Oberlin Blogs

Under Pressure

December 15, 2011

Ida Hoequist ’14

It's reading period, and my brain is stuck in weekend mode. I am getting scared by how not-scared I am.

My solution thus far has been to work as much as possible and play as hard as possible in my breaks; I figure I'll exhaust myself at some point, and then I will at least feel something that is appropriate for finals, not just this odd bliss - although, to be honest, the whole semester has been so stressful that I'm not terribly sorry to finally be floating on a bit of a cloud. I've worked so hard over the course of the past few months that, often, my eyes have watered from staring at my computer and my limbs have fallen asleep, and I have ignored it because these things have long since stopped being unusual. And let's not even talk about how much of a balancing act it's been to keep my immune system from going off the deep end.

Thankfully, the flip side of having the work ethic of an angry Clydesdale is that my playtime is always correspondingly intense (broken toe? New scars? Yes indeed!). I've been snuggling and romping and drawing and reading with impunity, but by far the best playtime for me has been the kind that involves music. Remember when I took the Traditional Irish Music ExCo last year and loved it? Okay, remember when I went to art rental and had an impromptu jam with Leah in the courtyard? Well, with some prodding from Leah, I went from being a novice Irish musician to being the novice in charge of organizing sessions - which is super, because it means there will hopefully be regular sessions in the future, but a little wonky, because I'm pretty sure I'm the least accomplished musician of the bunch and now I'm also semi-in charge of the bunch. Life is funny like that, or something.

So far, meetings have been excellent. They have also been sporadic. Our jams have been relatively spontaneous and haven't included everyone in the group (which is a shame); some of us played for three hours at a TGIF once, some people came to Tank the next Friday and played on the porch, and then in my tower, and then stayed for pizza night afterward. Some of us get together in North on occasion. Sometimes we teach each other tunes. Sometimes we talk more than we play. Sometimes it dissolves into a cuddle puddle. Sometimes we just pick a set and go, and then suddenly it's getting dark and cold and two hours later and we have to get back to our real lives. It depends on who's there and what they need.

Sessions in the tower tend to get a little lost in the pillows.

Alex, who co-taught the ExCo last year, was the one who called an emergency session in his single halfway through midterm week. None of us really had the time for it, but I came anyway, and so did Gallimaufry1 rockstar Allison. Afterward, as he was seeing us out the door, Alex said, "Thanks, you guys. I really needed that." I said, "Me too," and didn't really realize how much I meant it until I was already halfway home.

Here's part of why Irish music is so dear to my heart: it's not dainty. It calls for stomping and whoops and strong beats. It's made to be played with vigor. I am similarly un-dainty (as my mother likes to remind me every time I shred yet another article of clothing) and it feels good to play music that agrees with me. I still love to play other genres of music, and I wouldn't give up my classical training for anything, but there's something almost manically happy about most Irish music I play, and when you're fed up with sitting in front of your books, that's a quality you can really appreciate. I can't tell you how incredible it feels to get up from studying, stomp my foot, and play hard and fast until my lips start to split.


After one of the first sessions of the year, we were chatting as we put away our instruments, and Allison said to me, "You're one of the few flute players I know who can smile while you play. I love it." That was news to me, but I'm glad that my fellow musicians get an indication of just how much I enjoy the music we make together - because, truly, there are few things that I enjoy more. If it's sunny out, I'm in such a good mood that my fingers itch until I can get to my instruments. If it's crappy out, music is a way for me to be happy anyway. If I'm frustrated, I can play my bad mood away. If I'm sad, I can play music that understands and sympathizes with me. Music is the answer to everything in my life, and the fact that people here let me share it with them is an honor and a joy to me.

Really, the only downside has been the bureaucratic end of it. (Isn't that always the case?) I had the Irish musicians on campus fill out a whenisgood, and the result was rather depressing. In case you don't know, whenisgood is a brilliant scheduling device that lets multiple people indicate what times during what days they're free and then puts all the information on one grid so that you can see when everyone is free together. When a time slot is problematic for one or more person, the whenisgood puts dots or numbers on that timeslot to indicate how many people can't make it. If everyone can make it, the slot is bright green.

Bright green slots: 0. Frustration: infinite.

As you can see from that sad, gray whenisgood, our schedules do not overlap at all. It has been, and is, a pain.

But of course, anything is better than nothing, and I do also get to play with Gallimaufry at contra dances these days. Hopefully, the gods of scheduling will smile upon us next term, and we will all be able to get together and learn from each other. For now, I am content to spend time with these lovely musicians in small groups. Really, I am content to spend time with these musicians at all. I hope our jams have helped relieve some pressure for them, too, and I look forward to a more organized Irish music scene next term.

1. Their facebook profile has this to say about them:
"Gallimaufry (gal'e'môfrē)(noun)
1. Noun: a confused jumble or medley of things.
2. Brian Lindsay, fiddle, banjo and flute, Alex Sturbaum, guitar and accordion, Ness Smith-Savedoff, drums and percussion, Megan Emberton, piano and accordion, and Allison Rowe, guitar, mandolin and bodhran.
3. A hodge-podge of folk musicians seasoned lightly in cuisines ranging from Irish to classical to jazz, funk, and beyond, then stewed in the melting pot of Oberlin College. Their scrumptious rhythms and the complexity of their robust musical flavors will whet dancers' appetites and leave them craving more."

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