April 22, 2015

Southern Maryland Celtic Festival Harp Competition – this weekend!

Come join us at the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival Saturday, 25th April. Rain or shine, we’ll be in the Breckenridge building (that’s right – no tent or lean-to for us – we’re in a real building with walls and ceilings!)

Our judge this year is the fabulous Sharon Knowles, a Scottish Harp Society of America Distinguished Judge – we are so fortunate to have her!  Sharon will also be teaching a workshop – so even if you’re not inclined to compete, bring your harp along anyway and learn a new tune.  In addition, we’ll have a Harp Circle so please join us for that as well.  And if you’ve got your harp there anyway, you could also stay for the Ceilidh at the end of the day!

Remember if you are planning to compete, buy a Harp Competition ticket.  You can get there either by going to the Harp page of the Celtic Society of Southern Maryland (CSSM) website  (http://www.cssm.org/events/festival/competitions/highland-harping/) or from the general ticket page (http://www.cssm.org/tickets/) and be certain to click on the Harp Competition button).  If you have fans (friends, family) coming they can buy regular tickets

And if you’re coming with your harp but not competing, buy a regular ticket (there is no price difference).  If you’re not sure, buy a competition entry ticket and we’ll sort it out on the day. 

Arrival registration will start at 0930 and the competition will begin at 1000.

Don’t forget you’ll need to download, complete, and bring the signed Hold Harmless as well.  Once at the competition, we’ll assure that your SHSA membership is up to date (remember that it will be $18 for the calendar year, check payable to SHSA is a great idea!).  Rules state that the first to register is last to play in each category, so get online and get registered!

Weather is predicted to be fine and cool – if you have questions, you know how to get ahold of me – just ask!  I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

April 15, 2015

Summer’s a’comin' in

While it’s all well and good to be planning, dreaming and thinking about the upcoming opportunities that summer brings, you’ve got to be ready before it gets here!

I think the “workout to look good in your bikini” stories and catalog layouts are a good point in time to start preparing yourself so you can be ready for all the fun that summer workshops bring.  But “what could you possible do to prepare to have fun?” you might ask.  The best answer is, “Plenty!”

Here are five things you can do to be sure you’re ready to focus on learning instead of focusing on how you don’t feel well:

  1. Start doing  legwork – spend an appropriate amount of your practice time working on the things you need to work on – scales, chords, transitions, speed, agility, sight reading – whatever “legwork” you need to have in your head and in your hands so you’re ready to learn and don’t have to be watching the basics.
  2. Build your stamina – most of us don’t have the luxury of spending an entire day at our harps – which also means me probably don’t have the stamina to be at our harps all day.  Start early from where you are with practicing and SLOWLY build up to a much longer time on the bench. Practice sitting, upright, in good alignment and with your harp.
  3. Build your strength -  most of us don’t get to spend a long time playing so while building up your stamina, play gently to allow your fingers to build strength (and to toughen up those callouses) so you have the tolerance to spend all that time not just sitting at your harp but also playing it.
  4. The best beginning comes out of a good ending – start mindfully stretching after each practice. Build in time in your schedule and in your thinking to actively stretch yourself after sitting and working hard at your harp.  Be sure to work all the areas you exercised including your neck, shoulders, legs and glutes – and don’t forget your arms and fingers!
  5. Thimk – be sure to spend some of each practice time practicing practicing.  Build within yourself good habits that allow you to spend your workshop time actually learning something.  Spend this pre-workshop time identifying what you need help with so you can ask questions of the workshop tutors and be aware of your strengths and weaknesses so you can build from what you learn. 
Being prepared for the arduous work of having fun will help you have a more enjoyable time and will assure that your time and money were well spent on the workshop you chose!

April 8, 2015

The Swannanoa Gathering - Guest blog!

I can't possibly get to every harp event and there are a few that are on my, "one of these days, I'm going to get to ....." list.  Swannanoa Gathering is one of those events so I asked Mike Connors to tell you about it -

The Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week July 12-18, at Warren Wilson College nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville NC is an unsurpassed week long immersion with some of the world’s finest Celtic musicians. It is always the week after the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, also in NC.  I attend annually to study Irish harp with Grainne Hambly and Scottish harp with Billy Jackson. In addition to beginning and advanced harp classes, there are courses in fiddle, singing, dance, bodhran, flute, mandolin, guitar, accordion, whistle, uillean pipes, banjo, bouzouki, banjo, and concertina.  Students can register for up to four classes which meet every day, although I usually just take two so that I can have time to practice and learn to actually play some of the stuff while I am still there. Over the years in addition to harp classes I’ve had the chance to take a bodhran class, beginning pennywhistle with Billy Jackson, DADGAD guitar with Eamon O’Leary, bouzouki with Robin Bullock, and session guitar with Donal Clancy. Ed Miller teaches Scottish singing classes, and the biggest stars in Celtic instrumental and vocal music are there annually.  With the likes of Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford, and John Whelan and too many other greats to list here (see the roster for yourself https://www.swangathering.com/catalog/cl/celtic-week.html) the faculty concerts, extra “potluck” afternoon seminars, after supper slow sessions led by the staff, and late night sessions create such an incredible experience that you will not experience much sleep-there is just too much music.

Afternoon slow session with Billy Jackson, Robin Bullock, and Brian McNeil
In addition to the quality instruction, the campus is beautiful, the food is outstanding, and the musical friendships that are created and renewed every year truly make this a gathering.  The sessions last late into the night. Imagine a hillside dotted with open air tents and dozens of music sessions happening at once-complete with a beer truck supplying local microbrews, wines, and a grill cook serving up food and snacks. There are fast sessions, slow sessions, big sessions, Scottish sessions, Irish sessions, Breton sessions, small sessions, alpha sessions, and song sessions. The faculty gets out and plays, with each other and with the students. I have witnessed Battlefield Band reunions, gotten to sit in a slow session and play the Kesh Jig set with members of the Bothy Band, and played music, shared tunes, and made lifelong friendships with people that share the love for this music.

The only thing that could keep me away from the Swannanoa Gathering would be a trip to Ireland and Scotland-which is where I will be during this year’s gathering, although I’m going to be back in time to visit Friday night and reconnect with friends and jam into the night. How ‘bout a tune?