Monday, November 28, 2016

28th November 2016 - New Week New Tune

So I had a challenge last week and decided to keep on Fig For A Kiss for two weeks.  Hard decision but I felt it was the right one for quality over quantity.

This week moving on to Blackthorn Stick/Coach Trip To Sligo .. let's see ...

27th November 2016 - Car Flute

When I bring my Olwell anywhere I never leave it in the car.  I've put it in my backpack to shops and visiting friends.

Then again I don't like to take it out of the house unless I'm going somewhere I need it to practice.

So what to do when I don't take the Olwell?

I have a Car Flute.  It's a plastic Dixon D and it lives in the car.  You never know when you'll have 20 minutes waiting around when you're doing Dad-Taxi so not uncommon to find me sitting in the back seat playing Lazy Road.  Plastic isn't fantastic but better than nothing for a little practice anywhere.

26th November 2016 - Comhaltas Clane

Took a quick trip down to Clane GAA last night for their last Friday of the month session.

Unfortunately had to Dad-Taxi so couldn't stay long.  Next month I hope.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

25th November 2016 - Olwell 1 Month Flutiversary

I bought the Olwell one month ago.  25th October.  Here's a letter to Aaron and Pat.

Dear Aaron and Pat,

I did my semi-Ireland tour to pick up one of your keyless flutes one month ago.

Like talking badly about an old friend it feels wrong to talk about my 25 year old flute but the moment I touched the Olwell I could feel the difference.
The heaviness, stolidity, darkness of the wood.  Even though this wasn't a new flute the finish was beautiful.

I only played a few notes - the exchange was done in the front of a car in a closed, dark East Clare garage forecourt - so I had to wait until I got home to really play.

There's a weight to the flute and it almost feels like it you can hear that weight in the lower octave.  There's a solid, dark tone to the lower notes that you can feel.  I was surprised how I could feel the notes in my fingers.  It was just a lovely tone and feeling.

I wish I could say I was as happy with my playing in the higher octave.  My old flute hadn't a great tone (a windy bottle top comes to mind) but it was forgiving.  The new flute wanted precision and wouldn't forgive anything else.  My g' squeaked and complained at my weak embouchure.  I realised I'd work to do.

In the past month there hasn't been a day when I picked up the flute and played that I didn't have a little 'that's mine!' moment when I opened the case.  Practice hasn't always been easy but it has always been rewarding and as the month has progressed the g' has been telling me off a little less each week.

It's a beautiful instrument.  Thank you for taking the time to learn and practice your craft.  Thanks for my flute.  I wasn't sure about buying it before getting the keyed on order but it was definitely the right decision for improving my tone - I don't think I'll have the work to do again on my embouchure for the keyed.  Also I have the pleasure of playing this until 2019.

Hope you're all keeping well in Virginia - happy playing, happy making.



24th November 2016 - Easy like Thursday evening

Apologies to Commodore fans for that really terrible play on their song title.

So practice tonight was really good.  I sat in a cozy seat - had a really relaxed vibe and wasn't trying to force anything.  I played really softly - or tried to.  To see if I could get the higher notes easily and without effort - with the right tone and sweetness - but without pushing too much air to force them.

It was a lovely session and gave me a glimpse of what might be ahead.
What I enjoyed was the ease.  Slowing it all down and getting a nicer result.  No rush.

23th November 2016 - Humpday

The middle of my working week now coincides with the middle of my practice week.

I ask myself how well I'm doing .. usually worry that I'm behind.

I ask myself if I'm pushing ahead or going for quality?

Practice is good though.  Certainly enjoyable.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

22nd November 2016 - God-given talent

Munster Rugby legend Paul O’Connell has warned against the notion of ‘God-given talent’ or ‘born naturals’ in sport and life.

It’s dangerous.

Success comes through hard graft and dedication.
You hear a lot about a person having a God-given talent. I hate that phrase.

It’s a dangerous saying.

