annathepiper: (Katara Healing)

I’m now seven weeks after the septorhinoplasty I had done to my nose, so here’s a bit of a checkin as to how I’m doing now!

I had my first fiddle lesson since the procedure yesterday (more on this in another post), and my teacher told me that my voice sounded different to her. This was not a thing I’d been easily able to discern myself, since of course I’m still hearing my voice from inside my head. But Lisa said my voice sounded less adenoidal to her, and given that she is of course a professional touring and teaching musician, she’s totally got the ear to clue in on that.

And if you’re wondering what ‘adenoidal’ means, don’t worry, I had to look up what the heck the adenoids are myself. Answer: they’re the uppermost of your tonsils, and they live behind your nose. Apparently enlarged adenoids can also cause breathing problems! Looking up ‘adenoidal’ as well, I saw that says that an ‘adenoidal’ voice is nasal and high-pitched. So by definition, this means my voice is sounding a little lower and perhaps not quite so constrained. And even if I’m not in a position to personally vouch for Lisa’s observation, it pleases me nonetheless.

Here are things I can vouch for, though.

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annathepiper: (Aubrey and Maturin Duet)

This past weekend I had my latest lesson on the fiddle with Lisa Ornstein! We’ve more or less settled into a “once a month” kind of schedule, which is working out pretty well. And it’s a nice long lesson, too. Which is good, because if I’m going to drive all the way down to Olympia, a couple of hours of learning time makes that drive very, very worth it.

Lisa has told me some very gratifying things about how, since I have a bit of an analytical mind, this is standing me in good stead when it comes to understanding the various aspects of playing the instrument. And I certainly have to admit that coming at this as an adult student with a prior musical background is speeding things up a bit–Lisa only has to teach me the physical aspects of playing the instrument. She doesn’t have to teach me how scales work. We just have to focus on how to hold the instrument, how to hold the bow, and how to make noises that don’t suck.

I haven’t been practicing as often as I should, probably. (This is what happens when I have a full time day job AND I have writing to do!) But I do try to pick up the fiddle at least every few days and work my way through scales, and review how to hold the bow properly. We’ve wound up reviewing my bow grip at the beginning of the last couple of lessons, and this past weekend in particular Lisa had me move where I’m putting my thumb. I’ve had a bit of trouble getting it to settle properly on that notch between the grip and the frog–my thumb has a way of bending too much and coming in at a bad angle there. So Lisa had me move the thumb out to rest against the metal sleeve that holds the very bottom end of the bow hairs. She said this was often what Suzuki beginner students are taught, and during the lesson it certainly seemed to me like that gave me a more stable grip on the bow. Moving forward, I’ll be holding my bow like that and we’ll see where that takes me.

(More fiddle geekery behind the fold!)

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annathepiper: (Aubrey and Maturin Duet)

Today I took another jaunt down to Olympia to see Lisa Ornstein and have fiddle lesson #2. So far, most importantly, I am delighted to report that I am still enjoying the hell out of this, and that there WILL be a lesson #3. And I think the big thing that I took away from today’s lesson is that I need to give myself permission to be patient with myself–because this is not going to be a fast process. I’d like to get to a point eventually where I can play something coherent on a fiddle, but there’s a lot of groundwork that needs to happen to get me there.

So today, Lisa and I did more of that groundwork.

Bow hand

Lisa mentioned a few different ways that players can use to get their fingers into the proper configuration to hold the bow. What appears to work best for me right now is doing a “bunny” configuration, which involves sticking my thumb between my middle and ring fingers, which become the “teeth” of the bunny. My index finger and pinky become the ears.

Then I bring the bow in under the “teeth”, which land first. Then my index finger comes down. Then my pinky, curled so that it sits on the bow. And my thumb comes in to sit in that little notch between the grip and the frog.

And I will definitely have to tell the folks at Violon Trad Qualicum next year that I remembered “don’t crush the bird!” I.e., to try to keep that curl in my thumb. Although this may now become “don’t crush the bunny!” in my brain.

