3/16/2008

Magic of the Irish

All the planning, preparation, rehearsal and endless promoting comes down to this moment:

When the scene is set, the audience is hushed, the lights are down,
and everybody’s waiting for me to come out and hold the musical space for them.

I love the few quiet moments before a concert. I’m alone with my plans, only I know how it will all come together. The Band has rehearsed for weeks, Megan has been dancing to her recordings, I’ve been talking about the concert on my website, on the radio, in the newspaper. But I’m the only one with the master plan, and that small bit of time when I allow the anticipation to build before I walk out on stage is so full of possibility. I revel in it.

Last night's concert was magical. First Presbyterian Church and I have set quite the tradition for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration – they hold a hearty corned beef and cabbage dinner, and I give a concert afterward. The church always smells so good when I arrive to set up (and it’s too bad I can never eat before I perform, because I would definitely indulge in this stuff).

The concert was one of our best, if not our best, ever.

The Band and I felt like one instrument. Megan danced with so much joyful bounce. We were all smiles after the last song.
That the crowd decided to stand up and clap for us was an added bonus.
I was so happy I started clapping, too.

And then they all stood there. And stood there. So I surprised myself by making the offer — “Who wants to hear Danny Boy?” Evidently everybody, from the sounds of the clapping. It was the first time I had ever sung AND played Danny Boy in public. Usually, I let somebody else hit those high notes and I just play along. I looked up before the final chord and saw misty eyes, brothers holding hands, children nodding off on their parents’ shoulders.

I love my job.

(special thanks to my good friends Tim & Liz for taking these photos)

3/13/2008

A farewell song for the Cray Mansion

Photo from: www.mankatoywca.org/facility

She’s a grand lady of a house. The original owners gifted her to the YWCA in 1927, and she’s been in public use ever since.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been in the Cray Mansion over my lifetime. Craft classes and guitar lessons as a little kid (I failed guitar miserably). Yoga classes and meetings as an adult. As a harpist, I’ve played at numerous weddings, parties, social hours, presentations and receptions there.

And now she’s returning to private hands. The YWCA asked me to come and play for her good-bye party. I gladly said yes, though I’m running wild with preparations and rehearsals for the St. Patrick’s concert on Saturday.

It was a nice party. After I was done playing, I tiptoed upstairs one more time. Wandered over to the spiral staircase. Ran my hand over the gorgeous woodwork.

New owners, if you’re reading — treat her well.

3/05/2008

Band practice

Banish images of guys in a garage making loud noises and drinking beer. The rehearsals of Amy Kortuem and her Celtic Band are very civilized.

Very serious.

No visiting allowed. Especially no giggling.
Riiiight.

The band gathered in my living room with only a week and a half to go before our St. Patrick’s Day concert. The Band is so good to me. So generous with their time. So enthusiastic about the music and about performing it. And, somehow, everybody knows what I mean for them to play rather than what I’ve written for them to play.

After furiously scribbling a few notes on her music, Martha’s ready to go. Takes one huge breath and plays the new jig we’ve been learning in a blur, daring us to catch up with her. Marti limbers up her elbow, waits for her cue and takes off after Martha. And SamTheDrummer crouches over his bodhran, laying down the law and drumming like a madman.

Megan will be dancing her sweet little heart out at the concert again. I asked her to dance a hornpipe this year. She cheerfully tipped her head to the side, accessed her internal notes and took off across the floor. That girl can dance. Makes my old Irish dancing injury ache just looking at her.

The set list includes all the music from the new CD. We’ll also be playing Haste to the Wedding and The Wedding Night Jig in honor of SamTheDrummer’s engagement. There will be a wedding next spring, and I hear he’ll be arranging some very complicated music and making me play it. And I would deserve that.

Now’s concert crunch time. This year I’ve been remarkably calm. Perhaps the big, creative push of the fall and winter producing my video and my new recording have upped my adrenaline to a nice cruising altitude. Maybe it’s experience — having done this so many years in a row, I have things down to a science. I like to think we’ve settled into a Band nicely, and now music can just continue to flow.
It will be flowing steadily from this corner of the living room
until next Saturday, that's for sure.

3/03/2008

Welcome, new recording!

My new recording, The Month of January, arrived last week. I ripped open the boxes and just looked at the CDs all lined up inside.

I love the cover.
Those white and soft swirls, looking all dreamy and snowy.

Every time I design a big project like this, I learn more. I do believe I learned some good tricks with this one.

It has been quite a busy, creative and productive 6 months. Creating the music video in the fall and releasing it at my "To Drive the Cold Winter Away" concert in November was a huge undertaking. Talk about learning new things — I was using lingo by the end of that project that would have made me fit in with the techiest of them.

And then the idea — how about taking the music I’ve recorded for publicity and grant applications and put them together into an album. I looked everything over, did some careful listening…and miraculously the pieces just seemed to fall together beautifully. Almost like a story. I recorded a few more pieces so that all my originals would be on the album and sent it off. Started making plans for releasing it at the St. Patrick's Day concert.

The album is gorgeous, but it’s a little scary, putting my babies out there for the world to hear. So far, people who have received advance copies have been very enthusiastic and positive about the music. I’m so glad.

All in all, a good use of my normal hibernation time during the month of January. Hibernation can wait, right?

3/01/2008

And so it begins

Hi, I’m Amy.

I’ve played the harp since 1988. I love to make music, perform for people, give concerts and make recordings. I’m also a writer, a voracious reader and someone who borders on thinking way too much. I have a little house, a big garden, four harps, lots of books and three cats, and they all keep me busy, inspired and entertained.

Maybe you’ve never met me. Maybe you’ve seen me perform or enjoy my recordings. Maybe we’ve been friends for a long time. No matter — welcome to my blog and my musings on harps, music, gardens and life.

This blog got its official beginning on a January afternoon of this year. Brenda Flintrop of the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council called me and said, “I have good news for you – the board has awarded you the Artist Fellowship you applied for!”

I hung up the phone after thanking her and put my head into my hands in relief. Anyone who has written grants knows that it is a grueling process and lots of work. You get a beautiful picture of what you want to accomplish, and then you it into the hands of the good people on the granting board. And wait.

This time it was a happy ending. After several rejections over the past couple of years, I was starting to lose hope of getting more help to forward my career. This Fellowship is exactly what I needed to get things moving. So, forward!

The Fellowship project was to redesign and update my website, www.amykortuem.com. The existing website was was…fine. But over the years, it had been updated and pieced together and added to by several very kind and very techy friends, and it didn’t have a cohesive look. And that look certainly wasn’t “me” anymore, nor was it representative of what my music and I are all about.

I’ve been working with VoyageurWeb to get the design of the site down (it’s gorgeous!), and to get the content updated. New photos, new music samples, new ways to interact with people. Yvonne Cariveau, my good friend and the owner of VoyageurWeb, suggested that one of those ways to interact with people who are interested in me and my music would be…a blog.

“A blog?” I asked. “How will I find enough to talk about?” Yvonne laughed out loud and told me she had no doubt I’d find plenty of things to talk about. I’m not going to read too much into that comment.

And so now the blogging begins. I’m looking forward to sharing about what I’m up to, what I’m working on, new music, life and lots of thoughts along the way. I hope you’ll enjoy this little insight into my creative world and all its aspects and that you’ll come back to visit me here often.

I welcome all your comments and can’t wait to hear from you.

Amy