Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

A Very Brassy Christmas!

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

photo(2)I ran into my local Fred Meyer store to pick up a non-Christmas item that I needed for next week.  I heard some lovely brass instrumental music over the speakers and then stopped and listend more closely.  That was NOT canned music – it was LIVE!

So I rushed to where the music was loudest, and this is what I found:  the Rogue Valley Symphony Brass Quintet pulling out all the stops, so to speak, and playing some great Christmas music.  It was fantastic!  I just wish I had had my regular digital camera so I could have recorded some of the music.

Well, my schedule for the day next included a stop to the recycling station to recyle an old electronic item, but this called for savoring and taking my time to enjoy the musical moments.

I hope you come across some fun Christmas surprises too.

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Serenade in Geneva

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

I just came across a fun video I took in Geneva, Switzerland a couple years ago. Very often you will come across some excellent musicians who busk in the city – some who do it for fun, some who obviously do it fulltime as a way to make the next meal.

This was so festive and fun that I thought it fit into the season. I’m only sorry I didn’t let the video roll a bit longer – they were just warming up!

Music Celebrating Life

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

After the memorial service for my aunt last weekend, all of the relatives attending (probably about 20 or so) gathered on the back deck of the house to chat, catch up with each other, and to celebrate life with music.

My mother and friends played ukelele and flute. The youngest of the tribe sat rapt in the lawn chair, swaying to the music.

Some of the next generation began learning how to play chords, being tutored by Clifford, a member of the Nevada City Strum Bums.

It was a lovely evening, full of memories,
warm feelings, a bit of sadness and grief at what has been lost. But also gratitude for what we still have: each other – and the hope of the future which was sitting, dancing, and running in front of our eyes.

Saturday Morning Rehearsal at the Britt

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The Britt Music Festival is over now, but I did finish my painting inspired by a couple of visits to the orchestra’s rehearsals during the season.

I spent many happy hours listening, as I sat on the lawn of the Britt grounds, soaking in the beautiful, rich sounds of the instruments, admiring the wonderful focus and cohesion of the musicians.

We Miss You, Peggy!

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

This is how I’ve been feeling these last few days since I got the news my auntie Peggy passed away after a mercifully brief bout with cancer.

Aunt Peggy was my mother’s last sister, and it’s been a blow losing her.

I sometimes spent summers with her in the San Francisco Bay Area when I was little, and I always remember how patiently she’d comb my hair and braid it in the mornings (I didn’t have the knack then) before sending me and my cousin out to help my uncle’s brother at his restaurant in the small town where they lived. She was always a positive presence to come home to – and she was a great cook!

Peggy was always learning something new every day and loved listening to KQED, marveling at yet another new discovery. She read voraciously and could keep up with any conversation and add some valuable and thought-provoking insight to any subject. She had the gift of wit and humor she’d inherited from a long line of Irish men and women, who could always find something to laugh about in the most dire of situations.

Peggy loved to travel and learn new languages – and got plenty of both during her lifetime as wife to a engineer who would be stationed all over the world building large projects. I recall many harrowing and amazing stories of their life in Medellin, Colombia; of adventures in Brazil and in the wilds of Pilot Knob, Missouri.

She raised two great children, my cousins, though she lost her husband a few years ago and managed to rise gracefully from such a terrible loss. She was passionate about her beliefs which were wide and embracing, and was a person alive in every way.

And of course, there was music. Music was, and is, a constant background in our family life. As corny as it sounded when I was small and couldn’t appreciate such things, it became a vital way of connecting with family, present and past, to sing the old songs that have been sung for generations. Peggy’s husband played the sax, flute, and clarinet. Her daughter is a gifted singer/guitarist; her son plays the piano. And Peggy could play a mean gut bucket! Here she is, just two months ago on the 4th of July. Peggy is playing (on the far left) with family.

Well, Peggy, I miss you. But now you are free to travel wherever you want, play whatever music you want, learn all there is to know. We love you!

The Britt Music Festival!

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008


I had the opportunity yesterday morning to visit the grounds of the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Oregon, and listen in on the rehearsal for the classical performance for that night. It was wonderful! (The above shot is part of the view from the Britt grounds.)

What is the Britt Festival, you may ask? Well, for those of us who live in Southern Oregon, it’s the best venue for fabulous open-air evening concerts under the stars – from classical music, rock, pop, jazz, and the truly legendary. To give you an idea of this year’s performers (just a partial list): Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Neville Brothers, Michelle Shocked, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Keb Mo’, Mark Knopfler, B.B. King, Winton Marsalis, Billy Bob Thornton, Lyle Lovett, Judy Collins, Willie Nelson, Midori – and the list goes on.

The Britt Festival begins in June and ends early September. It was named after an important and visionary Swiss immigrant, Peter Britt, who made his home in Jacksonville during the Gold Rush. He was a photographer by trade, but tried his hand at gold prospecting, bee keeping, wine cultivation, horticulture, etc. By the time he died at age 86, he was one of the wealthiest and most highly respected men in Southern Oregon. The festival grounds adjoin the original site of Peter Britt’s home.

