Christmas Harp Medley

Some easy listening background music for your Christmas weekend, featuring tunes from Ray Pool’s “Carols from Around the World, Book 2.” Enjoy!

Practice Everywhere to Perform Anywhere

“The key to good performance is excellent preparation.”

As another year’s Christmas recital looms ever nearer and the inevitable performance nerves start to set in, I start looking for more ways to reassure my students that they will certainly survive this harrowing experience to play another day. I stumbled across this interesting tidbit a few days ago and shared it with my students — now I share it with you!

An article I recently read on improving your brain’s performance cited a university’s study from the 1978, in which a group of students were told to study the same material in two different sessions. Half the students spent both sessions studying in the same room while the other half split their study time between two different rooms. When tested on the lesson material, the students who’d studied in multiple environments recalled 53% more material than the students who only studied in one place. (And that was just with TWO study sessions!)

Subsequent studies showed that varying other aspects of the study environment (the time of day, whether you’re sitting or standing, if you’re in a cluttered or tidy room, etc.) also increased memory recall.

The theory is that your brain links whatever it’s learning to the context around it. The more contexts you can link to what you’re learning, the more your brain will have to draw upon when it’s required to recall something.

THE TAKEAWAY: When you’re practicing a piece you intend to perform, I challenge you to vary your practice environment in as many ways possible.

You can try:
Sitting/standing/walking around while playing
Playing in a different room each session
Playing on your front porch (if the weather is semi-pleasant!)
Playing around family and friends
Playing during your lunch break at work, at a park, or during recess at school

Or get creative with stuff like:
Playing in a pitch-black room (betcha never done that before!)
Playing your song very, verrrry slowly. Try playing it very quickly — but remember to only go as fast as accuracy will still allow!
Playing while other music is playing in the background (it’s a brain-twister, for sure!)
Make a video of you playing your recital piece and post it to facebook/instagram/whatever social media site you frequent. (Send me a link if you do this! I wanna see!)

Practice everywhere so you can perform anywhere!
I look forward to hearing about how many creative ways you’ve practiced!

March Madness, 2016 Edition

It’s been a long time since I posted, but less time on the computer means more time with an instrument in my hands! I can’t believe we’re all ready heading into another St. Patty’s season, and here it is just around the corner!

Saturday, March 12th, I’ll be on the Knitting Factory stage with Chad and Vashti Summervill. We’re opening for the Young Dubliners, who have never failed to bring energy and wild times to this venue! Chad and Vashti bring upbeat folk tunes, thoughtful ballads, and toe-tapping covers to life with their sublime vocals and bright personalities. You’ll be hard-pressed to meet more genuine folks than these two! Doors at 7:30, show starts at 8:30 with the Maw Band, followed by Chad and Vashti and the Dubliners.

Tickets are available online at TicketWeb: Young Dubliners/Chad & Vashti (Use promo code CHAD) or in person at the Hyde Perk Coffee House for $14.

Thursday, March 17th, the Giant Leprechauns will once again be bringing the trad to Humpin’ Hannah’s in downtown Boise! We’ll be playing from 6:30-8:30 and there’s no cover charge to get in!
Get updates and more info on the facebook event page: Hannah’s St. Patty’s Day Bash

Directly after that the party keeps on going at Mulligan’s! We’ll play some tunes before Piranhas BC takes the stage, so stick around if you like to rock out!
Check out the facebook event here: St. Paddy’s Day at Mulligan’s

Four Etiquettes for Students

If there’s one thing you learn when you accept the responsibility of being a teacher, it’s that there are many, many personalities in the world. When you offer your teaching service for any length of time you certainly get to meet a plethora of personalities – and what a treat to have that opportunity! There are some fundamental courtesies, however, that I as a student always felt should be applied towards teachers, only to find later that not everyone feels the same way. Therefore, for the sakes of all the teachers out there who may have encountered similar instances as I, here is a list of four applicable concepts students should understand.

