Tuesday, August 5, 2014

At the Orchard Wars - July, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Building a Soprano Ukelele Part 1

Building a soprano ukelele.

I have built many instruments over the years but have been out of it for a while due to getting our house finished. I decided to get back into the swing of lutherie (instrument building) by making a soprano ukelele. It's a small instrument, so it doesn't take a lot of materials or space BUT everthing that you have to do to make one of these little guys also applies to guitar construction. You could look at this as practice for making a bigger instrument. It is a real instrument, though.
First I needed a plan. A quick survey of the internet turned up a downloadable Soprano Ukelele Plan on Creative Commons.
Ukelele Plan
The next thing was to make some templates and forms. I used some 3/4" MDF (medium density fiberboard) that I had lying around. The template and forms were cut on a bandsaw and sanded smooth.
Ukelele template and forms
The inside form and the outside form need to have 1.5mm clearance between. These forms are used to hold the sides after they are bent whilst the linings and end blocks are glued in.
The pieces of walnut for the sides and back and the spruce for the top  were smoothed and thinned using some fixtures I made for my old Shopsmith. I took them down to about 1.8mm and then used a cabinet scraper to get a really smooth surface and thin to 1.5mm.
Shopsmith drum sander jointer
Off to a good start! Next time we'll look at bending the sides.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Catching up

It's hard to believe that it's been two years since my last blog entry! A lot has happened in that time. We have one CD published, John Earthy's Tavern, a compendium of songs from (mostly) Maine history. 
The notes on the songs are so extensive that we opted for a large format booklet (16pp 8.5x5.5) Not only that it's set in 10pt type - no more magnifying glasses!

We also toured down to Florida a couple of times and have played some wonderful events on those tours in Homosassa, Inverness, Sanibel and also Charleston, SC, Fredericksburg, VA. We also managed to perform in Cape Breton the last three years.

Construction report
We finally moved all the tools out of the Great Room and finished it up. This was a major undertaking! Everything that had accumulated in the space over the three previous years had to be moved out so that we could grind and seal the floor, case the windows and make all kinds of other dust.

Part of the reason we built this space was so that we could host house concerts. We have has two so far. In April we had Magical Strings from the northwest and in May Anne Lister, form Wales.

If you look closely you can see the Pemaquid Harp in the background and also a baby grand piano! But that's a story for another time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Edinburgh & Dumfermline

We flew from Kosovo back to Edinburgh on May 7, landing on a rainy night (it's Scotland). When we were in Kosovo, where the sun was strong every day,  Julia looked in vain for a sun hat. We saw sun hats galore at the airport in London where we had a layover, and in Scotland, where it rained 16 out of the 20 days we were there.

Scottish National Museum, Edinburgh

On Tuesday we took the bus in to Edinburgh and visited the National Museum of Scotland. It would takes at least a week to go through the whole museum. We spent our day in the History of Scotland exhibit. It is six stories starting with primordial Scotland on level -1 through prehistoric on levels 0, 1, Romans and Vikings on level 2 Kings of Scotland on 3 & 4, industry on 5 & 6. We never got past level 2.
This neck chain is solid silver and weighs about 6 kg. It probably wasn't worn to the disco.

The quality of the jewelry was extraordinary. There were several of these brooch pins, some very large.

The "Queen Mary" harp. It's highly decorated and was probably painted. 28 strings, if I remember correctly.

The "Lamont" harp. 32 strings, I think. This one has been repaired and reinforced several times.
These are the only two ancient harp in Scotland which, along with the dozen or so in Ireland, comprise the entire population of Celtic harp from the 15th-16th century. Some of the Irish harps are larger than these two. Here is a link to a site documenting the construction of a harp inspired by the "Otway" harp.

These two harps are actually quite small.

Lest we leave out the pipes - we didn't get up to where the bagpipes were but we did see carvings and paintings. This was on a large cabinet which was described as having "animated if not skilfully executed carvings".

Dunfermline Abbey & Carnegie Park

Wednesday we hired a car and drove to Dunfermline to drop the European kit at George's and so we could get to the airport in Glasgow for our flight home on Thursday.

View fron the Abbot House gate. This is the Georgian-era end of the church. Robert the Bruce is buried under the tower that bears his name in pierced stonework. Look closely and you can see the word "THE" at the top of the tower. The other sides have "KING" "ROBT" "BRUCE"

The other end of the church is Norman-era, c. 1150. This is the main entrance. On the inside it is all bare stone except for one corner where there is still a fresco on the ceiling. The whole thing would have been bright colors when it was new. There are heads carved in the door arch but age and pollution have eroded them quite badly.

