Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ireland Bound

Cover by June McCormack, used with permission

This summer I plan to attend the 37th Annual Willie Clancy Summer Music Festival in Ireland. "Willie Week," as it's affectionately known in traditional Irish music circles, is the prototype for all the traditional Irish music festivals. Held in the hometown of Willie Clancy, a piper who played a prominent role in the Irish folk revival in the 1960's, the festival in Miltown Malbay, County Clare, Ireland, draws about 1300 attendees who take lessons, hear lectures, play in sessions, and attend dances for one glorious week. I am very excited, to say the least.

With accommodations secured and ticket purchased, I've turned my attention to polishing up my playing. Over the past year most of my flute efforts have focused on two areas: transitioning to the Irish flute (changing fingering and embouchure) and learning tunes, especially those tunes I play as part of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra. Sadly, I have paid very little attention to ornamentation, which is what originally drew me to Irish music in the first place.

You'll recall that while I'm waiting for my custom Peter Noy flute I bought a Casey Burns Folk Flute, the ergonomic small-handed version. (17-Aug-2008: Finding an Interim Flute) I was really excited about it when it arrived, but it has proved to be a disappointment. While the mopane wood makes a lovely sound, the whole flute is flat and proved unworkable in ensemble playing. Sometime in the late fall of 2008, I switched to a borrowed Casey Burns Boxwood flute, a better instrument all around as it is pitched properly and is in tune with itself. Its other advantage is that the spacing between the finger holes is more standard.

So, in the last 10 months I have changed from silver flute fingerings to keyless wooden flute fingerings. I have also adjusted my embouchure and reworked my coordination twice - the first time to cover the holds of the Burns small-handed flute, and then increasing the stretch to cover the spacing of the holes on the Boxwood standard holed flute.

You probably have no idea how much slow playing is needed to establish good muscle memory for playing tunes quickly. Lots, and then lots more. To keep from losing my mind, I started attending more sessions. I have used the sessions as 3-hour practice periods. Even though the music I played at faster speeds had a lot in common with Swiss cheese (lots of holes in the melody), I could focus on the group sound while mentally aiming my fingers at the holes and hoping for the best. In the process, I learned more tunes, and made a few new friends too. I'm now feeling pretty comfortable about being able to play the Burns Boxwood standard holed flute, albeit without much ornamentation.

To add some grace and style to my playing, I've started working through a book entitled Fliuit, Irish Flute Tutorial by Irish flutist June McCormack. June does an excellent review of ornamentation, with explanations notated and illustrated on the CD that comes with the book. Fliuit contains 64 tunes, most of which are unfamiliar to me. I purchased the book last summer at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, but I hadn't used it until now. (If you'd like to order a copy, click here.) It seems to be just what I need.

To illustrate what I find so inspiring, here's June McCormack and harpist/husband Michael Rooney playing a lovely set of hornpipes.

This new focus has renewed my enthusiasm for practicing. While I won't play like June in that video, playing BETTER by the time Willie Week rolls around has given me an exciting goal. In my practicing, my reading, and trip planning, I am truly Ireland bound!

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, April 12, 2009

WSHSO Gigs Galore!

Photo by Nuala Purcell, used with permission

I've not mentioned anything about the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (WSHSO) since our big Symphony Space concert last October. Lest you think nothing's happening, just let me tell you about the whirlwind of performances we've given lately.

Pre-St. Patrick's Day events:
The "season" of St. Patrick:
  • On March 12 we joined Mick Moloney and Friends at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for the annual Irish Heritage Concert.
  • On March 14 we played at the reception following the annual Irish language mass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan. A blogger in attendance noted our appearance and included a picture - click here to check it out.
  • On March 15 we played at the St. Patrick's Day party for residents of the Mary Manning Walsh Home.
  • On the same day, March 15, we played at the Irish American Historical Society's gala St. Patrick's day event. The picture at the top of this post was taken at that event. Here's another one which will give you a glimpse of the party's ambience.
Photo by Nuala Purcell, used with permission
    This star-studded occasion received New York Times coverage in which our banjo player Dan Neely was quoted. The party was mentioned in NY Insider TV, which also carried pictures of us!
  • On St. Patrick's Day - March 17 - we provided music for the Irish Consul General's St. Patrick's Day party. It was a beautiful sunny day so we were able to play outdoors on his penthouse balcony. And don't I just look like the cat that ate the canary, with the Empire State Building in the background there?
Photo by Daniel Neely, used with permission

Post-season engagements:
  • On March 23 we played at the Irish Consulate at the book launch of Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh’s new book of poetry entitled Péacadh. Ailbhe was the Irish Language Fulbright scholar this past year at Lehman College.
Photo by Thomas Ihde, courtesy of Scott Spencer
  • On March 26 we traveled to the Bookcourt in Brooklyn to play at the book launch for Robert Sullivan’s new book, The Thoreau You Don’t Know. As a result of our performance there, we were mentioned several times in blog posts. (1) Photographer Eric Etheridge submitted these two short posts from his iPhone while the event was in progress! Every Reading Should Have a Band and Robert Sullivan Reads from his new book on Thoreau (2) On March 28, Robert Sullivan cited Eric's posts on his own blog post entitled Captured, then (3) on April 2 Robert posted a video of the entire event (about 1 hour) which includes one set of tunes at the beginning and all of the music we played after his 30 minute talk.
  • On April 5 the WSHSO was the featured guest of the New York Packet, South Street Seaport’s resident folk singing group at the monthly folk concert held in the South Street Seaport Museum. We presented about 45 minutes of music.
  • On May 5 we will play at the Airneal na Bealtaine, an evening of traditional music by NYU students and WSHSO in celebration of Spring.
  • On May 16 WSHSO will perform in Battery Park City - watch our Myspace site for details.
In addition to these official bookings, we often support each other at sessions around town when various people in the group serve as session leaders in local pubs.

Needless to say, after all these appearances, our playing is very tight right now, and we are thoroughly enjoy playing together. We are all grateful to Mick Moloney for his sponsorship and guidance. Global person that he is, he can't make all our gigs, but when he's there, he adds his own distinctive spark to our sound.

This post brings you up to date on my 2009 St. Patrick's Day Irish music adventures. In keeping with all these great memories, let me wish you a belated Happy St. Patrick's Day. Looking at the clock, maybe I'd better quickly say Happy Easter too, before that holiday passes by as well!

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement