Pedal harps are probably the most inconvenient instruments to travel with, perhaps only to be out-inconvenienced by trying to travel with a grand piano in tow, so like pianists, we don't travel very often with our instruments. When people see me moving my instrument, I get comments like, "I bet you wish you had chosen a flute don't ya?" -- or I like this one, "Don't they make a fold-able harp??" --If "they" do, its one the best kept secrets as far as I'm concerned...or the most terrible sounding harp you've ever heard. Pedal harps, with their 47 strings, are under a lot of pressure, up to 2,000 pounds of pressure pulling on that curved neck and soundboard. Sounds dangerous! Anyways, the point is I had to get creative with finding an instrument to practice on. I searched all over Valencia and found a couple private conservatories for high school aged kids who wouldn't let me into the practice rooms unless I was an enrolled student. In one school, I was able to beg and persist long enough for the secretary to let me in for "solo un ratito" [just a second] with a girl I met at the hostel from Japan.
But I wouldn't stay in Valencia long though, because my 3-month visa was about to expire, so I made my way back to Madrid just in time to attend the 1 year anniversary celebrations at the harp store Camac Ibérica. In the meantime, I found a music store called Mundimusica on calle Espejo No. 4 in Madrid, that sold Salvi harps. The owner was friendly and allowed me to come in and play whenever I wanted during the week. He even got to know me by name, giving me the warmest smile and welcome each evening in his deep Spanish/Italian accented voice, "Bienvenidos Jasmine!"
To my surprise and delight, I was able to contact the director of this Camac store in Madrid and join in on the concerts and masterclasses.
A big thanks to Alex at CAMAC Ibérica for letting this vagabond harpist join in on the celebrations
Feb 3, 2013 - "Today I had the opportunity to sit with a 68 year old woman named Lenutsa who is countries, dollars, medical issues and debts away from being reunited with her family.
Maybe she faked the tears streaming down her face as she spoke on a cheap cell phone to her 3 year old grand-daughter who she's never met. Maybe she made up her sad story of how she begs for money in front of the churches during the day and sleeps in a tent in the cold each night with two other people in a park behind the church. Her knees and joints are painfully swollen from sleeping on the ground in the cold. sending money and medicine to her husband who is in Romania and had both of his legs amputated. Maybe she'll take the money I gave her and will have to pay off people who are using her to make money. I don't know. All I know is it was a very human experience where a small gesture of recognition and empathy that turned sadness into a glimpse of hope, if only for a few minutes. Let's all take a little time to listen to and validate those in who are asking for our help. Her gratitude was my gratitude."
Homelessness saddens me. It puzzles me.
When I am in the comfort of my living, in the busy-ness of my job, in the warmth of home chatting and eating around my parents dining room table, that reality is so far from my memory. But when I'm traveling I see it everywhere. I ponder on it and far too few times, I take action instead of remaining caught up in my thoughts.
One of the most interesting and significant encounters I had with people in Madrid was with this homeless woman I happened to walk by. I wrote home that night to my family to tell them about the experience.
February 3, 2013
We were both struck by the thought that had come out of my mouth. It seemed a bit insensitive. And yet, it felt like the correct thing to say at that moment. What would happen if people on the streets stopped begging for money and started asking for opportunities? Opportunities to work, to contribute to society instead of asking for hand out?
On one hand I wanted to take her home with me, feed her a proper meal, offer her a place to wash and rest in warmth and safety. I wanted to get on the internet and use these travel skills I'd gained, to find her a bus or plane ticket that would bring her closer to her children. On the other hand, I didn't know what that would all lead to. I mean, I had only met her in passing, on my way to somewhere else I was going.
Where are my priorities?
She thanked me, kissing my hand repeatedly for acknowledging her, for the money, for caring, for chatting.
For just stopping.
