The Musician’s Club

There seems to be a club for everything here.  Peter is a member of the the Society of Beer Advocates- SOBA, and ironically, with a Kiwi accent is pronounced the same as “sober.”  This club gets together once a month to taste beer and talk about beer.  Both of us recently became members of the Whanganui Musician’s Club.  As members, we get a discounted admission to the big monthly music event at an old hall called the Savage Club.  The inside of the hall is adorned with politically incorrect portraits of old Pakeha (white people) and Maoris dressed like “savages” and has carved wood beams, painted red, making it feel like the inside of a Marae (Maori meeting house). The whole town gathers at this event to listen to live music and enjoy being out with friends in a relaxed atmosphere.  We tend to go every month.  It’s always an interesting mix of music, most is open-mic but there is also usually a headliner from out of town.

When Peter and I joined the club, I was invited to play my mandolin with a country band called “Just Us.”  I began practicing with them once a week before the big performance on the December music night themed “A Country Christmas.” We practiced three songs and an encore of Feliz Navidad just in case we were called back up.   There were a lot of good acts that night including a mandolin and guitar duo “Gazebo Girls” and the headliner group “Hobnail” who played some familiar covers and whose hot fiddle player gave the place an exciting energy.

My band didn’t get called back for an encore, but we did get a bunch of people up and dancing.  We played “Mind Your Own Business” by Hank Williams, Freddy Fender’s “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and a relaxed version of “Dance The Night Away” by The Mavericks.

This post has two songs to go with it, since I couldn’t decide on one…

This is one of the tunes my band played, imagine a mandolin solo in place of the Spanish verse:

Freddy Fender- Before the Next Teardrop Falls

I have been listening to this group a lot lately, a Swedish country band, and surprisingly the Hobnails covered one of their songs on music night, here it is:

First Aid Kit- Emmylou

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On the first day of December, we celebrated Thanksgiving here in New Zealand.  It was the first day of summer and about a week late by the calendar year.  It’s not a national holiday here, plus it’s not even harvest time, but we wanted to celebrate anyway.  Peter went hunting twice for a peacock, but the crafty birds outsmarted him and all he was able to catch was a hare.  So we settled on having rabbit and chicken for our big dinner.  To go along with the meat, we cooked mashed potatoes, stuffing, kumara (sweet potatoes) and corn bake.  We had about 20 guests attending, all brought a variety of dishes.  One friend had to look up Thanksgiving and what Americans normally eat for the occasion, and found something about lasagna on the internet.  So she brought lasagna… I’ve never heard of this myself, anyone??  Other items included a jar of cranberries, salads, desserts, homebrew, bottles of wine and whitebait fritters.  Whitebait, a delicacy here, is tiny little fish caught in large quantities cooked whole into fritters made out of a handful of whitebait and eggs, kind of like an omelette.  Our shared meal, with friends on this beautiful evening on the first day of summer was quite the feast and we dubbed it “Summersgiving”.  Of course no Thanksgiving or Summersgiving is complete without good old American pie, and Peter and I prepared two pumpkin pies and one apple pie, with cream whipped by hand to top it off.  It was a successful event and we enjoyed sharing the tradition with our new group of friends, thankful that we have found a community of kind people.

This song has been shuffling around our summer playlist for awhile.  And since we sometimes feel like we are “upside down” down here, down under, having Thanksgiving in summer, it seems appropriate.

Jimmy Cliff- World Upside Down

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Holiday in Christchurch

Over Labor Day Weekend, which falls in late October here, we went to Christchurch.  The hope was to overlap with Daniel’s brief layover on his way to the South Pole.  Our coordination was off by about 24 hours, so we didn’t see each other,  but we did have a nice holiday.  We flew there from our little town of Whanganui.  An airport with one check-in counter, and one gate.  We were led out the door and across the tarmac to the stairs leading up to the cabin of our tiny plane.  On the thirty minute flight to Wellington, there were two other passengers on the 19-seater, making a total of four with me and Peter.

