Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Harp Before the Moon

The Harp Before the Moon - traveling Ireland with the harp:

Sunday, September, 23, 2007
Lahinch and Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland

For the past several days I’ve been wearing 2 pair of earrings in a back to front configuration (2 holes in each ear you see)…one ear would have a silver harp in front of a copper BC native moon, the other ear had the moon in front of the harp. It occurred to me the other day as I was talking a photo of my harp in front of the sea, that the harp is my expression outward toward the elements. And so as the phrase, “the harp before the moon” appeared against the backdrop of strings and surf, it seemed a fitting opening phrase in this halting and barely beginning expression of playing harps with the sessions in pubs in County Clare.

In Lahinch on Thursday night last, Debra and I “opened” the evening’s music with our harps in the front room of The Cornerstone Pub, then joined the fiddle and flute players in the back room when they arrived. They were hot stuff! Young married folks from the US living the tradition-musician dream in Ireland, as she was from an Irish family up the coast, but as we talked between sets, I learned that they had both worked at Dusty Strings in Seattle…so Sarah from the shop and Damien from the store both say hello to Eileen, Molly, and all our harper friends there! We joined in the sets as best we could, and sometimes we actually had the key and basic chords in place just before the tune ended! But we also played some solo tunes each, as well as the duo tunes that we have been working on together. All in all, it was a great time, and people (musicians and pub-goers) were enthusiastically supportive of our contributions.

The next night a different group of players took the back room of The Cornerstone, but we were content to sit and listen, and chat with other visitors. A choir group from Holland sang wonderful songs in English, I think! What I mean is that they were phonetically singing the English lyrics as they read the lead sheet, but didn’t really know the words, and so the sound was an odd mix of unintelligible words with wonderful sound! They were buying traditional Irish cd’s and sheet music every where they travelled.

Then last night’s session was in O’Connor’s pub in Doolin. This is a big, rambling place, and the musician’s corner was anything but in a corner…it was front and center! They were raising hell when we got there, but we ate a bit and played a bit in a back room before getting the nod from one of the fiddle players we had met earlier in the hostel. That was the invitation to wriggle our way with harps over our heads, to two stools vacated for us. Oh my, now I felt intimidated! They were blistering hot, and seamlessly tight, but we opened with our new version of Loreena McKennitt’s “Beltane Fire Dance”, I followed with another McKennitt, “Between the Shadows”, and then we were off and away as accompanists with ears tight to the soundboard to find the key, the mode, the chords! The rhythm is never a problem; that fast reel just keeps the left hand ring finger pumping, and a jig is a joy for all 8 fingers to fly. In our next ‘lead’ spots we played a beautiful Breton tune I’ve been learning from Debra, “Tttryyllyygg” (sp???), O’Carolan’s “Clergy’s Lamentation”, a rather fractured version of “Butterfly”, on which they joined at a more stately tempo than they usually play, I’m sure! Our specialty seems to be “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore”, though only once, last week in Kilcolgan (Co. Galway) did one of the very elderly gents actually sing with us. I attempted my rendition of “Grenadier and the Lady/The Mowers/Bold Fenian Men” but it’s been a while since I’ve played that set at all, and even longer on the small harp!

Now we’re about to leave again, back on the road, this time to Dingle and environs, so more later! But a quick word about our harps…both made by Stoney End in Red Wing, Minnesota, mine is a Brittany 22 string double-strung harp in cherry; and Debra’s is their new Evensong, a 26 string ‘therapy’ harp with a very nice tone, and a good bass accompaniment to the higher pitch of the Brittany. So thanks, Gary and Eve, we are your appreciative ambassadors in the land of green, music, stone, cows, and the waxing moon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Dingle and Kenmare, Co. Kerry
Coda (and more coda!) to the above:

Monday morning in Dingle we walked into the music shop next to the B & B (one of the reasons for that choice of B & B by the way!) and who should we see but my friend Gregor Stevens from Seattle. We each knew the other was in Ireland (his homeland) but connecting would be a matter of the fates. Well, weren't the fates just with with us all! That night we attended a concert at the church next door (of course) where some popular and marvelous folks played an utterly beautiful two sets: Pauline Scanlon (vocals), Donagh O’Hennessy (guitar) and Owen (sorry, name escapes me) on uillean pipes. And to beat all, Gregor danced at their invitation, got the whole place energized with him, and received a cd from Owen for his efforts. He was brilliant! Then we played a little in the break of a set of a guitarist and accordion player (who was like the wind), and were received as warmly as ever.

Next day however, we came to Kenmare after the hair-raising drive from Killarney and here we were “discovered” while unpacking the car on the street; my hard-shell harp case is labeled, “harp” with a Seattle address all over it and our discoverers were indeed from Seattle. So once again, the B & B was across from the music shop, and the pub that was recommended to us was next door. I love these towns! After dinner we came into a fully packed room, with 3 players already in swing…fiddle, guitar, bodhran, and were welcomed in. And were we ever welcomed! Once unpacked and introduced to and by the other musicians, we started our contribution with “Paddy…” it’s a great opener for us. And the place went as silent as a tomb. You could hear the Guinness bubble. Now we’ve been invited by the other players to join them tonight at another pub a short drive away, and well, I think we just might! So stay “tuned” so to speak!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ireland at last!

September 9, 2007

The first stages are past now and the real journey has begun. This is Kilcolgan, on Galway Bay, not far from Galway city. I arrived here from Shannon at about 6 last night, after a detour through the musical hot spot of Ennis…and a sudden entrapment in a one way (my way!) lane that was probably a fine street 200+ years ago, but was now awash with pedestrians and a cacophony of colour. I believe I stumbled in on a Saturday market day! Goods of all kinds were displayed in booths and on tables, and the surge of crowd ebbed between the shops and in the lanes. After finally finding my cottage at Kilcolgan, an hour further north, I shopped for staples, and headed out the road west from here to Kinvarra, aiming for a sunset and shoreline…100 kmh is the posted speed limit for roads with no shoulder, where hedges or walls race within touching distance of the car ( I still do not “sense” the left side of the car well enough, and hope I’m not accumulating scratches from the foliage!), curves are sharp and blind, and despite my cautious slower speed on the “wrong” side of the road, it was a white knuckle drive, even more so coming back in the dark. But Kinvarra is a place I’ll go back to again soon for the music, perhaps even tonight. Today…I’ll jaunt into Galway city with my one of my new GSI books in hand, “Galway in Stone” which includes a walking tour around Galway of the various stone buildings. In particular, the local stone includes various types of granites, the famous Connemara Marble, and a fossiliferous limestone. A tourist with not only a camera but a hand lens, peering into the stone walls…should amuse someone!