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Timing is everything

Jack’s (fairly) regular Wednesday guest post –

On Sunday we had the third Clanjamphry Live concert at the beautiful Lincoln Theater in Marion Virginia. This is a twice a year link-up with my Celtic music radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ and we were delighted that our friends Alan Reid and Rob van Sante were touring over here and available just when we needed them.

The trouble was that we had originally intended to hold the concert on Saturday night but at the last minute the theater had a request from their long established ‘showcase’ – Song of the Mountains – and couldn’t realistically turn them down. In the end we opted to move to Sunday afternoon, but had absolutely no idea if that would work. Was there an overlap of potential audience that would choose one or the other but not both? Would anyone come out to a concert on a Sunday afternoon?

alan_rob

As usual we peeked out from the wings and were somewhat nervous when, with five minutes to go, saw a pretty sparse crowd. However we then had to get organized as Wendy and I were starting things off. To our surprise and great relief when we stepped out onto the stage we saw that we had just as big an audience as we’d had for the previous concerts in the series.

Even better than that it seems that we may now have a loyal audience that trusts us to give them an experience they value.

But, despite everything, I suspect that we should try to avoid Sunday afternoons in future!

Alan and Rob got a standing ovation and an encore, which didn’t surprise me and was richly deserved. What the audience didn’t know was that they had just completed six gigs in six days with lengthy drives between and were pretty exhausted. Luckily we had booked a cabin at nearby Hungry Mother State Park for Saturday and Sunday night, so they could get some R&R before and after our concert. That meant we could also share our gigs from hell stories too!

Celtic Clanjamphry airs on WETS.fm on Sundays at 9pm, WETS HD2 on Mondays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10am. It also goes out in the Marion area on WEHC.fm on Sundays at 5pm. http://www.wets.org

Alan Reid and Rob van Sante can be found herehttp://www.reidvansante.com/

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Some Things Just Suck!

Jack’s guest post is a farewell to a very close friend, co-written with two other very close friends.

Obituary – Michael (Mike/Mick) Ward

mike

Michael Joseph Ward was born in 1950, in West Lothian, though like his five siblings, he spent much of his life in Dunfermline.  A highly intelligent, well-read, erudite, individual, the educational institutions graced by his presence included Blairs College (near Aberdeen), The Scots College in Rome, and Glasgow University.  After graduating from there, he entered the teaching profession, and for many years was a teacher of modern languages at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline.  As an avid reader, he never stopped learning, and, in adulthood, added the Gaelic language to his already impressive list of skills.

His teaching was of a piece with his approach to any task; professional, conscientious and thorough, which earned him the respect of the many pupils who came to understand with his help that learning can be much more than the mere acquisition of knowledge, important though that is.  His quirky sense of humour often caught them unawares, too, as did his occasional side-excursion into teaching them a French folk song, to remind them that language can be much more than utilitarian.  No-one knew better than him that innovations in education are not what makes the difference; that what counted was dedicated, effective teaching, and that was what his pupils got.

Mike was a long time member of the Fife based folk band Heritage, having joined them in 1978. In need of a solid keyboard player to master the group’s portable harmonium (pump organ), they found the ideal candidate in Mike. The group also discovered that he was not only an excellent keyboard player but also a wonderful penny-whistler and player of Northumbrian and Scottish smallpipes.  He had taken up the Northumbrian pipes in the late 70s, and attended the week-long courses, tutored by Joe Hutton, which were a feature of the Edinburgh Folk Festival at that time.  For a number of years he also attended annual residential weekend courses, also tutored by Joe Hutton, in Rothbury.  He met a number of kindred spirits at these courses, many of whom would become lifelong friends.

While Heritage members up to that point had learned and played mostly by ear, as a classically trained musician (he had been college organist during his time at Blairs), Mike could easily sight read. He had a respect for the folkies as well and used his skills to help the group develop and expand their music.

early-heritage

Mike on the extreme right behind the harmonium, playing the penny whistle

Over the following fifteen years or so he played with Heritage all over Scotland and around Europe, absorbing the music of other traditions and contributing to the repertoire and musical sophistication of the band. Another recruit around the same time was fiddler Pete Clark and he and Mike struck up a particularly creative partnership supporting and adding to the band’s trademark sound.

As a language teacher (before his retirement) and multi-linguist, Mike had a particular affinity for France and Italy, and this was of great help when the group traveled to these locations. Of course he had a much wider musical fraternity, extending to the English borders area of Northumbria as well as Brittany, the Occitan area of France and Friuli, in Italy. Only three years ago he spent almost a month in the Southern Appalachians with his old musical colleague Jack Beck where he made many new friends and expanded yet again his horizons.

