Tunes for a Monday Morning

Nightingale  photographed by John Bridges

Today's music comes from the brilliant British folk singer and folk song collector Sam Lee. I'm completely in love with this young man's music -- as well as with the wide variety of collaborative projects he instigates or contributes to. If you ever have the chance to see him live, please don't miss it.  His recordings of old ballads and Gypsy Traveller songs are wonderful, but hearing them live -- as they are meant to be heard -- is just extraordinary.

The Nightingale by Henry Justice Ford (1860-1940)Above: A BBC profile of Lee's "Singing With the Nightingales," an annual series of events in which folk, classical, and jazz musicians collaborate with nightingales in their natural habitats. As the website explains, guests at the nightingale gatherings are invited "not just to listen to these birds in ear-tinglingly close proximity, but to share an evening around the fire, delving into your hosts’ and guest musicians' own funds of rare songs and stories." After supper by the fire, the small audience for each event is lead "in silence and darkness into the nightingale’s habitat, not only to listen to these majestic birds, but to share in an improvised collaboration; to experience what happens when bird and human virtuosi converge in musical collaboration."

Below: "One Morning in May," a traditional British song performed by Lee and Kathryn Tickell (on Northumbrian smallpipes) for BBC Radio 3.

Above: "Blackbird," a traditional British Traveller song peformed by Lee in Amsterdam -- with Jonah Brody on piano, Joshua Green on percussion, amd Flora Curzon on violin.

Above: "Lovely Molly," a gorgeous rendition of a Scottish Traveller song by Lee, Brody, and Green for The Lullaby Project at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds.

Above: "The Blind Beggar," performed by Lee with Lisa Knapp and Nathaniel Mann at the Foundling Museum in London as part of their Broadside Ballads project. A broadside, the three musicians explain, "is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. Broadside ballads, from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, contain words and images once displayed and sung daily in Britain’s streets and inns. Although part of living traditions of folksong, popular art and literature, these illustrated printed sheets are now rare and preserved in only a few libraries." In developing the project, they spent time researching the ballads at the Bodleian, and then created new contemporary arrangements for these historic songs.

Below: "Lord Gregory" (Child Ballad #76) performed by Sam Lee with the Choir of World Cultures (directed by Barbara Morgenstern) from Berlin.

Blackbird

For more on Sam Lee's work with Gyspy ballads, see this previous post from 2015,  and a video talk about his work here.


The strength of oaks

Oak elder 1

It's been another week in which family and health matters have kept me out of the studio -- my apologies. As I despair about missing so much work time, I've been thinking about this quote from painter Vincent Van Gogh:

"It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done."

Oak elder 2


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Irish fiddle

Today, traditional music from Dublin, Ireland:

Above, "Willie O Winsbury" (Child Ballad #100) performed by Ye Vagabonds, a folk duo consisting of brothers Diarmuid and Brían Mac Gloinn.

Below: Ye Vagabonds again with "Barbara Ellen" (Child Ballad #84).

Above: "The Holland Hankerchief" (Child Ballad #272) performed by The Morning Tree, an Irish-Italian-American folk trio based in Dublin. The group consists of Eoghan O’Shaughnessy (guitar), Consuelo Nerea Breschi (fiddle and bouzouki), and Lindsay Straw (guitar and bouzouki).

Below: The magical video for "Hiljainen Suru," a Finnish folk song, by Slow Moving Clouds, a Dublin trio that draws inspiration from both the Irish and Nordic traditions: Danny Diamond (fiddle) and Kevin Murphy (cello), and Aki (nyckleharpa).

Meldon Hill,Chagford

And an instrumental piece to end with: "Devil's Polska" by Slow Moving Clouds.


Morning Prayer

Bluebell tree

"A writer -- and, I believe, generally all persons -- must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art."  - Jorge Luis Borges

Edgewood

This morning's prayer: May we have the skill to work with the raw materials we've been given, the clarity to understand their best use, and the tenacity to weave even thread spun from nettles into cloth that is beautiful and strong.

Hound and bluebells

Bluebell treeThe Borges quote is from Twenty-four Conversations With Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983 (Grove Press, 1984). The poem in the picture captions is from A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2oo3). All rights reserved by the authors or their estates.


The Writing Life

Hillside 1

From "How Can You Create Fiction When Reality Comes to Call?" by Carolyn Chute (author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine):

"This is a very personal and uplifting story of my life as a writer. I will include intimate confessions. The following is a typical day in my life.