You hear about somebody having an ear for music, a born natural and inheriting a talent for a game in their DNA. There are a whole load of sayings like this that permeate our conversation:
That excellence is somehow pre-ordained.
It is not.

This belief denies the incentive to practice and make that huge effort needed to reach your goal. There is this myth and I don’t buy into it. Beware of this talk about God-given talent and don’t let anybody put their dreams of success aside because they might feel they don’t have the same talent as others.

Everybody has the same opportunity to work and practice. People who are excellent at what they do have practiced more and often fail more but work harder and bounce back. It’s about being prepared to work and graft very hard.

After Tiger Woods became the youngest winner of the Masters in Augusta he was written about as being the most natural golf talent ever seen.

But if you dig into his past you see the real story of his father working on his golf game even before he was a year old. It was relentless hard work and dedication and did not come to him naturally.

The Beatles were hailed an overnight success, but the group had put in enormous time, often working in seedy nightclubs across Europe, developing their music. In one 18-month period they did more than 270 concerts before they hit the charts. Their success was not about a God-given talent, but sheer dedication and hard work.

21st November 2016 - Pick it up

So tonight I picked up the flute after very little practice for several days.

I honestly said to myself will I even be able to make a decent tone.  I was worried I'd produce terrible sounds - be unable to hit the high g (which was actually improving a lot).

But - it was great in every way.

Firstly the tone was as good as I've ever played.  If anything it was unforced, relaxed.
Once I heard the tone and - unrelated to myself - the lovely sound of the flute (again thank you Mr Olwell) I just said to myself 'wow - I love this thing' and that was it.

Went right through 'Fig for a Kiss' and really enjoyed it.

Played another couple of tunes - all fun and lovely.

It was great.  I loved it.  It was the best part of my day.
And that's what happened next.   Cool.

20th November 2016 - Weak week

What a really bad week for practice.

Since Wednesday it has been patchy or nothing.
Today Sunday was another day of driving in circles then back to Kildare.

I suspect what happens next will be the interesting bit.

19th November 2016 - Going in circles

Been struggling to find time since the middle of the week and as time goes by I plan then it doesn't work out .. then I plan again.

Saturday was a day of driving in circles (you do a lot of that when you're in a car with someone learning to drive).  And yes I could have disappeared later to practice.  But I still haven't conquered the feeling that I shouldn't do it.  I'm not sure I'm wrong.  But after a few hours driving practice and no social time you definitely have to prioritise people.

So .. no practice.

18th November 2016 - Mice Men & Flutes

I said yesterday I was planning to plan.

I said yesterday "Let's see how that goes..."

Well it didn't go.

I did Dad-Taxi until late and got home tired.  No practice.
I was tempted to do a few minutes just to do a few minutes but I felt that was crazy.  I was picking up the flute to blow a few notes just to not miss a day.  That wouldn't be practice it would be duty.

I'm not happy about it but .. there it is ..

So I think that what matters now is what I do next.  I've had a really bad week for practice - so maybe this next bit is about what you do when that happens.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

17th November 2016 - Plan to have a plan

So I tend to write up this blog at the end of the day.  Makes sense as mostly it's a reflection/diary.

Today I'm writing before lunch.

Yesterday's 16th Nov post noted that I was a bit distracted and wasn't keen to practice.  So that's something I'm going to plan my way out of today.

I've a bit of Dad-Taxi work to do until about 8pm.  So I'll organise things to start my practice at 8-830 and will get a good 2 hours done.

Let's see how that goes...

16th November 2016 - Giving the car a little push

I was going to write "for no reason at all today I really didn't want to practice .. it wasn't that I just wasn't bothered to practice .. I actively didn't want to"

Then I realised that this wasn't true at all.

What happened was I was busy - or more accurately - mentally engaged - or more accurately - worried .. about something else.

So the cogs of my head were off worrying about something so I was actually swatting away the work/pressure/hassle/bother of practice.

It was like a bothersome additional chore when my mind was shouting "but don't you know I'm worried about this other thing!"