We had five days to see Christchurch and we did a lot.  We walked, we took the bus, we rented a car for a day.  For three nights we stayed at Chester Street Backpackers where a friend of mine through WWOOF was working.  The other two nights we couch surfed with a very nice couple whose “couch” was actually a queen sized bed.  It was easy to tell that Christchurch was at one point a very vibrant and beautiful city, before the earthquake.  The now deserted city center was still in shambles.  Demolition trucks and construction cranes occupied the area.  But there was also a sense of re-birth.  A new mall made up of temporary and colorful containers was charming and full of life.  Pockets around the city housed vibrant re-done cafes, full of tourists and locals, who didn’t seem to mind the temporary buildings and porto-loos.

We explored beaches in the area, we went to brew pubs where Peter enjoyed delicious craft beers that are unavailable in Whanganui.  We ate wood fired pizza and explored farmer’s markets and artist’s markets.  We got to know our couch surf hosts a little bit.  Peter and Simon bonded over their love for craft beer, and Nadene and I shared travel stories over a cup of tea in front of the fireplace.  We learned that Simon is in a country band and the couple is excited about their upcoming trip to the U.S. where they want to meet real cowboys and hear live country music as they road trip through the south.

There was a festival of lights happening one night in the dusty city center, with crowds the size of the whole town of Whanganui.  Shiny, blinking things and white lanterns and “light art” were everywhere.

Christchurch was a lot of fun, and since we couldn’t see Daniel, we did the next best thing and went to the Antarctic Center.  We put on overshoes and coats for the simulated wind storm, and we pretended we were in Antarctica.  Then we boarded our flight back to the North Island while waving at the US Antarctic Center and their planes, about to take off for the bottom of the earth.

This is the country band that our wonderful host is in.  It’s great to hear new music, by locals, while on the road.

The Unfaithful Ways- Trouble I’m In

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A Different Dialect

We live in Whanganui.  Or is it Wanganui? Actually it’s both.  The “h” is optional.  There are many Maori words that begin with “wh” and this combination is pronounced with a soft /f/ sound.  The word “whanga” means harbor, bay or inlet, and naturally on an island nation, there are many cities and towns that start with “whanga”-  Whanganui, included.  But when this town was first settled, the local Maoris spoke with a dialect that pronounced all “wh” like /w/ and so the word was originally spelled with no “h” to reflect the pronunciation.  In 1991 the spelling was officially changed to the correct Maori spelling, but only for the river and national park.  This was a contentious matter for the people of the town, and so officially, all businesses can choose the spelling they prefer to use.  To the locals, Whanganui with or without the “h” is still pronounced with a /w/ and the rest of the country is still slightly confused.

Peter and I learned this right away from our trusty Lonely Planet guide book, but we’ve encountered other cultural confusions that have surprised us.  Being that New Zealand is an English speaking country, heavily influenced by American pop culture,  we forget sometimes that it is a different country, with a culture of its own.

One Saturday night we decided to go to a Scottish Social Dance, it was advertised as “fun for the whole family, $7, supper included.”  What a deal! We thought, it’s hard to find a meal for under $10.  We came hungry and ready to eat, but as we entered the hall we saw no tables set for dinner, and smelled no food cooking.  Maybe we had missed the meal?  We enjoyed the dancing anyway, nothing was taught, so we just had to follow along.  Some dances were easy, others were a bit tricky to follow, but the live band and friendly people made it a fun experience.  A bagpipe band would march in intermittently and everyone would stand for their entrance.  Then they would play their pipes in the middle of the room as the crowd danced around them.  The first song the pipers played was Mari’s Wedding!  After the shindig was over, they rolled out carts (trolleys, as they call them) of snacks- mini mince pies, white bread cucumber sandwiches and fruitcakes.  It was 10 pm and time for supper.  This was how we learned that “supper” here refers to a late night snack.  We should have known better since we knew that the evening meal is called “tea”, the hot beverage is a “cuppa” and when asked what kind you want, a good answer is either “white” or “black”- with or without milk.  There aren’t usually cupboards full of different Celestial Seasonings like I’m used to, and when I ask for herbal tea, people often offer me green tea.

