2017, are you TRYING to give me emotional whiplash?

This past Monday I had my annual mammogram.
This afternoon, Dara alerted me that Evergreen had left me a message on our home answering machine asking me to call them. This is not normal procedure when a mammogram goes well. I got through to them after a couple of tries, and was informed by their staffer that their radiologists want me to come in for an ultrasound of my left side.
Doublechecking my January 2013 posts, I am reminded that this is not the first time I’ve had a questionable mammogram. In 2013, they told me they saw teeny calcifications on the left side, and after they did a biopsy, they told me it was fine.
I am nervous now, four years later, to be informed that they want an ultrasound of that same side. So now I am scheduled to go back in for an ultrasound, on Wednesday of next week, and I get to be nervous about this until then.
I will now be doggedly focusing on trying to be the least amount of nervous I can manage, because goddammit, cancer, I do not have time for your shit. I have writing to do. I have tunes to learn. And I have a fiddle to learn how to play better.
Especially because goddammit I am going to Quebec this summer, for Camp Violon Trad, as I’ve been wanting to do for ages now. Dara and I are beginning a plan for her to meet up with me after the camp is done, for Memoire et Racines, which I’ve been wanting to go back to ever since the brief and awesome time we had there in 2012. We’re discussing the possibility of meeting up with Vicka there, even.
And I have a lot riding on this, you guys. Because not only is Violon Trad run by two of my favorite Quebec musicians–André Brunet and Éric Beaudry, along with their colleague Stéphanie Lépine–this is going to be the 10th anniversary of the camp, which is sure to make it extra epic this year.
Pretty much guaranteeing that it will be epic: ALL FOUR MEMBERS OF LE VENT DU NORD WILL BE GUEST TEACHERS.
Which means, Internets, that I’m going to be at a music camp that will contain André Brunet (from whom I have already had the pleasure of a couple of excellent workshops, now), Éric Beaudry (because BOY HOWDY do I want to spend multiple days learning guitar from this man, YES PLEASE), AND Olivier Demers (who, as y’all may recall, I dubbed the Best Fiddle Player Ever).
I am not remotely ready to tackle playing the fiddle in a full-bore week-long camp like Violon Trad–I’ll be going for the guitar classes, mostly. But I will also be bringing at least some flutes. And now that I actually do own the fiddle I’ve been renting (I bought it because woo! promotion and bonus!), along with a bow that doesn’t suck, I will ALSO be taking that fiddle to try to at least learn SOMETHING.
Because why yes an opportunity to learn tunes from Olivier Demers will make up for how I haven’t seen Le Vent perform in over a year, and I haven’t seen them perform with Olivier for over two years.

Han says NO.
Han says NO.

TAKE THAT, questionable mammogram results. >:|

Going to Fiddle Tunes!

