[I wrote this piece between the festival and the tsunami. Now, more than ever, we need the rich hours—not the obese, unmindful ones, but the real ones, the ones that connect us to our heritage and to the future.]

Tony Davoren's photo of the Mardis Gras created for the show Tremé. "Let's play spot the real Cajuns!" says Tony. Like my Mardis Gras: tangential, but with reality in it.

I didn’t expect to be celebrating Mardis Gras, but it turned out to be a very fat day indeed.

I’d expected grey weather, but woke to a crystal blue sky. Since unhooking from caffeine a few weeks ago, I keep being amazed at how good it feels to wake up feeling good. I wrote a “letter of thanks or apology”*. I stretched, meditated, rode my rowing machine to the tunes of the Mamou Playboys’ new cd [Mardis Gras Run, Washington-DC-style. Hey, it worked for me.] which inspired me to put on the Café des Amis shirt given me by my generous friend Larry. I put everything by the door before breakfast and left the house on time! (This is big news for me, actually, as I’m what the Swedes politely call a tidsoptimist, time optimist.)

At the Dr. Glass office, where I crunch numbers for some fine people once a week, we celebrated Philip’s birthday/Mardis Gras/International Women’s Day with King Cake and pizza. While learning something about Disk Utility, I also learned that even after waking up happy I can still be reactive and testy. Another little lesson in humility, like a handful of Mardis Gras beads casually tossed out by the day, avidly grasped, easily forgotten and trampled—or treasured.

At the studio Karen shares with me, I helped a student make the final choice between two fiddles, to live with over the coming years. She’s fifteen and her passion for the music knocks my socks off. Then, cancellations gave me a two-hour break. Karen’s face lit up when she heard that: “Do you want to eat with us?” ergh, I thought, I’d love to, but I was really looking forward to practicing. “We’re having pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, and mango lassi.” Well, how could I resist an offer like that!?!  She’d meant to add vegetarian sausage, so I made a run to Trader Joe’s [Mardis Gras Run, suburban-Maryland-style**]. When I walked in, the muzak was cranking Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me by The Wild Magnolias, and since it was Mardis Gras people smiled instead of looking away in embarassment when I couldn’t help dancing through the aisles. Dinner with the family was wonderful—conversation about music, Gabe’s master class with Joseph Alessi, sweet and savory toppings and crunchy cucumbers and red peppers on the side. And everyone looked handsome in black clothing under the bright beads Karen gave us.

My next lesson was with a student who brings great emotional depth and imagination to her study of Irish tunes, so it’s easy to respond creatively to her—we’re partners in her project. I told her she could find slip jig dancers on YouTube (shuddering a little to hear myself actually suggesting YouTube) and then said, “You know those kitchen-table stories, where you’re sitting around with kids or old friends on a fall night and someone’s telling a story, and no one’s texting or jumping up to take a phone call, you’re all hanging on the next word?” She nodded and smiled in recognition. “Make this tune your kitchen-table story. Tell it ten different ways. Who’s around the table each time will influence that.” She nodded again. “Tell the part of the tune that can’t be told on YouTube.”

The evening ended for me with three strong conversations, two by phone and one by e-mail [Paul Revere’s Ride, 20th-century-style]…clarity in one, laughter in the second, and so much heart in the third that I had to just sit there for a while breathing deep and taking it in before I could respond, and then I responded, and then by’mby it was no longer Mardis Gras.

Ash Wednesday dawned gray and chill. The world is a mess, and I have new strength to care.

 

*from Carl Dennis’ delightful poem “A Maxim”

www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2010/06/07/100607po_poem_dennis

** for more about Cajun Mardis Gras traditions and their ancient roots, see Pat Mire’s short article              www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/creole_art_dance_chicken.htm

and his film Dance for a Chicken

www.folkstreams.net/film,168

Mar 212011

Just came from the American String Teachers’ Association national conference in Kansas City. I’m fired up by new information and new connections, and warmed by deepened friendships. A highlight for me was Rachel Barton Pine’s master class. She is an extraordinary teacher as well as musician, eloquently conveying a wealth of information to the student in a style that’s direct but non-threatening—because she’s so clearly about the music and not anyone’s ego, and anyone would be happy to go with her on that! I also enjoyed Julie Lyonn Lieberman’s session on ergonomics and Martha Walvoord’s idea-rich presentation “Listen for Success: How to Develop Artist’s Ears.” I  presented The Exquisite World of Swedish Fiddling to about 40 people. The best part of all, for me, was meeting Melinda Crawford, a Scottish fiddler who has just completed a PhD in music education (she had to leave the conference early to go to graduation!), creating a manual for Scottish fiddle instruction so that classical teachers can introduce students to the broad wealth of the tradition, rather than just a tune or two. We had a great time talking about traditional music, our mutual love of teaching musicianship and building skill, and the growing respect for fiddle traditions in the classical world. A kindred spirit indeed!  www.melindacrawford.com

As lagniappe: I love stairs (when they’re not on a machine) and I walked down the 15 flights from our hotel room at least 15 times (but only 5 times going up). Not the slightest sore muscle: crazy. Even my body was inspired by the energy of ASTA!

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