Looking for a new nest


Bird on nest
© 2010 Margaret Sloan
Pastel on paper

It has been many a long month since I’ve blogged. Life has been busy! And for the last two weeks, we’ve been fluttering about like two meadowlarks before a bulldozer as our rented home has been put up for sale. In the Cities by the Bay—a metropolitan area crammed with overpaid hi-tech workers and floating on rivers of investor cash—we probably don’t stand a chance of building or buying, although that won’t stop us from trying.  But our best hope is to find a rental we can afford (dear reader, if you know of something, please let me know…).

Home is a tenuous place. Lots of people in the world don’t have homes. The economy sneezes and lives fall apart. Tornadoes rip off roofs, and earthquakes crumble walls. Water drowns foundations, and  fire sends all to ash. War…well, thank God we don’t have to worry about that in our country right now.

And when you come down to it, home isn’t just a structure (although structures shelter you from rain or wind). It’s in your heart, with those you love. And the fiddler is my home, his arms my shelter, and his music-filled heart the center of our family nest. (Yeah, yeah. Sappy, I know. But scary times call for large amounts of sap.)

Fiddle Nest

Music Sunday


Portrait of a fiddler (but not my fiddler), done in a Canson sketch book with a Pigma Micron pen.

Music is an essential part of my life. You all know what that means. I almost never play much music anymore.

People are funny that way; the things that mean the most to us often take a back seat to everything else. And despite the fact that the fiddler and I love to play music, (in fact, playing traditional Irish music is the oldest, strongest part of our relationship) we are both scheduled to the hilt with non-musical tasks, and so we don’t often have a day devoted to tunes.  To break this trend, we decided to make last Sunday a music day.

The first event we attended was the 9th Annual Santa Cruz Harp Festival at Our Lady Star of The Sea Church, presented by Shelley Phillips of the Community Music School of Santa Cruz. I hope you’ll see more about this wonderful school in future posts.

Harp players

I’ve never seen so many harps in one place! Pixie harps, celtic harps, concert harps, wire strung harps. The music was lovely, the church was beautiful, with lots of milky winter ocean light pouring through etched-glass windows. Perfect for drawing, but the sanctuary was crowded, and I was, of course, struck with extreme shyness.  Someone might look at me! Oh! The Horror! But I dredged up some grit, got out my journal and sketched while the musicians played. If anyone watched me, I didn’t know about it. I listened to the music and drew. It was like a little bit of heaven.


If you click on this sketch, you’ll be able to see a blurry bit on the fiddler’s chin (also not my fiddler) where my pennywhistle dripped moisture as I played a tune over the half finished drawing. Although the pen was a Pigma Micron, and supposedly waterproof, I guess it’s not immune to pennywhistle drool. 

Afterwards we stopped at The Poet & The Patriot Pub for the last bit of the Irish session. It was brilliant fun, and once again I forced myself to open the journal and draw (mostly while the other musicians played tunes I didn’t know). No one even payed attention; they were intent on their jigs and reels. And that was the most lovely thing of all.

Celtic harp

Loving the fiddle

I’ve been working on this watercolor of my friend, Cyndi, holding her fiddle. Finally it’s finished (oops, except for strings. I’m going to add those using chalk).

I don’t have much to say about it right now, except that it took me longer than I expected.

Klezmer Festival!

I was lucky enough to have a front row seat and plenty of light, so out came the sketchbook. How much happier could I be than to listen to amazing music while drawing the amazing musicians making said music?

Last night we heard the trio Veretski Pass play their Klezmer Shul, a beautiful piece of music that combines Jewish sacred and secular music of Eastern Europe (and maybe some “co-territorial” music from other cultures).

In a talk with the audience after, the fiddler Cookie Segelstien (oh, alright, she’s a violinist, if you want to reference her work in the classical world. As if being an amazing Klezmer fiddler isn’t enough) told us that there used to be, a long time ago, special shuls (houses of worship) dedicated to specific tradesmen. There were shuls for builders, and tailors, and, they think, there were shuls for musicians. Cookie said, “we asked the question, in that light, what kind of music would Klezmer musicians jam on?”

The music was terrific. It was haunting, and joyful, and all the things you’d expect from three amazingly gifted musicians mining the very roots of their musical souls. The Klezmer Shul is what happens when classically trained musicans cross over into folk music and create something new and wonderful.

I loved what I heard last night, but it was more academically inclined (not that this is a bad thing, mind you). It’s just that the kind of music in the clip below makes my heart dance. This video clip is pure Klezmer.

I’m hoping we’ll have some of this music in the house soon. My own fiddler has been away these last two days, attending Klezmer workshops at the KlezCalifornia yiddish Culture Festival at Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto. I would have loved to join in the fun, but I just can’t take on another hobby right now. But I’m hoping he brings home some tunes.

A fiddle is only as good as it plays


This  fiddle I saw at the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival. The lady bought it in the 1970s. She thought it was a Vuillaume. Maybe.


The name Vuillaume could mean anything. It’s like finding a fiddle in your grandmother’s attic, peering through the f-hole and seeing a  Stradivarius label. Probably not a real Strad. Lots of people have made lots of money selling instruments with phony labels. And musicians tend to give their instruments distinguished pedigrees.


But whatever this fiddle’s ancestry, it is a lovely piece of work, with a beautifully carved scroll, and cunning carved corners on the back, and Celtic-looking purfling. The scroll does place it sometime during the 19th or early 20th century—a time when ornamentation was popular on all things, and ornamented scrolls decked out many fiddles.

I’m not a violin connoisseur, so I didn’t know enough then to look closely at the painting on the back to see if it is inlay, painting, or both.

The most important things about a fiddle are how it feels when you play it, and how it sounds. An instrument can have the beauty of Grace Kelly, but if it shrieks like a toothless angry old witch, then it’s of no use.

The owner of this fiddle treated it with the casual attention you’d give a favored pet. It sat next to her as she sat listening to the music. She carried it around, cradled in her arms. She loved it. She said it had a great sound.

That’s all that’s important.