7/31/2011

My beautiful writing assistant

Jingle Belle, all ready to get to work.

It's so hot outside, there's nothing to do but seek the cool. To pull the velvet curtains and hole up in my gorgeous office near the window AC unit and write, write, write, write, write.

Belle is a great little assistant. She's sweet and cuddly. She scrunches down in my office chair next to me and purrs. She lets out an affectionate "rrrRRRRRrrrr" if I move (which keeps me in my seat and on task). She looks up at me once in a while, blinks her beautiful green eyes, goes back to sleep. She says she'll quit if I don't mention her in my memoir.

Oh, you're in there Belle. First appearance: page two.

7/30/2011

It's good to have a harpist in the family

 Especially when you're the harpist's cousin 
and you're getting married.

That's my beautiful cousin Anna on her wedding day last Saturday. The day was so hot and the church wasn't air conditioned and when I played and sang I had to compete with the roaring of 15 fans in the sanctuary, but it was such a beautiful event. So full of love. Uncles met me at the front of the church and roadied my harp in for me. Cousins were gorgeous in berry-colored bridesmaids dresses. Aunts were busily milling around pinning flowers and making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. Guests smiled as they fanned themselves madly with their wedding programs.

I remember Anna's mom, my aunt Joanne, getting married in that same church on a snowy December night. I was in high school and remember my new dress for the wedding (puffy-sleeve, drop-waist, burgundy corduroy number, anyone?). I remember crying when Joanne walked down the aisle to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" played on the church organ. I remember dancing with her new husband, my Uncle Dick, at the wedding dance – that guy taught me some new moves indeed.

Saturday I cried when I played "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" when Anna walked down the aisle. 

 And when Anna took to the dance floor with her Dad, 
I shed a couple more tears at the flood of all those memories. 

Then a grown-up cousin grabbed my arm and told me it was time to stop sniffling and get down with her to "Love Shack." Which we did, and rather well I might say. Her daughter (also named Anna) jumped up and down for the entire dance. New memories, in the making.

7/27/2011

A harpist at the fair

It's county fair time in southern Minnesota. And no matter which fair you attend, you're likely to see...

Old tractors

New tractor...machine...accessory...thingeys...

Historical exhibits

Screaming kids on rides

Horses

But some county fairs are luckier than others. Take the Faribault County Fair in Blue Earth, Minnesota. They had the special attraction of...
...a certain harpist...

...playing for fair-goers. 
(The crowd did get bigger as the day cooled off a little,
and after everyone was done with milking and chores.) 

In an impressive show of personal strength, I avoided indulging in the cheese curds, corn dogs and snow cones. I'd just finished my metabolic cleanse and wasn't sure how fair food would affect my newly detoxed system. It sure smelled good, though. After 10 days of eating only fruits and vegetables and drinking this slimy sludgy protein cleanse thing, oh, did it smell good.

And I'm still waiting to hear if I won this beauty:
Raffle tickets were only $1.00!!!!
Can't you see me pulling up to harp gigs on it? 
With my harp on a hay cart? 
Yeah...

7/19/2011

STEAMY wedding

Saturday there was an excessive heat warning for southern Minnesota. The sun was intense, sizzling. The temperatures were in the 90s. The humidity skyrocketed. The dew point was almost 80 (tropical rainforest worthy). The heat index was over 100 degrees.

And the wedding? 
Outside.

Everyone milled around in the air conditioned reception room until a few minutes before the ceremony, getting ready to brave the heat. Then we all grabbed a bottle of ice water and ventured into the jungle. The harp's music floated on the moist air over the grounds of Indian Island Winery. The guests fanned themselves frantically with their wedding programs. And there were just a few grumblings about the minister's sermon lingering a liiiiitle too long (really, who needs to hear about all the different uses of the word "goodness" in the Book of Genesis when it's 90 degrees outside?).

I was the lucky one - I got the only shade on the property.
(Very smart harpist, for including 
"shade must be provided" in her contract...)

After the ceremony, I played the shortest postlude ever. Pink-faced, glistening guests didn't even wait for the ushers to escort them from their seats; they stood up en masse and were back in the air conditioning within two minutes. Inside there were pitchers of cold water, delicious hors d'oeuvres and, since it was a winery, bottles of chilled wine. (Which, sadly, I couldn't enjoy because my chiropractor talked me into doing a metabolic cleanse program for 10 days. I'm 4 days in. But that's a topic for another post...or not, depending on how things go...).

And then I came home to enjoy a bath and a nice long rest in the air conditioning. Inside. After heat like that, inside is a very good place to be.

7/16/2011

Always a writer

I got a big, thick letter in the mail a while ago and the handwriting on the envelope was sooo familiar. When I looked at the return address, I saw it was from my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Enright. It took me right back to that little classroom in the old Rapidan School, the dusty smell of the chalkboards, the creak of the wooden floors, her voice, her laughter. I remember how much I learned from her, how wonderful she was with words, words, words.

 Teacher handwriting. 