"Eyes open up. Birds singing outside window. Oh, yes, and there is the husband. X-rated stuff happens. (Delete details.)

"Must go out with dogs. They have a dog door and a half-acre fenced in with trees and a little brook, but that isn't good enough. ... No, they have to have me go with them, so we can be a pack together.

"Typewriter with page 1,994 of novel screams from another room: I WANT YOU.

Hillside 2

"I am scrambling to get dressed because the dogs are waiting at the foot of the stairs for the pack thing, which hasn't happened yet. They are hopping up and down. These are Scottish terriers with short legs, big heads, beady eyes and beards, and when I look at them, I melt and will do anything they want.

"But at this moment I am still scrambling to get dressed, and the typewriter is starting to really scream and kind of whimper from the other room. A truck pulls up in the yard, a member of our political group, one of those working-class politics groups you hear so much about.

"Bang! Bang! Bang! This is knuckles knocking on door.

"Dogs charge the door.

"Cuckoo clock coo coos six times.

Hillside 3

"Husband is now scrambling to get dressed.

"Phone does not ring. Its bell is broken. It never rings. Thank heavens.

"Typewriter is starting to gasp and moan.

"All dressed, I race down the attic stairs and the pack is racing around, the dogs throwing themselves at the door behind which the guest stands.

"The dishes heaped in the sink make no sound. No screams. No barking. But they have one of those profound presences. I am a person who can't teach writing or make a living in any public way, as I get confused when interrupted or overstimulated. In a classroom or crowded room, I all but blank out.

"So my only income is from novels. This should explain the absence of dishwasher, clothes dryer, running hot water, electricity in all rooms, health insurance and other such luxuries. The Scotties we got through friends. So don't go rolling your eyes about those 'expensive Scotties.'

"Husband opens front door for guest, as I head out the back door with the pack.

"Pack does its thing, racing around, checking chipmunk holes, sniffing guest's truck to see what the news is from the outside world. It is a beautiful morning, and everything smells sweet.

Hillside 4

"Returning to the house, I close dogs in another room, so they won't bother the guest, who is sitting in a rocking chair with tea and telling about how upset he is with the latest bad thing the corporations and government (same thing) have done to us. (I will delete all his words here in order to keep this an uplifting and cheery article.)

"Upstairs the typewriter is squealing and howling...."

Hillside 5

Eventually Chute's house quiets down.

"By the time there are 10 coo coos, guest has left," she writes. "Dogs are lying around on the rockers. Husband has gone to town for the mail.

"I finish hanging the laundry and go up to the typewriter and sit there, holding my head trying to quiet my head. You see, I can't just switch from life mode to writer mode. Usually it takes three days to get into the writer mode. Three days of quiet non-life mode, lots of coffee and no interruptions.

"Writing is like meditation or going into an ESP trance, or prayer. Like dreaming. You are tapping into your unconscious. To be fully conscious and alert, with life banging and popping and cuckooing all around, you are not going to find your way to your subconscious, which is a place of complete submission. Complete submission.

"I open my eyes. I look at the page. I type a couple of lines. Pop! The 'n' breaks off the daisy wheel.

"These daisy wheels are $30 apiece! My old well-made typewriter had one daisy wheel, which lasted 11 years. But this is a new typewriter. The cheesy typewriters they make now use three daisy wheels a day. My mind abandons writer mode. I am now in crisis mode again....

Hillside 6

"U.P.S. truck pulls up. Dogs hurtle out the dog door into their pen and throw selves against the fence wire to show the U.P.S. man what will happen to him if he comes in the house. I run downstairs and out, so I can sign for the packages. Eight galleys from eight publishers wanting eight blurbs. Blurbs are those little positive-sounding quotes on the backs of books. I am not much of a reader. No time. It takes me two to six months to read a book, so these guys are definitely barking up the wrong tree.

"U.P.S. truck heads out and down the long dirt road and away.

"I start back up the attic stairs to the gasping weeping typewriter, and husband arrives home with mail. Three more galleys in the mail, plus 20 letters and cards, most of which are urgent, or at least requiring a letter in return. Not many bills. Just our one huge mortgage on the house that we had to take out in order to eat.

"Clock coo coos."

And so Chute's writing day goes on, and no writing is actually done.

Hillside 7

To read Chute's essay in full, go here. It's pretty funny, in a rueful kind of way, since most of us have had those kinds of days -- even writers who switch from life mode to writing mode more easily. And keep in mind that the piece was published back in 1999, before email exploded and the internet became such a ubiquitous attention-breaker.

