online on 23 Nov 2008.
(4) "A new, nearly complete stem turtle from the Jurassic of South America with implications for turtle evolution," PubMed, National Center for BioTechnology Information website, 23 Jun 2008, as viewed online on 23 Nov 2008.

(Scientists involved in the discovery of the Scotland turtles were associated with University College London (UCL) and the Natural History Museum in Tring (about 35 miles northwest of London). Their report has been published in the journal entitled "Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences." The Scotland turtle fossils are housed at the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. The project was funded by the National Geographic Society.)

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Night to Remember

Before moving on to another topic, I want to report on the October 12th Mercy Center Benefit concert advertised in my previous post. The concert itself was phenomenal. The audience was receptive and responsive, the performers were outrageously good, and everyone seemed pleased to be able to support the Mercy Center. The music had a lively edge because it was recorded for future release by Compass Records to raise additional funds for Mercy Center. Paul Keating of the Irish Voice (weekly newspaper) wrote a lovely article which captures the evening quite well, so I encourage you to click here and let him relate the details.

The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (WSHSO) was scheduled first in the sound check lineup, so we arrived six hours before the concert was to begin. We didn't actually do our sound check until around 4 pm, but we had a grand time chatting with other performers and gnoshing on sandwiches and other taste treats. We rehearsed a little and shared some tunes with other musicians as well. Here are a few pictures taken before the show in the "green room,"

Don Meade, Gail Neely, and me
photo by Lizabeth Kennedy, used with permission

In the foreground (left to right): Tony Horswill, Liz Hanley, Gail Neely
Along the mirror: Lisa Farber, Dan Neely, Lizabeth Kennedy
Reflected in the mirror: Don Meade, Brendan Dolan, and Ivan Goff

photo by Linda Mason Hood

The WSHSO played three sets immediately following the intermission. I played Irish flute on the Curlew Hills barndance set, F whistle on The Isle of St. Helena (sung by Liz Hanley), and on Dan O'Hara (sung by Donie Carroll) I played D whistle and sang on the choruses. You can hear all of these selections, by the way, on the WSHSO MySpace site.

While this picture doesn't show all 15 of us, somehow I was lucky enough to be included. I'm on the far right in the second row.

The program included lots of dancing. The kids below study dance at the Niall O'Leary School of Irish Dance.

At the end of this 3-hour extravaganza of music and dance, everyone came onstage for an exuberant grand finale. What a night! This picture conveys our high spirits, but it would be impossible for any picture to communicate how supremely happy I felt at this moment:

I am standing behind and to the right of Joanie Madden (flute player in the red shirt). Continuing left to right after Joanie is Mick Moloney, organizer of this event and WSHSO sponsor, Tommy Sands, and Robbie O'Connell.

All 3 onstage photos belong to Lizabeth Kennedy and were used with permission
Thanks Liz!

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, October 10, 2008

WSHSO in Benefit for Mercy Centre

Just want to let everyone know that on October 12 - that's this Sunday! - I'll be playing with the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (WSHSO) in a spectacular concert that will benefit a wonderful cause.

Founded 35 years ago in the slums of Bangkok by Father Joseph Maier,
The Mercy Centre runs over 30 neighborhood schools, four orphanages, a hospice for adults with HIV/AIDS and a 500-pupil kindergarten. It provides a loving home to over 180 abused, abandoned and orphaned children – one third of them born with HIV. Its anti-trafficking program protects the most vulnerable children living on the streets. Since 1973 the foundation has built over 10,000 houses in the slums. Everything they accomplish is in partnership with the poor.

My group, the WSHSO, is thrilled to be one of the performers in this all-star cast of Irish musicians and dancers as well as some English and Appalachian friends. Artists include The Green Fields of America (with Mick Moloney, Billy McComiskey, Ivan Goff, Jerry O'Sullivan, Dana Lyn, Athena Tergis and Robbie O'Connell), Joanie Madden and a Cherish the Ladies reunion with special guest appearances from Joe Madden and Mike Rafferty, Tommy, Moya and Fionan Sands, Frank Crocker, Jimmy Crowley and Donie Carroll, Mac Benford and UpSouth, The Burns Sisters, John Roberts and Tony Barrand, Dan and Bonnie Milner, The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (with Don Meade and Brendan Dolan), Matt and Shannon Heaton, Dan Gurney, Niall O'Leary and his School of Irish Dance with Kieran Jordan and more.

All performers are donating their services pro bono. All concert proceeds go to the Mercy Center.

Sunday, October 12th, 8 pm
Symphony Space (95th & Broadway)
Tickets: $50 / $35 / $25. $5 off with student ID.
For more info and tickets call 212-864-5400.
To purchase tickets online, click here: Symphony Space.

If you are planning to come, get tickets NOW - they're going fast and the concert is expected to be a complete sellout!!

Irish Musicians for the Mercy Centre is being made possible through the support of The Mercy Center, The Irish Arts Center, The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, and The Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation, Inc.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Flute Lessons with Mike Rafferty

Although a fair amount of biography and some good descriptions of Mike Rafferty's playing are available online (see links at the end of this post), I have yet to find anything written on his teaching. This blog post attempts to fill that void. What follows here are my reflections about Mike as a teacher and what I’ve learned from him over the past four years.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Took the Plunge

Yes, we finally took the plunge into the brave new world of Apple computers. I bought my husband a MacBook (2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB RAM, and 250 GB hard drive). He finally received the new computer I had wanted to give him last Christmas! You may recall the Vista woes of my January 14 and January 19 posts. I was more or less convinced that Mac was the solution in my February 8 post. So what took so long?

My struggle with Lenovo over the returned T61 Vista laptop intensified over time. Aggravated, I sent back its XP replacement without ever opening the box. With two laptop purchases on my credit card, I thought it best to wait for the Lenovo refunds before purchasing a third computer. Lenovo proved difficult, but on April 29 I received the final credit on my Feb 5 returns. By that time, however, my professor husband had second semester work in progress on his old laptop. Not a good time to make a switch!

