Another Fantastic Asheville Trip

I just got back yesterday from my trip to Asheville where I hung out for 5 days with my absolutely fabulous fiddle pal Beanie Odell.

My first day there was warm and we headed out of town to a lovely trail along the French Broad river, where we hiked to a perfect swimming hole. Really. River swimming isn’t something I really get to do in Tucson; floating a bit with the current while watching the fish below in the very clear water was sublime.

Here’s a heron I saw on the way back:

We played a fair amount of tunes, and talked about tunes, and listened to tunes.  And there was lots of Boggle, the nerdy and addictive word game for those of us who don’t have the patience or brains for Scrabble. Beanie, as it turns out, is a Boggle champ and the best I could do was come within a ten point margin of her consistently super-high scores.

But a big chunk of time we spent listening to tunes while painting Beanie’s coffee table– she’d found a discarded antique pine table, and re-planed and sanded it, and drew (freehand!!) a symetrical paisely design on top. Beanie started to paint it before I arrived, and wasn’t happy with the colors she’d picked out. Here’s the table as we started to “audition” different color combinations to improve her design:

And here you can see the “new” red and green on the right (they are darker) versus the old colors, which are lighter:

Here’s Beanie doing the brown outline on the big paisley shapes; what a pro! Painting this thing, and mixing up the colors just right, took hours.  Good thing there was a nearly complete Irish fiddle digital archive in the house!

Working at a task while listening to tunes is a great way to get them in your head. We both managed to learn the 5 part jig Helvic Head as played by Fisherstreet on their 1991 recording Out in the Night.

Here’s the finished tabletop…

…and here we both are with our painting handiwork.

All it needs is a coat of shellac, and it will be ready for a circle of musicians and some good craic!

I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Asheville. I already miss having someone around who really gets the spirit of Irish music.

Irish Music in Tucson: Aris Plays at Prince Pizza


I met up with my music pals Richard and Margy at a local pizza restaurant–Prince Pizza–where we had a gig the other night: our little trio is called Aris. We have lots of material, but still have to decide what to play. It was fun; we’ve got a gig on November 17th at the same place. Nice to have a little extra cash!

Fiddle Tune Up For Newfoundland Trip

I’m getting ready for the Port Kirwan Come Home Year in Newfoundland, which starts on August 5th; that means getting my fiddle in shape, as I hope to share some tunes at the reunion, as well as attend some Irish sessions in St. John’s: there seem to be quite a few each week, no surprise there!

I put new Prim strings on my fiddle, except for the E string, which is a Pirastro Gold E; these aren’t fancy strings, they’re just good value and durable. I finally replaced the worn rubber bits on my Wolf SuperFlexible shoulder rest–above, you can see the new rubber bits on the left and the cruddy ones on the right that are yellow and hard with age. I’ve had that shoulder rest for almost 15 years and LOVE it. No other shoulder rest works for me. And as for the strings…I like the Prims, they’re predictable, stay in tune and don’t give me any grief; and, they sound good and have good response.

I hope to have some good tunes up in Newfoundland; Arizona is a real desert when it comes to Irish music, the one huge drawback of living here.

One day I’ll live somewhere with a fantastic local Irish music community!!

Paddy Carty and Paddy Fahey Recording Now a Free Download

My email fiddle-pal Jake sent me the following link to a recently uploaded out-of-print record from 1969 of Paddy Fahey and Paddy Carty, Traditional Irish Music from Galway. It’s already on my Ipod and I love it.

The link is to Ceol Alainn, a great blog with all this great old Irish traditional music; I haven’t visited the site since last fall–I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve been so busy–when I downloaded all this great Paddy Canny stuff.

Anyone who either loves traditional Irish music, or who wants to broaden their knowledge beyond what’s easily available on CD, this is a fantastic place to hear the pure drop.

Rainy Day Minutiae

Rainy days are rare here in Tucson. Last year was a drought. So far this year, there’s been lots of rain due to an El Nino weather pattern; it’s been unusually wet.

I started my rainy day by making some yummy chocolate chip/dried cherry/walnut scones:

Then I swam laps in the rain, something I don’t get to do too often; and as it was cold, no one was in the pool.

Then I learned a new fiddle tune. I wrote it down, not because I’m note-dependent, but because I’m making myself a tune-book of super tunes I’ve gotten from friends, it’s a tribute I suppose: I’m very lucky in that some great players have shared tunes with me over the years. Plus, some of these tunes I really don’t get to play with anyone around here. So, this helps me remember them. Maybe one day I’ll live in a place where I can play these tunes with someone, or play them at a session. How cool would that be?