For myself, I keep returning to this quote by Saul Bellow, which I've written on the wall close to my writing desk:

"I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”

Hillside 8Words: The passage above is from an essay published in The New York Times (September 27, 1999). The poem in the picture captions is from Earful of Cider (August 2011). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: Early morning on Nattadon Hill.


Seeing green

Wildflower path

Jill Paton Walsh on writing for children:

"I suppose that it is because literature is so abstract that people evince so little common sense about it. For children's writers, like other writers, practice a craft. I don't imagine many people think that a children's doctor need not be so good at medicine as his colleagues, or that a carpenter who  Heidi Reading by Jessie Wilcox Smithmakes toys can manage with shoddy joinery. The truth is that a book which is bad literature just doesn't have much effect of any kind; doesn't work for anyone, young or old. Like any other writer, a children's writer has got to be good.

"It isn't even true that there is somehow a different sort of goodness appropriate to children's books. The problems and the satisfactions of the writer-craftsman working for children are mainstream problems, mainstream satisfactions. I am taking it for granted that an adult writer will seek to embody and communicate adult insights in his books, will not solve problems by talking down to his audience. That being so, one might think that the writer for children has a much greater problem in getting himself understood. But that thought underestimates children, and over-values understanding.

Winding into the woods border=

"One doesn't specially want a child reader to understand intellectually, to (as it were) decode the message in a work of fiction. After all, he doesn't -- God keep us from it! -- have to sit an examination on his reading. It is enough, it is better, if the reader simply experiences a book, simply feels it. And a reader can feel truly on a very partial understanding.

A shimmer of bluebells

"I will instance my own children, watching the televised War and Peace. When Natasha met clandestinely with Kuriagin they became deeply agitated. She couldn't! -- what would happen? -- what about Prince Andre? -- oh dear no! Of course, they couldn't understand the passion that motivated Natasha; they saw it entirely as a question of loyalty. But it is that, among other things. They see only a part of the whole, but what they do see is seen truly, not in distortion.

Following the light

Old oak

"Fully understanding a book is too often like being led forward in front of a pointilliste painting, and shown how the green is made up of spots of pure blue and pure yellow. One 'understands,' but one can no longer see green.

Black dog

"I can do without being understood," Walsh concludes, "as long as the reader sees green. The problem of being comprehensible is an emotional, an aesthetic problem -- that of making the book adequately embody its meaning: that of getting the reader to 'see green' and making the seeing of green, just thus and then, emotionally meaningful. This is the central problem of literary art."

Moss, rock, and bluebells

Queen of the woods

Devon bluebells

Tilly in the springWords: The passages above and in the picture captions are from "Seeing Green" by Jill Paton Walsh, published in The Thorny Paradise: Writers on Writing for Children, edited by Edward Blishen (Kestral Books, 1975); all rights reserved by the author. I recommend seeking out Blishen's book and reading the essay in full. Pictures: Bluebell season in the woods behind the studio. The drawing is an illustration for Heidi by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935).


Returning to work

Tilly in the bluebells

Lately it's been one thing after another keeping me away from my desk: life and art tugging in two directions instead of pulling in harness together. I'm not such a delicate flower that I can't work without perfect peace and quiet, but when daily life makes too many demands and keeps me out of the studio altogether, I start to feel oddly unmoored (if you'll excuse the pun) -- as though the deep focus of creative work is what roots me in the Devon soil. I'm a sociable person, I love my family and friends, but I'm also an introvert by nature; and we introverts need solitude the way plants need rain. We wilt without it.

Devon bluebells

Today, I am back in the studio, drinking in the silence of early morning and feeling my parched soul turn green again. In the woods and fields, wildflowers are blooming and their abundance seems miraculous. I am grateful for the quiet, and the bird's dawn chorus. I am grateful to be back among paints and books. I am grateful for the hound snoring beside me, and for the wildflowers brightening my desk. I'm even grateful for the things that pull me from my work -- for they challenge me, stretch me, keep me from being too self-absorbed and self-contained -- but I am doubly grateful when let me go, allowing a return to the moss, brambles, and daydreams of my natural habitat.

Tilly in the bluebells 2

All of us have different needs, however. The solitude that invigorates me would be dull or stifling to an artist of a different temperament -- my husband, for example, who thrives on the collaborative nature of puppet and theatre work, or urban friends who need the pace of a great city to keep their creative juices flowing.

