Portal Irish Music Week 2017 is in the bag

It was a huge success and, no surprise, I am wiped out. There are so many people to thank. Our staff of instructors, our students, the student’s companions, the Portal Peak Lodge and Cafe, the Myrtle Craft Library, Portal Rescue, the people of Portal and Pete and Burt all made this possible. I do so little compared to what we collectively produce. It is an honor to bring all these great people and organizations together. They come to Portal and create a beautiful place of nurturing where people are pushed with love and expert guidance to do their best and keep learning. I am so lucky.

I have a lot of nice photos but I’m not ready to do that work yet. Some are up on the Portal Irish Music Week page on Facebook. It’s all public so check it out. Many of our students take gorgeous photos of the scenery and the scene and they share them on Facebook.

Here’s what I stressed about this week (keeping it real): two broken down cars, a sick student, a family emergency, and a slightly injured hiker. It sounds worse than it was. Mostly it all resolved without my active participation. Except the blood. I did apply the bandages. Oh, and I delivered immodium and electrolytes and paid a house call.

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Portal Irish Music Week 2016 in the Record Books

Fiddlers at the Portal Peak Lodge. Photo by David G. Barnes
Fiddlers at the Portal Peak Lodge. Photo by David G. Barnes
Portal was again congested with musicians.
Portal was again congested with musicians.

I am once again overwhelmed with the success of our camp. Democrats and Republicans come together every year and organize this thing. Our participants come in all political stripes and I want to say we can all get along. The people still have the power to do good things. Ignore the BS and relate to everyone as an individual.

I am so grateful for this camp and its continued success. Mitch and Loni, owners of the Portal Peak Lodge and Cafe, and their fantastic staff worked diligently and perkily to provide us with meals and a welcoming space to learn. The teachers at the camp continue to nurture and prod their students to be the best they can be. Marla Fibish, Brian Conway, Matt Heaton, Colin Lindsay, Pete Strickler, Isaac Alderson, and Brian Lanni were accessible and involved. They continue to push my dream of music for all, especially those picking it up later in life. And Burt was the friendly morning bird guide and afternoon hike attendant. We aim to provide a well rounded experience and Burt’s walks are a big part of the picture.

Thanks also to the people of Portal that help the show go on. Kathleen Talbot at the Library where we host public singing sessions. The Portal Rescue classroom that allows us to offer more classes. Barbara Roth’s whole house for instructors. Numerous friends that feed and print and errand run for us. We appreciate you all.

Now I’m pooped.

Here I am breaking my number one rule the first night of Portal Irish Music Week. Don't touch the wildlife.
Here I am breaking my number one rule the first night of Portal Irish Music Week. Don’t touch the wildlife.
Flute Class
Flute Class
2016 T-shirts.
2016 T-shirts.
Schedule
Schedule
Colin giving a private lesson.
Colin giving a private lesson.
Matt Heaton snapping photos during the staff concert.
Matt Heaton snapping photos during the staff concert.
Fiddle class with Colin Lindsay.
Fiddle class with Colin Lindsay.
Will has been to 5 out of 6 PIMW. Here he is sporting the first year's t-short ala Superman.
Will has been to 5 out of 6 PIMW. Here he is sporting the first year’s t-shirt ala Superman.

 

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Nataani Nez (That’s me)

Trees in transition at Grand Teton National Park.
Trees in transition at Grand Teton National Park.

The Gypsy Carpenters are in Portal, AZ ahead of schedule. We were planning some more back country explorations but the wonky transmission flared up. Again. Our 2001 Dodge diesel is occasionally difficult to shift. This summer it started balking and we made an appointment at a specialist in Whitefish, Montana. We had a place to park and a car to borrow up there. Then the problem shifting disappeared, the parking place was less welcoming, and the spare car was wrecked by a deer so we cancelled the appointment. We drove a few thousand more miles and no trouble. Heads deeply in the sand. Call us risk-takers.

