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Fiddlin’ Around – March, 2016

Envision/Beach signLike an insistent, chattering monkey, I am always telling folks to get out and listen to live music. Now clearly that is somewhat self-serving, since as a working musician it is always more fun for me to play when there is an audience. I want people to listen, and re-act and hopefully enjoy when the band is cooking and the muse is with us. The coolest thing about a bunch of musicians playing together live and in person is that the music will only be like that once. One time only–unique. And the audience is part of the vibe and inspiration of that particular performance. Lots of recordings are called ‘live’–so and so band ‘live’ at some venue…. Well, it is obviously a recording of a live performance, and as such, it has been altered, enhanced, and changed in subtle or sometimes drastic ways. Modern recording and mixing technology is so sophisticated now that once you have recorded something it can be manipulated in a kzillion different ways. If the singer goes out of tune for a second–isolate the track and alter the pitch. If the drummer hits a cymbal in the wrong place–isolate the track and get rid of the offensive sound. If the guitar player’s solo isn’t great, well just delete it and have him play it over again in the studio. If the violin sound sucks, add some reverb or change the tone of the instrument to something you like. My point is that no matter how true to reality a recording may be, it is still just an electronic attempt at duplicating the sound and performance and ‘feel’ of the original. Course, since we can’t travel around or live our lives with a bunch of tiny musicians in our pockets, recorded music is the next best thing.

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Fiddlin’ Around – January, 2016

ViolinistsBy Nancy Buchan

During the first week of December the fine folks who run the Escuela de Musica Sinfonica de Perez Zeledon, a private music school in San Isidro, schedule the end of the year examinations for all the students who study and receive music instruction there. There’s all ages enrolled in the school, and this past year my dozen students ran the gamut from 7 year olds playing little bitty violins to teen-agers with tuner and metronome apps on their cell phones. They get nervous over the testing, not realizing that I am not judging them for their performance that day (unless they are arrogantly un-prepared and insolent about it—which has never happened to me here in Costa Rica), but that my grades are based on their overall abilities and progress. I wonder if they are enjoying themselves and try to evaluate if they have consistently gotten better. Do they appear to enjoy the process? Is this the right instrument for them? For the struggling student should I abandon the rigid classical approach for a friendlier, learn by ear method? Are they capable of the repetitive practice and focus necessary to learn the skills they need? And then it’s back to the most important question—are they having fun?

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Best wishes to all for a rockin’ good Christmas!

Santa FrogAnd may 2016 roll in gently and melodiously! There should be plenty of live music happening in our area, ‘cause whether you’re in the churches or the bars, the holiday season moves folks to sing and make music.  So, having spent way more time in bars than I have in church, I’m gonna talk about some of the rowdier and ruder songs of the xmas season. I really love weird xmas songs, and there are plenty of them out there. A shrink would have a field day with my holiday set list….

There have always been novelty type songs about xmas, like ‘I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus’, or ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ or ‘Frosty the Snowman’, and they are usually cute and kind of innocent and geared to kids. I get weary of those saccharine, happy little ditties, just like I get weary of the made-to-pull-at-your-heartstrings sad xmas songs. If you are crying in your eggnog over Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’, or the Eagles version of Charles Brown’s ‘Please Come Home for Christmas’, or Loretta Lynn singing ‘Christmas Without Daddy’, then you need to upgrade to some of the grittier yule time sicko material that’s out there.

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Fiddlin’ Around – November 2015

By Nancy Buchan

Led ZepplinThis last decade or so there has been an odd—at least I find it odd—urge to bring back the bands and performers who were so important to the soundtrack of our lives. I’m talkin’ tours with rock and roll dinosaurs—the hair bands that now have lots of grey, or none at all. The bad boys who survived but are more likely to be chewing Mylanta than ‘ludes. But there was a lot of musical freedom and excitement going on back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, when lyrics were important and melody still reigned. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the baby boomers want to re-connect with the music and spirit of those days, and they can now afford the couple hundred bucks for tickets, so make way for the dinosaurs! I saw a guy the other day with a button that said “I’m not old, your music really DOES suck! And pull up your pants!” Hard to argue with that.

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Reflections on the Rainy Season, or Maybe Reflections Because of the Rainy Season

Does the noise in my head bother you?By Nancy Buchan

There’s nothing like a nice soft rain to lull one into indoor inactivity. A book and a hammock are my first choice, but for those of you with a higher metabolism you might want to find things to do besides gardening, or hiking or any of the outdoor stuff here that is normally so much fun. So, keeping the focus on music, here’s a few things you can do while there’s a deluge going on outside.

