Welcome Home

This is what I see almost every time I come home.
Harry, welcoming me.

OK. He's really waiting for cat chow, but what a wonderful sight. He's magnificent. People tell me all the time, "Hey, I drove by and saw Harry. He's huge."

Yep, he's huge. At last checkup, he was 12.8 pounds of white, hairy love.

He's a good boy. (And I need to wash my windows...)


On the radio

KMSU Radio 89.7 FM was having a St. Patrick's Day party at the Jazzman Cafe in the student union at Minnesota State University, and they invited me and the girls of the Celtic Band to play (SamTheDrummer was working in the cities and couldn't make it). Amid the bustle of students and the whir of the cappuccino machines, we played Irish jigs, reels, sad songs and ballads.

That's the ever-dashing Jim Gullickson on the left,
making sure things run smoothly
and providing a play-by-play of our show.
Though I couldn't get him to dance no matter what I did.

I guess I'd forgotten to tell Marti and Martha
that we were going to play live on the air.
But, as always, they rose to the occasion.

Then Marti raced off to her strings festival and Martha went home to her family. And I took the harp home, retreating to the little Irish cottage of my fantasies, remembering the waves pounding the Western shore, smelling the peat and the green...

And so closed the last gig of the St. Patrick's season, 2009.


Just me and the harp

...alone in the church after the dress rehearsal for the Celtic Concert last Friday night. Thinking long, quiet, mysterious thoughts. I'm still thinking them, during this week off after the concert.

Deep, mysterious thoughts don't just happen
when I'm sitting behind the harp.

Thinking about the music.
About how it happens.
How I come up with the ideas for concerts,
arrangements, sounds, set lists.
Despite what's happening in my life or the world.

The harp and I somehow figure out what to do.
Sometimes I just shut myself off
and let the sound come through.

In the shadows, it's like the harp becomes a living creature.
Spine and nerves and frame
come to life. And sing.

We worked out many things, the harp and I, that night before the concert. Drawing in strength in preparation for the performance to come. Concentrating on building my energy, saving it. Releasing worry, fear, sadness. Letting the music calm me, reassure me that everything would be fine.

And the night of the concert, it was fine. It was so much more than fine. At one moment while I played, I remember feeling like I was somehow outside myself, watching myself do this, give myself over to the music, give the music over to the audience.

It was a beautiful concert.


My Irish step dancing career

It wasn't stellar, let me tell you. I took six weeks of lessons a couple of years ago from Erin Cooney. I learned the reel and was in Heaven. I practiced it everywhere (the living room, the sidewalk, anywhere with an expanse of floor). And in front of anyone who would watch (much to my mother's embarrassment).

Then came the slip jig. I love slip jigs. The 9/8 meter, the way 3 extra beats are just slipped into a 6/8 jig like a little elbow in the side and a laugh.

Except there was no laughing when I was halfway through the dance around and my left calf muscle pulled. Ow. Owie. I limped and stretched for a week and sadly hung up my ghillies (Irish step dancing shoes).

So when Megan, my sweet Irish step dancer, gave me one of the t-shirts she made for her new Maloney School of Irish Dance, I felt so cool.

Like I could at least look the part if I couldn't actually dance it.

Megan came to my birthday party a couple of years ago and wrote me a poem that ended with the line: "You play, I'll dance, it's just better that way." She's right. But I love my t-shirt. And I still look longingly at my ghillies once in a while.

And, if the beat is right, I'll still take off down the center of the Mall in a reel. Especially if Mom is with me.


Happy St. Patrick's Day

The harp is resting in its corner. The 18-year-old Jameson is fragrant in its glass. St. Patrick's Day is coming to a close. And the harpist is nostalgic for Ireland.

And moments like these...playing the harp in the ruins
of a church on the Western shore, May 2006.

Eire, I am Nine Waves closer to you in my dreams tonight.


I'm pretending...

I'm pretending that I'm snuggled in a little stone cabin on the west coast of Ireland, watching the waves come in and practicing the harp. The lights are dim, because Irish cabins are, by nature, dim, and the candles are lit.

I'm also pretending this is a peat fire.
If I squint and imagine that peaty, earthy smell,
it'll do.

Beats watching the ground blizzard race across the frozen ground here in Minnesota.

Really, it's all about setting the scene-behind-the-scenes for the Celtic concert on Saturday. About getting me into the space where I can feel the music consistently and easily, connecting with where it came from, pulling those images from the strings for myself and my audience.

I know the Arran Boat Song and the Skye Boat Song so well I can close my eyes at times and keep playing. Imagine the waves and the rocking of the boat, and make the harp follow my thoughts. I think about what Wales would be like, though I've never been there, and imagine the lark soaring, making the harp soar with my thoughts. I remember Ireland and its rich, green energy, and the harp feels it, too.