This side entrance was protected for several centuries by a private tomb. You can see the level of detail in the decorative stone carving. This is how the front door would have looked.
Stairs to the old keep of Dunfermline (Hill of the Crooked Stream) This is where the king sat!
      The King sits in Dunfermline toon, 
      Drinking the bluid-red wine
      "O whar will I get a sailor guid,
      To sail this schip of mine?"

       Up and spak an eldern knicht,

      Sat at the kings richt kne:
      "Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
      That sails upon the se."

Across the street from the Abbey grounds is a back entrance to the Pittencreiff Park. This was purchased by Andrew Carnegie and given to the city as a public park. The legend is that he wasn't allowed in the park as a child and so bought it for the children of Dunfermline. The park contains many walking paths, an aboretum, the original keep of Dumfermline and a very lonely peacock. There have been peacocks in the park for over 100 years but the population has dwindled rapidly in recent years as birds have been killed by dogs and hit by cars.
They are building a sanctuary for the birds to breed and raise their young in before they throw them to the dogs.

Here in Round Pond we have a few feathers that we picked up on a trip  twelve or fourteen years ago. Travel was simpler then.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

In Kosovo

We flew to Kosovo on the last day of April. We were met at the airport by Hana Çakuli, a wonderful young singer whose student job at the American University is arranging cultural affairs. Hana was our guide, advisor and interpreter for the week. It was a bit of a shock to leave Scotland, where we had endured two weeks of cold, wet weather, and land under sunny skies with a temperature of 85°.

Count the soccer balls in the air!
Tuesday was Mayday which is a big holiday here. All day long people were streaming past the American University heading for the big park east of the city. Thousands of families were having picnics on the grass and playing ball. There were no organized games that we saw; everybody was just having fun!
Trash pick-up! Something new this year.
We saw this beauty along the road to the park. It's about 18" tall (50cm)


We noticed a couple of things that had changed from last year. For one thing there were many new hotels all over Pristina.
This is about 1 km from the university. It wasn't there last May.
Here are a couple of private homes on the other side of the school. Somebody in this country has some money!
Vacant lots that were filled with debris last year are now cleaned up with new construction there instead. Several of the houses around the University which last year had no windows were now finished and inhabited. The other thing we saw this year that we didn't last year was many beggars. These were for the most part young kids who are employed by gangs to beg. The bosses keep the lion's share of the take.
May, 2011 Before

May, 2012 After
We had noontime concerts on campus Wednesday and Thursday. We had a captive audience, since we were right in front of the student café and we had some great comments and interaction with the students and faculty.
Cafe Lura - the de facto faculty lounge for AUK

Friday we had a workshop where we dispensed some of the wisdom accumulated during 20 years of being in the music business. Of course all week we were eating Kosovar food, walking around the city and taking some short excursions with Chris.

Saturday we headed out to Novo Berda Castle. In 1400 it was the fourth largest city in Europe with a population of 60,000 (London had 40,000 at the time) All that remains is the ruined castle, a derelict mosque and Byzantine era church. The views are spectacular. There is a very small B&B nearby and a canteen (that amounts to a glorified lemonade stand) encouraged by rural development grants. I don't think you can get a reservation on the internet.

Approaching the castle

A view from the top. It's pretty much the same in all directions.
The fortress and city were here because of rich lead and silver mines. When the mines played out the city was abandoned since it had no other purpose, wasn't on a navigable waterway or strategic location. Modern mining methods made the mines profitable again but when Serbia controlled the area Slobodan Milosevic managed to sell the mining rights to several different international companies. The litigation of all the competing interests, some based on the original imperial grants, will take years to sort out. So for now the mines are idle.
Remains of a Byzantine church near the fortress.

The top of the minaret is gone, but the loudspeaker remains. There is a spiral stairway up through the tower which isn't more than a foot wide.

