Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fork in the Road

We are lucky enough to share a decent-sized piece of the woods with my father, who lives in his geodesic dome in the middle, and my sister, who lives on the north end in an adorable cape tucked into a curve of Bump's Brook. My roots are deep here, so I may be biased, but Maine is simply spectacular, and our road is particularly nice. A couple of miles of it, where it skirts the Great Sidney Bog, is undeveloped, with no homes or even telephone poles, giving us a perfect view of each season's foliage and other natural bounty whenever we head toward town.

Technically, our driveway should have a name, according to town rules, since there are two households on it, but they've never made us do it. That means that we give directions by saying, "Go about three miles, turn left at our box number, drive across the stone bridge, and at the top of the driveway, don't go to the dome, bear left, past the barn, we're the other place..."
The Dome on Mellow Hill

Dad has it a little easier, since the dome is unmistakeable. Still, the driveway has a fork in it, and that has been nagging at me for a long time. One of the great gifts from my Dad has been his love of wordplay. More than once he has held a "proverbidioms" party, which meant that guests tried to figure out that a cedar tree wrapped in birch bark was meant to depict "Barking up the wrong tree," A recently dug hole with a playing card at the bottom was "ace in the hole," and so on. 
In that spirit, for his recent birthday, I used five feet of galvanized flashing, tin snips, and a center-punch to make him his very own landmark:
"Turn left when you come to the fork..."
 Needless to say, this was a lot of fun to wrap and present to him on his birthday, and he promptly mounted it on the woodshed. Now he can tell people to turn right at the fork, and we can tell people to turn left. 
Hmmm...I think it could be time for another Proverbidioms party!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cup of Bliss and Snapping Sails

I have heard it said that a danger in songwriting is when your songs become too personal, too autobiographical. I can understand why that could be; I have written some songs at low points that, while very good, I'm not ready to share. When you're a sensitive songwriter-poet, one rocky spell, one terribly sad day, can send a song onto your pages that doesn't really represent your life. Some day I will share those songs, but not now. The "Wow. My Honey!" songs actually do represent my life, and I'm sharing those now. 

Cup of Bliss by Harper Meader
My song, Cup of Bliss, is an exception in a way, because it alludes to having trouble together. The line, "I don't know where we'll be tomorrow" really needs to be there, if only because it's true (and I know people deeply in love can relate) that my greatest fear is losing my Honey. What is also true, but couldn't be worked into the song, is that I know with my whole being that I can only be with Her going forward, or alone. More than anything, the song is about how as a poet I feel the depth and mystery of the world moving within me, demanding that I write it down somehow, that I sing it. Finding love has woken that side of me up in a way that I'm still coming to grips with. For me, the most powerful line, referring to a transformative dream that I will never forget, is "I'll keep my seat, the tiller-handle tightly held while the current rages."

The title, Cup of Bliss, is in fact a deliberate echo of Amos Lee, who is a major inspiration to me. My song is not really on-topic with his song, Cup of Sorrow, but that phrase has worked into my head far enough that it has become an important inner symbol of mine. It's hard to put into words, but the way we experience our world with those close to us is a cup that we drink together, and what kind of cup it is becomes an essential part of our shared experience. I'm truly blessed to share a cup of bliss.

For the musicians, I play this in standard tuning with the capo on two. Chords are Amaj7, A, E, Asus2, A7, and Ddim. I very much enjoy working with clustered chords that move together easily, and this set is very good that way.

 - - - - -

Snapping Sails by Harper Meader
When I first started playing mumblety-summat years ago, the music I most wanted to play was that of Gordon Bok, Stan Rogers, and Gordon Lightfoot. Whales and sails, hauling nets, hardened tars, schooners, clippers, sea-foam...oh, the language of sailing is so evocative, gut-level imagery for someone like me, with sailing in my genes! 

One day when I was practicing my way through all the love-songs that have come to me me recently, my Honey said, "You know, Harper, you really should write a sailing song since you love the sea so much..." I just nodded at the time, but one day at work, maybe a week later, Snapping Sails came to me, all in one sitting, and I like it very much. Of course, true to form, by the end of it, it's another love-song; I just can't help myself.