This summer I will be doing a first for me: going to a musical workshop camp! Specifically, I’m going to Fiddle Tunes!
“But Anna,” I hear you cry, “you’re not a fiddle player!” This is true! But I am a guitarist, and there are several guitarists that will be teaching at this camp. Most notably, André Marchand!
If you know anything about Quebecois music at all, you may know this man’s name. At minimum, if you know anything about La Bottine Souriante, you’ve very likely heard him. He’s a veteran of the genre, with a long history with La Bottine and later with Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer. He also has recorded with flautist Grey Larsen, is one third of the trio Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville (all of whom will also be at Fiddle Tunes!), and has recorded with a few of the other Charbonniers gentlemen under the name Les Mononcles as well.
While my blatant fangirling is reserved for Le Vent du Nord and De Temps Antan, my general musical respect for the Quebecois trad genre owes a lot to Monsieur Marchand. He’s an excellent singer–several of my repeat-play La Bottine and Charbonniers tracks are things he sings lead on. But he’s also a fine guitarist, and I feel I would be entirely bonkers crazypants to pass up a chance to learn from him.
Bonus: my pal Dejah will also be there, and she will in fact be acting as M. Marchand’s assistant, providing translation assistance to help jump the language barrier. And a bit of a musical barrier as well, since Francophones use a system of scales oriented around “do re mi fa so la ti do”–so what an English speaker thinks of as the key of C, a French speaker’s going to be calling the key of do. D becomes re, E becomes mi, and so on.
I am very much looking forward to tackling this. Not only for exposure to a different way of thinking about musical scales, not only for a chance to learn from a veteran of the Quebecois trad genre (and maybe get in a bit of practice listening to someone speak French), but in general to just be able to sit down with people who know what they’re doing and improve my general ability to play. I feel like I’ve gone about as far as I can on my own, as a self-taught guitarist who just likes to doink around with the instrument. Talking to skilled musicians and learning from them will open up all sorts of new and exciting things to practice!
I’ll also be taking my carbon fiber flutes and the good whistle, mind you–because if any all-melody-instrument tunes sessions break out, I want to be prepared to practice learning those, too. And there will be some organization of participants into bands, too! So maybe somebody will want a flute or a whistle. :D
These musical shenanigans will be taking place in the last week of June, and will be taking place out in Port Townsend in Washington–which is the other reason I want to go to this thing. It’s a camp I can get to by car. And since I won’t need to get on a plane, I can bring the General.
Because if I’m going to learn from a veteran of the Quebec trad genre, better believe I want to bring the good guitar!
SO EXCITED. This is going to be huge fun. Y’all may expect I’ll report on the experience in depth!

What I can do with a guitar

As I have previously squeed about, O Internets, I just had a delightful time scampering up to BC again to see De Temps Antan! This time though there were specific opportunities to make musical noises myself in a house that happened to contain three of my favorite musicians–even aside from André’s workshop, there was also the after-concert session, and I did in fact wind up making noises on both my flutes and my guitar.
Trust me when I tell you that the prospect of making musical noises of my own in any room that contains these boys is simultaneously deeply exciting and nerve-wracking! I’m comfier on my flutes since those are my native instrument–so that did help. And so did the knowledge that I had the General with me. Because you better believe that if I was going to show up in Éric Beaudry’s proximity with a guitar, I was going to bring the good guitar.
Not that I actually played in the same room as Éric, and I don’t really have enough play-by-ear fu yet to be the backup guitar for a full roaring session. But I did wind up hanging out in one of the other rooms while I was chatting with Aussie Ian, and noodled around a lot on various songs I know. Because as will surprise none of you, I get the General in my hands, I start playing Great Big Sea.
And if you want to have an idea of what else I’m likely to do with a guitar in my hands, here now though is a roundup of Stuff I Can Do With the Guitar.
Continue reading “What I can do with a guitar”

In which Anna figures out how to play Au rang d'aimer!