Finally, on July 9 we made our way to Apple's new West 14th Street store. We came away with a MacBook, a Time Capsule, a copy of Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Leopard Edition by David Pogue, and a MobileMe subscription for the free iPod Touch obtained through Apple's Back-to-School promotion. (The iPod was for me, of course!)

Right out of the box, the MacBook was fun. We laughed as the setup wizard instructed my husband to take his own profile picture using the camera in the laptop lid. I squeeled with joy when the spiffy little machine, in less than a minute, automatically established a wireless network among our three computers. (You have no idea how much time I've spent over the years setting up home networks, both wired and wireless.) Kazowee!!

File transfer was easy as well. I simply plugged the removable backup drive into the MacBook's USB port and copied over all the files.

Moving Microsoft Outlook's mail, contacts, and calendar was a bit more challenging. Following the advice in Pogue's book, I downloaded a $10 program from Little Machines called O2M (Outlook to Mac). The transfer to Mac Mail was easy - all the subfolders were retained and I was able to transfer a previously archived mail folder. The contacts transfer was equally simple. After the contacts were loaded, features of the Mac Address Book helped me merge multiple email addresses into a single contact and eliminate duplicates. The calendar transfer was the most tedious. My husband has birthdays and anniversaries as well as appointments, but they all transferred into iCal as events. Therefore I had to make some manual adjustments, but in the end the calendar looked and behaved properly.

I loaded some components of Microsoft Office for Mac -- Word, Excel, and Powerpoint -- plus Google Earth, RealPlayer and Mozilla's FoxFire browser. I imported bookmarks and reset the home page. Lastly, I went through all the relevant system preferences making adjustments which would enable the MacBook look and feel like his old computer as much as possible.

Pogue's Switching to the Mac book was very helpful. Despite being a bit chatty, it contained clear explanations and instructions. Knowing nothing about navigating the Mac operating system, I managed to do the work of a Mac Genius! (That's Apple-speak for "technical support person.") Apple would have done a free data transfer, but they wouldn't have been able to do all the customizations that I could do because I'm on such intimate terms with my husband's old laptop. Besides, the weekend I devoted to the data transfer and setup effort really kick-started my Mac education.

I just hope my husband's road to becoming a Mac user won't be too bumpy. This Christmas-in-July gift was intended to relieve his frustration with sluggish response time, continual virus infections, and frequent downloads of program and virus pattern updates. While the Mac will eliminate those issues, it will require PC habits be replaced with Mac skills. Nobody is particularly fond of change, but my husband trusts my judgment that this switch will be worthwhile in the long run.

And really, how can he not love this sleek black MacBook? It's a dream machine, with its fast response and its totally gorgeous screen graphics... yea, I know. I sound like a real Mac person now, don't I? OK, I'll admit it - I've been converted. And so has the cat!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Blogging Statistics

Join Me at Blog World Expo 

Despite what it says on the logo there, I'm not going.  I was merely reading about the 2008 Blogworld and New Media Expo and the one-day Executive and Entrepreneur Conference that precedes it. Curious, I glanced through the presentation topics and scanned a good many of the bios. Sounds like great fun. Just reading the website was fun! Wish I could go. It might inspire an attempted career move.

But I digress...  What I wanted to point out here is their page entitled Important Blogging Statistics.  Click that link and have a look.  There are sure lots of people writing, but even more are reading.

Like you are, right now!

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Monday, September 01, 2008

Flute Choices for the Beginner

Recently I conducted an email discussion about the difficulties beginners face learning to play the flute. This exchange challenged me to further explore some of the factors alluded to in my February 2, 2007 post entitled Silver Flute vs. Irish Flute.

The email dialogue began with this question: If you've never played the flute, would it be better to start with a silver orchestral/band flute or a wooden Irish flute? (In the email context, the question assumed the learner would play Irish music some of the time if not exclusively.)

My answer: If the goal is gain a general introduction to flute playing, I recommend starting on the “regular” silver flute. It offers many advantages, detailed below, and there's no reason it can't be used for Irish music as well. The orchestral flute and the Irish flute share the same basic techniques of breath control, tone production, and physical coordination of arms, hands and fingers.

I would advise beginners of all ages to find a teacher -- a regular, classically trained teacher -- and take some lessons. A teacher will keep you from forming bad habits that have to be unlearned later in order to make progress. You’ll also learn to read music. Additionally, the discipline of preparing for a lesson organizes the learning process and leads you systematically through the rudimentary stuff. Definitely get a teacher.

What to expect: Absolute beginners should know in advance that producing those first sounds on the flute is difficult for most people. You must blow across the hole, not into it. Consequently, tone is initially encased in whooshy air sounds. Once you're able to produce a predictable sound on the notes that speak the easiest, the real work begins. Your lips and surrounding muscles (called embouchure in flute parlance) must learn to make the subtle changes required for the high and low notes. Afterwards, additional embouchure refinements must be made in order to bring the whole range of notes in tune with each other. Instruction books usually teach tone production by starting the beginner with B above middle C and simultaneously work up and down the scale from there until the student can play all the notes of the flute’s 3-octave range. Most people find the middle octave the easiest.

Advantages of the orchestral flute: Its larger and more rectangular blow hole help the beginner produce a sound more readily. Key placement is more comfortable, particularly for smaller hands, and closed-hole keys remove the frustration of not completely covering the finger holes. The orchestral flute has superior internal tuning of the notes of the scale -- that is, the flute is more in tune with itself. Finally, the flute's three-octave chromatic range means it can be used in a wider variety of musical styles – folk, classical, marching band, sacred music, jazz - opening up both social and musical opportunities, something that's particularly valuable for school-aged children.

Disadvantages of orchestral flute: Because of the more complex keywork, there are more things to break. Kids can be especially hard on silver flutes - bending keys, knocking off corks, fraying the pads, bending the springs, getting the flutes wet (resulting in possible rusted springs & screws and warped pads), even denting the body of the flute. Repairs can be expensive and frequent.

