May 11 — 19 days to go…

Countdown: 19 Days to the Great Water Dragon Southwest Tour

Actually, 17 days to take-off, May 28th, when we’ll drive two days to Rio Rico, AZ, where on the 30th we play our first concert in the “Arizona Room” at my sister Tracy’s house. From there we pretty much play a concert every other day, with travel on days in between. I’ve built in a few days for what I’m calling “playtime.” Not to be confused with all the playing we’ll be doing.

A beautiful Nevada City day.  I thought I’d practice on the deck. I draped a cloth over the pollen that covered an outside table and carried instruments and lyric sheets music and guitar stands and water outside. But as I set to work I realized the pollen was not just on the table, but riding through the air, making singing a scratchy enterprise. So I carried things inside again.

Lucy on the trellis. Photo: Paul Harrar

Lucy is content to have me play my instruments, although the high notes on the violin cause her to stalk back and forth, talking loudly—it’s not clear whether she’s turned on by my squall or if she’s scolding me. Oona, however, only has to see me put a hand around the neck of the guitar, or lift the violin bow from its case, and with an exasperated mew! wheels on her heels and dashes not just out of the room, but, if the cat door is open, out of the house.  As she saw me carrying instruments in the door she zipped out.

Oona.
Photo: Paul Harrar

In her basket by the window, Lucy lifted her head, blinked her startling green eyes, and went back to sleep.

Lots of instruments to get in shape—guitar, mandolin, violin, and voice, too. Maggie’s throwing her considerable musical muscle behind what will largely be my tunes, although we’re including some of hers as well. Not as many as I’d like. They are complicated, and challenging for a player like me. Her songs come in interesting keys—the chord chart might say something like B flat, or capo up one fret and play A shape.  But those “A shape” chords are played up and down the neck of the guitar and often involve bar chords, which means another instrument, left hand index finger, needs strengthening. Elsewhere, as in her lovely setting of “Titania’s Lullaby,” from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the chart might say something like, Lydian Mode. I long for this knowledge and am grateful I will be engaging with Maggie’s music in this extensive way.

Until recently, most of my own tunes have been written pretty straightforwardly, I, IV, V, with some 7ths and iii and even iis thrown in—without particularly knowing what I was doing, just going for sounds I like. Many are played in dropped D tuning, and are capoed up so that the songs use two finger chords that might be G-like, or, as with my arrangement of Robbie Burns’ “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose,” becomes E flat. I took a music theory course at F&M this last semester—final exam and all—and applying theory, at long last, to this practice is thrilling.

Four hours later I poured myself a well-deserved glass of wine.

About Sands

Writer, musician, teacher, theater artist. Books include the novel CATCHING HEAVEN, a book of essays and exercises, TOOLS OF THE WRITERS CRAFT, and, forthcoming, FLUNK.START: Reclaiming my Decade Lost in Scientology. A CD of my songs is called RUSTLER'S MOON.
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