He could be somewhat self-deprecating about his considerable musical skills.  If you gave Mike a piano, he could keep you entertained for hours with improvised arrangements of traditional music.  He was particularly masterful when it came to slow airs.  More than once it was suggested to him that he should really consider recording and/or publishing some of these gems, but, sadly, it never happened.

late-heritage

Later, in France – Mike on keyboard at the back

In 2015, along with his friends, Alistair and Brigitte Marshall, he visited the museum at Blairs, his first visit back there since he had left as a pupil.  The curator, upon learning that Mike was an alumnus,  escorted him into the college buildings which, though in a parlous state, awaiting redevelopment, looked in many respects as they must have done when the last pupil laid down his pen for the last time.  It was an experience which Mike admitted to finding somewhat spooky!  On that same visit, he was also reunited with the organ in the beautiful St Mary’s Chapel at Blairs.  He and Alistair had plans to return there, to rehearse some of the very atmospheric Breton music for bombarde and organ.

A great connoisseur of Indian cuisine, his curries were legendary and his advice on which restaurants to visit much sought after.

During the last few years he had faced a number of serious health issues with great dignity and acceptance, born of his deep Christian faith. A devout Roman Catholic, Mike was never narrow minded, was passionately interested in human beings, of whatever faith or hue, and accepted that everyone had their particular path to follow.

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Leveling with Friends

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

There’s a real satisfaction in taking part in a construction project being led by someone who really knows what they are doing. I had that experience last weekend and this is my report.

Wendy’s friend and colleague Beth, and her husband Jon live up in Blacksburg and last Friday Jon left home at 5:30 am to drive down here with a full load of lumber and a magnificent array of tools, ready to completely re-build the front deck of ‘Hazel’s House’ (our new cat rescue center).

house-aff-004

How she was before

Jon reckoned it could be done over three days, so Friday, Saturday and Sunday were set aside and he was down here and started by 9 o’clock on Friday morning. I had volunteered to help and Wendy and Beth came along later that day as well.

Just to set the scene – the house was built in 1917 (so exactly 100 years old) and is single storey, with a porch running the full width of the front. The porch has an overhanging roof with four pillars supporting it (all of them had shims underneath added at some point in the past).

The first job was to install temporary supports from the ground to the front of the roof beside each of the pillars to take the weight. Then we separated the pillars from the deck and began removing the old deck slats. Once they were removed we could see the state of the underpinning joists and foundations and that revealed some problems. The biggest one was that the front joist had rotted and split and had to be completely replaced. Jon built a 28 foot long, 12 inch wide and 4 inch thick joist by laminating six boards together and Saturday’s big job was four of us maneuvering that into place! To our utter delight it fitted perfectly, although it chose to rain just as we were committed to the task, so we all got soaked.

The center of the deck had gradually sunk by almost two inches over the years (hence the shims under the pillars), so the next job was to get that part raised back to the correct height again. Once that was done it was time to re-install the deck slats and we decided to fit new ones in the center section then use the old ones as much as possible for the outer areas. Poor Beth got the job of removing all the nails from the old boards! Finally it was time check all the levels, re-fix the pillars to the new deck and remove the temporary supports supporting the roof.

hazel-house-after

And how she is now

As I suggested at the start, what made the whole experience so satisfying was the way Jon had thought through the job very thoroughly beforehand, measured everything carefully ahead of time and brought lots of really useful tools and equipment. He had even thought to bring an additional power driver, knowing we’d both be re-fixing deck boards at the same time. We only had to make one run to Lowes over the whole weekend and that was just because we couldn’t reclaim as much of the old decking as we’d hoped.

Next month Jon will be back, when we will add partitioning to make the porch and deck ‘cat-proof’ so no kitties can make a break for it when we’re transferring newcomers into the house. I’m looking forward to once again being his laborer and apprentice!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

Music hath Charms to soothe – – –

Jack’s Wednesday Blog Post on Thursday –

I’ve been teaching guitar for many years, off and on, mostly pretty informally although occasionally as part of an organized program.

But we do a fair bit of bartering around here, so that’s what I did when our friend Beth’s husband Brandon wanted lessons. He’s Wendy’s Chiropractor and Beth is our very long suffering Veterinarian. So in return for my guitar lessons Wendy gets adjusted!

It’s very interesting to re-live the traumas of tender fingertips and cramped fingers through the experience of pupils, and very hard to connect back to that time in your own life. It’s also so difficult to hold yourself back and try to keep to the pace of the student and not force them too far too quickly.

What helps in this case is that Brandon happens to have a very nice well set up guitar. There’s nothing more dispiriting than trying to learn on a hard to play instrument. Where Brandon’s existing knowledge departs from mine is that while he reads music he has taught himself to play piano by ear.

So, in this case it’s really just a case of memorizing a series of chord shapes then practicing until the fingers get used to their positions. I generally start people off with the A and E chords then pick a well known tune that only uses those chords, such as ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands’. The first exercise is just to slowly hum the tune while changing between the chords at the appropriate places. That’s a good way to get used to how the sound of the chords underpins the melody.

In between times and just add a bit of variety I like to do some work on posture and how the guitar should be held and positioned as well as checking the tuning of each string either with a tuner or using the ‘5th fret method’.

Of course the real work is being done by Brandon in between lessons – that’s how he will get the fingers toughened up, and trained to move easily between the chords. I always love to see the progress from one week to the next and that’s a great delight.

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Certainty amid Uncertainty

Jack’s Wednesday guest post almost made it – – –

Work continues apace on the Hazel House – the Little Cat-House – – –

hazel-in-shelter

Hazel when we found her.

