Thursday, September 04, 2003
Robin Bullock at Baltimore House Concert, August 31, 2003

A man with a guitar case is at the door ringing the same apartment we are headed for. I know this is not Robin Bullock so I ask him if he is also a performer tonight. The man (whose name I learn later is Joshua) says - No, I brought my guitar to show it to Robin. I ask then, did you take lessons with Robin? He said - yes, actually one lesson gave me enough to practice on for a year.

This is Labor Day weekend. Restaurants and stores are mostly empty; I assume people are out of town, and wonder how many people our hostess Wendy will have drummed up for tonight. The answer is maybe too many. She worries about overbooking. The most she ever had before is 35. When everyone is in there are 45 people in this gorgeous condo, a record crowd for just the right number of chairs. There is still some floor space, but maybe we should be thankful that there were some last minute regrets. Wendy, who has a great knack for friendship, has guests tonight that include a couple she met at Longwood Gardens, and a couple from a polo match. So some new recruits, and friends and acquaintances who have already learned well what a treat it is to hear Robin Bullock in this kind of setting.

Before the show, Robin tells us he played the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage for the second time last night.

I tell Robin I remember seeing him first at Mays Chapel with Tom Paxton. He speaks fondly of Tom. I suspect it is a mutual admiration society.

Tonight he wears a black shirt with a pictures of wolves, black pants and brown leather sandals. He has 4 instruments: 2 mandolins, one guitar and a Yamaha keyboard. His set at Wendy's includes:
Westland Wings - from Scotland - Robin warns us "tuning will happen tonight"
The Secret Waterfall - This is from Robin's solo CD The Lightening Field. Robin teaches music each year at The Swannanoa Gathering. In the summer of 98, he met Jody (or Jodi?) there. They went hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains, and they sat by a waterfall to talk. The sound of the Irish jigs Robin had been teaching that week mixed with the sound of the waterfall, and the getting to know you romantic feelings, and this song came from the mix.

On the Yamaha keyboard Robin plays Redwood Jig - inspired by a cross country tour that took Robin to Redwood, CA

Wendy put Robin Bullock's music on her home answering machine (how many years ago?) So Robin explains he will play this music we have all been hearing - a pair of waltzes - First Light in the Mountains and The Open Road (still on Keyboard)

Ah, Robin moves over to get an instrument he calls the octave mandolin. He explains why it could be called a cittern or bouzoukis; it is similar to those instruments but not exactly the same. And anyway he relates, you don't want to mention you may have a bouzoukis in an airport, so in the airport is is definitely a mandolin. And now he both plays and sings, the Fair Maid of Norththumberland.

Next Robin tells us about Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), a blind musician, a genius as a composer who blended Irish traditional music and classical continental music. And plays 2 songs composed by the itinerant Irish harper:
Carolan's Dowry

Banish Misfortune

Give Me Your Hand - by a blind bard who predated O'Carolan by 100 years or so.

2 Dance Tunes from Brittany

The Story of Willie and Mae Margaret (sung and played) - in the best English ballad tradition.

On the regular (smaller) mandolin -
Dr. John Hart - Bishop of A.

Robin saw a Celtic bumper sticker that said: "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because they are subtle and quick to anger". Or an even better one he saw at Swannanoa: "Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, because you are crunchie and good with ketchup."

Sir Charles Coote/Captain Higgins - another O'Carolan tune - Robin explains we have these tunes because 60 years after O'Carolan's death, at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival, a collector wrote down the tunes. These songs are so mellow!

Traditional Appalachian tunes - Coleman's March and Bonaparte's Retreat - These are in what is called dead man's tuning (D-D-A-D).

A Robert Burns tune - a lullaby

OK Robin told this audience that he ended up in France because of meeting a girl. Toward the end of the concert the audience wants to know where she is (how did the romance turn out). He explains she lives in France, so to be with her he moved there. She is an American who has spent half her life in France, and is an actress in Paris. At some point too, Robin, perhaps in an attempt to invoke our envy, points to the copy of a French impressionist painting on Wendy's wall of a bridge, and tells us that he lives near that bridge.

Wendy shares that it is fun to tell her friends, oh this musician emailed me from Paris about doing a concert in my house.

A woman here at a house concert for the first time tells me "The music is beautiful and what a nice space for a concert." Some house concert hosts have a CD player and stack of CD's in their living room. Wendy has bookcases of marvellous books, pictures of family and friends, and copies of French impressionist paintings. The performer sits or stands in front of a large glass sliding door which separates the living room from the long adjacent balcony. It is lovely place.

Robin Bullock, guru of instruments and history and all things Celtic, will be back in this area in December for holiday concerts.

Castlebay will be at Wendy's house concert on October 25.

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