Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Fourth Letter

You coming?
Dearest Ireland,

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
Last weekend Doc and I drove to Galway where three of our musician friends were playing at a small, village pub at the request of a mutual friend who lived there. They invited me to jam along with them and I did, although I think I looked more confident than I sounded. I loved every minute of it though. And it's always a treat to sing a song or two later in the evening (earlier in the morning?) when things are mellow and the microphone gets passed around with the pints.  It's in the spirit of generosity that ballads are offered and accepted... like warm slices of black pudding.... graciously passed around and savored.

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).


  1. Love this! So happy for you! It makes me long to hear you play....and to be a fly on the wall - IF my eyes would stay open that late! :) ♡

  2. Love this! So happy for you! It makes me long to hear you play....and to be a fly on the wall - IF my eyes would stay open that late! :) ♡

    1. It's funny how I got used to the late hours. It now seems natural to stay up until 2.

  3. I, too, am happy for you! I wish I were a louse on your head.

    1. And to think...I've barely scratched the surface ( ;

  4. Oh, "Fibrin is my Icelandic name. -- Ernie