Here's K.M. Peyton (author of the Flambards trilogy) with a charming description of her work/life balance, from an essay published in 1975:

"When I get frustrated by the demands of other commitments deflecting me from the writing, I console myself that they are the lifeblood of what I am writing about, and the ivory tower, attractive as it may appear at times, would not suit. The [stereotypical] writer, quiet in his room with coffee and lunch served, the interruptions deflected by a devoted wife, is at times my great envy; but at other times I feel that the very frustrations are somehow a part of my driving force. My most difficult book to date, A Pattern of Roses, was written through the winter when a forty-foot boat was being built full-time in the garden and a constant stream of nautical maniacs was in and out of the house at all times, drinking coffee and needing a labourer's meals, as many as twenty-four one weekend.
Horse drawing by William Heath Robinson

"I have no help at home, and consider myself fully occupied with the normal ferrying of schoolchildren, housework and looking after five horses (since, in desperation, cut down to two). It was during this winter that one of the horses, lent by a farmer from the village three miles away, used to get out of the field and and go home, sometimes taking the other four with her, at a flat gallop. When this happened in the middle of the night my husband used to turn over in bed and remind me, as we listened to the departing clatter of hooves down the lane, that the horses were my department; his was the boat. But out of these calamites, nice cameos remain: creeping through someone's back yard with headcollar in hand, dressed in long nightdress, anorak and gum-boots, and being speared by torchlight from the bedroom window, or returning home in the car with my daughter riding the mare ahead in the light from the headlamps, cantering fast along the verge with only a halter for tack, and me thinking, 'Oh, God, if she falls off the mare will go all the way back again....'

At the edge of the woods

"I think now," Peyton concludes, "if I only had a book to write, and nothing else to do, I would just sit and stare into space. To know that on Tuesday, for instance, Fred will call for coffee and chat at half-past ten, the butcher will interrupt and want to know what I shall want next Friday, and that I've got to get to the nearest shop, three miles away, to buy a loaf before it shuts at one, concentrates the mind wonderfully. My mother needs to talk to me at length twice a week at least, a pony needs shoeing (five miles there and five miles back and an hour in the middle), and in the summer the garden and the field are a full-time job (mine). It is no good at all pleading my vocation, for my only local claim to fame is not in writing but as Secretary of the Pony Club, and when this keeps me almost fully occupied throughout the summer months I console myself with the richness of material I am building up in this direction. The fact that ponies are now out of fashion, a relic of the nineteen thirties and forties, will not deter me from embarking on this saga before long, so eagerly does the spring bubble up. Where would I be without my interruptions? Still staring at a blank sheet in the typewriter."

Rock, moss, and flowers

Prowling through the bluebells

Stalking the bluebell fairies

Likewise, Katherine Paterson (author of Bridge to Terabithia) reflects on the problems of work/life balance in the early part of her career:

"I had no study in those days, not even a desk or file or bookcase to call mine alone," she recalls. "It might have happened sooner [the writing of work worthy of publication] had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who took away my time and space are those who have given me something to say."

Dog in a bluebell patch

Whitebells

"The great thing, if one can," said C.S. Lewis, "is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life."

Wildflowers on the deskThe passage by K.M. Peyton is from "On Not Writing a Proper Book," published in The Thorny Paradise: Writers on Writing for Children, edited by Edward Blishen (Kestral Books, 1975); the passage by Katherine Paterson is from Gates of Excellence (Puffin, 1981); all right reserved by the authors. The C.S Lewis quote is part of a passage from a letter to Arthur Greeves, 1943. My "Writer's Prayer,"  in the picture captions, has appeared here previously but seems appropriate for re-posting today. The drawing is by William Heath Robinson (1872-1944).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Presently by Jeanie Tomanek

My apologies for the paucity of posts recently -- a combination of life, health, and family matters has kept me out of the studio. But it's a new week and I'm starting again, returning to work and hoping for a good stretch of quiet, interruption-free time.

Let's start the week gently, with lyrical poetry and women's voices in beautiful harmony....

Above: "The Blood I Bled" by The Staves, a trio of sisters from Watford, Hertfordshire. The performance was filmed for the American program A Prairie Home Companion last autumn.

Below: "Damn It All" by The Staves, performed at KUTX radio station in Austin, Texas in March.

Above: "The Lost Sky" by Jesca Hoop, performed on A Prairie Home Companion in February,  backed up by Chris Thile, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan, Stuart Duncan, Alan Hampton, and Julian Lage. Hoop is an American singer-songwriter based in Manchester, England.

Below: "Pegasi" by Jesca Hoop.

And one more:

"Home" by The Henry Girls, a trio of sisters from Donegal, Ireland, backed up by The Inishowen Gospel Choir.