We high tailed it out of Montana and abandoned plans to fish in Yellowstone because of foul weather. We blasted through the park and made it to a glorious fall scene in Grand Teton National Park. That night we camped near Pinedale, Wyoming. As we approached Vernal, UT I made it clear I wanted to stop at Dinosaur National Monument. Burt was ambivalent. I insisted. We had been before but the quarry exhibit was closed for major repairs (4 years of repairs) and Burt had not seen the most awesome dinosaur display in the world. Well, the LaBrea tarpits come close but they aren’t just dinos. Just then the transmission started to balk. I feared Burt would scuttle the side excursion but he didn’t. Rain was headed our way and it was hard to enjoy the tour wondering why we didn’t get the transmission repaired back in Montana but it was worth the effort. Even Burt was amazed at the in-situ display of 149 million year old fossil bones. Take the trip if you are within 100 miles. That night we limped to a rest area south of Price.

I contacted my friend Berna and said, “Hey we’re coming to see you. Tomorrow.” Berna is always sociable and welcoming. We trained for several marathons and ultra-marathons together and once upon a time worked at EPA together. Berna was ready to see us. We spent two nights in Shiprock. We helped Berna attach reflectors to a road sign so her 80 year old Uncle Alex could find the turn into his road more easily. Maybe I shouldn’t freely confess what could be construed as defacement of public property but I admit it. All three of us were in on it. I suggested that 80 years and difficulty seeing at night might be ground to stop night driving. I was voted down. All of us had dinner at a restaurant called Nataani Nez. Nataani Nez was a Bureau of Indian Affairs boss in the 1930s. Alex told us a story about him and how his name means tall boss.

The next day we drove 400 miles looking for piñon pines. Burt is a natural hunter gatherer and Berna’s Navaho family took many expeditions to the mountains to gather piñons. Berna’s mom had died a few years ago and Berna had not been out since her mother’s death. We decided it was time. Too bad we couldn’t find a tree. We covered the entire NW corner of New Mexico. Finally through the use of Facebook and general perseverance we found a productive tree. One tree. After 4 hours in the car we spent 1 1/2 hours on our hands and knees collecting pine nuts. Between the three of us we collected over $200 worth of nuts. Even the dogs got into it. Olive says she prefers acorns to pine nuts. Burt’s driving annoyed Berna and Berna’s driving terrified us so I was voted in to drive us home. Me, the non-driver, was fast enough but safe enough so no one complained. That’s how I earned the name Nataani Nez. Tall boss.

In the midst of this Burt called out trusty Animas mechanic, Darren. Darren has done some major repairs for us and we can’t complain. He was ready to see us as soon as we could get there. With our crosscountry trip coming up we it was time to stop playing like ostriches and get the transmission fixed. We decided to head straight to Portal and get ready for Portal Irish Music Week. Here we are.

This is mostly the view I see when I visit the Tetons.
This is mostly the view I see when I visit the Tetons.
Special colors on this tree.
Special colors on this tree.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Miss Northern Navaho Nation
Miss Northern Navaho Nation
Sign remodel
Sign remodel
Berna and Alex
Berna and Alex
The nostril of the second fattest horse I've seen. The most fat was at its side.
The nostril of the second fattest horse I’ve seen. The most fat was at its side.
Berna sporting her 1999 Portal Marathon Finisher T-shirt. I had one, too.
Berna sporting her 1999 Portal Marathon Finisher T-shirt. I had one, too.
Piñon pine nut gathering.
Piñon pine nut gathering.
Pine nuts
Pine nuts
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Portal Irish Music Week 2015

Me and my new Irish tenor banjo.
Me and my new Irish tenor banjo.

It’s all over, including the crying. Record numbers of attendees were successfully housed, fed, and instructed. Hikes were had. Wild animals and rare artifacts were seen. Tunes were learned. Frustrations with the difficulties of learning as an adult were shared and ameliorated. The community enjoyed a stunning concert and showed their appreciation by taking home artist CDs and leaving generous tips.

I feel lucky to have had this idea and some how found the people to help execute in world class fashion. Thanks to Pete Strickler and Will Harmon, my co-founders, for the shared vision and easy working relationship. Thanks to Brian Conway, Marla Fibish, Matt Heaton, Shannon Heaton, and Colin Lindsay for their upbeat and rigorous teaching and commitment to our school. Thanks to the community of Portal for chairs, library and fire house meeting space, and concert attendance. The Portal Peak Lodge and Cafe crew did outstanding work feeding and housing us AGAIN. The staff are efficient and cheery and a well oiled machine.