For the musicians, this one is dead easy. Standard tuning, using Am, F, Dm, G, and C. At the end of the chorus you'll need to do a little "add4" to the C chord with your pinky, and that's it. I play it two-fingered, but it strums well too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Glassblower's Breath and Magic in the Moonlight

"The way the scent of wild roses makes me want to pull her down, down by the ocean..."

Rumi, that seer and poet tormented by love, wrote often of the consuming power of ecstasy, the ecstasy sometimes of love, sometimes of simply touching the universe. My very favorite Rumi poem, The New Rule, has a couple of lines that have stayed with me my entire adult life. One is:

"Here’s the new rule: break the wineglass,
And fall toward the glassblower’s breath."

The other is right at the end:

"Only love.
Only the holder the flag fits into,
And wind. No flag."

Don't worry, I'm not going to interpret mystic love poetry for you; I know what it means to me, and that's enough. My own song, The Glassblower's Breath, in comparison, is more accessible.  In it I'm simply reaching for the words to say adequately just how much my Love has changed my life, rescued me, brought me closer than I believed possible to that ecstatic love that Rumi knew. For her I'd surely smash the glass, and fall toward the Glassblower's breath!

For the musicians, I play this in standard tuning with a capo on only five strings at the second fret. The low note remains an E. I discovered partial capo-ing this year and have already written four songs that use it. You get the benefit of almost completely normal chords, with the added benefit of a dropped bass-note, really much cooler than it sounds! Chords are mostly variations of D, G, and A. One of these days I'll try to write up tablature for it. The bass run on the D chord is easier if you can fret with your thumb.

The second song on the CD, Magic in the Moonlight, is another of my favorites. I seem to write a lot of music late at night, sitting up in bed with my guitar, just barely touching the strings, while my Honey sleeps smiling. She tells me this is magical, that the music filters through into her dreams. All I know is that on a hot summer night, with the moon reaching through the window to light up the center of my world, words of love come to me powerfully, and that's where this song comes from.

"Oh, there’s magic in the moonlight,
When lovers sleep
With just a sheet
And a glass of water sweating by the bedside"

For the musicians, I play this with a two-finger pattern, standard tuning, capo on two. The chords are Am, Dm add 9, Em, G, Asus2, and F. It's a nice chord sequence, and not hard.

I hope you enjoy my music, and pass it on if you know anyone else who might appreciate it. My hope is to finance the next recording project by selling enough from this one. The songs waiting to be recorded are at least as good!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Strawberry Pear Locavore Mead

We came home the other day to find a bushel basket filled with pears, good honest lumpy little things with all the blemishes that come from growing naturally. Dad planted those trees going on twenty years ago, and now there are more pears than he can find uses for, so he thought we might find a use for them. Well, even more of a use than all of us snacking on them like crazy as long as they last.
Pears from Dad's trees next door at Mellow Hill!

We immediately thought of mead, since it has been five years or so since I made a batch of pear mead. Rather than add oranges like last time, we decided to provide the citrus fruit content with a pound of gorgeous strawberries from the local farmer's market. Rather than add tea from across the world, we used shaved red oak bark, which has become my standard tannic acid additive. Straight from our own firewood stock is as local as it gets! 

We haven't gotten our usual bulk honey from Swan's Apiaries in Unity, but did happen to have some even more local honey (from Sidney!) found at The Green Spot, a wonderful organic market in Oakland. So except for some spices, this a wonderfully locavore batch of mead. Here's how easy it was...

Pears being prepped for mead...
We peeled and diced about three pounds of pears and started them simmering in a large skillet. To this we added the pound of strawberries and just a bit of lemon juice to help bring out the flavor. While that was all softening, we started mixing up the honey with water. This part is easy too. All we do is pour out the containers of honey, ten pounds this time, which will make a bit over two gallons, into a large kettle. Then measure two and a quarter times that much of hot water, and add that, stirring to dissolve the honey. Our tap water is beautiful well-water, so just hot from the tap works fine. If you don't have that luxury, you may want to heat up some good water from a spring or well. The hot water makes sure that you get all the honey from inside the containers.  Water measured at 2 1/4 times the honey by volume gives you a good estimate of the right balance of sweetness for a good semi-sweet mead. (If you use a hydrometer, you could fine-tune it to between 16 and 17 percent potential alcohol.) 

