Saturday, February 02, 2008

"The Office" (workstation series) 090 (catch-as-catch-can edition)

Absolutely stunningly-good session last night. The last thing you might expect, on an off-night when everybody's tired at the end of Week 4. But, there were some old friends in the house, and dear relations in from overseas (including some who we knew in anecdote and legend before we ever met them), and for whatever reason the room was quiet, so we could sing songs and play slow airs, and slow spooky dance tunes, using a dynamic range we almost never get to employ. You can't predict those nights but it's nice when they come our way.

Of course, the fact that I had actually practiced yesterday might have something to do with it too: my lifestyle this semester is so insane that it's been almost impossible to get up at my usual 4:30am to practice--I'm lucky if I get 6 1/2 hours to sleep as it is. Trying to improve the regularity of my practice regimen. My ability to hear and remember and pick up tunes on the fly is not eroded by lack of practice, but my hand-strength and stamina suffer: I don't play as clean, as fluidly, or with as much dynamic control. Of course, bashing it out in a noisy smoky pub is also probably not the best regimen either.

So a quiet night, and old friends in the room, was just what the Doctor needed. And to hear my brother-in-music Steve sing a song he'd written about a man from his childhood on the streets of Belfast, with Steve's auntie, who'd known Willie Calvin as a neighbor, in the room, was a pretty magical moment: gave you the sense of the hackles rising and of tears flowing that Robert Graves said true poetry evoked.

Crazy-good dance, in the room depicted above, on last Monday. There have been various forms of Celtic music-and-dance here in town for a number of years, and certainly the incidence and visibility of same have jumped over the past seven years, but to date there hasn't been much in the way of Irish social dancing, the "sets" which were the principle form of entertainment and demand for music in the Gaeltachtai of the Irish countryside. It's great dancing (sort of like a more flowing, intricate, and elegant square-dancing), descended from the Continental dances (quadrille, minuet, cotillion) brought by French dancing masters in the 18th century, but it takes some learning, and some teaching. We're in a situation now where we might have enough visibility, enough of a core audience, to make it work--historically, most people in the Southwest who are interested in/conscious of any kind of "Celtic" heritage have been more cognizant of the Scottish influence--both more visible, more colorful (tartans, swords, and family crests ad nauseum at the "Celtic festivals"), and more reputable than the Irish cousins. The folks who are into "heritage" tend to be the Scottish Games, border collies, kilts, and "kirking of the tartans" types, who want to parade around, talk about their clansmen ancestors, and so forth, and for whom music tends to be more adjunct and lifestyle attribute than participatory activity or learning tradition.

It's been nice to build more of a presence and a slate of participatory activities for the Irish side. And the dancing, when it works (teacher, students, musicians, space, timing all essential) is a great focal point. We're blessed with a couple of excellent sets teachers who are willing to donate time and expertise to getting it off the ground. Inaugural event was jammed, and more than a little bit chaotic, but you hate to start laying down rules during people's first experience--better to let the contradictory energies, and those who, because unsure of what's supposed to happen, either try to take charge, or show off, and let things find their own level a little bit. Next time will be the time to set some ground rules.

Didn't get near as much done today as I'd hoped, but 25 comments on students' wiki-homepages, a 51:00 minute podcast, a radio show, and two more finished brass charts, will have to do.

Braggin' rights: Texas "State of the Arts" license plate featuring Blind Lemon Jefferson, on the back of our DFH (dirty-f*****-hippy) high-mileage Honda CRV "Jacky" (after Jack Kerouac), which old music friend David found for us on a lot in Lansing Michigan and drove non-stop to Texas for us--a Kerouackian journey indeed.

Below the jump: dust-storm sunset on the South Plains. Below that, a scrubbed-air post-storm morning.

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