Thursday, March 31, 2011

Playing Hooky

I happened to be standing in the right place at the right time (at work) on Saturday to be the recipient of the news that Catherine Fraser and Duncan Smith were going to be playing in Fair Oaks on Wednesday. Without having heard them before, I imagined it would be worth seeing (thought in a mild tone of mind), after all, how often does one get to hear Scottish fiddling in Fair Oaks? Too bad I had to work Wednesday night. But the more I thought about it, the more inviting it sounded, and the more I thought, "What's with the have to work?" and when I texted a coworker and found her willing--no apparently eager--to take my shift, I caved in entirely; and am I ever glad I did!

From a purely practical standpoint I ended up with a great seat from which to observe some exquisite bowing, which had been my purely practical desire in playing hooky in the first place. But that was only the least of it! The short version of the story (you knew this was coming, didn't you?): if you get a chance to see these folks yourself, please do!

The chief impression I took away was of shades, colours of sound. Recall, there was only a fiddler and a piano player up there, nothing more. But the fiddle could whisper, and it could cry, and it could dance--sometimes all in the space of a few bars--and the piano was not relegated to a predictable rhythmic role, but had a palatte of its own colours which wove through the fiddling and blended seamlessly. At times, too, the fiddle would subside into a haunting drone or chuckle through a few bars of chords to let the piano take the lead.

Even this, I suppose, would have been only half as delightful, if it weren't for the affable stage presence of both performers. Both had a gift for conversation, which complimented the music well, especially as they played a large number of tunes composed by Catherine herself. Though these tunes would have spoken for themselves well enough (a bit of an understatement, that), they were twice as endearing when the context had been explained. One of my favorite sets contained two tunes Catherine had written in Montreal, with an intentional Quebecois flavour. (It's a wonder anyone in the audience still has feet--you would think all that tapping would have worn them clean off.) My runaway favorite for the evening, though was her slow air "Hills of Kaitoke," which is up on MySpace, and also on the duo's latest CD.

And yes, it was that good, that I'd love to take a chance on growing tired of excellence and attend such a performance every week. . .but I suppose it's better for the work schedule that such opportunities are rather few and far between.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Here are a couple of snaps from a week ago Monday, when I had the fortune of driving down, at long last, Highway 58. The mountain, unless I have grown terribly discombobulated from a long absence, is Breckenridge; the wild currants in the foreground, even if they are not quite in bloom, have an incomparably spicy smell. That is to say, one can't properly compare them to anything except wild currants, and any decent soul would wish every other living being in the world a chance to smell the same on a bright, late-winter morning. The fiddlenecks, something not over-far from Amsinckia menziesii, were flourishing, but not quite in bloom at the same location.