I didn't know how to leave her, but I did. I walked away and on my way home, I stopped by the park she described she lived in. Just she said, behind a large cathedral southwest of the Royal palace was a tent made out of blue tarp where 3 men sat outside talking to one another. I kept my distance, feeling alone and a bit vulnerable to the unfamiliar reality I was witnessing. I was leaving Spain two days later.
But what can I do?
Here's to hope that my small, inadequate effort to acknowledge Lenutsa's reality will help change the way we choose to help or ignore the people in our neighborhoods.
Something you should know about me is that if the airline happens to assign your seat next to me, make sure you immediately bury your head in some romance novel or plug yourself into the earphone jack on your arm rest, because if you don’t, I’ll introduce myself and then open up a conversation, starting with all sorts of questions because I want to know your story. Where are you from? Are you coming home or going away from home? What things have you seen and learned? What made you stagger in awe? What made you think, “wow, that’s bizarre” or “Ha! That’s funny”. Did anything surprised you because it was the same as where you’re from. I am endlessly fascinated with people, that every person has their own story to tell and has lessons they have learned and now live their life by.
Fortunately for me, on my flight from Dublin to Madrid I sat beside a Spaniard named Jorge who also liked to chat about all those sorts of curious things. I was eager to get into Spanish-speaking mode, and thankfully the language comes easily for him and he was happy to oblige. I learned he was a Spanish teacher based in Dublin but returning home to spend Christmas with his family near Cádiz. We chatted the entire flight and when we got off, he helped me navigate the metro system. A welcome comfort, because I was a little rusty with public transit (I live in a cow town where the best shot at public transit is yellow school buses that bring the rural kids into town) and he saved me from too much “I’m obviously a tourist” behavior.
My stop was coming up, so I looked down the car to smile and wave goodbye to Jorge, grateful for his help and his offer to meet up for coffee sometime in Madrid. The metros have a pre-recorded Spanish woman's voice that announce each of the stops before you arrive and when the car stops.
*Traveler's tip: That pre-recorded metro voice is an excellent pronunciation teacher.
I'm always checking to see whether I've got my pronunciation down thanks to city metros.
When my handy language teacher confirmed I had arrived, I slipped myself and my small, densely packed bag through the sliding doors onto the platform. It had been 6 years since I had been in this city and a couple years since I had seen my friend Rebecca. We became friends during a Spanish history study abroad in 2007 in that very city and better friends in the years that followed. My heart and head were singing, anticipating the moment I would out into the middle of that city I love so much. I hauled that densely packed bag up the two flights of stairs, wondering why I brought anything more than a toothbrush and a change of clothes, and exited into a young, bustling street scene around
It wasn't long before Becca showed up with a big smile and a big hug. Hitting up Madrid 6 years later, as if time had stood still. I found the city hadn't changed much in my eyes. Those serendipitously twisting streets captivate this girl who grew up finding addresses in the efficient, practical, predictable grid street system. Give me more Spain!
Rebecca and I became friends 6 years ago during a university study abroad on Spanish history. We lived outside of Madrid and traveled all over the country to many major cities including Segovia, Toledo, Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla, and even a detour to Porto and Viana do Castelo in Portugal
It was exciting to be back in "my city".
Seems funny how I feel I can claim it as my own even though I only spent 4 months there. I really enjoyed revisiting places I know and love but also exploring the city with a different set of eyes.
If I had to choose one favorite thing about Madrid it would be all the street performers. Some of them are SO creative --some less so, but entertaining nonetheless. I am convinced a person could spend an entire year just walking the streets of Madrid and never tire of the things you could find. It is so explorable!
Meet John and Maureen. They were recently married and moved to Madrid for two years to accept a job offer and an adventure! As friends of Rebecca's they heard of my travels and were so kind to offer their extra room and take in this vagabond two weeks until my flight would leave to take me to Rome, Italy. In the evenings, over some delicious homemade meal Maureen had whipped up, we would practice Spanish by talking about what we had seen and done that day. I taught them Spanish vocabulary and helped them practice pronunciation.
