Music has become such a big part of my life. It's what brought me to meet you in the first place (see last post). Something about your traditional music wrings gladness out of my dream-drenched sensibilities. It's hard to explain. First it was the sweetly poignant lyrics of your ballads, then the slow, provocative moods of your airs. Just in these last few years since retirement have I been finally seized by the captivating rhythms of your dance tunes and I have the time to study and learn them.
I find them extremely challenging to play on the fiddle, especially up to speed. The Irish style of play is generally known for its ornamentation and brisk tempos. Last summer I met a busker in Ennis, County Clare who was playing some beautiful Bach pieces on a street corner. I asked him to play an Irish reel and he said that was too hard for him. I remember the feeling of my heart sinking a full octave as I realized if it was hard for this guy, it was going to be all but impossible for me.
I am basically self-taught, which is something I confess with shame and deep regret. I have taken random lessons here and there, but I wish I had been able to find a gifted diagnostician I could stick with... someone who could pinpoint my weak spots and prescribe the right remedy to make me really sound the way I pretend I'm sounding when I'm playing my heart out at home alone. I've always been willing to put in the time, but progress is slow when you're trying to get a briar out of your own foot (especially if it's been embedded in there for years).
But I have made some progress. In fact, I now find I can keep up with most jigs and a few reels at the local trad session here in Thurles. It helps that the musicians are welcoming and supportive. They are phenomenally accomplished but they play because they love the music, not because they want to show off to the crowd. There's an atmosphere of esteem for one another that creates a powerful synergy, elevating the music to its rightful place of honor. Listeners show up every Wednesday night to share a smile, a Guinness and an appreciation of the flutes, the whistles, pipes and accordions, guitars and banjos, bodhrans and, of course, the fiddles. It's the magic that Americans hear about, but few get to witness.
|Wednesday session at the Monk's, Thurles|
|Sharing a song in Doon in Oct.|
|With the lads in Clarke's, Galway|
These sessions don't always take place in a pub. Private music parties are occasionally held in homes. We were invited to one Saturday night.... a congenial group of friends and relatives (about 20), seated randomly in a small kitchen like jigsaw pieces on a table, just waiting to be fitted together in song. There were a few snacks, some beer and wine, three guitars, a harmonica, my fiddle, a piano accordion and lots of eager voices. No microphones, no spectators, just spontaneous breaking into everything from The Galtee Mountain Boy to the Eagles, with a jig or two thrown in for good measure. We left at two and that seemed way too soon.
And so, dear Ireland, I'm trying to rosin up my bow every day. The session leader here in Thurles is a retired teacher and is personally helping me learn the tunes the locals play. It seems the deeper I sink into your soul, the softer the cushion. Now.... enough of this writing......back to my practice.
(btw, dear readers, you may have noticed I changed the subtitle of my blog. I'm no longer feeling like a "groupie" here... more like family).