Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ashley Davis at Joe's Pub

On Thursday, January 17th, my friend and singing teacher, Ashley Davis, performed at Joe’s Pub, a classy little night spot at the Public Theater in Manhattan. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and for days afterward I found myself thinking about it. In an attempt to organize my reflections, I decided it might be interesting to write a review. While I realize what I'm about to say is not entirely impartial, I've tried to base my comments on my own credentials as a musician (briefly noted in my profile) as well as a lifetime of informed listening to music of many genres. My friendship with Ashley, however, allows me to identify with the pride she takes in her work and with her aspirations.

Ashley is a songwriter as well as a singer. Although grounded in traditional Irish convention, Ashley's melodies often tend to be more contemporary in nature. While it’s possible to identify her influences - the lilting Irish phrasing, the distinctive Scottish snap, the haunting Manx tunes, the Eastern modal scales, even the heartbreak of Nashville ballads - Ashley has thoroughly digested all these elements and incorporates them in various ways and to varying degrees, resulting in a style that’s all her own.

With an MA in Traditional Irish Singing from the University of Limerick in Ireland, Ashley studied sean-nos singing and mastered the art of melodic ornamentation. She has the vocal facility to ornament “til the cows come home” (as they might say in her native state of Kansas). However, she uses ornamentation sparingly, where it will be most effective. In fact, she loves to sustain long tones - and her pitch never wavers - while her musicians provide an underpinning of interesting rhythms and countermelodies. In the realm of Irish song, that's more contemporary than traditional, to be sure.

I'm hard pressed to know how best to describe Ashley’s voice. To say that it’s lovely is an understatement. The velvet-like quality she achieves in all registers is pleasing, never cloying. The listener has no idea when she’s near the top or the bottom of her range because she seems at ease wherever the melody leads her. Ashley's delivery is expressive in the understated traditional way, without pretention or affectation.

Ashley made good programming choices. To open, she walked onstage and without a word of explanation or translation sang Pill A Run O, a slow, pensive Irish song she learned from Moya Brennan. Despite the language barrier, her sensitive treatment of this beautiful song touched the audience and established an immediate rapport. As the evening's music selections progressed, differences in tempo and instrumental texture were nicely paced, as was the logical sequence from song to song.

I wouldn't be the first reviewer to praise Ashley's flair for narrative. Entirely comfortable on stage, Ashley makes everyone in the audience feel like they are longtime friends. The introductions that precede each song guide her listeners on a smooth musical journey from beginning to end.

Supporting Ashley were these instrumentalists. (Not all players were required on every song.)
While the sound system was excellent and volume levels didn't overpower the audience, my musical taste differed slightly from the person running the sound board. For me, Ashley's intimate style is at odds with the use of reverberation. Regarding balance, every now and then the rhythm guitar or the acoustic piano seemed on the verge of overpowering the vocal line. And throughout the evening, I wished for more flute sound in the mix. Overall, though, these things didn't prevent me - or anyone else - from thoroughly enjoying the show and appreciating the fine work of the band.

For details on Ashley's background, you can download her electronic press kit or listen to the audio interview on the Joe's Pub website. I particularly enjoyed an article entitled From Country to Celtic celebrating the debut of her first CD, Closer to You.

To hear Ashley's music, go to her MySpace site. You can purchase individual songs there as well as from iTunes. Closer to You in its entirety can be ordered from CDBaby. Ashley's next concert will be April 10th and 11th at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan. Watch her website for news of future gigs and of the release this fall of her second CD.

In her online journal about her residency on the Isle of Man, Ashley coupled a daisy she drew in the sand on a Manx beach with an old Manx saying that the island's government has adopted as its motto. In context, the photo and quote express her hope that Manx music and culture would prevail despite the pressures of the modern world.

Looking at that daisy, I thought about Ashley's talent and my hopes for her future. Putting the picture and quote in the context of this post, let me close by saying: Ashley, regardless of what obstacles you might encounter as your career unfolds, may this old Manx saying become your mantra.

Quocunque jeceris stabit
Whichever way you throw me, I shall stand

Photos courtesy of Ashley Davis
© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Another Vote against Vista

I have now officially cast my vote against the new Windows Vista operating system. I decided to return the laptop I've been struggling with. (see my previous post, Vista Woes) I am exchanging the Lenovo T61 14" widescreen with Vista for a T61 with a 14" standard screen and Windows XP operating system.