If you are going for the book and hammock diversion, there are tons of biographies and auto-biographies out there about musicians. I’ve read bunches of them—from Frank Sinatra to Willie Nelson to Frank Zappa to Linda Ronstadt, and they are all interesting, even the ones about musicians I was never much interested in. Like Steven Tyler—who wins for the best title, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?

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Kitty

Viola and ViolinBy Nancy Buchan

One of my best girlfriends and someone who regularly de-railed my train of thought and my life in general, was my viola playing friend Kitty. She was a bit of a classical snob, and I totally understand that, ‘cause most classical players work really hard to master the skills necessary to play that type of music and they are in an elite category. Kitty was particularly interested in the ‘Baroque’ style of music and the kind of odd-ball instruments used at that time. Music, of course, is a continually evolving art form, and when folks talk about ‘Baroque’ music they are usually referring to a pretty broad range of styles and techniques that came from Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. ‘Course it’s the musicologists and historians who have named them that—they didn’t know they were Baroque musicians, they were just doing what musicians do. The so-called Renaissance period started in the 1400’s and the Baroque era lasted for 150 years or so, from 1580 to 1730.

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Fiddlin’ Around – May/June, 2015

Turrialba volcano

Turrialba volcano

By Nancy Buchan

Some friends of mine who were visiting Costa Rica last March found themselves in the odd position of having to call their families with the news that they wouldn’t be catching their scheduled flight home.  Odd, not because they had missed a bus, or because their flight was overbooked, or because the taxi drivers were on strike, but because there was a volcano going off and things at the airport were a bit messy….. The volcano that blew was Mt. Turrialba, in the Cartago Province – its last major eruption was in 1866, but it rumbled back to life in 2001 and by 2013 there were 20 seismic events per day associated with it. Now there are some 30 per hour. Yikes. Shifting tectonic plates plus local faults cause thousands of tremors here yearly, some short and jarring, others long and rolling. Scientist types say this frequency relieves pressure and keeps the ‘Big One’ at bay – there are some 200 extinct volcanos in this country, and a bunch of active ones that can disrupt all kinds of things, from airplane flights to bird migrations to cattle breeding.

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Fiddlin’ Around – April 2015

By Nancy Buchan

There’s just nothin’ like being somewhere remote and far away from human pollution and influences – and gazing up at a beautiful, clear night sky. After traveling all over and living in a variety of locations, I realize I’ve always managed to put myself in places where I could see the nighttime stars. Occasional boat experiences were mostly fun for me because of the vast scope of the heavens surrounding us. It was easy to feel like we were all part of them. When I lived at 9,000 feet in Colorado, I would get home from a gig at like 2 or 3 am, grab a sleeping bag and pillow, traipse up the hill to my favorite boulder to curl up on and ponder the stars. They were so close. They seemed so important and ancient. Meteor showers that were so in-my-face they were almost alarming. Northern lights that moved and pulsated and that you felt no one else could possibly be witnessing. I’ve never been good at remembering the names of the celestial bodies up there, but it really doesn’t matter. One night recently I sat on a comfy piece of driftwood next to the mighty Pacific – again humbled and awed by the stars – and started singing ‘star songs’ to myself. Every civilization and culture and geographical area has produced songs about stars, whether they were simple musical rhymes to help sailors navigate, or explanations of people’s religious beliefs, or pop ditties about starshine and stardust….

Starry nights

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Elders

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

By Nancy Buchan

Throughout time we have learned our survival skills and our histories and how to make art and music from the older folks around us. The village elders. The tribal chiefs, the master craftsmen, the seasoned veterans. The verbal accounts from our forefathers that give us perspective. The musical traditions that have brought us together or have defined us regionally. Musicians have always been guided by the players or writers who came before – we learn from them that it is not the ability to play a flurry of complicated stuff that is important, but it’s the wisdom to play the right stuff. The skills that enable us to play with other musicians doesn’t just happen either, so most musicians end up being teachers to the less experienced players, whether it’s intentional or not. Unless you are reading notated music, like in an orchestra setting, it is necessary to invent your own parts to blend with and compliment the other musicians. It takes time to learn this. And a good dose of humility.

