St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Columbkille...and the Loch Ness Monster

 I covered them all at the last concert of this year's Irish Season. 

St. Patrick's Breastplate - or his Lorica, calling in the natural elements and his God for protection.

Invocation to St. Brigid - a Manx song women would sing at the doors of their homes on February 1, Brigid's feast day.

St. Columba's Prayer - a song attributed to St. Columba (Columbkille). And who wouldn't pray to this guy, as legend has it he once turned away a mighty monster coming out of Loch Ness and converted the Picts trembling beside him. (It's one of the first documented mentions of Nessie, thanks to an Irishman.)

I also serenaded the intimate crowd at Church of the Holy Communion in St. Peter with songs by Turlough O'Carolan, the most famous of the Irish bards, and with other beautiful, traditional Irish melodies.

It was a lovely way to end this year's Irish Season.


Hold, please.

I called the Mankato Clinic today to talk to my doctor about my asthma medication ('tis the season). While I was on hold, I listened to this lovely song and it took a few moments to realize...that it was MY music! It was "Gentle Maiden" from my album The Harp Her Soul Required.

I'd totally forgotten that I'd given the Clinic my CD for this purpose exactly. It was months and months ago and so much has happened in between. What a nice surprise that it's now official, and that I found out "in person."

I hope the music makes other patients' waits a little more relaxing, too.


The harp at Naniboujou Lodge

It was a spur-of-the-moment trip for me. Mom called the week before last and asked if I would join her and my Aunt Sheila for a weekend at Naniboujou Lodge on the shores of Lake Superior at Grand Marais.

WHAT? The week before a concert? It only meant one thing: I would have to take the harp along. Mom and Sheila didn't argue for a minute!

We crammed everything into Mom's car and hit the road.
The harp makes a nice pillow for a mid-trip nap.

While I've been to Lake Superior many, many times (I've written about them here and here), I've never visited in the winter. The Big Lake didn't disappoint. 

 The icy shores and the brisk breezes and the rocks are just as magnificent
in the winter as they are in the summer and fall when I usually visit.

Naniboujou Lodge has often been called "the Sistine Chapel of the North Woods" 
because of its painted dining room. A French-Canadian painter used
Cree-inspired designs and colors to capture the spirit of the legends
of Naniboujou, the Cree spirit of the outdoors.

And that fireplace! It's touted as the largest stone fireplace in Minnesota.
I was warm and toasty in front of it while I played for dinner 
on Saturday evening (my practice time for the day).

Another guest at the lodge that weekend was Curt Olson of Track Seventeen Productions, Inc. He specializes in ambient recordings, mostly natural sounds. But this time he got out his sound equipment and captured a harpist in her natural habitat, playing for people. You can hear part of that recording at his sound blog here.

Mom and Sheila and I had a beautiful weekend of reconnecting and discussing lots of topics, including spirituality and healing. We chose animal totem cards for fun and read about what we can learn from the creatures. Sheila chose the butterfly for transformation. Mom chose the swan for grace. I chose the turtle for honoring my creative source. All very pertinent to our individual life paths.

 And at a lovely gallery in Grand Marais, look what we found: 
rings to symbolize our messages. Perfect reminders of our time together.


Irish Concert 2010

 I am so proud of us.

Our "Songs of Myth and Magic" Irish Concert was indeed magical. Spring and a little mist were in the air, giving it a soft, Irish sparkle. The harp likes the weather slightly humid. I think it relaxes the wood just a little and lets it sing more easily. 

Martha's whistle sang like a beautiful fairy woman and tore up the room like a banshee's scream as the music required. Marti's fiddle (because her gorgeous violin becomes a fiddle when she plays Irish music), droned like an ancient voice and kicked it up perfectly during the jigs. And Sam's drumming kept us together like a single heartbeat (and his new drumming technique of hitting the rim with the tipper was an audience favorite).

 Who's that standing in the middle?
Why, it's Megan, the Irish step dancer!
And we're so happy that Megan has decided to attend Minnesota State University, Mankato, for a few years so that we can enjoy her dancing. She was amazing. Megan's jigs, slip jigs and hornpipes were so good they were distracting to a "certain harpist" who could see those dancing feet through the strings and almost lost track of where she was in the music!