This shot was taken in the spring, before the Britt is open, but it gives you an overall context.

Last year, I took a photo of one of the morning classical rehearsals that I later attended that evening. There is nothing like sitting on a green lawn under the stars, surrounded by woods and pine trees, listening to such music, seeing the warm golden lights from the stage, sighing in unison with the audience during a particularly moving passage.

Departing in the late evening from the grounds is very difficult. But the memory of the experience carries me through many days afterwards.

Pennywhistles of the Low-D Kind

Monday, May 19th, 2008

I mentioned in the last post that I’d fallen in love with the warm, rich sound of the low-D pennywhistle. Since most Celtic music is written in the keys of D and G, most standard pennywhistles are keyed to D. However, many whistle makers make them in other keys.Kelischek’s Workshop for Folk Instruments makes them in many keys for both standard (higher pitched) and low whistles. They even go so far as to provide keys (like those used on transverse flutes) to enable folks with small hands to reach the holes on low whistles. These are relatively inexpensive and made of ABS plastic. (Although tin pennywhistles used to cost a penny, that was a loooong time ago. Low whistles can range from reasonable to very expensive, depending on materials used, who makes them, how they’re made, etc.)

Small hands have no problem managing all 7 holes of the standard higher-pitched pennywhistle. But once you begin pitching the whistle lower, the holes are spaced further and further apart which also lengthens the instrument itself. Believe me, keys are essential for small hands! I have three whistles: A Sweetheart whistle of blackwood in low D, and a Susato in low D and low C. You can see in this photo of my Susatos that the difference in height between a low C and a low D – just one pitch difference – is 3 inches! The low C requires 3 keys to play.

There are a couple of down-sides to having keys:

1.They have to be correctly seated and pressed firmly in order to prevent any air leakage, or the notes will not play true and in tune.

2.
It is not possible to sharpen a note by covering it halfway with a finger, since the keypad covers the entire hole.

However, Susato’s keys are well-seated, and it is possible to buy whistles of different keys from them at not too great a cost. Neither of these issues has caused me problems since I just play for myself most of the time. The Susato whistles are also very lightweight, so if you have arm weakness (as in fibromyalgia or other arm/shoulder conditions), these are much easier to play.

I love Irish slow airs but also play lots of lively whimsical tunes (try “Empty Wallet Waltz”), with my parrots listening in. There are times they have a hard time settling down for the night If I start playing slower airs, they’ll quickly calm down and go to sleep.
But sometimes it’s great fun to accompany other musicians. I had the opportunity to play my whistle with my mother and her friend Clifford – both avid ukulele players – who play the old standards and have tons of fun doing so. We went to the park and set up. When they had a tune in the right key for me, I played right along with them. Try it some time! Whistles are easy to learn, easy to transport, and inexpensive. It’s taken me only a few months to get fairly nimble around the sound holes. It can be rollicking fun with other people, and very satisfying to play for oneself.

Pennywhistles Are a Good Thing

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Last fall, my best friend decided – after years of being thwarted as a child – to Follow Her Dream: learn to play the trumpet. And she now has her Yamaha trumpet. It’s not an easy instrument to play, from what she tells me. But she really enjoys it. A side benefit that she was not expecting is that it has expanded her lungs, exercised them, and brought much better respiratory circulation for her (she has asthma). She has developed much greater resilience and stamina.

That got me to thinking about my instrumental quandary: I’ve played the piano as a kid, and I love it. But it’s not a practical instrument to tote around on a whim. A guitar is much better for portability, but it’s not the easiest to master nor can it be blown into for improvement of the airways, the latter consideration being a real draw for me as well.

I investigated playing a flute, going so far as to rent one from the local music shop. I loved the sound! But it wrecked my neck and my hands. For me the transverse flute is an instrument of torture.

I had narrowed my selection to some type of wind instrument that I could play face forward with arms and hands in a more natural position. Clarinet? Saxaphone? Tuba? Recorder? I did a lot of web sleuthing. Then I stumbled upon Sweetheart Flute Co, which is run by Ralph Sweet and his son, who hand turn and produce wooden Irish flutes and pennywhistles. I did not care for the high pitch of standard pennywhistles. But then I listened to the sound sample for the low-D pennywhistle, and it was LOVE at first listen. Rich, warm, full. Oooh!

I HAD to get myself a low-D pennywhistle. And I did! And little did I know that this love affair had begun much earlier. I happened to come across a photo of me when I was 13, playing a standard pennywhistle. I had forgotten that – it wasn’t the greatest period in my life. Well, good things always do manage to come around again. And they have. I will share more of my experiences with the low-D pennywhistle in future blog entries. “Stay tuned,” as they say! – in this case, in the key of D.