Today’s tune is the Leitrim Lilter by Charlie Lennon. This blog is in the public domain, and while it’s unlikely Charlie would ever see it, I just want to apologize to him anyway for my transcription. There’s a tune-book of his that goes with his CD Musical Memories, in which he’s transcribed his tunes, and it’s a given he’d do a much much better job than me in writing down his own compositions! Now that I think about it, I’d like to get Charlie’s CD and book. I’d like to know the story behind the tune.

Then…the day just disappeared. Why does time go so fast? Suddenly it was dinner time. I cooked up some polenta; one part water to one part organic polenta. I brought the water to a boil, slowly poured in the polenta, and stirred at a boil for 3 minutes. Then, off the burner:

I added chopped scallions, garlic, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil and turned it into that pyrex dish above, which I’d brushed w/olive oil:

That baked for 30 minutes at 350. I then washed yesterday’s kale and beet greens from the River Gardens farm stand:

The greens in the colander got dumped into a pot of boiling water, and they cooked on medium-high for 5 minutes. I saved the water the greens were cooked in; I’ll use it for soup or just drink it–it’s not that disgusting sounding, it actually tastes pretty good with a dash of salt and it’s good for you, too! I’ve always done this, but then I heard Michael Pollan talking on CSPAN (yes, I am a dork) about his new food book and apparently this is one of his recommendations, too; so maybe more people are now doing what I’ve always done.

Anyway. The cooked greens I rinsed w/cool water, squeezed a bit, and then tossed them in the wok with a bit of bacon schmalz. Just a tablespoon. But even that was too rich; I think I’ll stick with plant-based fats next time. Here is my rainy day meal: polenta, beet greens and salmon:

Good Craic, Cookies and Tunes

For those of you who don’t know what craic is, read the definition here.

It’s my good fortune that David Levine and Roz McLean are spending part of the winter in Tucson; David has a great sounding concertina–for the life of me I cannot figure out how anyone can play that instrument, but he does it well. Sounds lovely with the fiddle.

David also plays the flute.  It’s great to have someone in town who plays all of my favorite tunes. We were trying to remember a really cool jig by the flute player from Offaly, John Brady, when Roz took this photo:

We also had a few chocolate-drop cookies I made; I follow this recipe, except I use 1 cup cocoa powder (Ghiradelli) and 1/2 cup butter and only good quality chocolate chips. It’s my favorite cookie recipe.

Transcription Ambition: Organizing the Impossible

Yesterday, Sunday,  Gordon and David and Roz came over and we had some tunes around the dining room table; sounded very good. We’ll go at it again before Christmas.

I’ve been trying–slowly–to transcribe some of my favorite really big and juicy tunes:

The notation is like a scrapbook of where I’ve been tune-wise and where I’d like to revisit: since I’m neither a child prodigy or a teen fiddle phenom when it comes to Irish music, I need something to remind me of what I once bothered to learn–because tunes just go in and out of my head, it’s ridiculous, regardless of how often I may hum, lilt or play a tune.

So, writing them down helps; but it doesn’t entirely stave off the entire Second Law of Thermodynamics, as it applies to Irish music (which it does, I’m quite certain). The tunes I’m writing out now are  simply THE best tunes I’ve ever gotten, so I’m really motivated to try and retain them; they’re from Beanie Odell (of the band The Red Wellies)  in Asheville, NC. Beanie she is a very gifted performer and teacher of Irish fiddle, and she’s been kind enough to share with me not just many of her tunes but also her ideas about how I could improve my playing.

Beanie herself writes down tunes and her transcriptions are very nice indeed.  I’m not the only one trying to create some order out of the loopy endless curlicues that are Irish  tunes.

I hope I can move to Asheville one day. From an Irish fiddle standpoint, it would be just amazing. I’d have both fiddles and potatoes coming out of my ears, 24/7.

Traditional Irish Music Session in Tucson!

There are no bells and whistles with this post; no photos or MP3 uploads….yet. Next time. You’ll just have to believe me when I say today we had a super traditional Irish music session here in Tucson; it was a house session; and like in ye olden days, the kitchen table was moved aside to make room for a circle of musicians. We had:  one flute, two fiddles, one bodhran, one lovely voice for song, one guitar, one mandolin, and one set of amazingly in tune uilleann pipes (no small feat for this climate).  In addition to the usual war-horse tunes played at sessions (what I think of as the “global Irish repertoire”) we had some great tunes by the likes of Paddy Fahy and Sean Ryan that are less commonly heard, at least around here. All in all the sound was great and the craic even greater. Well done everyone!

The next house session is set for Sunday November 15th. I’ll report more then.