However... If you find yourself playing primarily traditional Irish music, you may indeed decide you want to play a more traditional instrument. While it's true that silver flutes are becoming more and more common in Irish sessions, you still run into a certain prejudice against the silver flute. If you are coming to the flute from the whistle, the fingering is the same so any tunes you know will translate to your flute repertoire. Teachers of the Irish flute may be scarce unless you live near a major concentration of Irish traditional players. Depending on the teacher, an Irish flute lesson might put more emphasis on learning tunes than technique. Also, reading notes is sometimes seen as a handicap as it can be used as a crutch to avoid learning the traditional way - by listening and playing back what you hear.

Advantages of the Irish flute: The wooden Irish flute has the distinctive dark and woody sound favored in traditional Irish music. Keyless flutes allow easy execution of traditional ornamentation (applies mainly to advanced players). Irish flutes are very pretty, and if you enjoy finely crafted wood, Irish flutes are especially nice to handle.

Disadvantages of the Irish flute: Its rounder, smaller blow hole makes it harder to get a good sound, particularly for beginners. Covering the finger holes is frustrating and difficult for beginners, particularly for those with small hands. Wooden instruments need oiling and require relatively stable humidity conditions to avoid cracks in the wood. The keyless Irish flute, the most popular model, plays only in the keys of D major, G major, B minor and E minor which limits its use outside traditional Irish music. The keyless wooden flute has a two-octave diatonic range unless you purchase a keyed flute. Irish flutes with keys are expensive, and because the keys are very labor intensive the waiting list for a new keyed flute is usually 3 years or more.

Before you buy: Regardless of what flute you decide upon, don't just go downtown and get something from your local music store. Let a teacher or an experienced player of either instrument advise you. Readers of this blog can also email me. I can help you find a decent new or used orchestral flute for a reasonable price. I can advise on Irish flutes as well. You should be able to get a flute that's adequate for a beginner (while still being a good instrument) for $400-600 USD.

In summary: Deciding which flute to play is an individual choice based on many factors. Those factors may change over time as your abilities and preferences change. Any flute in good repair can bring you satisfaction. The key is to learn to play it well. The better your technique, the more fun the music becomes. Don't fall into the trap of thinking a better flute, or a different flute, will make up for your lack of proficiency! Practicing and seeing your playing improve over time can be as satisfying as a good performance. A little time spent with the flute every day yields better long-term results than irregular bouts of practice.

All these thoughts about practicing have inspired me to finish up this post and go to work on a few new tunes and techniques. Hmmm.... now where did I leave my flute?

Rufus, an Australian Shepherd, fetching a flute!
Photo used with permission, courtesy of

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Finding an Interim Flute

Ever since I ordered a boxwood Irish flute from Peter Noy (as described in my May 9, 2008 post entitled Flute Dilemma Resolved), I've been eager to start transitioning my technique from silver flute to Irish flute. By the time my Peter Noy flute arrives in late 2009, I want to be ready for it. That means I need some sort of Irish flute now! And so began the quest for an interim flute. I watched the Chiff and Fipple Flute Forum as well as eBay, and I started asking all my friends with wooden flutes if I could play a tune or two on their flutes. Little by little, I learned what was available in the various price ranges and started to form some opinions.

In May, an interesting flute appeared on the Chiff & Fipple Flute Forum, a Terry McGee blackwood flute, the Grey Larson Preferred model with the Minimum Disruption Tenon. The owner was willing to lend it to me for a trial period. After a week or so I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it. However, I wasn't sure I would ever get much resonance from it, so I finally decided it wasn't the flute for me. I am very grateful to its owner for trusting me with it for a while. That was incredibly helpful. I took its picture before sending it back.

I started reading more and more about the Casey Burns Folk Flute. One of my friends has a Burns flute that I had borrowed a few times, so I had some first-hand experience with Burns flutes. Priced at $375, the Folk Flute seemed a reasonable interim flute.  However, the predicted delivery date would have been too late for me to use it during Catskills Irish Arts Week. I decided to keep looking.

About this time a Casey Burns Folk Flute appeared on eBay for $275. Bingo! It was made of mopane, a beautiful dark wood. It was the small-handed version which I thought might be a good as a transitional flute. Buying a flute without playing it -- or even seeing it -- seemed risky, but the Burns flutes have a good reputation and at $275, how could I pass it up? I had never before bought anything on eBay, so it took me until the last few hours of the auction to muster my courage and click the "Buy It Now" button.

On June 10, 2008 my eBay flute was delivered to me at work. I was so excited that I declared it lunchtime and headed for the park to try it out. I was very pleased. It played easily, had a nice sound, and the hole placement was really comfortable. At home that night I oiled it per the maker's instructions (which had thoughtfully been included) and started breaking it in.

A few days later I learned that it was virtually a new flute. The seller was a whistle player who thought he'd like to play the flute as well, but changed his mind after only a few attempts.  I felt like I had landed a real bargain - a new flute from the maker I had decided upon with no waiting period!  Here it is - isn't it pretty?  

I've been surprised at how much progress I've made over the last two months. I'm now able to predictably cover the holes and to play many tunes at a decent tempo. As I work on tone, my sound gets stronger and more resonant. Yes indeed, this Casey Burns Folk Flute will be a good interim flute for me.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sea Turtles Nesting in Palm Coast, Florida

My husband, Dan, is standing beside a nest of sea turtle eggs at Cinnamon Beach, a condominium resort in the town of Palm Coast which is halfway between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine on Florida's Atlantic Coast. We attended a family gathering there during the last week in June. I had no idea that sea turtles nest in Florida, so finding these nests was a delightful surprise. Little did I know that the East Coast of Florida is the world's second largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles.

Although loggerheads are the most common, leatherbacks and green sea turtles are also known to nest in the area. All are classified as either threatened or endangered and are protected by state and federal laws. Here's a closeup of the sign posted on all the nest sites:

According to the Volusia and Flagler Turtle Patrol, turtles have been nesting on beaches there for 100 million years. The Atlantic coast nesting season extends from March through October. Each nest contains up to 100 eggs. The eggs incubate in the sand for 50-70 days before the little turtles break out of their shells and scramble down the beach towards the water. Click here to see a Turtle Patrol video of a hatchling crawl across the beach and dive into the surf! (Be patient while the video loads. It's worth the wait!)