1. Value the Price of Learning
Unless a teacher specifically says they’re open to bartering, do not try to wheedle a lower price for their lessons, complain how you could never afford their original rates, then not even show up to your first lesson after you managed to whine your way to a lower price (true story.) I know that in this day and age of Craigslist the going adage is, “It never hurts to ask,” but sometimes it kind of does hurt. People don’t realize how much money goes into mastering an art form when someone is truly passionate about it. There’s the initial cost of your outfit (instrument, case, rosin, shoulder rest, tuner, metronome…), gradual upgrades to better instruments and bows, repairs and maintenance, years and years and years of lessons, workshops, fiddle camps, competition fees, not to mention the cost of gas to drive to and from all these places. It’s a lot. A whole lot. And someone who has genuinely cared to develop beauty with their instrument will put in the sacrifice of time and money to make it happen. Someone like a teacher. To ask them to lower their rates is to say you don’t value those sacrifices they’ve made or the dedication they’ve put into their instrument. So in this instance, yes, it does hurt to ask. After all, you get what you pay for, and if you’ve found a “cheap” instructor it probably means they haven’t invested much into what they’re teaching.

On the topic of trading for lessons, unless the teacher specifically says they’re open to trading, do not offer a pie in exchange for a month of lessons (as has happened to a teaching friend of mine). It would have to be some pretty amazing pie, possibly with a gold-plated crust. I once traded a fiddle lesson for a self-defense lesson, only to have the ‘teacher’ punch me in the face in the first ten seconds of my training and leave me with a split lip… that I had to go perform with on stage in California a week later. I’m pretty sure now that person was not licensed to teach self defense. I did not stay for the rest of the lesson — a pretty poor trade for an hour of my professional time, and it led me to create Etiquette Rule 1a: Don’t punch your fiddle teacher.

2. Respect Your Teacher’s Syllabus
It’s likely that when you were searching for a teacher you sought out the ones who correlated the best to your musical interests. Now that you’ve chosen a teacher, don’t go into your lesson doubting what they’re going to teach. I, for one, put a lot of thought into the series, programs, and textbooks that I use with my students, and sometimes I customize the materials to better fit certain lessons. Good teachers put a lot of time – years! – into their skills; it’s safe to assume they understand the overall process better than the student who’s just started lessons, or has been playing on-and-off for two years. Please don’t take a handful of lessons from your teacher then tell them that your friend said you should be using different learning materials because that’s what their daughter’s teacher uses. (True story.) It’s wonderful that your friend is so immersed in her daughter’s education, but you can choose to listen to the teacher with years of experience that you specifically sought for their knowledge or to your friend with little-to-no knowledge of what’s going on in your lessons. I’ll leave that choice up to you.

Regardless of what specialization you want to eventually learn, all beginning fiddlers must start with basic concepts and tunes before graduating to more genre-specific songs. It will take some time to lay down the foundations before you get to the “fun stuff.” Don’t struggle your way through “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” then ask why you haven’t started learning “Orange Blossom Special” yet, or say you’re disappointed with your lessons so far because you only wanted to learn songs in minor keys (yes, I’ve had someone say that to me, too.) Which leads us to the next etiquette…

3. Be Open to the Learning Process
Please, do not spend your entire first lesson trying to correct your teacher (such as, telling them that the bow should only ever be rosined with downward-strokes, never upward strokes. True story.) The purpose of taking lessons is to learn that which you can’t do by yourself. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to make any progress with a student who thinks they know what they should be learning and argue or second-guess things during class. If you feel that you know more than your teacher, please kindly inform them of your ascension to musical enlightenment and cease taking lessons.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, please have a little heart in the learning curve and don’t beat yourself up for every mistake. No one picks up the violin for the first time and sounds like Kreisler. Keep your focus set on achievable goals and take pride in the accomplishment of each small step that will build into greater things! If you have a child who verbally abuses you during your lesson, please leave them at home and possibly seek counseling to amend your low self-esteem. (You know what I’m going to say next… true story.)

