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Tag: Music

Learning to play the bodhrán

For most of my life I’ve been a writer. And over time, I’ve learned that all creativity, whether it’s writing, music or something else, is an adventure.

Over the years I’ve seen many Irish music groups, and watched bodhrán players moving their sticks over their drums, performing rhythms and patterns impossibly fast. And they even played with both ends of the stick! I’ve always wanted to learn this instrument.

Learning to play the bodhrán

Just before we were all sent home in the middle of March, I picked up a cheap bodhrán at Long and McQuade and signed up for lessons through the Online Academy of Irish Music (OAIM).

By nature I’m an extrovert and usually find staying home for days at a time pretty hard to do. I like to be out and about, doing things with friends.

But suddenly I had more free time and all of it had to be spent at home. So I began to play the drum, doing online lessons and practising, sometimes for several hours at a time. The first thing I learned is how to pronounce bodhrán. It’s “bow-rawn.” Hard to say!

The OAIM drum teacher, Brian Fleming, was very good. So I thought I’d see if he gave lessons online. Sure enough, he does! We started meeting via Zoom in March—connecting County Kerry in Ireland with Ottawa for an hour or so every week.  

Since then, my learning has accelerated and I can even play the stick doubled-ended on the drum.

Bodhráns are made with goat skin and they can be finicky things—if the drum is not tuneable, you have to wet the skin every 15 minutes while you play. So, after a couple of months of dribbling tablespoons of water, I was ready for a tuneable drum.

Brian recommended bodhrán maker Ben March who lives in Country Clare. I gave Ben the specifications, he made the drum and FedEx delivered it a couple of weeks ago.

I was able to have Ben put an inscription on my bodhrán: “on the adventure.” I can’t wait to see where this drum takes me. Already I’ve visited the seaside in Ireland and discovered my favourite bodhrán player, Ronán Ó Snodaigh.

My husband plays the mandolin and we are learning jigs and reels so we’ll be ready to join an Irish session at our local pub when we can all finally get together in person again. Check out a video of us playing the Ashplant Reel together on our front step.

In the meantime, my wonderful drum will be my portal to a new kind of creativity and way to connect with others both at home and far away.

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Lullaby of the land

I wrote this song recently, after doing a “deep dive” into the Pogues’ music. It’s a contrafactum, a song in which the melody is similar to another song yet contains different lyrics. In this case, the melody is from The Lullaby of London by the Pogues.

I posted the lyrics for the original side by side with my version on social media and asked my musician friends if they wanted to give it a try. My friend John Linehan (who is, of course, Irish) volunteered. We polished the lyrics some more and he brought it to life by performing it.

I recorded it live at the Irish Session at St Brigid’s Well in Ottawa.

Have a listen!

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