We are enjoying ourselves, learning new things, and although we are occasionally confused, it’s always nice to hear a familiar tune, blasted by a band of bagpipers.  Same language, different dialect.

Wild Rhubarb-March Medley_ Mari’s Wedding_Ten Pound Snowflake

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Well Here We Are

In early August I flew back to New Zealand.  Peter welcomed me in Wellington and we took a lovely weekend at a ‘bach’ (their version of a cabin) and then drove back to Whanganui in our station wagon.  Although the plane had landed me successfully in this country of hills and sheep after being airborne for 20+ hours on 3 different flights, everything was still ‘up in the air’.  Would we be able to stay in New Zealand?  Would we find a good midwife?  Would we like it here?

It took awhile, but eventually we found a midwife, our work visas came through and we were approved to stay in New Zealand!  There are about 30,000 people living here in Whanganui, it is considered a city but doesn’t seem like a city to either of us.  We live in what they call the ‘suburb’ of Whanganui East, although I would call it a neighborhood.  Our house is directly across from the railroad tracks, which makes it hard to tell when there’s an earthquake.  But we have a pleasant yard with a lemon tree that seems to be constantly fruiting and we’ve put in a little patch of garden so we can grow our own fresh veggies.

Since I came back in August we’ve been trying to make connections in our new town.  We’ve met many very generous people who have invited us for lunch, given us things they didn’t need anymore (like a bike!) and have been genuinely caring and friendly.  I found some part-time work as a substitute teacher’s aide at a nearby high school through a connection Peter had made before I got here.  I don’t work all the time, only when needed, so when I’m not working I’ve been doing some writing, going for walks or bike rides, and cooking and baking.  Peter is still enjoying his job, even with its challenges.

On the weekends, we go to the Saturday River Trader’s Market.  It’s part farmer’s market, part flea market with something for everyone.  We try to get outside as much as possible, and enjoy being close to the ocean, the river and on a clear day we can see ‘the mountain’- Mt. Ruapehu.  We’re settling in to this new place, new house, new customs and getting ready for the new baby that is coming in only about two months now…  Hopefully we can make it a good home for our new family.

Here is a song by a famous Kiwi artist.

Dave Dobbyn- Welcome Home

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Musical Minnesota Moment #3

July 4th, America’s Independence.  Everyone has different traditions around this holiday to show their patriotism.  Most often, involving fireworks, bbqs and lawn games, and inevitably in Minnesota, including bodies of water and mosquitos.  This year, I was lucky enough to be invited to celebrate the traditions of Peter’s family at their cabin on the Brule River in Wisconsin.  It had started to become a regular thing that we do together and even though Peter was still in New Zealand, I joined his family for a vacation in the north woods.

The days were full of traditional activities, river bathing, croquet and delicious meals together on the screened in wrap-around porch.  I even brought a family tradition of my own and made aebelskivers for breakfast one morning.  We took the mandatory trip up river.  Piling into canoes with food, drink and firewood, we poled up to the usual picnic grounds.  Bacon was fried by Peter’s uncle David over a blazing fire and turned into a hash with potatoes and onions.  There was salad, bratwursts and plenty of New Glarus.  We enjoyed the cool shade, and as we munched on appetizers I chatted with Kara- the girlfriend of Peter’s cousin Seth- also there, braving the family without her significant other.  Before digging in to our extravagant picnic meal, we contemplated over the beauty and sacredness of being able to share such a magical place with family and friends of past, present and future.  On full bellies, we boarded our canoes to paddle back down through the heavy mist that was settling on the river.