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Fiddlin’ Around – February 2015

Kim's paintingBy Nancy Buchan

We all know folks who fall into the category of ‘over achievers’. Those annoying people who can balance their checkbook, change the oil in their car, bathe the dog, jog a mile, mend a pair of pants, weed their garden, remember their aunt’s birthday and call her on time, fix a gourmet breakfast for four and do yoga – all before I’ve managed to make a decent cup of coffee and stop growling. I absolutely hate comparing myself to these folks who are able to pay such attention to the millions of issues and details we face every day, and I could never live with any of them….and how do they do it all anyway? Well, mostly they have better discipline, better organizational skills, better focus and they are ‘self-starters’ who have probably been that way all their lives. It’s not that they are driven to succeed exactly – but they are driven to be organized and to do things instead of lying in a hammock reading science fiction or sitting on a log contemplating the sunset. Now, don’t get me wrong – hammock time and thoughtful contemplation have their own importance – hence the saying “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” But on a practical level even I have to admit that things go better if I make a list before going to the store, or if I’m stopped by the cops and I actually have an up to date marchama or haven’t let my passport expire…

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Vows & Promises

pinky swearBy Nancy Buchan

Here we are at the beginning of a new year, (2015 in case you really partied hard on New Year’s Eve), optimistic and full of well-meant resolutions. Or vows. Or promises. “I promise to be a kinder person.  I promise to quit smoking and to lose weight. I promise not to eat a bag of chips with dip and call it a two course meal. I promise Oprah not to text and drive. I promise not to wear anything with horizontal stripes. I promise to conquer the Spanish language – practice scales – work for world peace…..” Now I might manage to keep the resolution about the stripes, but like the majority of us, by the second week of January I will have broken most of these resolutions….

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LIES, DECEIT, BETRAYAL AND CHEATING!

HankWilliamsBy Nancy Buchan

There are probably more songs written about love gone bad because of those issues than there are sweet songs about perfect relationships and everlasting fidelity. Mainly ‘cause the messy stuff is way more interesting! Every style of music has their entries into this category, and frankly there are so many songs about cheating on your partners that it’s kind of embarrassing. We’ve all been told lies, whether it’s a kind, white lie – “No, honey, those pants don’t make your butt look big…” – or the whoppers that involve serious treachery and which change everything and usually doom a relationship.

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Jungle Beats

Jungle Book

Jungle Book

By Nancy Buchan

To my amazement and delight I find myself living right next to a real jungle. Not in the dense thick of it, but it is nearby and there’s plenty of proof that the animals and insects and birds and plants share its edges with us town dwellers. There’s always a symphony of noises coming out of this primal area – sometimes I don’t even get out of my hammock to see what kind of critters are having issues in my yard, or what type snake just slithered into the bushes. Like most of us, before I moved here my jungle knowledge was derived from books, paintings, photos, cartoons and songs….

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The Magical Wonder of Trees

Magical wonderof treesBy Nancy Buchan

If you’ve ever made a little bed at the base of an old and gnarly tree, and laid there daydreaming or napping under its comforting and ageless embrace, then you’ve had a glimpse of the profound importance of the humble tree. Trees are sanctuaries, and when we know how to listen to them and speak to them we can learn mighty truths. They give us shade, and shelter, and beauty, and food and medicinal things. They provide homes to birds and insects and other critters. Little kids love to climb them, poets write about them, and they give insight into the geologic and climatic history of the land. They are cranky old Mother Nature’s finest contribution to the planet, and so of course we cut them down to make paper and furniture and dyes and boats and cellos and drumsticks, or we burn them to keep warm or to play music by a bonfire on the beach, or just to indulge in our fascination with fire.

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Noble Patria (Noble Homeland)

Costa Rica flagBy Nancy Buchan

For the Ticos and for those of us lucky enough to live in or be visiting this beautiful country, watching the World Cup soccer games last month was a proud and exciting thing. The Costa Rican Sele team played great, and made it clear to all that it was no fluke that they had gotten farther in the elimination process than ever before in their history. They played with discipline and skill and team spirit and HEART! It was big fun to be part of the ecstatic and giddy partiers celebrating their dreams. One of the best things about the whole soccer mania time was how cool the Ticos were about their eventual loss to the Netherlands. No one whined about losing, or blamed the referees or made unnecessary excuses – folks here were gracious and proud of their athletes and their country. Even for the folks who thought they didn’t like soccer, it was infectious fun to be part of!

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