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

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
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!

Dances and Sessions, Death and the Domino Effect

It’s shaping up to be a busy month! In six days from now I’ll be joining Bernie Reilly, Jason and Renee Homey, and Beth Mason in the Second Chance Band once again to play for the Second Chance Square Dance at the Linen Building! That’s Friday the 20th, doors open at 7:00. I can’t wait to see all you fancy dancers there!
Boise Events: Second Chance Square Dance, Friday the 20th, 2013

The Ha’Penny sessions will be kicking into full swing on September the 22nd and all your favorite local Irish musicians are going to be there! As always, musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and join the session. If you haven’t been to a session at the Ha’Penny yet, go ahead and google “Ha’Penny Groupons” for a little extra incentive (or click on the link provided for as long as it’s available). There are often coupons for 50% off their delicious food — you won’t regret it!
Ha’Penny Food: 50% off

On a more sobering note, the Giant Leprechauns will be playing at the Domino Effect Benefit and Silent Auction on Thursday the 26th to help support the wife and family of Taylor Wood. Taylor died in a tragic swimming accident just a month after his marriage. He was a compassionate and generous man who inspired goodness and joy in everyone he met. You can read more about him in his obituary, here: Taylor Wood, 1989 – 2013. Proceeds from this event will go towards helping the family with the costs of his passing. The event will be held at Rocci Johnson’s establishment in downtown Boise; please view her Facebook Event for more information.
The Domino Effect Benefit and Silent Auction

The RDNaturally Calendar is all up to date for September in case you don’t want to remember all these random dates. There’s great music all around Boise this month, so get out there and make the most of these remaining warm days!

(Featured photo is by Anna Lisa Yoder. Check out her portfolio of gorgeous work! Anna Lisa Yoder)

Maureen O’Hara: Partying in Style

Ms. O'Hara's 93rd Birthday!

You’ve all probably been wondering, “Where’s Rachel gone?” (Well, all two of you who are still following me, that is!) Let me explain: … no, there is too much. Let me sum up: It’s tough to keep your page updated when you’re getting married, traveling to horsemanship events, and prepping for two weeks outside of the US. Nonetheless, I promise the music has not fallen by the wayside! This website and my page will be undergoing some changes soon, but as anyone who’s ever needed a laundromat knows, change is good.

On to the exciting news! Maureen O’Hara, Irish actor and singer, is turning ninety-three on August the 17th and has organized quite the birthday fundraiser bash. Starting at 10 a.m. she’ll be at the Egyptian Theater for the showings of a few of her movies and a meet and greet, and at 6:00 her “birthday gala” will be held at the Boise Grove Hotel. The Giant Leprechauns will be playing at the start of the gala to kick it off and providing background music during the dinner, and later in the evening our friends from Irish Dance Idaho will showcase their energetic Irish steps and choreographies!

It’s a huge honor to play fiddle for Maureen’s celebration and net proceeds from the event will go to the Justice Alliance for Vulnerable Adults, an Idaho elder abuse foundation. Happy birthday, Ms. O’Hara!

Giant Leprechauns at the Grove Hotel
August 17th, 6 p.m. onward.

For more information on Maureen O’Hara’s event, check out her page!
Maureen O’Hara Birthday Celebration

Slow down, it’s a hoedown!

Short notice? Probably, but the Second Chance Square Dance at the Linen Building in downtown Boise is not something to be missed! The hoedown series has been going on for a while now thanks to the many people who come to enjoy live, local music and the-real-deal square dancing. The beauty of this style of dance is that you don’t even have to think, you just do what the caller tells you to do!

As many of you know, I’m pretty fond of dancing and therefore have always enjoyed coming to these hoedowns, but this time it’s going to be a bit more special for me. If you go to this hoedown on May 3, you’ll see little ol’ RDNaturally up on stage with Idyltime, helping provide the tunes for all those swingin’ dancers out there! Beth and Tate Mason of Coos County, OR, moved to Idaho a few years ago and recently joined up with the versatile Boisean fiddler, Dave Daley, and talented guitarist, Ava Honey, to create Idyltime. I’m looking forward to fiddling with these fantastic musicians, for sure. See you there!

Boise Events: Second Chance Square Dance at The Linen Building
1402 W. Grove St., Boise ID
Doors open at 7:00, Idyltime performs at 7:30, dancing starts at 8:00
$7 per person or $20 per family (up to six people)

Psst! Looking for the Best St. Pat’s Party?

Giant Leprechaun's St. Pat's Extravaganza, March 15th, 2013
Follow the sultry sound of my fiddle… that’s right, just a few steps more — mind you don’t step on the leprechaun.

Actually, the worst you’d do is tread on his toes. I’m talking about The Giant Leprechauns here! This Friday at the Linen Building they’ll be putting on the finest Irish celebration in all of Boise! Forget the joints serving tinny jigs pumped over loudspeakers and canned corned beef; these shenanigans will be powered purely by live Irish musicians (way better than the dead ones), Irish dancers, and some of the finest folk singers in the Ada County. Come see me as part of the Giant Leprechauns and stay for all the fine performances, 7:30 on Friday the 15th!

“But wait,” you may be saying. “St. Pat’s isn’t until Sunday! Whatever will you be doing from Friday to the blessed day o’ the Irish?” The correct answer is: Taking Sacramento by storm. I have the joy of reuniting with the Celtic band, The Glens of SMOW (Sambandha Music of the World), for five performances on Saturday the 16th and Sunday the 17th. That’s right, Sacramento is getting a little bit of Idaho love in just seven days!

Check out my calendar for the schedule and details!

Come be Clumsy!

The first annual Clumsy Fest is happening right here in Boise this Friday the 15th, featuring The Clumsy Lovers! Warming up the show will be the fantastic Irish group The Giant Leprechauns, including for her first time as a Leprechaun herself, Rachel Dunn! (Who, me? Shoot, surely looks like it!)

February 15-16, 2013 -- First Annual Clumsy Fest!The Clumsy Lovers have brought their mix of fiddle and banjo-fuelled, bluegrassified Celtic rock to North American audiences for over a decade. With more than 2500 performances under their belts, their high-energy shows have worn out dance floors and created a loyal following in 49 states and across their homeland of Canada. The San Antonio Express-News review says: “Their fusion of bluegrass and Celtic with a rock attitude is the soundtrack for a kinetic show that has helped the band become a favorite of the roots music crowd.”

I had the immense pleasure of dancing for the Giant Leprechauns at Curtis Stiger’s Xtreme Holiday Xtravaganza last December and have been fiddling with them at the Ha’Penny sessions for over five years. It was a real honor when Dave Daley asked me to become a Giant Leprechaun a few weeks ago! Also joining us will be Michelle Estrada with her incredible vocal talents. You will not want to miss this!

The music kicks off at 7:00 with an open jam followed by the Giant Leprechauns on stage at 8:00. It’s all happening at Humpin’ Hannah’s on Main St.! Get directions here: Directions to Hannah’s
I’m super excited for this show and can’t wait to see you there!

Check out the Clumsy Fest’s facebook page for extra info and updates:
First Annual Clumsy Fest Facebook Event