To celebrate Independence Day we joined the short-ships parade, an extravaganza connecting cabin neighbors that ironically, I had never participated in with Peter.  Canoes were decked out in red-white and blue and people dressed patriotically.  Splashes from the paddles caused the crepe-paper colors to stream festively down the sides of the boats.  When the parade was ready to commence, the leading canoe turned on their boom-box and America themed songs began to accompany us down river.  It was fun, kitschy, and very USA as we followed each other and the current all the way to the Winneboujou Club for appetizers and camaraderie.  When the boom-box got too far ahead of our canoe, Peter’s brother and sister, Jesse and Katie, serenaded me with what they could remember of ‘America The Beautiful’ (keep in mind that they grew up in the Philippines).

Of course at dusk it was time to get ready for the fireworks.  We sprayed on the OFF, collected blankets and sweatshirts and made our way to the town of Lake Nebagamon.  This small-town fireworks display was always big & loud and up-close and personal.  And it was a great opportunity to patronize the local Dairy Queen on their busiest day of the year.

Thank you Caldwells and Spencers for sharing with me your cabin home, your wooded land, and your traditions.  A good motto for the weekend could have been, “This land was made for you and me”.

This was the first song to blast on the boom box during the canoe parade:

Peter, Paul & Mary- This Land Is Your Land

All photos courtesy of Sue Spencer

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Musical Minnesota Moment #2

Music is everywhere at Danebod Family Folk Camp.

There is music in the dance hall, where each tune brings about a different memory.  There are some dances that I’ll always picture my dad calling, singing into the mic for ‘Doudlebska Polka’ and ‘Goodnight Irene’ and giving yips and yells during the stomping part of ‘Savila Se Bela Loza’.  There are some that will remind me of the way my Grandpa used to confidently grip my hand while in promenade, bouncing it along to the light hearted music in the “B” section of ‘Lott ist Tod’.  Other tunes remind me of Shira, demonstrating difficult moves in front of willing dancers as they pump around their bodies to ‘Koubayo’ and do a cherkessia to ‘Od Lo Ahavti Dai’.  But the most amazing part of dancing at Danebod is the way the live music played by the folk band summons up the energy of the group on the dance floor and together, the dancer’s rhythmic clapping and stomping and the musician’s strumming and drumming melt together and echo each other in that great hall where the floors are made to bounce.

There is music in the lecture hall, where each song is heard ringing out to the children on the playground and the people on their way downstairs from the third floor.  Some songs can make you laugh such like ‘Sandwiches’.  Others are so beautiful, they make you shed a tear like ‘The Great Storm’.  And some can make you laugh and cry at the same time like ‘Waltzing With Bears’.  Then there are those perfect moments, when the setting sun is streaming into the windows and you can almost hear a single bird chirping as the group takes a breath while singing ‘Evening Star’.

Yes, Danebod is full of musical moments.  So how will I pick one to share in this blogging soundtrack of mine?  Shall it be one of the songs from a spontaneous singing session on the front steps?  A unique song from one of the many musical acts in the variety show?  It really could be any number of songs, but I am going to showcase one that made camp different for me this year.  Although busy with dance, I purposefully made time in the daily schedule to relax, and while this sometimes included a nap, it also meant that I had more time to sit outside on the lawn and jam,  (Admittedly, I did not make it to a single discussion…)  and who better to jam with than Bob and Lynn Dixon?

I got out my mandolin and joined the musicians under the tent.  A breezy prairie wind picked up, caught the music, and brought it around the grounds for others to hear. More joined in, some came to listen to the tunes as we all gazed at the familiar campus grounds.  The red brick dorm building- regal, like a castle, the gym hall- doors left swung open, beckoning people in, and the sturdy stone hall with its bell tower, all surrounding us.  A storm the summer before had destroyed many of the familiar old trees, leaving their branches pointed up in a slightly Seuss-ian pose, and had completely destroyed the forest, exposing highway 14.  As different as the landscaped looked, it was still a place you could call home.  The people still met there as a community, the man-made buildings still stood firm, and music still echoed on the wind.

Here is a song from their album “Blue-Eyed Boatman” written by Bob himself.  It’s happy and dance-able and very “Danebodian”…

Bob and Lynn Dixon- Babbington’s Hornpipe

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