Here's an interesting fact about comparative screen sizes. As you probably know, screen sizes are measured on the diagonal. That can be misleading. Fact is, when you sit a 14" standard laptop screen next to a 14" widescreen, the widescreen is nearly an inch shorter. Yes, it's wider - but shorter. That means when you open MS Word or Outlook and maximize the screen, you see quite a bit of blank space on the right, and the part of the screen displaying text is shorter. Assuming similar resolution and font size, the actual area of use is smaller on the widescreen than it is on the standard screen. I think one must watch an awful lot of widescreen movies to justify the desktop real estate lost to everyday usage.

In summary, I believe the 14" standard screen laptop loaded with Windows XP is what we want. Delivery is scheduled for sometime around February 7th. I will spend a little time configuring XP, transferring data, and loading programs. Perhaps by Valentine's Day my husband can use what was supposed to be a Christmas present!

Going back to my original Lenovo order, all is not entirely resolved. I am still waiting for the RMA number needed to actually put the widescreen in a box and mail it back. My sales rep assures me I will have it in a few days. I am also waiting for confirmation on the amount I have to pay as a restocking fee. The website says 15%. In writing my sales rep said 10%, so I'll protest if they try to stick me with 15%. I fear more haggling will be required before I finally get rid of the widescreen, but I'm comforted knowing the decision to send it back was the right one - for us anyway.

Stay tuned, then, for more of these "exciting" technology adventures. Personally, I'll be relieved when I can write about Tunes again!

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

Monday, January 14, 2008

Vista Woes

Truffles, Turtles, Tunes - and now Technology. Don't worry though. I have no intentions of becoming a bona fide technology blogger. I'm hoping this new category won't have many posts. Seriously, I'm a lay person when it comes to technology. Because I worked as an implementation project manager in several software firms, I learned a bit here and there about how systems work. I have mucked about inside the computer in very minor ways - installing a network card, a CD-RW drive, memory, etc. - and I have reformatted a few hard drives. So ok, maybe I'm a rather advanced lay person. Nevertheless, I believe people should be able to use computers without becoming experts. That's why I'm so unhappy with the Windows Vista operating system.

Vista contains many new security features. Microsoft claims that's what people wanted. But who are these people? I venture to say they're business people and IT professionals, not the average user. Most of us don't want to spend hours learning how to fine-tune our computers in order to avoid the frustrations of slow opening programs and slow responding internet pages. Seriously, does the auto industry assume we'll lift the hood and reconfigure our engines in order to make our cars run satisfactorily? I feel a rant coming on, so let me back up and explain.

I replaced my husband's five year old laptop with a new Lenovo T61, which I expected to be a pretty zippy little machine considering the processor, memory, and hard disk speed:
  • 2 Duo Core T7500 (2.2 GHz, 800 Mhz, 4 MBL2)
  • 2 GB PC2-5300 DDR SDRAM, 667 MHz SODIMM Memory (2 DIMM)
  • 100 GB Hard Disk, 7200 rpm

I read all about the advantages of dual processors before I placed my order. Regarding Vista, most websites I read advised against upgrade your existing computer's operating system, but they said if you were ordering a new computer, there was no reason not to get Vista. I looked at the various flavors of Vista and selected the 32-bit Business version.

When the computer arrived, I ran through the installation procedure, configured the wireless settings, and took the little 14" widescreen T61 for a spin on the internet. To my utter horror, it was slower than the laptop I was replacing - and that was BEFORE I loaded and turned on any anti-virus software!!!

Since then, I purchased Windows Vista Inside Out, an 1100-page tome detailing Vista's configuration options. (It was on sale for half price. That should have been my first clue.) I've read approximately 200 pages so far and have spent countless hours backing up the old computer, running the Easy Transfer Utility, loading data and settings, downloading 200-megabyte Vista updates, tweaking and testing, and obtaining Vista-compatible versions of programs my husband uses. In the last 2 weeks, in addition to my full time job, mind you, I've spent somewhere between 40 and 60 hours fiddling around with what I had hoped would be the machine of my husband's dreams - his happy dreams, not his nightmares!