There were only a few instances where the fairies played mischief with me. One was the high G in "Song of the Pucai," which I had practiced over and over and over and was so worried about. I hit the note, but the microphone couldn't handle the pitch and fuzzed out the speakers (how do you like that for a techy explanation). The other was when my new spiral ring I was so proud of flew off my finger and bounced across the floor after we played "King of the Fairies." Both harmless, both added to the mystical, magical, fun quality of the concert.

A great success, and the crowd loved my new "The Five-Dollar Goat & Chickens in the Yard" jig-slip jig set. Happy, happy night filled with music and joy.


The Five-Dollar Goat and Chickens in the Yard

Amid all this playing of songs about ghosts, banshees, fairies and the like in preparation for my "Songs of Myth and Magic" Irish Concert on Saturday, I suddenly got inspired to write a new Irish-style jig.

About, of all things, a $5 goat.

The story: last spring, Sara came to a Prima Vox rehearsal laughing and telling us that she'd just seen an ad in the shopper for Goats for Sale: $5. I couldn't help thinking "The Five-Dollar Goat" would be a great title for an Irish jig. But we were set to rehearse magnificats and psalms and Hildegard chants that day, and the drones and the harmonies pushed the idea of the jig to the back recesses of my mind.

However, I seriously wanted this $5 goat. I thought it would be a great (and cheap) alternative to a lawnmower. I'd read that they could be walked on leashes like dogs, and could even be trained to carry packs. For helping when I hiked to the liquor store, for example. But I knew I'd be met with the same opposition as when I'd approached the North Mankato mayor (actually, I accosted him when he was jogging down the street one day) about raising chickens in my backyard. "No, they're smelly," he'd said. "And noisy."

I didn't get to make "smelly" comparisons between gas grills, gas lawnmowers, lawn-beautification chemicals and 4 chickens right then because the police pulled up and told me to stop blocking traffic.

Fast-forward to late winter 2010. I was deep in finalizing the set list for our Irish Concert, and I needed to program another jig for Megan to dance. I didn't like anything I was finding and was getting frustrated. So I took to my favorite procrastination activity: blog reading. One of my favorites is Cold Antler Farm. Lo and behold, the author had just written about her goat, Finn, and the jig idea came rushing back.

But first, the research. I grew up in the country, but not on a farm. I had no idea how goats sounded, how they moved, how they behaved. Lots and lots of Google searches and YouTube videos later, and lots of conversations with people about goat sounds — and naturally, lots of hysterical varieties of baaaa-ing to each other — I had gotten the idea. (SamTheDrummer even suggested this video. Hilarious!) I wrote a three-section jig in e minor filled with repeated notes, jumping intervals and kicky 8th note runs. I loved it.

But after a few days, it seemed lonely. I wanted Megan to dance longer, too. And that's when the idea of turning this into a mini-commentary on "why can't Amy raise goats and chickens in her backyard." I added a slip jig called "Chickens in the Yard" in G major with just a little bit of a rooster crow interval for a "there, take that!"

The band and I have been rehearsing the "The Five-Dollar Goat" and "Chickens in the Yard" for weeks now, and they sound so natural together, like a big, happy backyard. Tonight, Megan came over to hear the jig for the first time and to rehearse her dance moves. We had good laughs about adding in goat kicks and high leaps and even adding in a rendition of the chicken dance. I have no doubt Megan will make these dances as traditionally classy as they can be, despite their earthy beginnings.

(Anti-livestock members of the North Mankato City Council, you are cordially invited to my concert.)


Irish Concert: "Songs of Myth and Magic" – March 13th!

It's almost here.
Saturday, March 13 at 7:00 p.m.

This year, the band and I will be performing songs about the fairies, banshees and ghosts the populate Irish mythology and music. Some are mystical, some are danceable (wait until you see Irish dancer Megan Maloney step to these!) and some are heartbreakingly beautiful.

The concert will also be the debut of two of my new pieces, a jig called "The Five-Dollar Goat" and a slip jig called "Chickens in the Yard." What do goats and chickens have to do with Irish-style jigs? Oh, just you wait and see!