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.

Finally! It doesn’t take this long to play the tune!

Trim the Velvet <p>Watercolor</p> <p> Copyright Margaret Sloan 2009
Trim the Velvet
Copyright Margaret Sloan 2009

This week I painted my final version of William Bajzek’s hands playing flute. I think I’ve painted about 12 versions of this; I’m happiest with this last version, although I also like the earlier version I posted in February.

I’m calling it Trim the Velvet, one of my favorite Irish tunes. It’s a tune that falls beautifully on the flute, and one that William plays really well. You can hear sound samples of William playing Irish music with his wife, Angeline, in their duo called Castlerock. Unfortunately, they haven’t any sound samples of Trim the Velvet on their website. They should.

12 versions of the same painting. That’s a pretty compulsive thing to do. But I made about every mistake a person can make in those 12 paintings. Sometimes I made pretty awful color decisions (and sometimes no decisions at all). I struggled to create soft edges. I roared into the painting and impatiently splashed dark values onto the paper too soon. I didn’t pay attention to the paint.

These are the things I learned: Painting a watercolor is a lot like starting a relationship. It’s best to be delicate in the beginning, leaving room for the big decisions that you’ll have to make later on. Plan well. Make clear choices. Use a light touch. Be happy with what the painting wants to be.