I’ve been spending quite a bit of my musical time on tunes from the Quebecois repertoire, but every so often I get to remind myself that actually, y’know? I also play guitar. Especially when I hear a song like the delicious “Au rang d’aimer” by La Bottine Souriante, which I’ve been swooning over for ages. It’s pulled hard into the lead to become the first song from Quebec that I’ve been able to figure out how to play and sing at the same time, properly!
I used the Chord Detector app I’ve got on my iPhone to get an initial idea of the chords. Now, the app ain’t perfect, and I find that when I throw a song at it, it’s usually good for giving me the general ballpark–the right key and several of the right base chords. But then I need to go in and finesse it and figure out things like strum patterns, and where to plug in chords that might be missing.
This song’s delightful to play with, just because it requires a more delicate strum pattern than I’m used to playing. (‘Cause hi, right, I’m the girl used to playing the sorts of chords that are better fitting to boinging around the living room, playing along with the Great Big DVD and belting out “Mari Mac” at the top of your lungs, NOT THAT I DO THAT OR ANYTHING!) Don’t quote me on the key, but I think we’re dealing with D mix here. There’s a lot of F, D, Em, and G, with periodic loverly little bits of Em7 and C. And I THINK there’s an Am that pops in as a transition chord between D and Em on the third line of the verses, but I’m not a hundred percent sure of that.
Note also, if you play with these chords, the first and fifth verses start with D->G->D->G, but the rest of them go F->Em->D->G, as near as I can tell. Because the first and fifth ones are coming after the intro and bridge, and starting them with D instead of F makes the chord flow work better.
I’ve got the overall strum pattern down, though, I think! And I’ve even managed to memorize the words, and for the most part I even know what they mean–though there’s a line in the fourth verse that goes “C’était un soir un facsillant, en courtisant sa mise”, and for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure out what the hell “facsillant” means. My google fu fails me. So did asking the La Bottine Souriante Facebook group I’m on, though one nice person from Quebec says she thinks it’s maybe an Old French word. Which would explain why Google Translate has no earthly idea what it means, and why I can’t find it in any of my usual online dictionary sources, either.
(Any French speakers out there who recognize this word, you want to clue me in, I’d be much obliged! I have even taken the drastic step of pinging the excellent gentleman who sings it, Éric Beaudry himself, to see if he can enlighten me. Given that I tried that in French, we’ll see if I managed to do so coherently. I make no guarantees. *^_^*;;)
Anyway though, here, lookit! I made a thing! This is a snippet of me playing with the chord progression, on the General, my big guitar (the Taylor 210). If you listen to the actual recording of the song (and you should, because goddamn, it’s pretty), there’s some mandolin in there. So I could make a case to myself for playing this on my little Ti-Jéan instead, but I dunno yet, the General’s deeper voice has a certain nice flavor to it too. Clearly, I shall have to try it on both instruments!
Every so often, I feel like I actually can play guitar. Tonight is one of those nights!

Oh look, more session pics!

Liz Jackson took a whole bunch more awesome pictures of the Terrible Beauty sessions when we had the nice big session on the 9th–which is the one userinfosolcita showed up for, too!

Here are my two favorites of me from it, and I particularly like the black and white one where I’m all I LUV U GUITAR. All the rest of ’em are right over here!

I Luv U Guitar
I Luv U Guitar

Musicians are Hy-Larious
Musicians are Hy-Larious

Chibi session tonight

It’s kind of lulzy that userinfotechnoshaman, userinfosolarbird, and I made a point of doing a bit of session practice this weekend–because it turned out that the session tonight was just us and Annie! Our usual session leader was off busy playing with these guys at the Tractor Tavern tonight, so we had to make do with just us four!

But it was all good. Annie was technically our session leader but we took it really casually and just took turns picking things to play. This wound up meaning that Annie, being the one who knew various actual tunes, focused on those while Dara, Glenn, and I mostly chose the GBS ditties we knew and a couple of the other non-GBS things from Jam as well: “Elf Glade” and “Pirate Bill and Squidly”. The biggest reaction we got from the crowd in the bar though was the last thing we did: “Last Saskatchewan Pirate”. That got a big ol’ roar of approval, and that was very cool. :D

Y’all remember though how I said that at last week’s session, the guys at the bar let me have one of my drinks for free?

This time they let Dara and me eat for free, so I only had to fork over for my two Irish creams. Dara and I have been paid for making public music with tasty foods! WOO!

Hopefully next time we’ll be back up to a more normal size of group, but in the meantime I’m clearly going to have to check out Matt’s band. See previous commentary re: that dude can PLAY.

Piccies of me and the General

Liz Jackson, who posted an awesome gallery of pics over here from the first of our Celtic sessions, has done another round! She doesn’t have them posted on her Smugmug page yet so I can’t link to them off of Facebook, but I did grab two of the Facebook ones that I liked of me and the General. Here they are. Photo credits, again, to Liz!

ETA: And BEHOLD! High-res piccie goodness posted by Liz! The better versions of the ones I did low-res of above are here and here. The whole kit and caboodle is here.

My beloved userinfosolarbird and I are really both quite impressed at how Liz does an excellent job of making us look like Hot Babes With Superpowers. And by superpowers, I mean musical instruments!

Session homework FTW!