But there are, of course, frustrations. We want to get moving as fast as possible, but with no heat and no water that reduces the options (and that means no working toilets!). Three space heaters and two fan heaters raised the temperature from 28 degrees to 35, which doesn’t exactly encourage much meaningful work either.

However we did manage to sweep all the loose dirt up and away, establish that all the water pipes had been bust and arrange for them to be replaced (thanks Thom), get a very prompt response from Mid-Mountain Heating and their excellent Logan who is on the case, and got the two trees that were invading the front porch cut down. We replaced light-bulbs and made sure all the electrical switches and outlets worked.

We have established that two windows are broken, there’s missing guttering and rain water pipes, and the surrounding yard is an overgrown mess!

But we appear to have inherited a working fridge/freezer and a dishwasher (which we haven’t yet tried – because no water), a large stepladder and a two part aluminum ladder.

Wendy’s friend Beth’s husband in Blacksburg is overseeing the construction of the fenced in front porch, so we’ll have an ‘airlock’ as we transport our lodgers into the facility.

So things are looking good for a final launch sometime in February and we’re celebrating the fact that there are no cats in the local kill shelter in the approach to Christmas!

The various rooms and the house itself have been named for the feline friends we have rescued, looked after, fallen for and escorted over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ over the last few years, not least our beloved Valkittie. The house is named for the wonderful Hazel, who captured hundreds of hearts as she moved from abandonment to the final happiest year of her life.

valkyttie-cover

Valkittie in charge.

We have a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers and I applaud them one and all – it’s great that folk, both local (who can do practical things) and further afield, who maybe just cheer us on or make a financial contribution feel so involved.

In an increasingly uncertain world this is a reminder that we all have a shared humanity – – –

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Friends and Fellow Travelers

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on Wednesday again – – –

Last night Wendy and I were the guests of an informal book group in Abingdon VA.

As we followed one of the members along the winding road to the house where they were meeting we passed more and more exceedingly imposing residencies and speculated on what might be awaiting us.

However any fears we had were quickly allayed as the rest of the members trickled in. We had forgotten that the group had visited the bookstore earlier in the year, had all bought copies of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and were very well versed in our adventures.

They all came in clutching their copies of the book – each copy with post-it notes sticking out from favorite pages and passages. We were among old friends!

We have often remarked upon how completely different these occasions tend to be. Of course there are book clubs, reading groups, friends of the library groups and writing clubs and they are each bound to have a different focus. We certainly never know exactly what to expect, which is why we tend to be a bit nervous of them. what’s interesting is that I see similarities to my singing career over the years – gigs were often like that too.

Whenever we attend an event we start off by trying to judge what folk want to hear. Will it be writing advice, getting an agent advice, finding a publisher advice, more about Big Stone Gap?

But this was close to being unique – a whole group who had already read the book and visited us in the bookstore. We proceeded to have a really great evening of personal stories, reminiscences, parallel experiences and our own continuing adventures beyond ‘the book’. Unusually, we were even able to open up a bit on some less happy things that were hinted at in ‘The Little Bookstore’ or followed on from its publication. That’s something we would definitely only do in the company of old friends!

To finish, I should say that the evening started with me as the only man in the room, but we were eventually joined by our host’s husband and his name is Moffat – and that’s also the name of a town in Scotland that I visit every two years on my group tour.

Oh – and we ended with some songs!

 

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Worth their Salt

 Jack’s guest post is actually on Wednesday

My last guest post was about the satisfaction of completing work that I’d spent five years learning as an apprentice painter and decorator.

This one is about the importance of leaving some tasks to other professionals –

The last time we had heavy rain here, which is almost two months ago, we noticed we had a couple of roof leaks. They were in complicated corners of our main roof which had been completely re-shingled about five years ago. This is not my specialty at all, and I no longer have the head for heights that I used to, so it was time to call in the expert. I have the good fortune to be friends with the owner of the biggest construction company around here and he had previously put me in touch with his preferred roofing guy. He came promptly, explained that he was in the middle of a big contract but checked the problem areas and promised to take care of them as soon as possible. Lo and behold, he arrived yesterday, carried out work with no fuss and today it has rained heavily all day with no signs of leaks. The rain is welcome, of course, as it was needed to douse the wild fires over in Tennessee.

This past weekend we spent with Wendy’s parents in Knoxville, where her brother in law Dennis was working most of the time trying to diagnose and fix a long-standing problem with the heat pump (he knows about this stuff). When we got back here on Monday evening we discovered that our heat pump was acting up. I phoned the local company who had installed it three years ago and their engineer came this morning, established the problem and had it working again within an hour.

In both cases the communication ahead of the work was first class, which is something else that I consider a very good sign. I was taught, during my training, as much about customer care as I was about the techniques of applying paint, hanging wallpaper or working safely at heights.

What’s the ‘take-away’ from this?

Know your limitations, trust professionals and don’t grudge paying them their worth, take advice where you can on the reputation of these professionals and treat them with respect. They will have earned your respect and loyalty.

Here’s to my fellow professionals whoever and wherever they are!

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