Between the Beats: Six days at a Bodhran Camp in Ireland

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Two years ago when I purchased a bodhran (an Irish drum pronounced “baren”) during

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Kathy Jordan playing the Bodhrán with Dervish at the Birmingham 2016 TradFest. Photo: Bob Singer

travels in Ireland, I was also told about Craiceann (pronounced “Cracken”) an annual summer camp for bodhran and aspiring bodhran players on Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands.  It sounded like an experience not to be missed.  I swore to myself that in two years I would return as a participant. I did just that last week with a much better bodhran in my possession and enough online experience to qualify myself as an advanced beginner.

I arrived via ferry to join about 90 other souls coming together to celebrate this instrument which provides the percussion part of much of Irish music.  The bodhran is a rapidly evolving instrument that began as a img_2669goatskin over a wood frame, beaten with the hand. Now it’s evolved to a more sophisticated, tuneable drum that is played with a tipper, or beater made from wood or bamboo.  Currently, it is finding its way out of Irish traditional music into other genres. The better players perform solo as well as part with of a band.

Ireland is a land full of soul, spirit, rich history and culture. All of that comes out in its lively music often with some sort of combination of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, concertina, accordion, penny whistle, bodhran, singing and sometimes more. I wanted to play bodhran simply to be able to be involved in Irish img_2711music sessions, which are informal gatherings of musicians playing Irish music- usually in a pub.  As I am not skilled enough on guitar I thought this percussive instrument would be a relatively quick avenue in. Well, yes and no. As with any simple looking thing, there is a myriad of complexities to be mastered not to be seen at first glance.

The week far exceeded my expectations.  There were three-hour classes a day taught byimg_2726-1 some of the finest players in the world, plus special lectures and performances.  I met students from all over the world including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and all over the US. Quite surprisingly there were a fair number of older women as myself coming solo.  It was an easy place to make new friends. At night if you had the energy the three pubs on the island were full of musicians playing traditional Irish music and you were welcome to drum along. In Ireland music is not just a spectator sport. I saved my energy for the last night and rolled into bed at 3 AM exhausted and bleary-eyed for the last day of classes (as with everyone else).

img_2729-1.jpgThe island of Inis Oirr was a delight in itself. It is only 4 miles in circumference and has about 200 permanent residents. Irish is the first language of many of the residents. Like the other two Aran Islands, it is made of limestone and is divided by a web of limestone “fences”  that serve both as enclosures for livestock as well as places to deposit rocks when fields are being cleared. The weather was fine and sunny during the week giving the opportunity to take many scenic walks and explore ruins from pre-Christian to early Christian times.  The wildflowers were blooming, some being only native to the islandsimg_2728-1 like the pyramid Orchid. There was a lovely swimming beach and on the last morning, despite my late night, I went for a swim in the chilly, turquoise water of the North Atlantic – a spiritual end to my stay.

On my return, I am trying to digest the huge volume of information picked up from over 15 hours worth of lessons and presentations.  This Tuesday night I will return to the Irish session I’ve attended at a local pub hopefully a better bodhran player. I will never be a great player but that’s not my intention. Learning and playing music with others is the goal.  I traveled thousands of miles to become more proficient but also to be with people of like mind who appreciate this instrument and Irish music.   It was magical.

Now being a part of the music at home and keeping the beat is enough for me.

P.S. To see videos of Craiceann performances go here 

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A Walk Through Scotland With Friends

WALKING THROUGH SCOTLAND

In the company of friends

And the rhythm of sticks

I spy a blue fly on green fern

Sheep grazing in the distance

Tufts of wool dangling from fences

Bluebells line the path with yellow anenome,

Purple geranium, wild rose, ferns

and blossoms of which I have no name

Rain falls from heavy clouds

White water spills over the faces of dark rocks

Into bubbling pools

The land begs verse

We end each day foot weary but filled

Seeing more by seeing less

We end each day bedding at inns in quaint towns

Savoring warm bowls of soup

And cups of hot tea

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – “The Serenity of Tea”