But of course I should have trusted my shifting gears theory and trusted that by practicing I'd both be in a different place (away from the thing I was worried about) and I'd have the pleasure of a nice practice session.

When in doubt next time I'm just going to fake it 'til I make it for a few minutes.

I remember reading that Freud suggested that we only have so much mental energy.  Perhaps if you've used your allotment up worrying you tend to run out of fuel?  I'd suggest though that if you can push the car a little (start a bit of practice) you'll end up filling the tank with the playing?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

15th November 2016 - Manshed

That Librarian who told me that men want to collect and master stuff must have also been thinking about mansheds.
Men and their sheds is a pretty universal phenomenon - right?
A place away from things were men store their hunting gear or play guitar or just get away from the house for a minute.

Not my Shed.  Mine has Guinness on tap.

Well it was pretty late when I got to practice tonight so rather than skip it I ended up in my shed playing flute at 11pm rather than keep my youngest teen - who fancied an early night - awake.

I suppose I was forced into my manshed but .. well at least I had one to be forced into ..

Come the Spring I might do a big clean up and get a chair out there to allow all hour practice in comfort.

Actually I have a snug little downstairs sitting room which I've pictured as a session room.  I've visualised a few folk coming over to play a few tunes.  Let's see.

Monday, November 14, 2016

14th November 2016 - Chores

 At this time I would be practicing at least three/fours hours per day, every day. This wasn’t so much a chore as I was so caught up with so much to learn.

Fair play to Tom McElvogue.

I might try noting the times of my practice for a week or two - put myself to shame a bit but would be interesting to note.

I had a preview of the Long Hard Road album .. sounds amazing .. well worth a listen I think.
Listen to what that much love and dedication sounds like.

13th November 2016 - Adjust your fluting

The pessimist looks down and hits his head.
The optimist looks up and misses his step..
The realist looks ahead and adjusts his footing.

That's wisdom from TV.  I wonder what my playing says about me?

The days I feel bad about my playing am I staring at the ground and just feeling bad?
The days I think I'm doing really well am I fooling myself or feeling pround?
The realist looks ahead and adjusts his fluting.  Hope I do that now and again.

12th November 2016 - Playlists

Had the idea of creating two playlists.

The idea was to create two resources.
The first was a playlist of all the tunes I've done to date.  Full version tunes and ideally in a session context.  I don't mind how many times they're in the list - so I don't mind different instruments and session contexts - the idea is to hear the tune in various contexts and get a feel for lots of sessions feels for the tune.  When I then hear it in sessions I'll have a good feel for it.

The second playlist is all the same tunes but played slowly.  I've not always found slower versions so I've discovered that Audacity is great for changing tempo without changing the pitch.  However I've also found that I've been able to change the pitch - I changed Matt Molloy's Connaughtman's Ramble from Eb to D so I can listen along/play along to the slower version.

I aim to add to both versions as I go.
Hopefully they're a good resource.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

11th November 2016 - Mansplaining?!

I've realised a terrible danger about writing a blog.  I may be mansplaining ...... to myself!

Now I know the above describes Mansplaining to a Lady but I think you can Mansplain to anyone - even your future self.

How will I answer these questions as my future self .. will I say to past-me - 'you're not the expert and I didn't ask to know .. and you're not responsible to tell me .. and anyway I already know all of that'.

Am I telling things well known?
Am I equipped to talk about this?
Does everyone reading know this already?

Listen here future me .... I'm the expert on past me .. you can't ask because you don't exist yet so I have to presume you're curious .. and .. hell yes .. I am most certainly your teacher who is responsible for you .. and .. no .. you don't know this stuff already .. so .. that told ya future me.

If you don't understand that future me .. I'm happy to mansplain it to you again.  Slowly.