In her letter, she told me that she was cleaning out some things and had found a bunch of old poems I had written while I was her student. She thought I would like to have them back. Reading them was a riot. I laughed so hard at my poems and at my great rhymes ("Fly, Eagle, Fly! Through the sky! Looking around with a watchful eye!" is just one stellar example). And then I felt such tenderness for my 5th grade self, my budding writing skills, how hard I tried to create art and a meaningful world for myself out there in that tiny town in the middle of the bean field.

 There were a lot of poems.
Writing was my solace.

My parents encouraged every single word I wrote, often "commissioning" me to write poems for birthday cards, thank you notes and anything else they thought would be...ahem...enlightened by my writing. They even helped me enter a contest where the winner got their writing and illustrations published in book form. That was, alas, my very first rejection letter. I was 11 years old.

However, from this batch of poems did come my very first publication. Mrs. Enright had asked me to write a Halloween poem for our class party. Then, proud and sneaky teacher that she was, she sent it to the Mankato Free Press and they published it. I vaguely remembered my great Aunt Margaret sending me a clipping of that poem, so I spent an hour digging through my closet for my old grade school scrapbook - and there it was, right next to our class newspaper, "The Tales of the 5th Grade Nothings" (ha!)...

...and here it is, in all its glory. Oh, my.

Just in case you can't read type that small, I'll gift you with this reprint. Ready?

On Halloween night
The shadows fight,
And Spiders cling to the wall.
In all the rooms
The people are doomed,
And ghosts pace the hall.
In forests deep
All witches creep,
Planning spells so mean.
And from nowhere around
Comes a roaring sound,
"Tonight is Halloween!"

© Amy Kortuem 1979

7/14/2011

From the Land of Sky Blue Waters...

...and rocks.

Lots of rocks. I love rocks. 
I love picking them up, carrying them around, 
throwing them in the water, 
trying to skip them (still working on that...).

Just spent four lovely days in Duluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior, a.k.a. Gitchee Gumee, Ojibwe for "big water". The air was cool, the water was big and blue (and cold when I waded in to find the perfect rock). The perfect escape from the heat and humidity blanketing southern Minnesota. 

Water as far as the eye can see. A fresh water, inland ocean.

(In case you were wondering, yes. 
Yes, I CAN walk on water.)

7/06/2011

Stormy wedding

Harry says, "It's too hot to haul a harp, Mom."

I know. It was 97 degrees and unbearably humid at 5:30 p.m. on Friday when I was getting ready to play at a wedding in New Ulm. I was dreading lugging the harp from the house to the Trailblazer, knowing that my makeup would melt and my hair would turn to unruly frizz and my black dress would be sticking to me. (Oh, it's such glamorous work, being a harpist.) I was banking on the Trailblazer's fully operating, icy air conditioning system to repair some of the damage on the 25 mile trip ahead of me.

When I got about 10 miles down the road, the wind picked up and kicked dust high into the sky, bent the crops nearly horizontal. By the time I got to New Ulm, it was one of those circular, whipping winds that spells only one thing: completely disastrous hair and a big storm brewing (ok, that's two things, but they're equally troubling).

While I played the prelude, it started to rain. It lashed against the church's metal roof, sounding more like hail. I could see lightning out the front doors of the church, where the bride and groom stood hand in hand watching. Huge blasts of thunder made me jump and lose my place in the music. 

The cantor came out and brought a flashlight with him,
"just in case," he said.

While I was playing the processional and watching the couples make their ways down the aisle, I could see branches whipping past the front of the church. Thunder added percussion to my playing. And then...it stopped. All was calm.

The lovely ceremony continued on without
further fanfare from Mother Nature.

When we exited the church, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. And the rain had stopped completely, so the couple could make their getaway in a horse-drawn carriage. Neighbors out picking up fallen tree branches waved as we left. The couple was ecstatic. Surely, if their marriage started out this stormy it would be smooth sailing from here on out!

7/03/2011

When you need to haul around a 6-foot-tall harp...

...you're kinda limited in what you can drive. Last week, my trusty old 1996 Ford Explorer gave me her absolute last. She carried me and various harps to countless weddings, receptions, concerts, open houses, music festivals and other gigs over 10 years and 90,000 miles. She's been paid off for over 6 years. I'd gotten used to and grown to love her quirks — touchy starter, flashing 4-wheel-drive lights (even when she wasn't in 4-wheel-drive), brakes that needed a good stomping to stop, air conditioner than only worked on max and high fan, and all the various squeaks and chirps and thunks she made while we cruised down the road.

When I got the news that her rear suspension wasn't...um..."suspended" anymore (so THAT's why she was thunking around corners), I cried. Then I called my Dad, and we went truck shopping. I must have lifted the concert harp into every single SUV and crossover vehicle in town to see if it would fit while my Dad talked up the sales guys. Every single salesman stood by and remarked on my biceps (which, after loading and unloading the harp, which weights 170 pounds on the cart, were pretty defined). By the time we finally found a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer at Mankato Motors with the help of J.P., and the harp slid right in with room to spare for the bench, the music stand, the gig bag, my CD boxes and Mom The Roadie, I was so relieved. I signed the papers the next day. I gave J.P. a jaw harp as a thank you gift.

So, goodbye little Ford Explorer...

...and hello car payments.

(One extra gig a month would cover the payments - get planning and give me a call!)