It was so exciting to think I could take the Spanish I've learned over the years and teach it to others!
Janet invited me to share lunch with her and her husband the following week and we could talk in person then.
On our last day in Dublin, before Megan and Corrin flew home to Canada, we toured Trinity College to peer over illuminated manuscripts, like The Book of Kells (ca. 800), and to visit the Trinity College library.
To my surprise, I recognized another artifact. The Trinity College Harp (aka Brian Boru's Harp). It is one of three surviving medieval Gaelic harps.
The luck of the Irish was on my side! Do you recognize it? It is one of the national symbols of Ireland and is also found on the Irish Euro coin
I parted with Purity Ring on the first of December in Dublin, not without a few tears to be leaving my cousin.....there were probably some anxious tears interspersed in there too. I'd decided on Abigail’s Hostel. Nothing fancy, basically just a place to rest my head and store my bags, but the location made for a good base to explore. It was situated along the River Liffey in the old historic area of Temple Bar, and just few blocks away from the bus station. Check it out:
Being the low season, my only other roomate was a friendly artist woman from Kilkenny who was in town to sell her paintings in an art fair in Dublin. We had a nice chat the first night she arrived and to my surprise I found a note on my pillow inviting me to come stay at her guesthouse if I should need anything on my way out to Limerick. This was the first of many wonderful, down-to-earth, kind people who welcomed me into their homes over the 6 months I traveled Europe. The next invitation would come only days later at church from an expat family- the Zortman's. I accepted their invitation and stayed for a couple days, sharing meals around the dinner table with their two sons, staying up late discussing life, career paths, and love. They took me in like a long lost cousin, so warm and welcoming. Their home is in Malahide, a community outside of Dublin, and I got to explore the beautiful coastline north of the city and to visit Malahide Castle and its grounds.
Wednesday finally came and after saying goodbye to the wonderful Zortman family, I caught a bus to Limerick, unsure of what I would find when I got there but confident that I would be taken care of. The bus took me on a 2 1/2 hour highway ride through farming landscapes, fields of the greenest grass you can imagine. As planned, the bus dropped me off at a gas station on the side of the highway. The office secretary Louise had told me just to ask the woman running the gas station to give her a call--she would know the number. Small towns! A few minutes later, a car pulled up and a friendly smile and clear Irish accent welcomed me and invited me to get in to drive down the road into Castleconnell, home of the Irish Harp Centre. It was a busy day at the Harp Centre with students and parents coming in and out, coming and going. That day an adjudicator had come to administer their music exams, so I waited, and waited, for my chance to get a word in with Janet. When she was free, she invited me into her kitchen with that typical Irish warmth and welcome, to share a bite and to chat.
I wanted to know more about her projects and to ask her advice on how I might get involved in similar work. She gave me a description of the harp program she developed and teaches at the Harp Centre. She offers lessons structured for professionals, students, and people merely interested in the harp. The centre can host workshops for visiting groups. She even has a resident apprenticeship program where one can mentor one-on-one every day with Janet. --That really interested me. I have imagined creating a music centre/ artist residence combo like Janet has created. We spoke about her work in creating a curriculum that brings the study of Irish music into the university setting. Typically, Irish harp is taught aurally and is not available for receiving a degree in Irish harp from an accredited university harp program. Janet has been working hard and in the near future, Irish harp students could gain a music degree in Irish Harp, as pedal harp students have been able to do for years. I am curious to learn more about the impact the Belfast Harp Orchestra had on the people of Northern Ireland and to see what else comes from the vision and work of this ambitious and motivated woman!