10th November 2016 - Time

There's a lot of mention in science about finding exoplanets in the 'goldilocks zone' surrounding other stars.  When we look closer we find planets in that zone where the heat from their star might allow liquid water.  But some of those planets are much bigger than Earth.  Even if those planets held liquid water and sustained life the intense gravity wouldn't allow our biology to function - our circulatory system would struggle or fail, our musculature wouldn't support us.  Even skirting the thin atmosphere of our planet for brief periods astronauts loose bone density and are bombarded with  lethal radiation.

We've evolved on Earth.  We use and require its many systems.  Gravity.  Water.  Air.  But what about time?

Usually we don't think about Time as an resource like heat from the sun but a news story yesterday got me thinking.  A scientist has put forward the theory that gravity isn't real.  Gravity he suggests is an emergent force.  Best explanation is comparing with temperature.  

We experience temperature when we pick up a hot coffee mug but really the physics is that of atoms moving about in the mug.  Temperature is our emergent experience of atoms in motion .. temperature in itself isn't real .. it is just how our skin evolved to experience those moving atoms.  Which brings me back to Time.

We've evolved to experience Time in much the same way as the hotness of that mug. We don't care what it is or how it works (unless we're building a flux capacitor) but the core of our humanity is immersed in the experience of Time.  It defines so much of us from the obvious alarm clock in the morning to the existential nag when we see our time here passing.

Steve Jobs in his Stanford graduation speech speaks about time, particularly death.

"almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important"

How much of our natures and behavior is determined by time?  If we had no passing time where would be our motivation, urgency, desire?  Would we have evolved a biological ability desire anything if we had an infinite time to even begin to think about fulfilling the first step in obtaining it.

Without wanting to bring concepts of religion into it .. this is one of the problems with afterlife concepts - if we have infinite time - will we really want a nice hot cup of tea in the morning?  Want.  Hot.  Really (urgency).  All these concepts fade away when we remove time.

So here we are bobbing around in a vast ocean of the relentless force that is emergent Time.

I practice each day.
I'm annoyed when I do poorly.
I'm pleased when I master something however small.
I'm looking towards October 2019.

But first I'm going to have a nice hot cup of tea.  Nothing like it in the morning.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

9th November 2016 - Ideal Readers

Perhaps another reason for this blog is talking to my children (now both well into their teens) one day.  Perhaps they'll want to start something or find it hard to start something.

Stephen King talks about who he writes to .. I think he calls it his 'ideal reader' .. I think for him this is his wife Tabitha.

Let's presume this was pre-intervention
I'm not sure I have only one ideal reader.

One Ideal Reader is future me.  This is where I'm nudging my current self to become that future player .. encouraging that evolving self to keep learning to play.  I wrote to him here.

Another Reader is Anne who I both want to know nothing so I can amaze her by being Matt Molloy suddenly and paradoxically also ask her for ongoing understanding.  Things like this.

Then there's my children.  I suspect there's a lot of background fatherly coaching going on.  Things about patiencekeeping goingattitude .. looking back I firmly suspect that I've been consciously or subconsiously (or just probably due to habit) wearing my Dad hat on those ones.

Then lastly there's the interweb.  I sort of deliberately don't write for that reader.  If I found myself doing that then I'd be trying to get readers .. saying things to get site hits etc.  That wouldn't be compatible with just writing about my journey.  One way I see this is by writing about the boring days.  They're the truth (and an important truth) but they make bad reading and if I was writing for others then I'd remove that.  But it's too important to exclude as part of the journey.

8th November 2016 - Shifting Gears

My eldest was asking me how it's going.  Funnily enough I'd only just done the first month post so I'd been thinking about it.

Told her that things were good.  Moving forward .. all that type of thing.

One thing that we did end up talking about is how this all feels to me.

I talked about what I'd been learning.
What happens if you have a hard day at work.  How you don't feel like practicing but when you do that you soon feel in a different place.  Funny how if you grumble to yourself about something it can keep you in that space.  What I've found is that after playing for thirty minutes or an hour I'm in that place - working the tune - redoing bits I'm not happy with.  It's like I have this completely different and now manageable 'problem' (that's the wrong word but it will do for now) that I can chip away at and then solve.  Perhaps it's just the act of playing music.