Once we got my bow hand settled, we practiced just moving the bow around in various ways. Pretending to stir soup, and, while holding the bow vertically, raising and lowering it. This is all intended to just get me used to how the fingers feel while holding the thing.

All of which totally reminded me of the conversations at Fiddle Tunes last year about fiddlers and their bows being very much like Harry Potter universe wizards and their wands. The urge to yell EXPELLIARMUS when I’ve got the bow up is strong. Or maybe LUMOS MAXIMA. 😀

And given that I set the Aubrey gif as the featured image of this post, I must also note that I even mentioned Aubrey and Maturin to Lisa, just because of being reminded of that lovely bit in Master and Commander when Jack and Stephen are playing together for the first time:

‘Did you notice my bowing in the pump-pump-pump piece?’ asked Jack.

‘I did indeed. Very sprightly, very agile. I noticed you neither struck the hanging shelf nor yet the lamp. I only grazed the locker once myself.’

I will count it as a victory if I manage not to hit the lamp.

Neck hand

This was harder. I have a pretty good idea at this point about how to get the instrument into place on my shoulder, but there are still challenges with getting my left hand where it needs to be.

Namely, trying to find the optimum way to hold the neck so that my fingers fall in a natural curve, and so that my pinky doesn’t wind up trembling because it’s trying to do too much.

Lisa says that this is a function of how I have pretty tiny fingers (which I knew already and which has proven a bit of a challenge on some of my bigger flutes). So we had to experiment some with how to hold the neck. We tried various thumb placements, as well as settling the instrument in my lap as if it were a guitar, which is more familiar territory to me.

We haven’t yet found the optimum way for me to do this. I’m going to experiment more.

Bringing the hands together

I did actually make a couple of noises, it must be said! There was some general plucking on the E string, just to practice landing my fingers in the general area of where they need to be to hit notes. I surprised myself a bit with not missing the frets as much as I was expecting, though having no frets did still wig me out a little. But I did manage to land the notes in the ballpark. Not perfect, but they didn’t have to be; I am, after all, a total newbie here.

But we did also get me to the point of laying bow on strings and playing a few open notes, just pulling the bow back and forth in short motions and then a couple long ones. Which began to answer some of the questions that have been bubbling around in the back of my head re: how exactly bow motion on the strings works. Getting to actually experience that was fun!

More experimenting will have to happen there, too.


I told Lisa about my medical history, which was relevant to the lesson in that it impacts how a lot of my back muscles, my shoulders, and the base of my neck tend to get cranky and carry a lot of stress. So we worked a lot on practicing being aware of my shoulders and neck, and how to stand and hold the instrument in a way that puts least stress on those parts of my body. And we talked about several exercises I can do to gently strengthen my abs, all in the name of laying more groundwork.

Because, important to note: what I’ve already learned because of my medical history about my pain thresholds and being on top of that has to apply here. If I start hurting my wrists and hands, or any other part of me, that means stop what I’m doing. Playing through the pain is not necessary, and not useful, and is in fact actively harmful.

And the other lesson here is this: it’s okay to go slow. I need to give myself permission to be patient, and not expect to get immediately to making coherent noises. If I want to play a tune right now, that’s what I’ve got the flutes and whistles for.

The violin is a totally different experience, though, and I need to give it the respect it deserves and proceed slowly and carefully. After all, I didn’t learn to play the flute immediately, either. Or the guitar.

This lesson even turned out longer than expected–but we covered a lot of ground, and made it worth it that I drove all the way down to Olympia for the afternoon. 😀 Very much looking forward to lesson #3!

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annathepiper: (Aubrey and Maturin Duet)

On Saturday I had the great pleasure of visiting Lisa Ornstein for my very first lesson on the fiddle. And to my amused surprise, I didn’t play a single note on the instrument.

Yet I had a couple of hours of deeply satisfying conversation and instruction! So what did I do if I didn’t actually play anything?