I’ll say this for the session that and I have started attending: I haven’t been this inspired to start working on learning new stuff to play in ages. Playing with a group of people who are all very clearly not only comfortable with the material they’re playing but also in several cases comfortable with switching off between diverse instruments is a new experience for me! And the pressure is on for me to step up my game. Noodling around on my guitar in the living room is all well and good. But I’ve come to the realization that it had stopped being really challenging; I can noodle around without thinking about it.
I am ready for something more, and I hadn’t really realized this until I was called upon to play “Lukey” at last week’s session. I’ve been hit upside the head with a resurgence of the same feeling I got in the very earliest days of my Great Big Sea fandom, to wit: THIS. I WANT TO DO THIS.
Where by “this”, I mean, “play this type of music along with people who are as engaged by it as I am!”
For the first time I finally have a reason to start looking through these various songbooks I’ve got–in particular, the Celtic Guitar book, the Irish flute book, and the guitar fakebook. In which I found proper sheet music, including chords, for both “Drowsy Maggie” and “Morrison’s Jig”! I don’t appear to have “Road to Lisdoonvarna”, but a quick Google pointed me here, which more than served the purpose. (Although I’m not a hundred percent sure about that AF#m–Dara says that’s just an inversion of an F#m chord, so I can work with that, sure.)
All of this of course was leading up to the fact that I’ve got multiple recordings of both “Drowsy Maggie” and “Morrison’s Jig”, and in particular, those of you who are fans of Heather Alexander or her Heir, Alexander James Adams, will recall that on the album Insh’allah, there’s a kickass set of Road, Morrison’s, and Maggie all tearing right through one another.
Tonight, ladies and gents, I more or less played along with it! I say “more or less” mostly because I just need to memorize these chords. But you know what’s awesome? Being able to play rhythm guitar along with AJA ripping away on his fiddle. Even if it IS just a recording.
And then jumping over to The Fables on a recording of theirs that ALSO paired up Morrison’s and Maggie was fun, too–since their style was significantly different, it meant I needed to play around a bit with how to strum in support.
Altan’s got a recording with Maggie in it, but they don’t line it up with Morrison’s, they’ve got it instead with “Rakish Paddy” and “Harvest Storm”. Yet here too the style was significantly different.
I came out of this pretty sure I’ll properly recognize “Drowsy Maggie” now, anyway! And a few more times playing it, I should have it down cold.
Something else I’ll need to consider, too: I’ve been mostly a guitarist the last few years, but I’m also a goddamn flute player, and I want to remind myself of that! However, my piccolo ain’t exactly in keeping with the overall idea of an Irish session, so I’m thinking I’ll have to break out the bamboos instead. Most likely Jade, who’s in E minor, and Sparrow, who’s in G (which will also let me cover D), but possibly also Sorrel, who’s in A minor.
I look forward to the Bringing of It next week. :D Session homework FTW!