In our condo I found a copy of the Turtle Patrol's brochure (page 1 and page 2). It warns against behaviors which might prevent hatchlings from finding their way to the water. For example, light can disorient the hatchlings who generally make their run from the beach to the water at night. Apparently they head towards the glow of the horizon. Flashlights or lights from nearby houses can cause them to be confused and to head away from the water. The brochure also advises filling in any holes children might leave in the sand as well as holes made by beach umbrellas and cabanas, since deep indentations in the sand represent deadly hazards for hatchlings. Recreational vehicles should not be driven in soft sand, and all litter should be removed from the beach to ensure hatchlings reach the sea safely.

Even when all these precautions are observed, hatchling survival rate is pretty low. Only about one hatchling in 1,000-10,000 become mature adults. Some succomb to pitfalls on the beach, others become food for sharks, large fish, or sea birds. Storms are a problem too, since hatchlings emerge in hurricane season and are sometimes washed ashore by storms and stranded. They get sick from polluted waters and generally suffer from loss of habitat as beachfront development often means sand gets pumped in from the sea to improve the beaches and sea wall construction is undertaken to protect adjacent real estate. In fact, beach building projects during nesting seasion can result in burying of sea turtle nests. Life is truly hard...

If all goes well, the hatchlings remain in the coastal waters of the Indian River Lagoon which runs between the mainland and the barrier islands along most of Florida's Atlantic coast. They eat sea grass beds and are protected by the reefs near the shore. Eventually, they swim out to sea. Fifteen to twenty-fived years later, females will return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. While they do not nest every year, females will lay between three to eight clutches of eggs in a nesting season.

I was fascinated to think that only five minutes from the condo we rented, 200-350 pound turtles had hauled themselves out of the sea to lay eggs in the sand. One night I actually went down to the beach at midnight, hoping to see a big turtle. No luck. But after returning home, I decided to contribute to the work of the Volusia and Flagler Turtle Patrol by adopting one of the nests they protect. They will earmark a nest on Cinnamon Beach as "my" nest and will update me when the eggs hatch. Won't that be exciting? I may not have seen a turtle, but perhaps I'll get news about the hatchlings that emerge from the mound of sand above.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Monday, June 30, 2008

Turtle Sighting in Lower Manhattan

Photograph by Michael Natale, used with permission.

Earlier this month Michael Natale photographed this turtle outside the Battery Maritime Building located between Battery Park and the Battery Park City apartment complex in Lower Manhattan. (see his 6/4/08 blog post) Based on the color around the edges of the shell, both top and bottom, it might be a very dirty slider or cooter, or even a western painted turtle.** All are fresh water turtles, so what was this guy doing in the brackish waters of New York Harbor?

Theory #1: He could be a pet that got dumped. Because of their plentiful numbers, red-eared sliders are the most commonly sold turtle. You can buy them in NYC’s Chinatown novelty stores and in every pet store that carries turtles. Sometimes they are given away as prizes at events like state and county fairs. Regardless of where you get them, it’s unlikely that you would receive any information about their care or about the habitat they require. If kept in a tank, you need a strong filtering system and lighting that gives off UVB rays. Acquiring a baby turtle may cost only a few dollars, but a proper habitat will cost at least $200. The cost will continue as the turtle grows and needs a bigger tank. Red-eared sliders can live 40 years and grow to 12 inches in diameter. Adult sliders need plentiful swimming space. Installing a pond in your yard is a good idea, as a 200+ gallon tank is impractical for most people. You can see why red-eared sliders get dumped when they get too big. People often don't know what else to do. But releasing them into a natural setting isn't good either. Being voracious eaters, they can upset the ecosystem, causing other species to suffer or die.

Theory #2: He could be a escapee from Chinatown markets. New York's Chinatown markets, like San Francisco and other Chinese settlements around the world, sell live turtles for food. Turtles are considered a delicacy. Chinese believe that eating turtle meat will bring wisdom, health, and long life. In an article entitled “Turtle Tragedy: Demand in Asia May Be Wiping Out Turtle Populations Worldwide(1),” Wendy Williams speculates that as China’s economic status rises, more and more Chinese people are able to afford turtle, which fuels the import trade. While some of the imported turtles are bred for export in the southern United States, large numbers of exported turtles are wild caught. Turtles are collected from all over the world, without regard for the impact on the species. Despite agreements at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Williams’ article reports the sale of endangered species from all over the world. Even non-endangered turtles like red-eared sliders suffer because of lack of shipping regulations. Shipping conditions are far from humane, and enforcement is next to impossible because of the massive numbers being exported. Domestic Chinese turtles are commercially extinct, so the need to import turtles is great. One US shipper has a standing order for a ton of turtles per week for shipment to China. In his article entitled “Declared Turtle Trade From the United States(2),” Darrell Senneke reports 31,783,380 turtles were declared for export in over a 3-year period.

Theory #3: More likely this guy was purchased by a Buddhist in Chinatown and released in the East River. On August 7, 2007, The New York Sun reported on this ancient practice called fangsheng, or release of life. Practitioners believe that "setting turtles or other animals free increases a Buddhist's merit, which is believed to translate into a better rebirth." The New York Sun article told of a couple who rescue as many as turtles as possible (mainly red-eared sliders) from the East River and place them in the Central Park Turtle Pond. This practice is discouraged by Central Park gardening staff, however, because there are already too many non-native turtles in the pond. If you are inclined to rescue a red eared slider, Turtle Homes provides advice:

Speculating on how the turtle pictured above ended up on a Battery Park shore introduced me to a whole host of turtle issues. All pretty depressing stuff. As I learn more about the laws regarding turtle exports from the US, shipping conditions, I'll post that information here. Perhaps there are ways we can have a positive impact and improve the sad plight of turtles. I surely hope so. For now, I can take comfort in the safe, privileged life that I provide my two red-eared sliders. They bring beauty and joy into my living room, and they have much to teach me about the world in which I live.