One feature which worries me is User Account Control. Whether you work with a standard login or a login with administrator privileges, UAC asks you to supply an administrator password if you start to do something that will make a systemwide change. This convention was designed to be a safeguard against viruses and spyware which install themselves without your knowledge or consent. The theory is: if you receive a request from the operating system to elevate your login to administrator status and you didn't do anything to trigger that request, you can deny the request and prevent bad stuff from happening on your computer. OK. I grant you it seems like a good idea. The practical issue is how often my husband would see these prompts in his everyday use of the computer. Would the annoyance outweigh the risk? Microsoft says yes. I'm not sure.

Another thing that concerns me is compatibility. Last night I read about someone who could print but not scan or fax. That article made me realize that loading software without incident is apparently not a true indication of compatibility. Little "surprises" could interrupt his work any time my husband used a feature or a function that hadn't been used before. The unpredictability could last years! Since the compatibility problem is largely outside my control, it makes me even more uncomfortable than the UAC issue.

After all these hours spent learning Vista, I hate to admit that I'm seriously considering going back to XP. For a fee, I can return this laptop and get another one configured with XP Service Pack 2. Or I could just wipe clean the hard drive of this laptop and load a previously purchased copy of XP. This second course of action would allow me to keep the copy of Vista I've just purchased. Perhaps sometime in the future I will want to re-load it.

My husband prefers to stick with what he knows. I'm sure he'd be grateful not to have to learn anything at all about Vista or about Microsoft Office 2007 (needed for compatibility with Vista), which has a very different look and feel from the Office 2003 version he's used to.

It does seem as if I'm leaning towards joining the many, many people all over the world who have decided NOT to accept Microsoft's latest contribution to the world of computing. I have a few more days to make up my mind, particularly if I want to exchange this laptop, What would you do?

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

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Photo by Lorcan Otway, used with permission.

Here's a very different sphere from the one in my previous post. And with it, once again this blogger yields to the temptation to reflect on the year past and to record a few modest hopes for the year to come. As proposed in my 1/1/07 post, I've jotted down some new insights I’ve gained and practical changes I’ve made in my life over the past year.

The Truffles category – representing my vegetarian aspirations -- saw only one new post in 2007, but that post recounted an eye-opening experience which has had quite an impact on my lifestyle. (See the Farm Sanctuary post)

  • I renewed my determination to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.
  • I’m trying to purchased more cruelty-free products, both food and non-food items.

The Turtles category – representing my interest in animals, particularly turtles – is now accompanied by a new tag, Wildlife. 2007 saw 14 posts to Turtles and Wildlife.

  • The green sea turtle rescue in Texas last January introduced me to many facts about sea turtles. (See posts of 1/20, 07, 1/24/07, 2/06/07, and 2/24/07)
  • I improved the care of my own turtles. (6/28/07)
  • I became aware of new dangers to sea mammals. (9/10/07 )
  • I learned about a new species of albatross. (5/28/07)

The Tunes category – representing my interest in music – was subdivided to reflect my three avenues of performance: MMF, Sorcha Dorcha, and WSHSO. As you might expect, this area of my life was the most active as illustrated by a whopping 24 posts in 2007.

  • I increased my attendance at Irish music pub sessions. (1/28/07 and 10/21/07)
  • As a part of two Irish bands, I performed considerably more in public, and sometimes even got paid for the performances! (See 2007 posts in Sorcha Dorcha and WSHSO categories)
  • My Irish flute tune repertoire grew and my ability to execute traditional Irish ornamentation on the silver flute improved greatly. (6/13/07 and 4/23/07)
  • I started singing Irish songs and ballads, something I would never have predicted last year! (8/7/07)
  • I organized and/or performed some interesting music at MMF (as recorded in the six MMF posts of 2007)

Five miscellaneous items which fell outside the major categories above bring the total number of posts this year to 44. Looking back, I have to say that 2007 was a pretty good year overall.

Looking ahead, in 2008 I will continue exploring Truffles, Turtles, and Tunes and all that’s implied by those designations. Additionally, I hope to see activity in several peripheral categories:

  • Books –this category needs more posts!
  • Travel – I hope to travel outside the US. Somewhere… anywhere!
  • Technology – a new category to be added soon to help me survive my struggles with Windows Vista which came pre-installed on a new computer I just bought for my husband.

And with this bit of reflection concluded, I’m ready to embark on 2008. May the moon smile on ALL of us! And may it bring peace to those who find it difficult or impossible to pursue such interests as these due to war, violence, poverty, illness, or other sorts of disruptions to whatever might be viewed as “normal life.”

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