The music in your bones

Watercolor color study
Watercolor color study

Last night after the session wound up, after the last Irish jig and reel danced out across the floor, after the last polka whirled by and the last hornpipe bobbed out for the night, after the flutes were swabbed  clean and the fiddles wrapped and stowed in their cases., we musicians fell to talking a bit about Irish music.

We talked about how we came to this old and eccentric style of music in this land of pop melody and commercial jingles. Nearly every person at that party came into the music during a crisis in their life (many of us, it seemed, found it while ending a bad relationship). We found solace in the music, friendship in our instrument. “When I feel down or troubled,” C. said, “I tell it to my fiddle.”

How well I know that type of long conversation with my flute.

Not everyone who comes to Irish music is an emotional refugee looking for comfort. Some are lucky enough to have been born into the music, and wise enough to continue playing their legacy. Others just enjoy the intellectual exercise of learning stacks of tunes. And most of us love the camaraderie and community that comes from playing this music with others.

But I’d wager that for lots of musicians, the music is more importantly a place of comfort and safety. The familiar tunes are like favorite stories  we tell ourselves when we’re happy, scared, bored, or sad.

No matter our level of competence, just to sit quietly by ourselves and play this music is to have a relationship with the tunes and with our instruments that is as deep and serious as our relationships with our spouses, our children, our parents.  I guess because ultimately, it’s a relationship with ourselves.

The fiddler

Art on Fiddle

This is a painting of my husband in his costume for his old time band Harmon’s Peak. He was practicing before a gig and I snapped a few shots of him.

For the past 3 years I’ve studied watercolor with Steve Curl at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto, California. I’ve learned a great deal from him, particularly how to plan a watercolor, and then not be afraid of the paint. We work primarily from photos, which some artists think is cheating, but I always make my own drawing rather than projecting or tracing. And Steve always cautions us  to not slavishly copy the photo, but to make a painting out of it. That may mean altering the photo a bit, leaving out the background, adding a tree, or rearranging the elements in the picture. In this painting I had to make up the light source, as I had used a flash for the photo and it washed out the nice home lighting that made me take the photo.