(1) Wendy Williams, “Turtle Tragedy: Demand in Asia May Be Wiping Out Turtle Populations Worldwide,” Originally printed in Scientific American, June 1999. Reprinted by permission (New York Turtle and Tortoise Society, As viewed online at online at on June 10, 2008.

(2) Darrell Senneke, "Declared Turtle Trade From the United States," World Chelonia Trust,, 2006. As viewed online (at starting with the introductory page) at, June 10, 2008.

** After this post was published, Tony Simmons from the Red-Eared Slider Yahoo group and Yvonne from the World Chelonian Trust Yahoo group agreed that this turtle is a melanistic male red-eared slider. Tony says he sees them all the time in Houston where he lives. Here's another photo of a melanistic slider for comparison purposes.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, May 23, 2008

World Turtle Day

Did you know today - May 23 - is World Turtle Day? Don't feel too badly if you didn't know. It's a relatively recent thing. It was initiated in 2000 by the American Tortoise Rescue, a California group involved with rescue as well as issues of conservation and protection. Given the plight of turtles, I think such a day is very appropriate so I'm doing my part to publicize it.

Since two red-eared sliders came into my life in October of 2003, I have learned many things about domestic aquatic turtles and their care. I've also become interested in turtles in the wild and the issues facing the large sea turtles that swim the oceans. People send me links and newspaper clippings about turtles around the country and around the world. It seems as though the turtles that swim in a tank in my living room have connected me to the wider realm turtle concerns.

An article entitled Celebrate World Turtle Day on the website of The Humane Society of the United States explains why turtles should receive this honor and why a date in May was chosen. Please take a moment to read it.

Here are seven ways you can celebrate World Turtle Day:

  1. Read the article above to learn of the plight of sea turtles and some of the solutions being employed and proposed. The article also contains information on the risks to domestic turtles posed by pollution and development as well as export for food in other countries.
  2. Know what to do If You See a Turtle in the Road. (not likely in Manhattan, but friends in Connecticut and New Jersey often see turtles trying to cross the road)
  3. Know what to do If You Find A Sea Turtle. (hey, people from around the world read my turtle posts!)
  4. Observe the 12 Things You Can Do For Turtles.
  5. If someone you know has a birthday coming up, buy a gift from During their special sale May 23-25, 10% of all proceeds will go to The Center for Biological Diversity's project to stop the commercial collection of turtles taking place in the southern United States.
  6. And speaking of the Center for Biological Diversity, please sign their petition to protect wild freshwater turtles in the southern United States. The Center has organized a coalition of conservation and health groups seeking to end the commercial harvest of freshwater turtles in four southern states and to stop the sale of contaminated turtles to domestic and international food markets. Click here to take action.
  7. Donate to an organization that helps turtles. Here's a few organizations that could use your help. And if your company matches charitable gifts, don't forget to send along the appropriate form.

Terrapin Conservation of the Wetlands Institute (donate online)

Sea Turtle, Inc. (donate online)

Center for Biological Diversity (donate online)

Turtle Conservation Fund (send checks c/o Chelonian Research Foundation -- an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Address: 168 Goodrich St., Lunenburg, MA, 01462 USA)

Humane Society of the United States (in addition to their education regarding turtles, they do wonderful work to stop cruelty to pets & farm animals)

If you know of other organizations, please leave that info in a comment.

Happy Turtle Day!

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, May 09, 2008

Flute Dilemma Resolved

If you're a regular reader, you know that I've been perplexed by the Silver Flute vs. Irish Flute question (first expressed in my 2/2/07 post). Every time I think I've decided which flute I want to use for playing Irish music, something makes me reconsider the question from a different angle. Finally, this spring I decided the answer was a Sandalwood Headjoint for My Silver Flute (see my 3/29/08 post). But that solution became complicated when I realized the sandalwood headjoint wouldn't actually fit my own flute. In my 4/20/08 post I detailed various options. Here's what has transpired regarding each option since that post:

1. The Sedona flute and sandalwood headjoint combo had a really nice sound, no question about that. In the end, though, I couldn't accept the idea of switching to what is essentially a good quality student flute. My own flute, albeit 30 years old, is a professional, handmade, solid silver flute from the Wm. S. Haynes Company in Boston. If you've ever played a professional flute, you'll know it's hard to step down from there.

2. Vintage flutes come with a whole different set of difficulties and complications. I decided it's probably not practical to adopt a vintage flute as my everyday flute.

3. After a number of inquiries, I realized that I would never find a used headjoint that would actually fit my thin-walled Haynes. Flute construction has changed too much over the last 30 years.

4. Peter Noy said he would indeed make a headjoint to fit my Haynes, and he sent me a boxwood as well as a grenadilla headjoint for evaluation. To expand my comparisons, I borrowed a Gemeinhardt flute so I could mix and match. Here's all the headjoints, lined up side by side.

The only headjoint that fit my flute was the one made for it. However, I was able to do a number of comparisons by alternating all the headjoints on the two borrowed silver flutes. Surprisingly, the body of the flute has much more effect on the sound than I expected. Here's the pile of flutes I tested in various combinations.

In case you're wondering about the white stuff on the tenons of some of the headjoints, that's teflon tape (also known as plumber's tape) which helps achieve a tighter fit when the headjoint is smaller than the body of the flute.

5. Reconsidering the silver flute vs. Irish flute question, a friend asked me what I was really trying to achieve. "A more woody sound," I answered. To which my friend replied, "then why not get an Irish flute?" In other words, rather than try to imitate the sound of an Irish flute, why not just get the instrument that makes that sound? My objection has always been my fear that changing to the Irish flute will set me back a year or more in terms of my playing. I'll have to learn a new hand position, relearn most of my tunes, and change my embouchure. In response to my moaning about all that, someone else pointed out to me that I seem to love the challenge of new musical ventures. After all, look at what I've accomplished in the past five years: I've taken up a new instrument, the whistle, and immersed myself in a whole new musical genre. I'm now proficient at learning tunes by ear in the traditional way, have even come to prefer it! I've gained a decent grasp of phrasing and ornamentation, and have translated whistle ornamentation to the silver flute (which entailed learning new fingerings and inventing some fingering shortcuts). I also learned a bit about piano accompaniment of Irish instrumental music. And in the last year I've started singing Irish songs, first in English and now working myself up to learning some Irish. Have I not realized that I love the challenge of something new?