Upright Blessing by Jeanie Tomanek

The gorgeous art today is, of course, by Jeanie Tomanek, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

"I paint," she says, "to explore the significance of ideas, memories, events, feelings, dreams and images that seem to demand my closer attention....Literature, folktales, and myths often inspire my exploration of the feminine archetype."

To learn more about the artist and her work, please go here.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

MayDay in Chagford

Happy Beltane and May Day!

The music this morning is from Lisa Knapp, a British folk musician who has long been interested in the traditional songs of the season. Her extraordinary new album, Till April is Dead: A Garland of May, is highly recommended -- as is her previous five-track release, Hunt the Hare: A Branch of May.

Above:  Knapp's video for "Till April is Dead," the title song of her new album. As music reviewer Thomas Blake describes it: "Sayings from French, German, Spanish, Gaelic and English folklore become entwined (in both sound and meaning) over simple plucked strings before Knapp sings a lighter than air rendition of Hal-An-Tow, a song made famous by the Watersons and the Albion Band. The song’s inherent strangeness -- the coupling of nonsense words with quasi-religious and mythological imagery -- is only thrown into sharper focus by its new setting."

Below: A beautiful version of the English folk song "The Blacksmith" (audio only), from a previous Knapp album, Wild and Undaunted.

Above: The spooky, folkloric video for Knapp's song "Black Horse." This one comes from Hidden Seam, and features vocals by James Yorkston.

Below: "Enter Ariel" by Clara Sanabras -- with Lisa Knapp, Chorus of Dissent Britten Sinfonia, London Voices, and the Ceyda Tanc Youth Dance. The song comes from Hum About the Ears, a thoroughly gorgeous folk opera by Sanabras based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. To learn more about it, please go here.

And to end with:

Lisa Knapp's rendition of "Don't You Go Rushing," a traditional May song collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset in 1907. 

The photographs above come from previous May Day celebrations here in Chagford. That's Howard dancing the Obby Oss, and Jason of England dancing the Jack-in-the-Green. The piper is Andy Letcher. For more May Day photos, go here.

And to learn more about the folklore of May Day, go here. Up the May!

The Obby Oss & the Jack-in-Green dance down the High Street  in Chagford


Coming up this weekend:

Hedgespoken's The Singing Bone

Rima Staines & Tom Hirons are launching their summer show at Lowton Farm this weekend: The Singing Bone, a lovely piece of storytelling woven with music and puppetry. Soon after, Hedgespoken hits the road, carrying stories, art, and magic to festivals, communities, and off-grid performances spaces across the British Isles. We won't see much of them again until autumn, which is when they return to Lowton Farm to work on their first full-lenth theatre piece, The Hedgehog's Bride: devised by the Hedgespoken puppetry team, and directed by my husband Howard.

Beautiful Lowton Farm

Howard Gayton and Rima Staines at Lowton Farm

Tom Hirons at Lowton Farm

This weekend's event is also a celebration of the Hedgespoken dream, and of all who have supported it. Once upon a time this traveling folk theatre was just a gleam in Tom & Rima's eyes -- but after a successful crowd-funding campaign, followed by a lot of hard, hard work, this amazing couple have it all up and running as they'd planned, with several projects now coming to fruition.

The Hedsgespoken Truck

One of these projects is Tatterdemalion, a beautiful and deeply folkloric new book by Rima and Sylvia Linsteadt that has just been published by Unbound. The text, by Sylvia, was written in response to Rima's paintings, and the result is pure enchantment. Here's Sylvia explaining the project:

Below: Tilly gives our brand new copy of Tatterdemalion her seal of approval.

Tilly gives Tatterdemalion her seal of approval

If you're anywhere within striking distance of Devon, please come join us at the Hedgespoken show this weekend. (Tickets here.) I'll be there on Saturday, at the 3 pm show. Howard, as part of the Hedgespoken team, will be there on both Saturday and Sunday, debuting his new "Punch & Judy" puppet show as one of the side attractions.

Below: The wicked, incorrigible Mr. Punch making an impromptu appearance in the Hedgespoken doorway....

Mr. Punch makes an appearance in Hedgespoken's doorway

Rima watching Mr. Punch

Tom watching Mr Punch

Dame Judy confront the naughty Mr. Punch

Crow, that old trickster

  

Also, for any of you who live Totnes-way, Howard will be at the Totnes Party in the Town on Friday night, directing the performers who are part of Alice Oswald's poetry procession at 8 pm. (Look for the crows!)