Next year’s dates are set. There will be a next year. October 6 through 10, 2015. If you want more pictures check out the Portal Irish Music Week page and group on Facebook. Both are public and you do not have to be a member to see the photos. Here’s the LINK.

Matt Heaton and Marla Fibish
Matt Heaton and Marla Fibish
Spreading the good word on Cave Creek Canyon.
Spreading the good word on Cave Creek Canyon.
We took a hike to see newly discovered pictographs.
We took a hike to see newly discovered pictographs.
Pictograph
Pictograph
Cave Creek Canyon at sunset
Cave Creek Canyon at sunset
Erin, co-student in fiddle class.
Erin, co-student in fiddle class.
Paul, co-student in fiddle class.
Paul, co-student in fiddle class.
Colin Lindsay, fiddle class teacher.
Colin Lindsay, fiddle class teacher.
Chiricahua leopard frog pond.
Chiricahua leopard frog pond.
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Portal Irish Music Week is Upon Us

Burt continues to put up a building ....
Burt continues to put up a building ….
...while I tear one down.
…while I tear one down.

I am about to drop of the blogging dimension. Facebook mini-posts might appear but I can’t be sure. Nearly 50 people are showing up here in Portal tomorrow. I must make sure they all find their accommodations and their meal plans and their classrooms and, most of all, their fun. They’ll want to play music and take some hikes and eat some food.

In the meantime Burt is putting up a house and I am tearing a part of one down. See that pool in the picture? We’ve got to get it out of that room. I started to sawZall it yesterday when we suffered a 6 hour power failure. Saved by the lack of juice. Today I go back to see what I can get done before the Irish invade.

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Client Meetings

Figuring out the floor plan for a guest house.
Figuring out the floor plan for a guest house.

We’re here in Portal easing our way back into work mode. First up was a series of client meetings to work out scheduling and design. We have three largish projects in the area this year. One is a garage to guest studio and office. Another is a bathroom overhaul. The third is a guesthouse from a small outbuilding. The third project came our way with the help of kind words from former clients and the work we’ve left in our wake and the internet. These clients, pictured here, were completely unknown to us and they took us on to do their job by talking to us in email. They saw a guest house we built last year and liked what we did. This whole internet plus a good reputation is working so well they’re even letting us work while they spend the late spring and summer in cooler locales. This project epitomizes the whole ‘Gypsy Carpenter’ concept we envisioned 5 1/2 years ago.

As usual, we’ll be recording our work here and on Facebook so everyone can see what’s happening. First up will be a start on the garage to guest house and the bathroom remodel.

Aside from carpentry meetings and materials buying trips I’ve been busy manning the internet to manage Portal Irish Music Week 2015. Registration for this year’s traditional Irish music camp opened about a week ago and camp is already almost full. We hit the break even point yesterday. That’s a lot off my mind. Now I can focus on logistics instead of worrying about the money.

My dashboard menagerie. They keep me and the dogs company while Burt runs errands.
My dashboard menagerie. They keep me and the dogs company while Burt runs errands.
Window art by our friend Sam Siskin.
Window art by our friend Sam Siskin.
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Here’s a pick me up. For me.

I’m starting to work on Portal Irish Music Week 2014. Part of that means reviewing our survey results. There’s a smattering of constructive suggestions but mostly it’s a tsunami of positive feedback. I should pull this highlight reel out whenever I’m feeling puny or frustrated with the work. Here they are. Spread the word and help us have another sellout year:

TEACHER SPECIFIC COMMENTS:

Very clear conceptual and practical teacher. Able to cover all skill levels and complex material quickly and kindly. He was funny and accomplished. I appreciated the multiple exercises and individual attention he was able to give us. Probably the best Irish music instructor I’ve ever had, and he followed up with online materials. Thanks, Matt.

I love the way he gives each student specific suggestions to improve their playing no matter what their level. (Brian)

Shannon— one of the best flute teachers I’ve had; she’s ‘positive’ yet does not let you slide by in the participation dept. I’ve been to lots of camps, with lots of flute teachers and Shannon is well organized, thoughtful and focused

Best fiddle teacher I have ever encountered. Gives lots of valuable information without being critical. (Brian)

Brian is a great teacher. Our class was small, and we had different levels of experience, and Brian tailored his teaching to each of us. I first met Brian when he was teaching at Swannanoa this past July and when I found out he was teaching at Portal I decided to attend PIMW for the opportunity of having more lessons with him. He is a brilliant player but more importantly, he obviously enjoys teaching, and is good at it.