So, having fallen in love with the Peter Noy boxwood headjoint, I called him and ordered an entire flute -- conical, simple system Irish flute! Yup, I really did. Put down a deposit to seal the deal. I chose a boxwood flute with bone rings just like the headjoint below.

The unthinned boxwood headjoint has such a sweet sound. The Cooper embouchure cut is easier to play, for me anyway, than the round embouchure of most Irish flutes, and I really like the effect produced by the bone inset along the top of the blow edge.

The flute he will make for me won't be ready til late 2009, but it will be beautiful and it's what I want. Could it be that my ongoing dilemma is finally resolved? Perhaps. I feel very comfortable with my decision. No second thoughts have surfaced. And now, to wait...

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Irish Emigrant Article & New Myspace Tunes!

The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (WSHSO) received some good publicity this week in The Irish Emigrant, one of the Irish weekly papers available here in NYC. The article began with mention of our upcoming performance at the Glucksman Ireland House (see below for details) and included a picture taken on at our March 14th performance at the St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. Click here to view a pdf of the newspaper clipping.

Today three new tunes went up on the WSHSO Myspace site! The new tunes - Dan O'Hara, New York Ceili Band Jigs, and Far From Home/Mayor Harrison's Fedora - are professional-quality recordings made by a student in the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University. I realize I'm hardly an impartial judge, but I think they sound REALLY GOOD. Have a listen and see if you agree!

Since my March 16th post, the WSHSO played a few pub gigs:

This week's upcoming performances include:

  • May 1 at Ireland House's annual Airneál na Bealtaine - an evening of traditional music and song presented by NYU students and others from the NYU community.

  • May 4 - annual live radio performance on Ceol na nGael, a program broadcast every Sunday, Noon to 4 pm Easternon Fordham University's WFUV public radio station. WFUV broadcasts over the internet, so you can hear this one without leaving home. All you have to do is figure out the time difference. Here's a handy Timezone Converter that will make it easy. Select Eastern Daylight Timezone - New York, NY, USA - and convert to your location. On May 4th at the appropriate time, click here to listen via the internet. If you miss the live broadcast, the show will be archived for 14 days. Click the link I gave for internet listening, but go to the Listen tab and select Audio Archives to access the Ceol na nGael show. Ain't technology wonderful - sometimes? (This was rescheduled for July 27)

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Flute Dilemma Again (or rather, still)

I have a confession to make. The sandalwood headjoint I was so excited about in my March 29th post is not a "done deal."

In the midst of my St. Patrick's Day gigs, my own Haynes silver flute developed a couple of leaks, so I took it to Jeff Weissman for repair. He kept my flute and lent me a Sedona flute and the lovely little Sedona sandalwood headjoint. I had every intention of purchasing both the headjoint and the flute when I returned to pick up my repaired Haynes. The total price of $1850 included $850 for the Sedona sandalwood headjoint, $850 for the Sedona flute (complete with its own silver headjoint), plus tax. Included in the deal was a full-sized flute case plus outer carrying case for the Sedona flute and a separate little headjoint case for the sandalwood headjoint.

You see, the sandalwood headjoint doesn't actually fit my Haynes, as was implied in my 3/29 post. Having fallen in love with its sweet, woody sound, I rationalized the purchase of a second flute. It would be good to have a my own backup flute, and it would be good to avoid taking my very valuable Haynes into places where beer could be spilled on it, etc. Now you have ALL the facts. That level of detail didn't seem necessary for the 3/29 post, but you won't understand my present dilemma without full disclosure. So there you have it. Continuing on...

I played the Sedona flute for about a month before my Haynes was ready for pickup. During that time I realized that while the Sedona is a very good student flute, it is still a student flute. It handles very differently from my lovely handmade Haynes. I began to miss the responsiveness of the Haynes key mechanisms, the feel of the sound vibrating under my fingers, in short, the experience of a quality instrument.

Additionally, I began to convince myself that the sandalwood headjoint might just fit my 30-year old Haynes flute with it's smaller bore and thinner walls. After all, the Sedona sandalwood headjoint was small even for the Sedona flute's body. I discovered just how significant the size difference was after I cleaned off the teflon tape that Jeff had used on the tenon to make the headjoint fit.

I tried not to notice that the sandalwood headjoint's pitch seemed a bit flat. I convinced myself that I would be able to push the tenon ALL the way in, once the final prepping before purchase had been done.

Yesterday - when I went to the Weissman shop intending to pick up my Haynes, have the Sedona prepped and pay for it - my fantasies came crashing down on me. Discussing the final fitting and adjustment of the sandalwood headjoint, I realized that:

  • It will NOT be coaxed into fitting my Haynes.
  • It can NOT be expanded to fit the Sedona flute either, so it will always require teflon tape.
  • Whether due to its construction or to the everpresent teflon tape scraps, the sandalwood's tenon cannot be inserted any farther into the body of the flute, so there will never be any flexibility in making the flute sharper.

Now I have to answer this question: Do I really want to spend $1850 on a student flute and a headjoint that will always require teflon tape, will not play an A higher than 440 at best, and will have little-to-no resale value?