After dinner together, Janet's apprentice Jordan and I went out to hear a session at the local pub. A session is a traditional Irish music "jam-session". Pubs in Ireland are the village gathering places, where old and young mix, mingle, share stories, and share music. In one area of the small establishment was a table surrounded by men and women holding instruments: guitars, a mandolin, a fiddle, an accordion, a bodhrán, and ox-bones! Each seemed to be there to spend the entire evening together, the mood so comfortable. Looking around, the pub was filled with a lifetime of cluttered collectibles, with pieces of garland hanging around the room and red bows dotting the scene haphazardly. No bother, the organization, the design appeal were not the focus of this institution. The focus was on a lifetime of gathering the people of Castleconnell together. Jordan and I sat near to listen to their music and to take in the scene. A wonderful, beautiful experience! To me, that scene was a pure embodiment of community. Sharing, laughing, teaching, improvising, wow-ing, and friendly support of one another. When we left around midnight, they were just settling into the night. Janet told us the sessions usually go from 9:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m.
Not long after the session musicians laid their heads to rest, I awoke to start my journey to Spain. Jordan and I became friends in a few short hours and we both hoped to see each other again....being that the harp world is a small and connected one, it's likely we will cross paths again.
As I moved through that still, sleeping village I looked up at my only companion, a bright and clear haloed moon. My Ireland detour, the first of countless others, had proved to be valuable for so many reasons, many I didn't plan on. The Trinity College Harp, a face-to-face meeting with Janet and Jordan, the opportunity to see the Irish Harp Centre running, and pub sessions in Dublin and Castleconnell. All were so valuable to me. Perhaps all will inspire an arts centre I dream of creating wherever I end up in the future.
I made it back to the highway that brought me there not 24 hours earlier and waited to flag down the bus to Dublin. I arrived at the bus station near my hostel, picked up my luggage I had left stored there, and made my way to Dublin's central bus station to catch a shuttle to the airport. By 1:50 pm I was en-route to Madrid, so happy to be returning to the land of my first solo experience abroad in 2007. I had plans to meet up with my friends Rebecca and Art in Madrid, to spend Christmas with cousins in the south, and to look for a harp teacher to wait out the rest of winter in sunny Spain. Its funny how these plans seemed so probable and comfortable, and how now in hindsight, this feeble skeletal plan was fleshed out with so many more colors, turns, surprises, set-backs and memorable experiences I couldn't have imagined or planned on.
Oh serendipitous life!
Follow me to SPAIN!
Here I'll attempt to bring you backstage and behind the scenes to give an idea of what those performers have been up to before the show you come to see.
This is how the gig typically goes down:
We roll into town in our oh-so stylish Eurovan and pull into the back of our venue. Nick makes a phonecall and a non-descript door opens and a friendly face is there to show us where to load our gear in and to lead us through the venue to the artists room.
The first thing we do is jump out of the van and Nick starts to deconstruct the gear he’s packed in to perfection, passing it to us fireman style and we carry it into the venue. If we’re lucky, the employees of the venue come out to help us.
Setting up the stage. Megan and Corrin have their stage set up figured out. At the first show in Paris, Megan showed me how to set up the lights, which are a series of booms, sandbags, LED lights, foam cocoons, a drum that glows on impact, and of course, Corrin’s fabulous midi instrument. Only Corrin touches that part of the stage set up. An insiders tidbid: that green and cream table cloth he uses was actually his Mom’s.
Performing. Megan and Corrin put on a great show, I was impressed to see young and old(er) people in the audience, all equally enthusiastic about the experience these two artists have created. Megan and Corrin performing their music while surrounded by stage smoke and a forest of glowing cocoons. The experience is pretty magical, a bit otherworldly. surreal. Thumbs up to those venues who put the merch area is the same room as the show so that I could watch the show from my post. I love when music gets a whole room of people moving together
An excerpt from my journal of the first show at the Paris Pitchfork Festival:
“The show was fun and it seemed like a lot of people really loved it. I went down into the crowd to watch their set. People cheered and clapped after the songs, and looked up at them enjoying their lights, their clothing, their music, the cocoons, that cute Megan, and super creative Corin. At one point, the music stopped and Megan sang a bit acappella, and then Corin came back in with deep base notes and the music, a guy beside me, smiling big, almost into a laugh saying "Genial!"