And the harp and I will carry these scenes with us and perform them for you on Saturday.


What's getting me through the winter Part 5

This tea.
Organic green tea. I haven't had coffee since July 08.
I thought I would miss coffee this winter, but this tea
has been just as satisfying. It's been my constant companion.

And I love the inspirational message on the tag.
How true.


The Celtic Band gathers...

And it was bright and early on Saturday morning. The only time all of us could find to get together. A girl couldn't ask for better friends or band-mates.

Megan got out her tape recorder to record the jigs and hornpies she'll be dancing. She's graduating from high school in June, and we're considering this her final Irish dancing test. I'm sure she'll pass, but I'm thinking of flunking her so she stays in town to dance with us longer.

Marti regaled us with stressful tales of the complicated love-hate relationship she has with a piece she and Martha will be playing with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra tomorrow...it'll forevermore be known as "The Mahler."

But she said OF COURSE she likes Celtic music
much better than Mahler.

Everyone listened intently and (of course) agreed.

And then SamTheDrummer raided my silverware drawer...
there'll be interesting percussion at the concert!

It's all coming together so well. Very much looking forward to all things Celtic on March 14th.


You can only go so long without talking about Medieval music

So the Voxes have discovered. And so Sara and I remedied the situation by going to see Ann. Ann was singing in her alter ego band, Fish Frye, but that didn't stop the three of us from talking during breaks about Prima Vox, Medieval music and how much we've missed singing together since the concert on February 13.

Over wine and a rousing rendition of "Suzuki to Sturgis," Sara and I pored through the music she has been gathering. Hildegard chants. Songs to make merye. Medieval carols. Three-part beauties we wanted to stand up and sing right then, but Joe and Ann had already launched into "Pinball Wizard."

The result? There's a December concert in the works.
And we have a whole summer of singing ahead of us.


Who knew...

That the Welsh wrote racy love songs?

That the Scottish felt just as tragically about love as the Irish?

That the Irish wrote grave-dancing jigs?
(Yep, that one's called, "I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her Grave."
Read into it what you will...)

I didn't know any of this until I started planning this year's Celtic concert. Called "Celtic" because of the inclusion of said Welsh, Scottish and Irish music. And some of my originals. Because I'm Celtic, too.

I'll tell the stories behind these songs. Megan will dance to some of them. And the racy Welsh love song? If you're old enough, I'll even show you the lyrics. Whew. Steamy stuff.


What's getting me through the winter Part 4...

This quilt.
Hand-stitched by my great-grandmother.

My mom had this quilt top and a few others in a trunk for as long as I can remember. They were stitched by her grandmother, her father's mother. Nellie was her name. It's from her side that I get my tiny bit of Welsh heritage.

I used to get the quilt tops out once in a while and dream about someday learning how to finish them with intricate stitches and soft batting. One day in November, my Mom came over with a surprise for me. A friend had offered to finish the quilt tops for her, and Mom gave me first choice. I took this one, with its red border and red yarn and cheerful presence. My cousin took the other quilts for her girls.

I've thrown the quilt over my bed almost every night this winter. It's just the right amount of light warmth. And I feel snuggled in family history.

Upon closer examination...
are those GREEN PLATES I see on that square?


Getting ready for St. Patrick's Day

Posters, soon to be plastered about town.

Emails will be sent tonight. Newspaper and radio ads will run soon. I'll be interviewed on Talk of the Town and ArtCetera next week.

Celtic Band rehearsal is Wednesday. I'm keeping my voice limbered up despite this pesky cough I've been fighting for a couple of weeks.

The harp will be singing from its corner of the living room every night.


What's getting me through the winter Part 3...

This stuff: local maple syrup.
Made just a few miles from my house.
Boiled down over a fire in a stand of maples.
If you close your eyes, you can taste the
snow and the smoke and the wood that made it.

A friend gave me the syrup after my holiday concert in November and I've been carefully rationing it. Winter weekend mornings have been brighter and warmer with pancakes and waffles and this stuff.

By the way, here's my friend's family's pancake recipe. NEVER had better pancakes. This recipe is word-for-word from the family cookbook, thus the humorous side-notes. The batch makes more than two people can eat (unless one of you is very large and very hungry), but would be just right for four.


Sift into a mixing bowl...
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Beat together...
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter

Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix, saving butter until last.

This combination of ingredients can be easily changed for a smaller or
larger amount. Instead of buttermilk, sweet milk could be soured with
1 tbls of vinegar to a cup of milk.

Dick says to omit the butter or oil, Grace says it helps the cakes not
to stick to the pan. (Dick and Grace, the friend's parents)

We sometimes use some different flour (wheat, etc) instead of all
white. Blueberries can be added, too.

There are only two cardinal sins of pancake baking. Turning a cake
more than once and slapping the turner onto the pancake just after