Saturday, March 17, 2018

Welcome Back!

Wow, it has been awhile.

I have been working much harder on day-to-day music over the last year than I ever have, and I just haven't been inclined to write about it.  I like my CD still (rare for me), and I've sold a few.  There may be a book deal in the works, but at this point I have no idea if this guy will come through.  I will see if that works out, and if it doesn't, I think I will just give the Gottschalk arrangements away to anyone who asks (but not for awhile).  I appreciate all the nice words from folks, and there is truly something utterly satisfying in finishing something you've cared about and worked on for decades.

That said, I am apparently not my old ambitious self, getting on the phone rounding up gigs.  I started tentatively booking a California tour (I have a couple of potential gigs I could do), but... I just am not inspired to do it.  I did a few festivals and have taken things that come my way--I wanted to get this music solidly in my bones, but something about the running-around-hey-look-at-me! part of the music biz has no appeal anymore.  The book thing would be great, but even that "came my way," when a fairly successful musician-performer-scholar contacted me out of the blue, having heard about my new record, and it turned out that he was a fan of my OLD records, wanted me to perform in his festival in 2019, and put me in touch with this publisher.  It was a real morale-booster, whatever comes of it.  The publisher seems to work about as fast as I do, so I have no idea how it will play out.  I love playing this stuff and am happy to play for anyone who wants to bring my little show to their stage, so contact me if you like...but I realized that I wasn't going to do the booking conferences, shoving this work down people's throats, pushing this into venues that may or may not be good for it.  It just isn't in me.

In the meantime, my passion has been playing the fiddle.  Though it was a long time coming--I date this process to 2008 when my wife commissioned my fabulous violin bow from Morgan Andersen, then came the parade of violins, ending with the arrival of the M. A. Fichtl in 2014--many blog posts back in those days on that weird process.  But it was worth it in the end--this is such a fine violin!  Anyway, I have been playing a couple hours most days, much of it spent in the Bach solo violin Sonatas and Partitas.  I can play the great Chaconne now, which is something I never imagined that I could do.  Not well enough to play it outside of the house, but what an incredible piece of music to lose yourself in for awhile.  For a composer, it has been an amazing process--this is arguably the pinnacle of European classical music.  Every time I play, some little detail gets clearer, more in tune, better...still many to work on.  My little experiment is to actually take the suggestion of a comment that some unnamed musician made to C. P. E. Bach, that his father's great solo violin literature was all a guy needed to master the violin.  Mastering the violin has come to mean something different in the last few centuries, a path I have no interest in, but I wondered what it would be like to play just the Bach solo music (and all my traditional fiddle repertoire of course) and see how good I could be.  That sort of mastery is very seductive!

I went down this path in earnest after playing with my friend Steven who has a very wide-ranging repertoire of blues, old country music...what the biz calls "Americana" these days.  We played a gig or two in 2015 (we've played together off and on since the 70s--!!), and then I tried to record with him.  He is so good--seriously, in my opinion he is the greatest musician I have ever known who will never be famous--and I found that I just couldn't play well enough to satisfy myself.  His solo performances that I recorded are fabulous, by the way, and I hope I can at some point rise to the occasion there.  I mean, we can sound pretty good in the moment with me jamming along, but some switch was thrown.  I had to get serious chops.  I had to be able to improvise in all keys and get up the neck with confidence.  I stopped the recording project and started practicing.  Three years later I am getting close to where I want to be. 

Along the way, my traditional fiddle repertoire--fairly traditional West Irish fiddle style, influenced heavily by Kevin Burke and many others, and American tunes that I rarely got to play outside the house--was always pretty good I thought.  This is the stuff I had played since I started teaching myself back in the mid-70s (!), wrangling what I realize now were awful fiddles.  But a whole new comfort and ease has come into my playing.  There was this point, late last year, where after playing an hour or so, the whole sound would sweeten and my hands would soften and everything became so easy.  I would improvise my way into a corner and dance my way out.  This magical point of ease (I still don't understand what happens exactly) made me wonder if I had started to hit the magical 10,000 hours.  If I skip a day of playing, it might take me a pass through the Chaconne (my standard meditation) to get it back.  On most days, it hits me after about ten minutes.

Well, I needed a project and I decided that I wanted to be able to play a contradance by myself--just me on fiddle and a guitar accompanist.  In this area of the "Inland Northwest," if you can play good dance music, there are gigs.  These don't pay all that well, but they are bliss for a fiddler.  I have played for 25 years with my friends in Potatohead but playing dances has been problematic for a few reasons.  One is that I can't play American music with this team (they aren't interested in it, really), and half the group lives in England from April until August, but the real frustration has been getting someone to play guitar rhythm.  You have to have a strong danceable beat going for this stuff to work.  One local legend would sit in, and he was fine, but he didn't want to rehearse, and had a nasty habit of double-booking himself and dumping our gig.  So, we had to stop doing dances until I realized that I just had to focus on playing guitar with them for dances, with a few detours into fiddle playing.  Which is fine, but...I was pretty unsatisfied.  I wanted to play the fiddle.

So, I have spent years on the lookout for a guitar player, who was willing to get into a pretty vast repertoire.  I know my buddy Steven (above) could kill this stuff, but he lives 300 miles away, though I periodically attempt to persuade him that he should move here.  I was lamenting this around a friend, Alex, who would show up at the monthly open mics here in Palouse at the Green Frog (now defunct...sigh...).  He always played awesome songs and has a great soothing voice, and I would sometimes work up a fiddle part for this or that song he wanted to do, but I was stunned when he casually mentioned that, well, he'd like to accompany fiddle music and this contradance thing.  He has actually really worked on it, and he is good at it.  Happy to play Irish music, American music, whatever.

How cool is that?!  We play our first dance for the Palouse Folklore Society in April. 

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