A lot of exactly why I wanted to engage an experienced teacher: i.e., a lot of going over the overall anatomy of the instrument and the bow, to talk about what goes into making them and how they work. And a lot discussion of proper stance, both sitting and standing, and proper ways to hold both the instrument and the bow. I very much wanted to sit down with someone who knew what they were doing to go over this stuff, just because the violin does intimidate me a bit, and taking the time to examine it in detail helps address that problem. If I know something, it becomes less scary!

And as part of trying to make all that discussion stick in my brain, I’m writing it up now for all of you! There will also be pictures!

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annathepiper: (Music All Around You)

This year was the third one that Dara and I have made it up to Festival du Bois in Coquitlam (previous visits having been in 2012 and 2014). We have grown rather fond of this cozy little festival and hopefully will get to start attending yearly rather than every other year!

Day 1: Saturday

This time around, we had a lovely lineup of acts I wanted to check out, two of which were familiar to me and one of which was not. My main point of interest was the power trio of Le bruit court dans la ville–who, of course, were the most excellent musicians who were my draw to Fiddle Tunes this past summer, Lisa Ornstein, André Marchand, and Normand Miron. But also quite noteworthy was Maz, who I’d already become aware of; I have both of their albums. I had not to date had a chance to see them live, though!

And last but not least was ReVeillons!, who came highly recommended by a few of the folks in our local session crowd. I wanted to check these guys out in no small part because they include Jean-François Berthiaume, who I’d already known about courtesy of his being the percussionist for Galant Tu Perds Ton Temps.

We did get to see all three of these acts, and I am pleased to report that they were all excellent. But as it turned out, this time around Dara and I actually got in some time getting to play ourselves!

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annathepiper: (Music All Around You)

I meant to write this up several days ago, but between having to get caught up on my backlog of stuff that needed doing while I was gone, then going to Clallam Bay Comicon, and dealing with a bunch of stuff at work, I didn’t have time to do a proper writeup of my first Fiddle Tunes. Let’s now rectify that, shall we?

For those of you who didn’t catch me talking about this on the social networks, and/or who might have missed my earlier posts on the topic, I spent an entire week at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes workshop at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, WA. Fiddle Tunes, as it’s known, is an immersive music workshop. Despite the name emphasizing the fiddle, it’s not actually exclusively focused on the fiddle–which is good, because as y’all know, I don’t actually play that instrument!

Instead, what drew me there was learning that André Marchand would be on the staff and giving guitar lessons–André Marchand, comma, previously known to me as a veteran of the genre, both in La Bottine Souriante and Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer. I had decided way back in March that I’d be crazypants bonkers to pass up an opportunity to learn from him.

And, bonus: Lisa Ornstein and Normand Miron also were on the staff. Lisa is notable as a non-native-Quebecer who nonetheless has a strong history with the genre, since she’s actually played with La Bottine too. And Normand Miron is also known to me via the Charbonniers. The three of them together perform under the name Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville.

With this kind of a powerhouse trio at my disposal, I wound up having a delightful time attending classes. M. Marchand’s guitar classes were my primary interest, so I made a point of showing up for all of his sessions each morning. Since André was teaching guitar, he brought in a colleague, Kevin Carr, to play the melody line of the various tunes we worked on, so that all the students could get an idea of how to play support for a melody.

André was delightful as a teacher, with a great sense of humor (my favorite quote of his was “play it again, but with more coffee”). The biggest thing I learned from him was reassuring: i.e., that I actually knew a bit more as a guitarist than I’d previously realized. He did interesting things with progressions, adding an extra note in on chords, that I’d sorta kinda already picked up on as a thing but which I did not know how to do.

By progressions, I mean playing a bunch of (say) A chords, only adding in a G on the first, and an F# on the next, so that you get an interesting little almost-melody that can support the actual melody being played. (I’d run into this kind of thing when listening to Great Big Sea playing “Old Black Rum” on the Road Rage live album–I kept wanting to put a little progression I could hear in my head into the choruses, and didn’t know how to properly do that. Now I have a better idea of how to try it!)

Also notable: some of the chords that André threw at us were things I could not actually finger on the General, because my hands were smaller than his. But at least in the case of one chord, a D/F# (that’s a D with an added F#), he showed us a trick to get around this if your hands are small: you wrap your thumb around to your deepest string, the low E, and use that to hold down the string on the second fret to get your F#. NEAT.)

