How I knew I was in Ireland...

After the 2-hour drive to the airport, the two-hour wait at the gate, the nearly 3-hour flight to Pennsylvania, the 5-hour layover there and the 6-hour flight over the "pond," I was in Ireland. It was like a homecoming to look out the plane window and see that 40-shades-of-green patchwork landscape. A sigh.

If I'd had any doubt about actually being in Ireland, it was swept away after my first real conversation after landing. It was at the train station in Dublin, where I was going to catch a train to Drogheda, the first stop on the way to the first music festival I would attend. The information I'd gotten from the festival said there was a 1:30 p.m. train from Dublin to Drogheda, but there was only an 11:22 a.m. train listed on the board.

At about 11:00 a.m. I got worried and I asked two of the men by the gate about it. The conversation when something like this...

Me: Is there also a 1:30 train to Drogheda?

Irishman 1: Well, there's the 1:30 Belfast train.

Me: But I'm going to Drogheda.

Irishman 2: Well, you could take the 11:22 to Drogheda.

Me: I know, but I wondered if there is also a 1:30 to Drogheda.

Irishman 1: There's the Belfast train.

Irishman 2: Or the 11:22 to Drogheda.

Me: So what do you recommend I do?

Irishman 1: Well, obviously you should stay here with us and have coffee.

Irishman 2: And is that a harp you're carrying, now? Well, then you could play us some tunes and stay all day.

I ended up understanding that the Belfast train stops in Drogheda, but I decided to take the 11:22 to Drogheda anyway just to be sure. When I asked Irishman 1 and Irishman 2 if I had time to catch the 11:22 (since it was now 11:10), they said...

"Yes, of course. Plenty of time. But you'd better run."

Yep, I was in Ireland.


Playing up a storm

The Midwest Women's Leadership Institute at Minnesota State University, Mankato, completed its second year with great success. They asked me to play for their champagne celebration (for the second year in a row) and I was thrilled to oblige.

It was going to be a fancy event. I knew well ahead of time what I would play, what I would wear, when I would arrive.

Then the sky started to look like this.

And then it got darker by the moment. It was oppressively hot and humid. A storm was brewing and I was going to be danged if would get caught in it wearing cute shoes. So I packed up the harp and all its accoutrements and rushed everything to the truck before I changed.

It's a tight squeeze in there. You should see it
when I have two harps crammed in the back.

I hurried to get ready before it started to rain. I changed my mind about my cute shoes and my dress at the last minute (why get a dry-clean-only dress soaked on its first wearing?). I was just trying to tame my humidity-wild hair when the wind picked up. Deciding further beautification attempts would be futile, I ran to the car as the first fat raindrops started to fall.

I was almost to the university when I realized that leaving home was a bad decision. The sky was swirling and green. The wind was shaking the car. When I pulled up at the door, the tornado sirens went off. I rushed inside with my purse and music bag. When I turned back to get the harp, the women tried to stop me. But there was no way I was going to leave the harp in the truck with this kind of storm raging through. I made it through the door with the harp over my shoulder and the rain let loose in a crazy torrent.

And here's where we spent the next hour and a half: 
the tornado shelter in the basement of the Taylor Center.

The lights went off a few times. We could hear the sound of the hail and the rain on the roof even though we were underground. Friends, husbands and mothers (okay, my mother) called our cell phones to check on us and give us weather updates (power outages, trees down, tornadoes on the ground). But the mood was surprisingly merry despite the threatening weather. Being in that kind of a storm makes you realize how powerless you are to the elements when the elements are raging. It's nothing less than a total surrender. When I called Ethel, my 91-year-old neighbor, to see if she was safe, she put it this way: "I'd probably kill myself trying to get down the basement steps, so I'll just sit here in the living room and take my chances. It's not like I can stop the storm anyway." Well put, sweetheart.

Eventually the sirens stopped and the tornado warning expired and the all-clear sounded. There was definitely light at the end of the storm.

Like, for example, this. 

And, of course, this.


The "harp" in harpsichord

When I was a little girl, I had a recurring dream about standing on my tip-toes and reaching up to play the keys on a piano that had two keyboards. Except that the color of the keys in my dream were reversed from those on a standard piano (the large keys were black and the small keys were white). When I first encountered a a harpsichord in junior high school, the old dream finally made sense and I knew that it hadn't been about a piano at all. It started a new dream, too: one day, I was going to play the harpsichord.

And I did when I reached college. I built on my piano background and took two years of harpsichord lessons as part of my music minor degree. I fell in love with the instrument. I loved the slight resistance of the keys as they activated the plectra that plucked the strings. I loved the physical grip of my fingers on those keys. I loved the noisy, active sound it made up close (nothing like the delicate tinkles you hear harpsichords make from afar).

And I got really annoyed when I told people I was studying harpsichord and they always answered, "Oh, you're a harpist!" No, I'd repeat, I play a harpSICHORD. And I'd be met with blank stares. How dare they call me a harpist! Little did I know that one day I'd have "harpist" printed on my business cards and that the word would almost become part of my last name, as in "Oh, you're Amy KortuemTheHarpist!"

I got to revisit a harpsichord up close when Prima Vox sang with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra in May. David Fienen accompanied us on the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" and he also played played with the orchestra. I had the distinct privilege of being his page-turner during Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. The notes on the page were nearly black and watching him command the keyboard with fingers that blurred from the speed at which he played was thrilling.

David Fienen's hands, warming up for the Brandenburg 5.

I also got a few minutes alone with the gorgeous instrument at rehearsal. It was sentimental and moving to let my own fingers remember their way around the keyboard. The harp is such a physically and musically satisfying instrument to play. But I think the harpsichord, the first instrument of my dreams, is a very close second.


Music on Main with the Celtic Band

The town of Henderson hosts its "Music On Main" performance series every summer, and the Celtic Band and I love playing there. It's a fun atmosphere, always a great crowd and they let me heckle them mercilessly about dancing when we play jigs (which they never do, but that doesn't stop me).

The stage is a paved area outside Toody's Cafe.

Sam The Drummer takes a break. Sorry girls, he's married. 
In fact, his lovely wife Jess took all these photos for us.

Martha set the night a-flame with those blisteringly fast jigs she played.
We're a multi-generational band now, as Martha's new little grandchild
was born just a few days before we performed 
(she's promised to bring up the child to learn Irish whistles).

Marti drove down from the cabin to play with us.
She just became a grandmother, too!
I'm looking forward to a new little fiddler joining the band.

And there I am, against a backdrop of cars lined up
to hear us and get ice cream at Toody's.
(I got some for the way home!)

Well, they may not have danced, but I do believe
I saw some toes tapping in the audience...

It was a fun band reunion after not seeing each other since St. Patrick's Day. We're looking forward to performing at the new Riverfront Park in Mankato in July, perhaps with a couple of new pieces I've been working on. 


Evensong 2

Prima Vox performed our second evensong at our musical home, the Church of the Holy Communion in St. Peter. We love singing for their services, and wanted to share more of the sacred music we'd performed at the Mankato Symphony Orchestra concert in May.

Though it was 7:30 when we were ready to begin...

the late spring evening still illuminated the windows of the church.
This time, the church's organist, Kristi Class, was our accompanist
on that lovely old organ.

 Three candles for three Voxes.

After singing in the gorgeous but cavernous Christ Chapel,
this intimate space felt like home again.

After the last note was sung and the last prayer prayed
and the last candle extinguished, we set to doing what Voxes do
after they're done performing...

kicking off our shoes and making piles of music
for our next performance!