Resale didn't start out to be a concern. Owning multiple flutes and conceding the possibility of selling them at a later date wasn't part of my mindset as a classical player. I have come to realize, however, that Irish flute players buy a number of flutes and then sell them if they don't work out or if they don't get played much. That started me thinking about resale and realizing that the Sedona brand could be a problem. While Weissman makes a very respectable wooden piccolo, nobody's heard of his Sedona brand yet. His Sedona flutes -- made to his own design and manufactured solely for his shop -- are presently not advertised at all, not even on his own website! How would I ever sell an inexpensive student flute nobody's heard of? Plus, the market for wooden headjoints on silver flutes is not very big to begin with, so without some brandname "buzz" it would be very hard to sell this particular sandalwood headjoint. A Sedona wooden headjoint would take years to gain the reputation of the premiere wooden headjoints made by Abel, Eppler, Noy, and Howard Roberts - all of which, by the way, cost a good deal more than the Sedona sandalwood.

In the few days I have left to decide, I'm doing some serious thinking and investigations. You'll remember that I bought the Vista PC without doing my homework and what a mess occurred as a result. (See my Technology posts.) Taking a lesson from that situation, I want to carefully rethink this flute dilemma before swiping my credit card. Here's what I see as my present options:

  1. The "spare flute" scenario above is valid. I could get the Sedona flute and Sedona sandalwood headjoint. I could use it for years and feel it was worth the price, regardless of resale value. The pitch is not too flat, and the sound is very pleasing. I wouldn't have to play the Sedona exclusively; I could still play my Haynes.
  2. There are 2 vintage Boehm system wooden flutes on eBay right now, very tempting in the $1300 range. They wouldn't play like my Haynes, but then neither does the Sedona. At least the headjoint would fit the body of the flute. And a 1920's flute would be very cool. Kept in good condition, it would only appreciate in value.
  3. I could buy a used headjoint made by a premiere maker whose work is well known. I have emailed several people who are selling wooden headjoints. (Chiff & Fipple Flute Forum and are good resources for second-hand purchases.) If I could get one small enough for my flute, it might be easier to sell it later. It could be fitted to larger diameter flutes with a little teflon tape. Based on the ads I read yesterday, it seems like people accept teflon tape as a reasonable solution for a headjoint that gets occasional use when a woody sound is desired.
  4. I could see if Peter Noy or another of the premiere headjoint makers would build a wooden headjoint to fit my Haynes.
  5. While playing both the Sedona combo and my Haynes over the next few days, I will once again revisit the notion of sticking with the Boehm system flute for Irish music. Maybe that idea is just flawed to begin with! (apologies, Joanie. After all, there are exceptions to every rule.)

So that's it. Sometimes I wonder why everything in my life becomes a huge project. That's a rhetorical question, so please don't comment! If, however, you have any words of wisdom to offer before Tuesday on the flute dilemma, send them my way. And stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in this blog's continuing flute saga.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Copyright laws may be complicated, but the basic underlying concept is pretty simple: original material created in some tangible form is protected and can’t be copied by others who would claim credit for it. This is an international concept dating back to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1886. The United States and most other nations subscribe to this treaty. The US also maintains its own copyright laws which reiterate the fact that all material is protected automatically, whether it's registered with the US Copyright Office or not. Material is protected upon creation, whether or not a copyright notation containing the familiar © is displayed. Generally speaking, copyright protection is in effect for 50 years beyond the life of the author.

As I explored the area of copyright as it relates to the internet, I noticed that many sites make specific statements about copyright. In trying to think through these issues, I've jotted down my own intentions, principles of use, and terms and conditions for redistribution of material from my blog. Please contact me via the instructions below if you have any questions.

Statement of Intent
  • My blog is a means of creative expression.
  • The goal of my blog is to publish material that's informational, educational, hopefully somewhat entertaining.
  • My blog is definitely a not-for-profit endeavor. I don't gain any monetary benefit from any of my posts. Even when I'm writing about my own musical activities, I am reporting, interpreting, or reflecting upon my performances, not advertising them. (And in most cases, I wouldn't gain any profit even if I were advertising!)
Principles of Use
  1. Posts that were derived in any way from the writing of others have been footnoted or referenced with links in the body of the post. 
  2. I do not use direct links or commit bandwidth theft.
  3. Any photographs without a credit are my photos. Please do not use them without my permission.
  4. Photographs or graphic images created by others and used with permission are identified.
  5. In cases where I have attempted to get permission but the owner could not be located or did not respond, I have given appropriate credit. (If I have used your image without obtaining permission, please contact me.)
  6. In informational or educational posts where I've used a copyrighted image belonging to an educational institution or organization, I have displayed their copyright information.
  7. On posts about books, I have used low-resolution images of book covers. I believe this constitutes "fair use" under US copyright laws for the following reasons:
  • The book cover is used to identify the book, a function for which no free-use image is available or can be substituted.
  • The cover of the media is not the actual content specifically being sold by the publisher of the media, and therefore the commercial impact of this distribution is minimal or nonexistent.
  • The cover image is uploaded at a low enough resolution that it cannot be effectively used to create counterfeit printed copies, nor does it compete with other official printed materials (if any) by the publisher that use this same image.

Terms and Conditions of Redistribution
  1. You may use original material including pictures from this site for non-commercial and/or educational purposes if you obtain permission and give me the appropriate credit. I consider “appropriate credit” to consist of the following:

    Internet use – provide my full name and insert a link to the individual blog post you’re referencing or which incorporated the picture you are using. For example, beneath a picture that you are using, include this text: Photo courtesy of Linda Mason Hood, used with permission. Then, please insert a hyperlink to the post on my blog where the picture appears.

    Written material – provide a footnote which contains my full name, the post title and post date, as well as the URL of the post you’re referencing. Please note: The correct way to link to a single blog post is to click on the title of the post, then copy the resulting URL.

  2. You may not use material of others that I have incorporated into my posts. I have their permission, but it does not extend second-hand to you. Feel free to contact me if you would like to ask their permission.
  3. You may not use material from this site for commercial use unless you contact me by email and get my permission first.
To Contact Me...
Please email me at linhood46 AT (replace the word AT with @).

Helpful Links
If you'd like to read more about copyright principles and use of graphics on the internet, here are some websites that offer straightforward and understandable information.
Law/copyright/FAQ section of Internet FAQ Archives
What is Copyright?
Copyright Basics section of the US Copyright Office

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
updated December 18, 2011

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sandalwood Headjoint for my Silver Flute

I have a new toy, a sandalwood headjoint for my orchestral silver flute.