And in one class, they even brought in Dejah Leger for support. 😀

(Dejah turned to me just before she moved forward in the class that day to take a seat beside the two gentlemen, and on the way she hastily whispered at me to get me to take pics. I assured her I totally had her back. Because yeah, if I got to help teach a class with one of my musical heroes, I’d be pestering my nearest buddy to take pics too!)

Speaking of Dejah, I should also totally mention that I sat in on a couple of her guitar tutorials as well. Not all of them, because by mid-week I started running out of steam and had to vanish in the afternoons to go take naps and have downtime away from people. And I had to maintain brain power to be able to try to keep up with Lisa Ornstein’s and Normand Miron’s classes, too.

Lisa Ornstein is a superb teacher. She was great about giving us the background on the tunes she had elected to teach, and about playing through the phrases of a tune until we could play them back at her–a strategy which, I’d already learned courtesy of André Brunet, works well for me. It was in fact reassuring to figure out that I’m not entirely hopeless at learning things by ear. (It’d be nice to be able to do it faster, but I have been working on that, and will continue to do so.)

I’d say I’m sorry to have missed some of her classes–except that Normand Miron was also fun. His English was not as good as André’s or Lisa’s, so he made use of Dejah as an assistant as well. His classes were not as heavily attended as Lisa’s, but still there were several folks who showed up for him as well.

And with both Lisa’s classes and Normand’s, it was fun for me as a wind player to try to figure out how I could make noises to mimic all the fiddle players (in Lisa’s classes) and accordion players (in Normand’s) around me.

In Dejah’s classes that I made it to, last but definitely not least, I had a chance to play with DADGAD tuning. Dejah is a splendid guitarist, and is very fond of using alternate tunings–so I got to learn a few things with her that I couldn’t with André, since he (as he told us) always plays in standard EADGBE tuning.

What I learned from Dejah about DADGAD is that, at least on the higher-pitched strings, I have an easier time trying to finger-pick than I do in standard tuning. However, I found trying to do that by ear way more challenging than trying to play by ear on my wind instruments–possibly because I’m just not used to using a guitar as a melody instrument at all. This, I think, requires further musical exploration!

All in all, if I hadn’t done anything else at all at Fiddle Tunes, the classes by themselves would have been worth the price of admission. I very, very much got what I was hoping for: i.e., the chance to sit down with professionals, learn some things, and maybe get an idea of the things I need to work on if I want to progress as a musician. I have no aspirations of being anything more than a serious hobbyist–but still, it was hugely valuable and meaningful to just be able to spend time learning from four excellent teachers.

And I brought home plenty of practice material as well! I’ve got recordings from most of the classes I went to. André handed out chord sheets for all the tunes we worked on as well, just about all of which were songs he’s recorded on various albums–and which I happen to have, so I can practice trying to play along with the recordings in question. FUN. 😀

Ditto for Lisa Ornstein’s classes. She made available to all of us who attended her classes various PDFs of the tunes we worked on, so I will have those to play with as well.

And of course, I was focused like a laser on the Quebecois-themed classes. There were dozens of other classes going on as well, and if I had had the time, I totally would have checked out the Irish trad classes, or maybe the ones being held by the musicians from Kentucky. (Because there WERE a couple, and as a born Kentucky girl, I felt kind of sheepish that I didn’t have the chance to go give those guys a listen!) But they advised us early on in the week to not try to do everything, and I took that wisdom to heart. (Note: I was particularly grateful as well that on Monday and Tuesday of the week, they had intro classes for Fiddle Tunes newbies. I found those extremely valuable, especially with the tips about how to try to begin to keep up in a session environment–with some wisdom I’d also learned from Dara, which is to say, I don’t actually need to play all the notes. More on this later!)

And this was only the beginning of the awesomeness of the Fiddle Tunes experience. Next post, I’ll talk about the big organized music efforts in the afternoon: the band labs!

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Anna the Piper

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