It’s not always possible to escape to beautiful places in nature to find serenity.  In winter I find serenity with a good book and a nice a cup of nice tea in the comfort of my own home.  (Actually these photos were taken last summer in Ireland.  The cottage looked so serene I took this photo- but I do love a nice “cuppa”)IMG_0900

 

 

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Serene

An Irish Midsummer’s Eve

sunset BallyvaughnHumanity around the world has its differences in what holidays are celebrated.  The one thread that unites us is the changing of seasons.  Most cultures have some kind of observance for the seasonal markers around the equinoxes and solstices such as it Harvest, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Christmas, Hanukah, Easter & so forth.   In Northern climates, the Summer Solstice, or Ballyvaughn ChurchMidsummer’s Eve is cause for celebration. On the longest day of the year, there is a little magic & love is in the air.

Ireland is no exception.  On this Midsummer’s Eve, we attended aChoir Ballyvaugn most lovely event, a choral concert in the local church in the village of Ballyvaughan put on by the Lismorahuan Singers.  In the choir were the smiling faces of numerous local faces we had gotten to know during our week long stay there. What a perfect way to spend our last night in Ireland- worthy of a poem.

A MIDSUMMER’S EVE

The earth groaned as it rounded

The final point of its orbit

The sun shone brightly into the hours

Of this shortest night

It claimed its final victory over darkness, this year

And as it did, the flowers bloomed

The faeries danced

And the choir lifted their voices in song

Wrapping their chorus around our hearts

Filling us with strength for the slow waning of the light

To come day by day

In the weeks and months before us

But here, now, we are illuminated fully

Let us celebrate the fruits of summer

& bask in the power of the sun’s rays

On this magical Midsummer’s Eve

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing from Ocean to Mountains- If These Rocks Could Talk

The land that we now know as Ireland once lay below a vast sea that covered the earth. The ancient seabed filled with layers of dead sea creatures metamorphosed into

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The moon shapes in this limestone are fossils from sea animals.

limestone. Over a process of millions of years, the land was uplifted forming hills and mountains.  A series of ice ages further changed the landscape by sculpting out fjords and leaving valleys and lakes in their wake.  The Burren in Western Ireland is a perfect place to explore these ancient processes.

A granite “tourist” left by a glacier in the limestone.
A sculpture from limestone, water, & wind.
Wave action left these beautiful patterns in the rock
A perfect planter for a tongue fern carved by water.
A sculpted pool.
Making a cairn of limestone on a mountain top in The Burren in memory of my father.

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Traveling to Creativity

I traveled to the small village of Ballycastle, Ireland in early June to take a week-longIMG_0763 printmaking workshop at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation.  The instructor, Ron Pokrasso is from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It would have been a cheaper option to take the class in “Beyond Monotype” at his home studio but I have been to Santa Fe numerous times and was looking forward to exploring new territory.  Since I love Irish music & culture and loathe hot weather, Ireland seemed like an ideal location.

IMG_0794Travel for the sake of travel is not my thing (see my post “The Reluctant Traveler”). Wandering around looking at tourist attractions is tedious for me.  If I have no other purpose to be there other than being just an observer, I am bored.  Give me a sense of purpose and IMG_0772I am engaged.  In the past, Spanish language immersions with homestays gave me the opportunity to experience Mexico & Central America on an intimate level.

Then about eight years ago, I realized if I was going to get serious about my art without domestic distractions, I was going to travel away from IMG_2248home and immerse myself in creativity for a good week.  I was fortunate to discover Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in N. New Mexico where I have returned most summers to get a creative & spiritual boost.  Even though I plan to return there in the future, I am widening my options now to other locations.

It’s been my experience that when I travel with a purpose, not only do I learn more skills, I develop deeper social & cultural connections.  There are so many options to chose from in this regard.  During this trip, we ran into an enthusiastic group traveling with a knitting and spinning focus.  There are trips and classes that are focused on gardening, photography, history, you name it.  Next year I hope to go to an Irish music camp in North Carolina.

If you are a reluctant traveler, as I am, or an experienced traveler, consider traveling to creativity in the future.  It will definitely add new dimensions to your skill set and give your travel more depth.IMG_0888