The "Guard of the Castle". He probably nominated himself to this position and is not an official official. He was waiting at the last turn of the road, followed us to the fortress and gave us a guided tour. He spoke no English and Chris was the only one who understands any Albanian. Just one example of enterprise in Kosovo.
Evocative, no?
 Playing at the Etnobar

We had actually rehearsed with the Fanaj brothers, Florin and Festim, on Tuesday, so we were a little more familiar with the meters, modes and melodies than we were last year. Balkan music has a tendency to be in crooked meters (as the contra dance crowd would say) like 7/8 and 11/8. We got into the swing of 7/8 and steered clear of the other tunes. The Etnobar is just one of dozens of music clubs in the city. Everybody smokes but Festim had a smoke mitigation system installed so that this place is better than most for breathability. Hana also joined us for a couple of songs.
Irish flute, Celtic harp, Electric violin (Festim) and Lute (Florin)
Florin recorded the show and I will post some clips when I get it chopped into smaller pieces. Right now it is one file about two hours long. We got a lot of compliments from the folks who were there. They were more attentive than the usual club crowd, so I guess everybody had a good time. It's hard to think of our music as exotic, but context is everything!

Lunch in Macedonia

On Sunday Chris invited us for lunch in Skopje which is actually in Macedonia, about two hour's drive from Pristina. In the 60's there was a massive earthquake that took down all the buildings constructed in the preceeding two hundred years but left the old stuff standing. (have we lost some knowledge here?) Consequently the city is much more open than Pristina.
Heading south toward the border
Through the valley

A view of the city from a car park partway up the road to the restaurant. Skopje is located at the junction of two major valleys and has always been an important city in the region.

The restaurant had more great views. We ordered our meal - a big pot of roast lamb - and watched the para-sailors glide past.
This was just the starters!
It really is that high!
This church was next to the restaurant. There was also a newer church and a mosque in the same village. Macedonia tolerates more diversity than some of its neighbors.
Skopje Fortress. The battlements are a recent addition to make it look more like castle-like.

The aqueduct is 12-15 feet above ground at this point
 On our way back north we stopped at a Roman aqueduct. The dates for this construction are 1200-1600 years ago. It was used up into modern times. At some point they installed an iron pipe in concrete instead of an open trough. It's amazing that something this delicate has stood in an active earthquake zone for a dozen centuries.

After the photo-op we continued through the two Macedonian border guard posts to get out of Macedonia and the two Kosovar guard posts to get into Kosovo. What happens if you get stranded in between I don't want to contemplate.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Our last day in Galloway & Dunfries

Saturday dawned bright but windy and COLD! We stopped to take a look at a ruined abbey. There are lots of these in Scotland.

Our next stop was the John Paul Jones museum in Kirkbean.

There is a beach near the JPJ museum. We went for a brief stroll - the wind was blowing a gale!

Caleb found some more classic Scottish signage.

In spite of the cold weather spring is coming to  the area.

The yellow is on the broom
Here are a couple of photos of Orchardton Castle. This was built in the 15th century, toward the end of castles as primarily defensive structures. It was more of an estate home.

Oh yes, another ruined abbey. This one is Sweetheart Abby,  I think.

As we were driving we saw this wicker man. There is a huge country & western festival in this field in June.

Leaving Galloway

On Sunday 29-April we set out for Dunfermline. On the way from Moffat we ran up the hill to get this shot of Grey Mare's Tail.
We didn't go directly to Dunfermline. We went to Roslin first to see the chapel and the castle. Since the last time we were here the Da Vinci Code was published and the number of visitors has gone from 30,000 to 118,000 per year. You can't take pictures on the inside anymore but here is the gargoyle. I might post some photos from the inside that we took on a previous visit.

Behind the chapel is Roslin castle. One of the great mysteries of the chapel is why Cromwell didn't order is destroyed while he did have the castle destroyed. Caleb and I took the wrong path, wandered down by the river and through one of the last sections of the ancient Caledonian forest and then stormed the castle up a VERY steep hill. I don't see how anybody could have taken this fortress before the advent of cannon.

On our way to Dunfermline we sought out the Antonine Wall, which is more of an Antonine ditch. We got lost a couple of times in Falkirk and had to ask for directions from some locals. We were glad we have had years of familiarity with the dialect through the annual visitations on George Haig, a Falkirk chiel, to Round Pond.

Caleb at the Antonine Wall, er, Ditch, in Falkirk
I have known about the Falkirk Wheel for some time but we had never actually been to Falkirk. After our visit to the wall we went to turn around at a roundabout and saw a directional sign to the wheel. I had no idea how big the thing is. According to the sinage it is not only the biggest it is also the only boat lift of its kind.
It's 35 meters tall (108 feet for you yankees)

Nearing our destination we drove through the 15th century town of Culross (pronounced KOOR-as) This town has an interesting history, first deep coal mine, site of wrought iron girdle manufacturing for many years. It went dormant in the 15th century when the mine played out and cast iron girdles became available, was procured by the national trust in the 1930's. Definitely worth more than a drive-through, but that's all we had time for.