….We slept hard last night and missed breakfast. We may try to get into the Louvre for an hour before we have to be back.”
Signing merchandise. When the show ends, my work picks up, sometimes into a hurried frenzy as fans crowd the table to buy the things they’d been eyeing but didn’t want to carry during the show. The best sellers in my books: the black shirts with the shrines album artwork on ‘em and the vinyls . I liked seeing people going after vinyl recording in a world dominated by ipods, earbuds, and online music streaming sites.
While I’m selling and the artists are signing and chatting it up, Nick immediately starts taking down the stage, with machine-like efficiency. After the crowds have cleared out of the venue, Megan and Corin get to work breaking down the lights and packing instruments and gear and we get it back into the van, Nick excelling.
After the show is different from night to night. Sometimes there’s an afterparty with a DJ, sometimes we meet up for drinks with industry friends and contacts, or get to our hotel for a good nights rest.
And I'll end with some ultimates:
Coolest hotel: Michelberger
Most exclusive venues: Silencio, a private David Lynch club in Paris, France. And Berghain in Berlin, Germany
Most memorable hosts: Joe the artist, musician, and ‘cosmic water tuner’ in Manchester, UK; the folks who cooked us a traditional home-cooked meal at De Kruen in Kortijk, Belgium; the loading/unloading crew at Trau in Amsterdam, and Hale, our Turkish translator and guide in Istanbul.
“You get to tour with the band? Like, you get to be 'a roadie' ?”
Ah to be 'the roadie'. It is a fun title to carry because of the wide-eyed, dropping jaw hype it creates, but to be honest, I loved experiencing the inner-workings of the tour. Observing the goings-on of a world few have an opportunity to be a part of. We all have an image of what a band tour is like, I know I did. Perhaps it goes something like this: traveling to famous cities, meeting and hanging out with famous people day and night, getting chased by adoring fans and paparazzi, shopping, dining, pampering, glamour, and fame. Granted, there are a lot of great, and at times glamorous moments. There are the shows, the venues, all the different cities to visit, the backstage passes, the artist room prepared for you "just for you", the adoring fans storming the merch table after the for their vinyl or t-shirt, and waiting in line hoping to score a few words and an autograph or picture. Yes there is all that.
But let me get real for a second.
touring means, most of the time you're in a van
(or loading and unloading that van)
And touring with a band doesn’t mean you actually get to SEE much of those places on the tour website or spend much time with your adoring fans. What you do see of a city is usually just the streets and alleys that lead to the back of the venue. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glance of an important building and snap a blurry picture through a foggy window.
Here's some of my sorry attempts to catch the trip from the van window:
The exciting things about tour are real, but they are by no means the majority of your time spent on tour. So since most of your time is in the van, let me give you a glimpse into life IN the band van. The great thing about touring with a band is that you're surrounded by fun, creative, incredible personalities. Here are some ways we filled our time.
Listening to good music. This one needs no explanation--of course when you're surrounded by music lovers, you will be surrounded by a whole bunch of great music. Nick’s 30+ years of experience with bands meant he had a solid and ample mix to accompany our journey. We had a few DJ moments when Airrick warped classic Beatles songs with his music samples and loops.
Conversations. The van conversations spun from topic to topic, from getting-to-know-you discussions to deep philosophical debates to straight up funny and wierd. The deep ones usually emerged from the boys in the backseat. One that stands out specifically in my mind was when we discussed, at length, whether showering was good for you, let alone necessary. For a few of us, the thought had never occurred that there were seriously two sides to this debate.
Sleeping or dreamily staring out at the landscape ...mmm
Pattern-making. Naturally, with lady Megan around. At Steven’s curiosity and request, Megan drew up patterns for how to sew a cape.
What a talented girl.
One of my favorite moments in the van was when we spontaneously got into an English lesson, a la Nick Hannan (meaning English with a Devon accent).