4. Take the Time
Please do not attend three lessons then inform your teacher that you want to quit because you don’t sound good. (This tale is verifiably accurate.) The violin is a wildly difficult instrument to make “sound good”, and of course your beginning attempts will be rough. Everyone’s are! If it were easy there would be no joy in the learning of it! The time you put into learning, understanding, and playing your instrument will directly correlate to your quality of sound and musical aptitude. It’s a simple statement, but the difficulty is in the steady dedication of time. Even if you can only get in ten or twenty minutes of practice each day, do it! It’s far better to have twenty-minute sessions accumulating through the week than to have one hour-long practice.

Some students feel unhappy when they think they’ve reached a plateau in their lessons. They view this as “not learning.” When you pour concrete to make a new sidewalk, do you trowel out the wet mix, smooth it over, and proceed to walk on it? What a mess! That concrete needs time to set, to solidify, before you can take confident steps across it to your next destination. It’s my responsibility as a teacher to push my students and stretch their skills, but it’s equally my responsibility to make sure my students have times to practice the concepts they’ve learned and solidify the new muscle memories and ideas. This feels like a plateau, when in actuality it is the setting of concrete skills.

In closing
The vast majority of the students I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are amazing. Their commitment, open curiosity, humor in the face of funny noises coming from their instruments, and constant search for true understanding of their instrument brings me overwhelming joy. To all of my excellent students past and present, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

St. Patty’s Gigs!

The day of Padraig rapidly approacheth! It’s the one time of year we Irish musicians are in high demand, and boy do we look forward to it! This weekend is going to be non-stop fun.

On Saturday the 15th the Giant Leprechauns are performing at the Linen Building for A Celebration of Irish Culture! Here’s the press release write-up:
“Family-friendly concert celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to be held on Saturday, March 15

“The Giant Leprechauns” will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at the Linen Building, 1402 W. Grove St. in Downtown Boise’s Linen District. $7 per person. All ages, full bar (I.D. required), Archie’s Food Truck. Plenty of free, off-street parking is available at the Linen Building.

Idaho’s premier Irish music group presents an evening of traditional Irish music, song, and dance. The Giant Leprechauns are regulars at Curtis Steiger’s Christmas Extravaganza and performed at Maureen O’Hara’s 93rd birthday celebration last year. With Dave Daley and Rachel Sulik on fiddles, Pat Harren on flute and whistle, Tim Sommer on guitar, and Michelle Estrada singing and playing drum (bodhran), the Giant Leprechauns play the same traditional Irish jigs and reels you would hear in pubs and concerts halls in Ireland. Their superb musical talents, coupled with their drive and energy, insures a high powered evening. This is an event that should not be missed for any fan of Irish music and culture. Start your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations early with us! You’ll not be disappointed.”
A Celebration of Irish Culture

Sunday the 16th we’ll be rocking the Ha’Penny with day-before-St.-Patrick’s fun! The session is sure to be packed with fantastic musicians in another family-friendly setting. No charge to get in here, so pop in any time between 7:30 and 9:30 and enjoy some pub chips and a pint!

Lastly, on the day of St. Pat’s (Monday the 17th) join us at Humpin’ Hannah’s for the greatest craic of all! We’ll be kicking off the show from 6:00 to 8:00, and at 8:30 our friends from Irish Dance Idaho will perform some high-energy Irish dance! The Boise Highlanders will amp up the scene after the dancers and Rocci Johnson herself will close the night with her rocking band.
No cover, and a $100 bar tab will be given to the Greenest Person there. Come on down and get your green on! Or is it the other way around?
Humpin Hannah’s

Are You Inspired?

I’m a huge fan of inspiration. There is nothing more exciting than going to a concert or a performance or even just going to a friend’s house to jam out and leaving all musically-charged and excited to play your own instrument, try out some new licks, or dabble in a new style. You can find inspiration in a single album or song that speaks to you, like a lightbulb that pops in your mind and says, “Man! I want to play like that!” I have a handful of musicians whose style, sound, and skills constantly intrigue me, and I’m always mentally picking apart their tunes to glean a new idea or two to try myself.

