Dunsmuir Games

In the 18th Century of the Current Era, Highlander Scots began emigrating to the New World in large numbers.  Many, if not most, were forced to leave in what has become known as the Highland Clearances. One of the results of this diaspora is that there are now more sons and daughters of Scotland in the United States and Canada than in Scotland itself.

As a 21st Century resident of California and descendent of the survivors of the Clearances, I find myself surrounded by people who come from similar histories all over the planet.  Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Germans, French, Jews, Palestinians, Greeks, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Mexicans, Haitians, Cubans, Iraqi, Native American, Irish, you name it.  They are all my neighbors, and every one of them is a proud Californian.

It has become a part of the California culture, however, to honor the rituals and history of one’s ancestral homeland.  Not a week goes by when we don’t hear about another cultural awareness event taking place somewhere nearby.  You can tour the cultural world just by spending a year in San Francisco.  According to the San Francisco newspaper, there are more than 140 actively spoken languages in the Bay Area (including Esperanto.)  I’m sure it drives the Department of Motor Vehicles nuts.

We traveled to Oakland, California this last weekend, July 11 & 12, to participate in honoring the culture of my own ancestral homeland at the Dunsmuir Scottish Games.  We drank Scottish beer brewed in a local microbrewery, listened to fine Celtic music played by a California band called Banshee in the Kitchen, spoke with members of a clan that seemed particularly enamored of the longbow (be still my heart, though I don’t remember reading that the longbow was of any particular significance in Scottish history), spoke with members of Living History recreationists St. Ita’s of Cill Ide House of Nobles, watched as kilted gentlemen tossed a telephone pole, and a game of  Shinty.  It would seem that Shinty is to field hockey what rugby is to American football.

Now, according to some friends who still live in Scotland, almost nobody there plays this game, and those that do all live in the Highlands.  Did you know that there is an organization of Shinty players that started in Northern California?

What’s the point of all this?  I’m not sure, other than to wonder if I’m not getting a bigger dose of Scottish culture right here in my backyard than I would by traveling to Loch Lomond.  (The one in Scotland, not the one located in Lake County, California.)

Learning the flute

I have always been enamored of the etherial sounds of the flute.  It’s such a basic musical instrument that it seems to have been invented by every culture.  

I’ve never had music lessons, as I grew up in a family that was not so well to do.  My parents threatened to enroll me in accordion lessons once, but nothing ever came of that.  My mother had an electric organ in the living room.  I remember that it was a really big deal when it arrived.  Mom took lessons and played it with enthusiasm and skill.

Out of curiosity, I sat down at the organ and played with the keys, and read some of the beginner books, and thus became familiar with sheet music.  I picked out some Beatles tunes with the right hand, but that was the extent of my musical education.

I have always envied friends who could play musical instruments.  Some friends can play multiple instruments. A couple of my friends are professional musicians.  My youngest son plays a half dozen stringed instruments.  I always figured it would be too much effort and too much money to learn an instrument myself.

But a strange thing happens when your children leave home — you suddenly find that you have a lot more time on your hands.  My parents responded to this by watching a lot of television, going to bars, getting drunk a lot, having affairs and getting divorced.  Now, I love my parents dearly and I refuse to judge them.  However, I could suggest that this was not the most beneficial or healthy way to spend their middle-aged years.

 I responded to this by learning a lot of new skills, including the sword.

Well, it might be time to put the sword on hold.  In order to continue in my education of that martial art, I’ll need to invest in armor and start competing.  This doesn’t appeal to me so much.

My spouse and I were talking about music last week, and I mentioned that I have always wanted to learn the flute.  She said, “What’s keeping you?”

A very good question.  After doing some research via the telephone, I discovered that the local music store will rent me an instrument for $25 a month, and that lessons are $30 for half an hour.  We stopped by that music store on Saturday, talked to the owners for an hour or so, rented a beautiful Armstrong flute, and made arrangements to take lessons.  The shop owner also gave me a beginner’s book and a DVD with some instructions.

I was warned that forming the embouchure is a difficult skill to learn, but I figured it out in about five to ten minutes.  I believe the reason it’s considered difficult is that most students start learning it when they’re 10-years old.  I have a much more experienced mouth.  Perhaps being an old dog can be an asset when learning some new skills.  And speaking of old dogs, I’ve heard that learning music helps prevent Alzheimer’s.

Using the book and the DVD, I have learned the F Major scale.  I don’t play it rapidly or with any facility, but at least I know it.  While I practiced, my spouse dusted off her old alto recorder that has been sitting in the closet since college, and we managed to make some music together.  I wouldn’t call the cacophonous noise from that session a “jam” but it’s a start.

I hope I’m ready for the first lesson tomorrow.  In the meantime, I’m off to watch some Jethro Tull videos on YouTube.