Whatever the reason after a time you're just emotionally in a different place to where you were when you started.  The little things that might have been said and were in your mental loop are all gone and you've definitely shifted gears.

It feels really good.

Monday, November 7, 2016

7th November 2016 - One Month

One month gone.

What have I done?

Play A Lot:
I've learnt Ryans (Fisherman's slip jig / black haired lass), Rolling in the rye grass, Pigtown and The Connaughtman's Rambles.
Concentrated on cuts and taps.
Work on second octaves.
Lots of work on embouchure and breathing.

Listen A Lot:
- Bought
Matt Molloy Shadows On Stone, Music At Matt Molloy,
Buttons & Bows: The Return Of Spring
Comhaltas: 3 sessions CDs
- Dug up (had gone missing for years) June McCormack Fliuit CD

- Bought Keymaster video (Pat & Aaron Olwell Documentary)
- Contacted all Comhaltas in area - will start lessons in 2017
- Got lessons organised by CiarĂ¡n Mac Gearailt - will start in 2017
- Bought a new keyless Olwell (and had a road trip to Clare)
- Went to the Comhaltas Tour in Tullamore and Clontarf
- Had a chat with Eamonn Cotter
- Exchanged a few emails with Aaron and Pat on the new flute

I can't complain about that.

What did I learn?

You have to practice slowly and keep at it.  It has to be every day.
Practicing when you're tired after work feels better than practicing late in the evening to fit one in before bedtime which feels better than practicing too little.

Finishing a good practice session always feels great.

When you miss a day's practice you have to get back on the horse and keep going immediately.

A cheap flute is nothing to a keyless Olwell but an Olwell demands a more exact embouchure on the higher octave.  You have to just keep practicing it.

I have to be prepared to look stupid and practice when I'm away from home.

Arpeggio definition is available in the dictionary.

35 Months to go.
A long time in one way and not so long for how far I have to travel.

6th November 2016 - Playing away from home II

So I know it's all my issue.

I just don't want to look like an ejit.

And if I'm really honest isn't that connected to not sounding great.  The foolishness is the ambition versus the reality.  To practice you're saying that you're trying to achieve a certain standard but the honking of the high g doesn't exactly promote confidence.

If I was upstairs playing like Matt Molloy I'd doubt I'd be shy.

So what I'm really doing is saying .. "ok .. I'm gonna go off now because I'd like to be good at this thing but right now I'm gonna sound like a drown cat so I'm not going to look very cool".

It's ok to not look very cool.
It's ok to sound not very good.

Blowing notes out of a stick in front of people doesn't make sense.
But very little does.

I have to update my Tunes section to think about how to finish the Connachtman's rambles.

5th November 2016 - Playing away from home I

So I'm away from home until Sunday night.

This is definitely a problem I'm going to have to face into.

Small.  Far Away.

I'm in Dublin and feel a bit stupid disappearing upstairs and playing the flute for an hour.  But if I don't it makes a huge hole in the week of practice.

The lady concerned (that solitary walker on that beach in the pic in Roundstone) won't care a bit .. I think it's me being a bit embarrassed by it.

Doesn't it seem a bit pretentious to be going off to practice?
The royal philharmonic haven't confirmed the booking.
I'll feel like a fool for going off to play the flute but I'll feel bad for not completing the tune this week (which has happened).

Friday, November 4, 2016

4th November 2016 - Slow, Slow, Slow, Fast

Mostly I practice very slowly.

I'm remembering learning to type.  I started with the home keys.  Just 8 fingers sitting over ASDF and JKL: and I typed super slowly.  I resisted the urge to look down or to 'hunt and peck' for a key.
It was slow and it was boring but it worked.