I caught it on video :)
You begged, so here it is, the first pictures and thoughts of the Purity Ring Roadie chronicle: a whirlwind tour of Europe & UK with my cousin Megan James, her band Purity Ring, the opening band Doldrums, and our hilarious British, pirate-esque, tour manager Nick Hannan.
Nick had emailed me with the address of our hotel so I called to see if Megan had arrived, and she answered the phone! So, I set off through the city of Paris to find my cousin. I spent the week before exploring Paris and what looked on the map to be a short 15 minute walk turned into a 40 minute walk (Lesson: check google maps walking time estimates instead of "just eyeballing it"). But I arrived and all but leapt down the hall and rapped on the door. A happy and familiar voice answered "Hello" and with a swift swing of the door, two giddy cousins were together again, ready for a tour of Europe and the UK. That night we met up with their manager for Indian curry and a necessary band meeting about upcoming tours and such group decisions. Megan and I walked back to our hotel after dinner and went right to sleep (Ya, right)
The next morning, I took over making some breakfast for Megan, Corin, and myself while they set up for a hotel room rehearsal of their set list. At our scheduled time, a big white van showed up at the hotel and we rolled out the gear bags and instruments to the street to load into the back. A man with wild wavy blonde hair and a goatee got out and helped us load everything in and introduced himself as Nick, our tour manager. This is a guy who fits his job to a t. And you'd never know he's passed his mid-century mark, looking a bit pirate-esque wearing just a vest. Add to this image his quick witty humor, a smart Devon accent, and 30+ years of touring with bands and you have a glimpse of this man we entrusted ourselves to for the next month. (Megan and Corin were drumming up any way to bring him over to manage their future tours. He was that good.)
Once were were loaded, we slid open the door to find 3 comerades chillin' in the back seat, namely Airrick Woodhead, Steven Foster, and Kyle (a.k.a FLOWCHILD). They had claimed the back seat and seemed to have happily settled into the Eurovan we would call home for the next month. We set off, snaking our way through the beautiful, bustling streets of Paris to the Grande Halle de la Villette where the Pitchfork Music Festival was staged that weekend. Passing security, after an unnecessary detention at the gate, we unloaded the gear and set up for the much anticipated show.
oh I love these faces! This is Corin Roddick and Megan James.
Megan is my cousin, so we've known each other for a long time...okay, our whole lives. We're just a few months apart in age and our families were close as we grew up. I first met Corin when he and Megan both played in the band Gobble Gobble. I came over to see their rehearsal space in Edmonton and I have this distinct image of Corin playing a mishmash percussion set complete with a bucket of pennies, to stir and shake. That night Megan and I painted his gear with florescent puff paints while their friend CJ pulled out one by one, the instruments he had created by modifying the electronics of children's toys. Gobble Gobble was beyond creative, definitely crazy, but the kind of crazy you loved and wanted to be a part of.
Not long after, Corin created a piece of electronic music and sent it to Megan asking if she'd add a melody and lyrics to it. Without warning or warm up, this first song, Ungirthed, went viral being shared and spread around the web. Purity Ring grew out of what seems like a lucky break. But what you maybe don't know is that Megan and Corin are two down to earth, creative, talented, and entirely likeable people and I see it show through in their music. I believe music has the ability to communicate those inner elements of a person that other forms of communication fail to share. That's not to say all music is an art that expresses who the maker is, but in the case of Megan and Corin, I hear the musical elements created by each of them reflecting their personalities and their life experiences. The combination is intriguing and beautiful because they are so true to themselves in the music they create.
And in case you were wondering (as many do), why would they call themselves "Purity Ring"? They chose to call their band Purity Ring because they liked the sound of it. In nearly every interview, their host gives them all kinds of grief, trying to pry out a deeper meaning from the name, but really (no, really) there isn't any more to it.
They just liked the way it sounds.
For tour dates, see their website
creatíf. passionate about people.