Marla delivers excellent instruction and communicates very well.

Instrument mastery, patience with students, friendly and systematic teaching methodology for improving technique and learning new tunes. (Marla)

.. I can’t imagine a better way to push myself up the Irish music learning ladder another notch or two than by attending Portal week and challenging myself to try to keep up in your class. I wish I could attend a “Portal Irish week” every quarter of the year! And if the 2014 registration were open today I would sign up in a minute. So, “God willing and the crick don’t rise”, I’ll be there again next year, hopefully having absorbed much of the good material which I took away from this year’s classes, and hopefully better prepared to learn some new tunes in real time! Thanks for all the top notch instruction and I hope to get some more of it next year in Portal! (Marla)

Pete has an amazing playing style that drives a session. I have had lessons from better players than he but I have found Pete’s style is my favorite banjo style and one I would love to learn to play in.

Shannon is very perceptive – she instantly figures out your weaknesses! But she has very constructive advice and is very positive, so that softens the blow considerably :-) Shannon is an excellent teacher – getting the pace, the learning points and the group dynamic excellent. She makes sure each person gets enough focus but without it becoming overwhelming.

Marla is a very good teacher. She makes sure the focus is on core technique with good (and interesting) drills, and then applies those to the tune at hand. She shows a lot of musicality during lessons, and ensures that the students apply that. The lilting of the tunes, for example, was really useful. The lessons went at a good pace, seeming to cope well with the wide variety of standards and the large number of students.

Accessibility, encouragement, warmth, rigor and focus of teaching (unparalleled in my experience!) (Brian)

I think the teachers are doing a great job! (Marla and Matt)

Marla is incredible. She is not only a top musician but also a patient, gifted teacher. She can assess weaknesses quickly and provide individualized exercises and processes to help each student improve. Her group classes are nothing short of amazing. With an easy-going style, she manages to keep students of varied abilities interested, active, and excited about what they are doing. Each student comes away with plenty to work on for next year. She is a gem.

Ms. Fibish was awesome. I have never had an instructor work so hard for their students!

Mr. Heaton’s theory class was extremely helpful.

GENERAL CAMP COMMENTS:

Portal Irish Music Week is so good that I’m reluctant to share the news for fear of having it turn into one of the huge programs that satisfies no one. Those of us who have attended PIMW are incredibly fortunate. When I die, someone can have my spot. I learned more in a week than I have in 15 years.

Portal is a unique camp in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. The individualized instruction, relaxed learning environment, and interesting afternoon activities make it stand out from the other camps we have attended.

Activities are always amazing! And there is time for them due to the scheduling. Thanks!

This is the best Irish music camp ever! The instructors are at the top of the line, the environment is conducive to learning, and the venue feeds the soul. The people who attend are delightful and dedicated, both the teachers and the students.

PIMW is exceptional. There are so many reasons why. Small classes. Teachers who are masters of their art, yet who are caring and approachable. Awesome location in the Chiricahua mountains. And just the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.

I travelled a long way to come to Portal, and despite an 11 hour flight and a 5 hour drive, it was worth every moment. I can honestly say that the instructors, the students, the staff at Portal Peak and of course the organizers were all charming, friendly, focussed on being fantastic musicians and all made it one of the highlights of my year.I can’t imagine a better way to enjoy and learn Irish music than the Portal Irish Music Week! The warm friendly people (music staff, lodge staff, and students), the secluded and very special Portal environment, and the music, the music, the music!

I found this to be the most relaxing vacation I have had in years. A perfect balance of music, leisure and nature. If I have the money and vacation time, I’m coming back.

I loved the relaxed informality of the camp, but also welcomed the opportunity for focused, rigorous learning in the very supportive class environment created by Brian Conway. In addition, the schedule really allows time for individual practice, enabling us to maximize and sustain the benefits of what we learned. The place itself is drop-dead gorgeous, so it was a complete pleasure to be in that setting, to have some non-music activities to take in some of that natural beauty and to learn about the natural history of the area.

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