As reported in my Silver Flute or Irish Flute post of February 2, 2007, I haven't been able to convince myself to switch to the traditional Irish flute. I've been tempted. I borrowed a Seery polymer flute a year ago and more recently a lovely Casey Burns boxwood flute. The hand position was more comfortable on the Burns flute, and I loved the boxwood sound. What an adjustment it would be, though, to move to a simple system flute, keyed or keyless, after all these years playing the Boehm system flute. I just can't bring myself to take a giant step backwards in terms of finger coordination.

Within the last year, as I worked on embouchure changes to achieve a darker sound, I became aware that putting a wood headjoint on a silver flute body would significantly alter its sound. The effect was much closer to the traditional Irish flute sound. I also learned that The JB Weissman Music Company, where I get all my repair work done, sells wooden headjoints. Bingo! The sound I want to hear coming from the flute I want to play.

Weissman carries a Sedona headjoint, which comes in both grenadilla and sandalwood. You can't find Sedona flutes or headjoints on the internet. At the present time, they seem to be available exclusively through Weissman Music. A quick survey of what is available on the internet shows that wooden headjoints can cost a little less or significantly more than this one. At $850, it's pretty reasonable, and I know that Jeff Weissman wouldn't sell it if he didn't stand behind it. He has built a solid reputation on quality and personalized service.

I spent an ample amount of time playing both the grenadilla and sandalwood models and discusing their pros and cons with Jeff. I selected the sandalwood for it's round, woody sound, its pretty reddish color, and its fragrant smell. Flute players, imagine this: a flute that never gets halitosis!

I'm very happy with my flute now. I play it every day just to hear the sound of it. If you close your eyes and listen, you'd think I were playing an Irish flute. One never knows what the future will bring, but at the present time I'm totally satisfied with this resolution to the silver flute vs. Irish flute dilemna.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, March 16, 2008

St. Patrick's Day Season 2008

For Irish musicians, St. Patrick's Day is more than the parade on Fifth Avenue and bar performances all over town. In a musical sense St. Paddy's is rather like Lent & Holy Week. I know that seems like an odd comparison, but church musicians will recognize the drill. Rehearsals start early in early February. Performances intensify the week before St. Patrick's Day, exploding all over town on March 17th and trickling on a bit afterwards.

For me, this year's performances started on March 6th at Bill Popp's 22nd Annual Benefit at Kenny's Castaways for the American Heart Association. I played in a group called Sounds of Ireland, organized by John Nevin and comprised of folks who play at the Dempsey's Pub session. We presented an hour of well known Irish tunes, closing with a rousing polka encore. Great fun!

My next performance was on March 13th. The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra played with Mick Moloney and Friends at the Irish Heritage Concert at Saint Patrick's Cathedral. I've done this concert for several years now, but it's always a thrill to stand in front of the high altar and to see the large audience gathered in this famous Fifth Avenue cathedral.

On March 14th the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra played again, this time at Saint Patrick's OLD Cathedral, the predecessor to the famous one on Fifth Avenue. After the Gaelic mass, we treated those in attendance to lively music at the outdoor reception in the church's front courtyard. The weather was damp and cloudy, but the crowd was warm and appreciative.

(photo by Dan Milner, used with permission)

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, a Belfast publisher in attendance, did a lovely post about this event on his blog.

On the evening of March 17th Sorcha Dorcha will present Irish ballads and ceili tunes to diners at The Half King Restaurant. In addition to playing flute and whistle, I will be singing a couple of songs and playing some keyboard accompaniments at this gig.

Even though the official St. Patrick's Day revelry will on March 17th, the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra has a few more performances scheduled.

After that, things will quiet down a bit. No other performances scheduled at this point. Maybe I can blog a little more often, cook instead of grabbing food on the run, and resume normal life. I'm glad for the ebb and flow that comes with St. Patrick's Day. Immersion in the music always improves my playing, but I don't think I could survive this pace much longer. Unless I quit my day job... (ah yes, fantasy lives on!)

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Absolutely Irish!

American Public Television is airing a new Irish traditional music program called Absolutely Irish! Stations all across the country will use it as part of their fundraising campaigns. Donors contributing a certain amount receive a copy of the DVD as a thank you gift.

Produced by Mick Moloney, the show includes an all-star cast of traditional Irish musicians:

Fiddle: Liz Carroll, Eileen Ivers, Athena Tergis
Guitar: John Doyle, Mick Moloney
Flute: Mike Rafferty, Joanie Madden, Seamus Egan
Singers: Robbie O'Connell, Karan Casey, Susan McKeowan, Mick Moloney
Tenor Banjo: Mick Moloney, Seamus Egan
Dancers: Jo McNamara, Niall O'Leary, Darrah Carr
Keyboard: Brendan Dolan
Concertina: Tim Collins
Uilleann Pipes: Jerry O'Sullivan

I watched Absolutely Irish! on WJN on March 3rd. I was pleased with the balance of time allocated to conversation about the music, rehearsal, and performance. While the bulk of the program was devoted to the playing of the "younger" musicians, Mick gave special kudos to flute player Mike Rafferty and dancer Jo McNamara who have played an important role in keeping the tradition alive. Both Mike and Jo must be around 80 years old now. Below is the YouTube footage of Jo McNamara, described by the New York Times on May 3, 1990, as "an Irish-born vaudevillian who has been a professional dancer for more than 60 years dancing." She's absolutely charming. Have a look, and notice the faces of the "kids" as they watch from the wings:

For a more up-tempo set of tunes, check out the mighty fiddling in this YouTube clip:

I really enjoyed hearing some of my favorite players perform some of my favorite tunes. Mick taught many of these tunes to the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, his New York University ensemble of which I'm proud to be a member.

Watch your TV listings or call your local PBS station to find out when Absolutely Irish! will be broadcast in your area. If you're a fan of Irish traditional music, this is a program not to be missed!

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement