Monday, July 31, 2006

My trip to Nova Scotia

Steve and I took our first trip sans kids in 23 years time. We attended Boxwood in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a traditional flute workshop from July 23 - 28. This year's lineup of faculty was amazing and included Chris Norman (Nova Scotia), Jean Michel Veillon (Breton), Kevin Crawford (Ireland), legendary uillean piper Paddy Keenan (Ireland via New Hampshire), Rod Garnett (USA), Baroque flutist Marten Root (Nederlands), and Baroque and Cape Breton fiddler David Greenberg (Nova Scotia).

I was a little worried about attending a flute workshop since I'm not a flute player, but I had a good time anyway. I took my fiddle with me to the morning classes to learn tunes from different Celtic traditions. The afternoon sessions were a little different and it didn't really matter that I had a fiddle instead of a flute.

This is a long posting with lots of pictures, so give your computer plenty of time to open the images. I'll break this down into days and give a travelogue for the week.

We flew into Halifax on Sunday evening, arriving about 6 pm. We rented a car after getting our gear through customs and then went to find something to eat. We had offered to give Kevin Crawford, the flute player for the Irish band Lunasa, a ride to Lunenburg to save someone from having to drive over from Lunenburg to fetch one person. His flight was scheduled to arrive around 9 pm, but it took him more than an hour to get through customs. We had a nice visit on the way to Luneburg, so it was worth the wait. Kevin is delightful company.

Day 1: July 24, 2006

The first session was an orientation meeting where some of the details of the schedule were to be presented. I'm a super organized person when it comes to details, so I found this start a bit disconcerting. The whole week is pretty laid back and unorganized with things happening in an adhoc fashion rather than being planned. I relaxed into it after the first day and enjoyed the week even though it wasn't very structured. There were about 90 students attending this year - much larger than what Steve experienced last year. It made getting into some of the classes a bit of a challenge, but everyone was pretty friendly. The best instructors were able to manage the crowd pretty well by keeping students from playing over their talking or demonstration of tune phrasing.

I decided to go along with the "medium" players - those that feel comfortable learning tunes by ear, but are not super fast at memorizing a tune. Some of the instructors adapted their classes for the different levels while others were "one speed" instructors - so it didn't matter if you had self-identified as a slow or fast player - you'd get the same rate of instruction.

The first session I attended was taught by the legendary Breton flutist, Jean Michel Veillon. Wow! He's an amazing player. He puts more variations into a tune than you'd think possible.

The Breton dance tunes are fairly simple in their construction, but very complicated when you listen to them because the tradition is for solo playing with lots of variations. I was able to get the most basic renditions of the tunes, but had a harder time with the variations.

I liked how Jean Michel explained the dance traditions as he was teaching the tune. It made a lot of sense to know what the dancers are doing to the tune.

My second session was with legendary piper, Paddy Keenan. Paddy played with the Bothy Band in the 70's and 80's. He has a personality that expresses many decades worth of pubs and overindulging. I sure enjoyed listening to him play, but I had a harder time understanding what he was saying during the class time. Morning classes were kind of tough for Paddy. . . The music was wonderful though.

It rained all day on Monday and Kevin Crawford showed up to lunch wearing this slick hat. I think you can figure out his personality from this picture. He has that Irish social gene that is so charismatic. He was everyone's best friend during the week and I really enjoyed getting to know him.

Steve needs no encouragement to be goofy. He really enjoyed Kevin's company, too.

Lunches and dinners were at the Lunenburg Fire Hall. These were catered by a fun woman named Kate. She introduced each meal and gave us some information about the dishes she prepared - it was really fun to listen to her spiel.

Steve was on kitchen duty most of the week as his work study job. We were able to sit together, but not visit much during the meals. That gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of the other students who sat at our table. Boxwood students come from all over the world. This year there were two from Australia, a lot of students from Canada and from all over the USA.

After lunch on Monday I attended the session on Cape Breton fiddle tunes. I thought this was going to be a class for fiddlers, but over 30 flutists attended. I was a bit disappointed, but Chris Norman and David Greenberg arranged two classes (Tuesday and Wednesday mornings) for David to work with the fiddlers by themselves. The afternoon sessions were informative with David teaching a series of Cape Breton tunes and Chris interpreting how they could be played on flute in the Cape Breton style.

The second session I went to on Monday afternoon was on rhythm and it was taught by Nick Halley, the percussionist for Chris Norman's ensemble. This is an amazing young man who began his percussion education at the knees of the Paul Winter Consort in New York City. Nick plays a frame drum and does the most amazing things with it. I really enjoyed this session.

Steve and I skipped the last session of each day to do some walking, birding or sight-seeing. The rain cleared a bit by late afternoon so we took a short walk down by the harbor to see some of the local scenery around the wharf.

I'm not sure what these folks were doing up in the rigging, but it looked like summer school of some sort was taking place.

This is the Blue Nose II - a sailing ship you can tour/sail on if you have the time. I'd like to do that sometime if we ever get back to Lunenburg.

Here's a typical view from the wharf in Lunenburg.

The evening was capped off by a ceili for Boxwood students. We did this up at the Academy and it was a lot of fun. I discovered that my knee can hold up to dancing again. I trashed my knee in 2002 with a bad fall where I also broke my ankle. I've tried to dance in the interim and always had a lot of pain. I guess all my bicycling commuting is paying off and my knee is stronger now.

Day 2: July 25, 2006

David Greenberg agreed to give a Cape Breton fiddle class for just the few fiddlers attending Boxwood this year. I was the only one who didn't play flute as well.

It was really great to have this time with David. He's a passionate player and is able to key in on the elements that make Cape Breton music unique. The double stops are mostly involving the 4th finger and the adjacent open string - something I'm not used to doing. Another element is the bowing of two adjacent notes on the same bow stroke - usually an up bow stroke where the bow skips to sound both notes. That's a great sound and I hope to be able to use it more in my Irish style of play as well.

We worked on a strathspey and bit on the reel that follows the tune in this set.

I took Kevin Crawford's class after the first session. Kevin is a wonderful teacher. He can break the tune down into phrases and he lets the students work on it until they have it before moving on. Most of the other instructors didn't have this kind of patience, so it was a real treat to take classes with Kevin. His favorite phrase was, "That's brilliant!" or, "You're not slow a' tall."

I sat in with Chris Norman and David Greenberg in the afternoon for the Cape Breton class. It helped to have had David's morning session.

I took Kevin's bodhran class for the second afternoon session. I don't have any snapshots from that session because I was too busy taking video clips. Kevin showed us some basic rudiments and then some "classic" riffs developed by Johnny (Ringo) McDonagh and one that Kevin developed. I've heard Eddie Cotter Jr. play the latter. I really enjoyed this class - especially the lilting that Kevin did along with his drumming to illustrate the rudiments and riffs.

I took a short walk just before dinner to try to capture an image with the late afternoon sun. With all the vibrantly colored buildings and boats, Lunenburg becomes a magical place in the late afternoon with the sun approaching the horizon.

Tuesday night was supposed to be a slow session, but with Paddy Keenan there with his pipes it turned out to be a lightning fast session. It was fun to listen to. How can you go wrong with Paddy Keenan and Kevin Crawford doing what they love to do?

Day 3: July 26, 2006

I had another class with David Greenberg for the Wednesday early morning class. He played the set he'd been working on with us for the week so that we could record it. This consisted of a march, a strathspey and two reels. I have a video of him playing it and it was such a joy to listen to him. He plays with such passion and exuberance that you can't help but be moved by the music.

I then went to Chris Norman's class. He worked with the flute players on how to play a strathspey so that it sounds like one. The strathspey has a Scottish "snap" rhythm, which is done by bowing in a certain way. That flavor is hard to capture with a woodwind instrument, but Chris was able to convey the nuances of what needs to be done to carry it out.

I attended the last Cape Breton tune class with Chris Norman and David Greenberg in the early afternoon. This was David's last class for the week. He had a gig on Thursday, but came back on Friday to play in the final concert and to rehearse with Chris.

Steve took the set dancing class for the second session of the afternoon while I went back to the B&B to play some tunes. We stayed at the Lunenburg Inn for the week - a wonderful place to stay. It was pretty convenient to all the venues where classes, meals, concerts and dances took place. We did a lot of walking during the week.

The classes were done at the Lunenburg Academy. This is a historic place that has been in continuous use since the 1800's. It looks and feels like has, too - the floors consist of wide hardwood planks, the stairs creak, and it gets a bit warm in the afternoon - even with the windows open.

It sits atop the largest hill in Lunenburg, so you have to climb the hill a couple of times or more each day and then climb up to the third floor of the academy when you arrive for classes with Kevin Crawford or Chris Norman. Jean Michel Veillon and Paddy Keenan were on the second floor, and Marten Root was on the first floor.

Steve and I drove around on Wednesday to look for birds and to see some of the local scenery. We started at Masons beach - not much to see in the way of birds except for an active Osprey nest.

Here's the nest with one of the parents and two chicks. We've seen several osprey nests, but this one was the best view we had since we could get pretty close to it. The osprey was not happy with us and scolded us until we moved away a bit.

Next, we stopped at the golf course across the harbor from Lunenburg to take in the vista. I really like the brightly colored buildings of the water front.

We rented a PT cruser for the week. It was kind of fun to drive, but not as comfortable as my Honda Odyssey. Steve liked the color, though.

We drove over to Blue Rocks to look for birds. We heard a lot of song birds, but didn't see any of them. We did see a Willet - a new one for our list.

The scenery is beautiful with all the water, rocks, islands, and brightly colored houses and boats.

Here's another veiw without my Woodcentral hat in the foreground.

Another typical view of the area.

The blue rocks that give the area its name are a type of shale. These lines etched in the rock remind me of glacial grooves, but they could also be erosion patterns. The glacial grooves I've seen in rocks in South Africa are much wider and deeper than these, but those ones are from the Permian glacial epoch about 250 million years ago.

There's a turn around at the end of the road in Blue Rocks. This and the next picture are from that area.

We had another ceili on Wednesday evening - this one was open to the community and was at St. John's parish hall. The band consisted mostly of the Boxwood faculty - one couldn't ask for a better band for dancing. What a treat!

Day 4: July 27, 2006
Every morning of the week was pretty misty, which is a good indicator of how much humidity we had in the area. On Thursday morning's walk up the hill to the academy I saw this patch of grass dotted with hundreds of spider webs made visible by the dew saturating the area.

I wonder what kind of spider makes this web? Does it hunt only during the night? Curious minds want to know.

I took morning classes with Kevin Crawford and Jean Michel Veillon. I'm amazed at the virtuosity each of them brings to their traditional music - Irish for Kevin and Breton for Jean Michel. The variations and ornamentation they use for their respective genres are very different, but the effect is similar in the coloring of the tunes with interesting nuances and phrasings.

I took my first class with Rod Garnett on Thursday afternoon. He is an accomplished musicologist who collects the tunes of different cultures around the world. For this session he was teaching us a tune from Macedonia that is counted in 7. He also played tunes in 11 and 13 - pretty cool stuff! The key to playing these weird time signatures is to either know how the music is danced to or to know how to tap your feet while playing. For the tune is seven I think of the tapping pattern as "long, short, short, long, short, short." This was a fun session.

Steve took several afternoon classes with Rod. He's doing a digital video recording of Rod playing. That's Joel on the left - a young teenager who was here on his own. We gave him a ride to the airport on Saturday morning. He had to meet us at the Fire House at 3:15 am to catch early morning flights from Halifax. I can't imagine sending my youngster off on his own to Canada for something like this, but Joel seemed pretty comfortable all week.

I took another bodhran class with Kevin Crawford on Thursday afternoon. I really enjoyed this one. The highlight for me was to be able to play bodhran with Kevin playing the flute. He told me that I'm "an accomplished bodhran player." He may have just been saying that to be polite, but it felt good to have such a great player saying this to me.

Steve and I took a long walk around the Lunenburg Harbor to look for birds and to see more of the scenery on Thursday afternoon. We weren't expecting to see this sight, though - a section of the Berlin Wall that was outside a small military post.

We also walked out onto the bar in the harbor that is exposed at low tide. It's a pretty rocky and crunchy place to walk. The crunchiness comes from all the mussel and crab shells underfoot and from popping the sea weed bladders. There were two types of gulls out here and we had our first look at the Lesser Yellowlegs - a bird that is nicely camouflaged against the rock and sea weed mats.

The view of the waterfront is pretty good from out there, too. The bright red building at the right of this photo is the Fisheries Museum. The Blue Nose II is moored just to the left of the museum.

This view is to the left of the scene from the previous photo.

Here's a typical view of the boats in the harbor.

Steve did a workstudy all week, which meant that he was on kitchen duty for nine meals in a row. Here he is with Kim, who was also on workstudy.

L to R: Mave, Amy, Ryan and Steve before Thursday's dinner.

L to R: Joanne and Al McDonald and Steve. Joanne and Al stayed at the Lunenburg Inn all week and so we had breakfast with them each morning.

Steve and I enjoying a week away on our own. It's hard to believe that it took us 23 years to do this, but now that Michael is old enough to watch after his younger sibs we took the plunge and had a blast all week.

One more pre-dinner pic to share.

Thursday night's entertainment was the talent show. This was a lot of fun. Most of the acts were musical in nature, but a few were skits or other funny sketches.

Here's Ryan singing a beautiful song. He also played some fiddle tunes for us.

One of the big hits of the evening was our "Meatloaf" skit. This is an old cub scout standard that Steve has done over the years. We asked Kevin Crawford, Katie Glen and Kim to join us for some fun. Kevin is a natural ham, so this was a lot of fun for us. For those of you who don't know the skit, there are only a couple of lines for each person - the rest of it is all improv and we had a blast playing off one another.

The most fun sketch was the "Boxwood" rendition. I hate to think that I'll be remembered for my role in the meatloaf skit, but I don't think anyone who saw it is ever going to forget it.

Another fun skit was done by this guy with his amazing unicycle. I'll have to fill in details later when Steve can remind me of them.

The best type-casting skit was this one called, "Got reed?" That's Paddy Keenan on pipes and Shelly Phillips on English Horn.

The cast for the Meatloaf skit.

L to R: Andi, Kevin, Kim, Steve, and Katie.

Rita and Stuart Glen (Katie's parents).

Day 5: July 28, 2006

My final two classes at Boxwood were on Friday morning - first with Chris Norman and then with Kevin Crawford. Chris tried to teach us a waltz, but that didn't quite work out as planned. We switched off to a simpler tune in the end. I took another class with Kevin Crawford, which was more of a wrap up to the week.

Paddy Keenan came in to Kevin's class on Friday morning. Here he is standing next to Steve at the back of the room.

Steve and I skipped Friday afternoon to go birding and sightseeing. We drove over to Second Peninsula where we walked on this rocky shoreline to try to see some birds. We saw ospreys, a bald eagle being chased by gulls, and some song birds that we couldn't get a good enough look at to catch their field marks for identification.

These rocky beaches are ankle twisters. It's hard to go birding when you have to watch every step.

It was lovely, though.

This small pond was just above the beach. We saw a Great Blue Heron fly over the pond to land up high in a tree. What a strange thing to see. We've seen GBH's do this in Ohio on dead trees, but this one landed in a conifer tree and looked like it was going to break off the branch from the weight it put onto it.

There's an osprey nest toward the left hand side of the conifer trees.

Another view of the nest for reference to where the pond is located.

If you look at the larger image you might see the Willets and the Lesser Yellowlegs on this patch of sea weed.

We finished our drive in Mahone Bay where they were filming a TV movie. It's a picturesque kind of town, but more touristy than I like to visit.

The final event of Boxwood was an amazing concert presented at the United Church. This featured Rod Gardner, Kevin Crawford, Jean Michel Veillon, Paddy Keenan, David Greenberg, and Chris Norman and his band. Marten Root played a solo during the finale.

I was wandering around downtown looking for the church when Chris Norman came along on his way to the gig. He walked me the rest of the way and it was nice to be able to tell him how much I had enjoyed the week. This year was the 12th Boxwood event, and Chris and been the producer for each one.

Katie and Rita Glen at the concert.

The grand finale featuring the faculty. What a fantastic way to end a fun week of traditional music.

I hope you enjoyed this travelogue. If you'd like to see more pictures from Boxwood, here are a couple of links for you to follow: Steve's 2006 Boxwood photos, Marten Root's photos, and you can also check the Boxwood blog organized by Amy O'Neill.

No comments: