Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fortunate Summer

Our watery street in Ghent on a brilliant summer's day
"We were fortunate this summer. The weather was unusual." I keep hearing that a Belgian summer can be more like, well, more like this final weekend at Folk Festival de Marsinne, gray, drippy and sometimes pouring. Perhaps this is an appropriate send off for my reentering another world after dreaming my way through this summer's diatonic cruise. I was fortunate this summer. The weather is only a small part of that, though the weather has been lovely.

I heard no complaints about this session
Ghent was a fortunate base from which to explore the diatonic and balfolk scene. Chris Ryall among others first recommended it when I mentioned that I was thinking of Antwerp. Today a friend from Antwerp said that he thought Ghent was becoming the Belgian focus for balfolk music. Coming from an Antwerpen this is quite an accolade. Our Ballenstraat apartment became a mini-hub for sessions and dancing, which I do hope contributed a tiny smidgen to Ghent's ascendency. We had the luxury of sturdy stone floors and few neighbors. At least I believe so. Well, no one complained to me the next morning.

Anja and Charlotte by Tine Vercruysse
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Even before I arrived, Anja, a Ghent resident, generously shared her knowledge and introduced us around. Without her help the summer would have been a tourist experience rather than an ever enlarging circle of new friends. Meeting Anja through was more than fortunate. She is a musician and dancer who seems to know just about everyone. Like a catalyst, her social glue allowed us to bond to others, who in turn linked us to many. This morning I was chatting up a fellow over breakfast. As soon as he heard my accent he said, "You must be Doc, the American Tine knows". Tine was the second person we met in Ghent. Tine, of course, knows Anja. Fortunately I know Anja too.

Not on the side lines
Before we arrived Anita and I watched boombal on YouTube and were struck by how young they all seemed. I had imagined I might be consigned to the porch of the old folks home, well at least the sidelines, watching the youngsters. I doubt that I was the oldest participant, but I may have had the most fun. I have a new circle of semi-granddaughters who nabbed me and took me across the dance floor. Lawsey, Miss Charlotte, thanks for persisting with so much talent on that mazurka.

A goal was to hear Naragonia in concert. That I did. I have had the luxury of spending hours leaning against the stage and watching Toon and Pascale play for dancers. When I see Pascale play, I believe that every part of her creates the music, which then flows through her arms and out of her instrument. A seashell is said to produce the roar of the ocean. This may be so. But I am certain that if Pascale put her hands over my ears and I listened, I would hear a mazurka. At my level of musician every little bit helps, so perhaps I should have asked for that favor.

I came hoping that learning to dance would improve my hearing. I recall being at Boombal Stage on learn-to-mazurka day. We spent the morning walking and then dancing the rhythm. During lunch I put some Naragonia mazurkas on my mp3 and practiced the steps. As if by magic I could suddenly hear the musical suggestion to ma, zur, ka. It was as if Toon or Pascale lifted a cue card. Before it was only a phrase I played. I do believe a little dancing really does help one hear the music. I can only imagine that a lot of dancing, enough to move beyond having to count out the rhythm and struggle to remember the steps, would truly cue the musical expression.

Crossing the pond.
This summer has changed my thinking about how I might eventually become a musician. At the start I thought it was about the buttons. I am beginning to realize that it happens well upstream. A new friend pointed out that in my final Le Lac de St-Croix -- the one with Guus -- I was beginning to smile and dance a bit, whereas my previous videos strictly featured a staunch melodeon face and stiff body. That was a revelation. Perhaps more lessons in the dance are next, along with lots more time doing buttons and bellows.

This was a fortunate summer. As I look back over the diato cruise I realize that my greatest fortune is in having a best friend named Anita who said yes to my crazy idea and then helped make it happen.

1 comment:

  1. Anita, I wanted to answer the questions you left in a comment on my blog but you have a "no reply" address so I hope you don't mind if I respond here.
    The VOA is the Volunteers of America thrift store. The Bins is the Goodwill Outlet where they sell by the pound.
    Thank you for visiting!