My very first Irish session!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a decent Jam Report around here, so I will now make up for it with a new twist on that: a Session Report!
Last night my beloved and I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in with our very first Irish session. For those of you not familiar with those, they’re events where musicians gather together to hang out and play traditional Irish music. Last night’s was one starting up for the very first time at a pub called A Terrible Beauty in Renton! Dara found out about it courtesy of someone I believe she said she’d met at the Highland Games a few months back, and Dara relayed it to me.
Since I do of course have a ton of Irish music on my iPhone, I’ve known about the custom for some time; it gets mentioned a lot in lyrics, of course. And you hear about it when you are a fan of the appropriate genre of musicians. But I’d never been to one and so when Dara told me about this one, I leapt at the chance for us to go.
Several of you who follow my blog in whatever form will be familiar with filk circles. A session is kind of like that–but not quite, at least in comparison to the filk circles and housefilks I’ve attended. The main difference, aside from the obvious focus on traditional Irish music, is that the filks I’m used to are situations where one person plays one thing, and then another person takes a turn, etc. At filks, you may or may not get people playing along with the primary performer, depending on how strict a bardic circle you’re conducting. At this session, though, everybody was playing, and focusing on the melody being played in particular.
We had an excellent balance of instruments as well, which helped. As Dara and I were a) new to sessions in general, b) new to these folks in particular, and c) the only ones with rhythm instruments being regularly played (Annie, Dara’s friend, also had a guitar but primarily focused on her fiddle), we hung out over on the side of the group trying to follow along and play accompanying chords. Everyone else drove the melodies, trading off between their instruments. It was very neat to watch and I was very impressed that these folks were all very clearly comfortable with several instruments between them.
Dara, being more heavily practiced the last couple years than I am of course, got fancier with her strumming than I did. Me, I was working very, very hard on trying to pick out the keys of several unfamiliar melodies–just to try to improve my ear. I counted it a victory when I realized a few bars in on one melody that OH HEY THAT’S IN A! But I did also have the quiet satisfaction of figuring out unfamiliar (to me) ways to strum, to try to support the melodies being played. That was a fun learning experience and I want to do more of that.
Also, not ALL of the melodies were unfamiliar. Several of them tugged at my memory just because, these being Irish trad tunes of course, I KNOW I’ve heard a lot of them as part and parcel of the dozen or so albums I have with this material all over them. I just don’t know a lot of the specific tunes by name yet. But I DID very specifically recognize “Si Bheag Si Mhor” and “Road to Lisdoonvarna”–the latter, specifically, because is a big fan of that one and likes playing it at Jam. :D
I must give props to Annie for a few things. One, I noticed she had a Luna guitar, a lovely green one, and my fellow Drollerie author Heather Ingemar had been plugging those guitars to me before I bought the General. Two, Annie is a fellow GBS fan and it is always, ALWAYS a pleasure to meet another person who loves the B’ys. Three, I was sheepishly relieved that while she was the other guitarist present, she spent most of her time giving love to her fiddle, so I didn’t feel entirely dorky back there playing rhythm on the General. ;D
Props must also be given to Matt, the guy who was hosting the session. Dude can play, and he traded off adroitly between his own fiddle, an Irish flute (I am STILL coveting an Irish flute despite the dozen+ flutes I already own), and a very cool-looking harp decked out in Christmas lights which did wonderful things for lighting him up while pictures were being taken of us. I am very grateful to him for letting Dara and me sit in, and in particular for encouraging us to try to join in more by playing stuff we know.
We admitted that we know more things with vocals than without–in the parlance of a session, that means we know songs rather than tunes. So Dara nudged me in to do “Lukey”! I capoed up 2 so I could get it into a key I could credibly sing, and scooted over to sit on the floor in the middle of the circle so the others could see my changes if they wanted to follow along. And I tried to describe the arrangement I knew before I started playing, hoping to give enough data that if anybody wanted to improv something, they could! That didn’t happen but I strongly suspect that was just a function of the others not knowing the song as I was playing it per se–and even given that, they all followed along very solidly.
There is something heady and magical about whipping out a fairly solid performance of a song with people you have never played with before in your life. Not to mention HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS, I have played AND SUNG “Lukey” in an actual Irish pub. In front of COMPLETE AND TOTAL STRANGERS. *^_^*;; I hope I did my B’ys proud. <3
And I totally want to do this again, in no small part because it'll give me an excuse to play my instruments more often. I say instruments because the opportunity to swap out between the General and my long and sadly neglected zouk and octave mandolin, not to mention my flutes, is too shiny to resist!
And oh yeah, it must also be said that A Terrible Beauty is a lovely place, and the food Dara and I ordered was nommable. And served us by a guy who from the sound of him was either Irish or doing a damn good impression of it. ;)
Last but not least, I must plug the photos taken of all of us musicians by one Liz Jackson, a very nice lady who clearly knows the business end of a camera. And the crowning pic of her collection would be this one right here! Please go over and give her some comment love, people!
Thank you Matt and Annie and Liz and everyone else for welcoming us, and I hope we can play with you all some more!