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