Here’s the catch: sometimes in the presence of something inspirational we’ll start to make negative comparisons. I had a tough time during my beginning years because I heard amazing fiddlers and knew I was nowhere near their skill, and I’d beat myself down for that. Competitions were unpleasant for me because I would be in an age category with teens who had been playing for eight to ten years while I had only been playing for two or three. The competition only cared that we were the same age, regardless of the age at which we’d started fiddling. It’s only logical that a person with ten years of experience will be better than a person with two years, but that didn’t make it hurt less when my name showed up at the bottom of the score list. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a top fiddler or that I cared about winning — I all ready knew I couldn’t play that well. It was because it solidified the thought in my mind that I was a terrible fiddler and I shouldn’t play in public. The only reason I kept on practicing and trying was because I truly loved Celtic music and kept the hope that if I stuck with it long enough it would eventually pay off. Years later, I think it did.

I remember seeing other teens at the competition – confident, relaxed, having fun – and I wished I could be like that. I was comparing myself to them and their experiences when really, I had no right to compare my limited fiddling time to their expansive fiddling experience. I didn’t listen to the product of their time and practice and think, “Wow, in a few years I could be like that!” I thought, “Holy cow. I can’t compete with that.” It would have been so much better if I could have just accepted that two years of playing is only going to sound like two years of playing and blocked out both the flat numbers that ranked me against far more skilled fiddlers than I and the idea that said I had to be as good as they just because we were in the same age division.

Sometimes it’s not easy to accept your musical abilities where they are. Let’s face it, no beginning fiddler sounds great at first! This is a stinkin’ difficult instrument to figure out and there will always be some technique you can improve, even ten or fifteen years from when you started. It can be especially difficult to accept where you are when you hear an excellent musician but I beg you, take that moment of, “Aw man, I’ll never be as good as them,” and turn it into: “I love that (style, sound, expression, whatever trait you admire in that musician)! I’m going to work towards that!” Turn that comparison into an inspiration. Inspiration motivates us to experiment, to play, to maybe connect a few dots that hadn’t connected before or gain a better knowledge of your instrument. Inspiration keeps us reaching for betterment.

So go on and get inspired! Really listen to what catches your attention in a song and try to reflect that in your own playing. But don’t forget that where you are right now is exactly where you need to be — it’s the perfect place to take that next step toward improvement!

Featured photo, titled “In the Hands of a Woman”, is by .sarahwynne. of Flickr. Check out her Flickr account here!
Flickr: .sarahwynne.

Merry Musical Christmas!

Happy holidays to all you music-lovers out there! The month of December is passing quickly, but this upcoming week is surely going to ramp things up right until Christmas Eve!

This Friday the 20th I’ll be fiddling at the Linen Building for the Second Chance Square Dance. Here’s what the Hokum Hi-flyers email had to say on it:

“Second Chance Square Dance this Friday December 20th
at
the Linen Building at 7 P.M.
1402 W. Grove St. in Downtown Boise’s Linen District.
$7 general admission

All ages, full bar (I.D. required). Plenty of free, off-street parking is available at the Linen Building.

Modeled after the popular Hokum Hoedown and featuring many familiar faces, the Second Chance Square Dance is a modern take on the old-time hootenanny featuring the infectious swing of an authentic acoustic string band. Providing music for the dance will be the Second Chance Band (Dave Daley, Tate Mason, Jason Homey, Renee Homey, Jim Williams and Rachel Dunn).

At each dance, a live band performs a diverse assortment of traditional folk-dance and string-band tunes while a cast of colorful callers directs the dances. In addition to square dancing, the event features some good old-fashioned, swingin’, two-steppin’ western dancing. Young and old, couples and families, tattooed hipsters and ten-gallon cowboys … the Second Chance Square Dance is a come-as-you-are, hand-clappin’ hootenanny for all.”

The fun doesn’t stop there. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (the 21st through the 23rd) the Giant Leprechauns will be opening the Curtis Stigers’ 8th Annual Xtreme Xtravaganza at the Egyptian Theater! Local musicians and bands fill the evening from 6:50 to 10:00 each night with an eclectic array of genres and personalities and proceeds benefit the Interfaith Sanctuary for homeless people and families. The Leprechauns will be first on the stage at 6:50 and last on the stage at 10:00 for the big finale. What a great way to lead up to Christmas!

I hope that you all have joyous music to fill your holidays and a very merry Christmas!