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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Breaking Up With My Guitar

“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ~ Marilyn Monroe

gibson-b-25-reissue-lsb2csnh2-3I thought we were soulmates.  A friend gifted me this pretty little Gibson B-25 guitar. “Here, you take it- I’m not ever going to play it.”  It had a sunburst finish and steel strings, far superior to the Sears Silvertone with nylon strings that I had been playing.  At 17 years old I could not believe my good fortune.  It was love at first sight.

I plunked and played that guitar trading songs and riffs with friends until I moved away to college.  There really was never another time where I was surrounded by people that played music.  My skills languished.  Now and again out of guilt I pulled out the Gibson, played for a bit and then put it back.  Playing alone wasn’t satisfying, but really, the instrument didn’t have enough base and tone for my ears anymore. Still, I refused to admit I had fallen out of love.

Continue reading “Breaking Up With My Guitar”

The Power of Song

“If I cannot fly, let me sing.” bird-1295782
― Stephen Sondheim

I’ve always loved to sing.  In elementary school in my babyboomer upbringing, we always started the day with songs.  They were usually patriotic in nature – “My Country Tis of Thee” or “Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies” sung with heart with our bird-like voices.  Then there was nothing like those fun songs I learned at summer camp.

As an adult, I have had to hunt for places to sing (other than the shower).  Music has become more of a spectator sport in our culture, a solitary experience of earbuds, or just reserved for churches. How lucky I was when a women’s choir started up six years ago within a driveable distance of my rural home.  Every Tuesday night my friend Linda and I drive to 12 miles to McMinnville for practice.  It’s work and fun at the same time.  We are a community of women282317_511742425540716_64206684_n united in our voices.

There have been studies done on the mental and physical health benefits of singing in a choir.  There is something truly healing by breathing and weaving our voice in with a group of other people.  Singing unites us.  I can gift to others with my voice and it helps chase away the holiday blues.  536859_614248591956765_2135004792_n

The culmination of our efforts is our winter concerts.  All the worries of mistakes float away.  We walk into the hall, confident, our voices blending in beautiful harmonies facing our audience and sharing our songs.  I revel when I see eyes close, smiles on faces, and even a tears running Choir Ballyvaugndown cheeks.

 

 

 

 

CONCERT

Alto

Third row

Middle

Practice behind me

Audience before me

The piano preludes

The conductor cues

Now our voices pour from our hearts

Wrapping all in a harmonious cloud

Eyes closed

The splendor of song filling the room

Infusing our souls

And those before us
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“Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.” 
― E.Y. Harburg