So mostly when doing a tune - this week the Connachtman's Rambles - I'm breaking the tune into very small sections and playing it very slowly.
Each note I try my best to get the best possible tone - nice rich low D .. well formed higher octave (when I can) .. smooth note transitions.
Cuts I want them to feel percussive and snappy.
Taps I want to feel the hit of the rhythm or the emphasis of a well sounded tap.

This all makes the work slow.

Before I play any tunes I do an slide-cut-tap exercise starting at D and going to b' and back.  I think that this is perhaps the most important exercise.
Then a long note breathing exercise.
Then more individual cut and tap exercises.
Then arpeggios (home made design as I haven't yet found ones online).

Again all slow.

Finally I play a few tunes .. typically along to a Comhaltas session or a youtube backing track.
That is for fun.
I do worry that it will undo some of my patient practice but .. it also might help with speed and breathing timing which can't hurt?

3rd November 2016 - Second octave

I'm both enjoying and getting frustrated by the second range on the new flute.

It's been just over a week and a few of the tunes are well in the second octave.

The newest tune Connachtman's Rambles has come along at just the right time to make me work hard on those octave jumps.

I tend to start a session with clean enough g', a' and b' but as time goes by I find it increasingly slips away and the higher notes either get breathy or honk down to the lower octave.  You can imagine I don't love that sound.

It is without a doubt demanding but I can feel the progress even in the past week.
It's rewarding when you get it.  Frustrating when you don't.
Adding cuts and taps to it (especially for some reason cuts on the g') adds to the difficulty.

But .. it is progressing .. plod plod

Thursday, November 3, 2016

2nd November 2016 - Plod plod plod

I think that everyone who works to master a skill knows an obvious, essential truth - a lot of the work to get there isn't fun.

The vast majority of the work on the way to Massies Mill will be boring.
Yes folks you heard me right - boring.

There will be days absent of even the smallest insight. There will be an utter lack of relevance.  Not a hint of the sense of purpose.  Miles from the interesting gig.
These are the days you'll be showing up for the plod, plod, plod work of moving forward.

And those will be the vast majority of the days.

The vast majority of days.

This is fundamental and not at all glorious.
In the end but only in the end those the result of those days transcend the daily slog but you only have that feeling looking backwards.

Forwards is a often like this -

Now I'm not saying all days are a slog and that the slow realization that things are improving isn't satisfying but it would be a much bigger mistake to think that just in recognising the monotony of the toil it suddenly becomes wonderful and translucent and meaningful.

To convey that impression on them misses the vital importance of acceptance.

We have to accept the dull, daily chore of it all.  And often this does not get transcended in a Buddha like moment.

It will not be interesting.  It will not feel important.  It will not make my day more interesting.
It will just be another day walking.
Realising this will not make the dirt track feel like the forest trail below.

The vast majority of days will feel like work.  And that's the point.
You don't keep accept this and doing it anyway you'll never reach that destination.

You keep doing it despite the lack of importance, meaning.
You accept this.  Then you work.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

1st November 2016 - Spring Forward .. Fall Forward

I was on the phone to a friend in Melbourne this morning.

1st day of Summer and raining a lot.  He's Irish so may not have used exactly that phrase.

He was commenting on the videos I took of the Comhaltas tour.

In a very roundabout way this got me thinking about things.  Sort of a breadcrumb of Seasons .. time .. change .. music .. what direction does this change have ..

Maybe when the calendar gives you a change like a birthday or new years you think about where you are and where you're going.

So, I asked, where is it that I want to go with this?
I asked the question two days ago around thinking of yourself as being the person you want to be.  Do I have a vision for this?  Do I know what I want?  Am I playing tunes in my sitting room?  Am I literally walking into Pat Olwell's workshop to collect a flute?  Am I playing in sessions?

A couple of years ago I asked a local pub owner if he would be interested in a few people starting a session in his pub.  He was.  Is that a Friday evening or a Sunday morning soon?

I think that if you have a better idea of where you'd like to end up you have a much better chance of getting there.

It's the start of Winter.  Where do I want to be on the first of Spring?