Pears and strawberries make great mead...
By this time a potato masher squished the fruit up beautifully, and we added that to the must. Finally we grated in a couple of teaspoons off of a chunk of red oak bark using a fine grater. If you don't have this, instead add two teabags of a standard black tea. Then some spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger), and it all went into a brewing bucket with a bubbler set up. We made sure it was well below a hundred degrees fahrenheit, and added a packet of Cote des Blancs wine yeast from Red Star. That's it. Now we simply wait for the yeast to make so much alcohol from all that honey that it dies off, let the sediment settle, and in two to four months we'll bottle and cork it, getting close to a case of mead if all goes well. This is our fourth batch so far this year. After decades of mead-making, I feel like I know what works best, what I like the most, and definitely have some varieties that I know I will always make. Still, there's always room for growth, and our recent shift to very local ingredients is a very nice trend. It will be better for us, and supports our local beekeepers and farmers!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Beloved Love and Snow Drift Love

We have a couple of fun new things going on at Ironwood Hollow, but no photos ready today for those posts, so they'll wait. In the meantime, if you'll indulge me, I'll just talk a little bit about a  couple of the songs that can be found at Harper Meader Bandcamp.
Life in our winter is simply amazing.

The oldest song on the CD is "Beloved Love", and it's dear to my heart. Honey and I knew that we were meant for each other. We longed to be together, and our lives were just not quite ready to allow us that gift of waking up to see the dawn together. For me, our precious moments of time together were the finest moments my heart had ever known, and I was caught in that perfect storm of being exactly where I wanted to be, needed to be, and knowing that it was fleeting. Dreading the dawn, because I would once again awake alone, and at the same time thanking whatever Gods or spirits had brought us together for showing me the answer to my heart's quest.

For the musicians, I use a four-finger picking pattern in regular tuning, sort of Gordon Lightfoot-style, and the chords are:  Dsus2, Am, B7, Em, and G.

The next oldest is "Snow Drift Love." I wrote this last summer, on a very hot day, knowing that soon we would be living together, that we would spend our winters together, awake together in the morning to see that amazing blanket of snow that sometimes stops everything here at Ironwood Hollow. My favorite word in the song is "dooryard," a quintessentially downneast term. I once met an Italian New Yorker, name of Gaitano, who had moved to Maine, and remember asking how he liked it here. He was thrilled. "Oh, the language is endlessly fascinating. Just today I learned to pronounce a new Maine word." Then he crossed his eyes, and carefully said it: doouh yaahd! Then he clapped his hands with delight, and said that he found our country ways so charming. 
...underneath is still the front yard we know...

He has gotten tired of our country ways, and gone back to the city, but Honey and I, who truly love when we can see our breath in the bedroom on a frosty morning, still love our country ways, and this song is from when I looked forward to sharing that together with her. I hope you like the song, and queue it up on a blustery February morning...Honey and I will be tucked in with our tea, living the life we dreamed of, storm-stayed together and loving it!

Oh, for the musicians, I play this one with an alternating two-finger pattern, regular tuning, and the chords are: E and Asus2 alternating for the verses, and A, E, and one B7 snuck in there, for the chorus. Very easy, and one of my favorite chord patterns.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cordwood Masonry Acoustics

As I wrote last time, I'm excited (me, Mr. Mellow, excited, yup!) about the final appearance of some of my recorded music. Actually, 'excited' doesn't cover it; I'm having a hard time thinking about anything else, except for that new song I'm working on, which may be even better. The physical CDs just arrived, sounding great, and the cover art (photo by my Honey) came out perfectly. Since I can't think about anything else right now, I'm going to elaborate on this recording project.

Music from a cordwood masonry mead-hall!
I've been writing music for a long time, and in the last couple of years, after falling in love with my Honey, that creative impulse has just skyrocketed. Finding that my heart is where it belongs, finally, has been amazingly good for my writing and composing.

 Months ago I asked my friend James Lindenschmidt of Crafted Recordings, who has all kinds of recording expertise, for pointers about getting some recording done. To my delight, he offered to help out, volunteering his considerable skills, at least in part because he had been wanting to try some recording in our house. The mead-hall, our central room with twelve-foot-plus ceilings, cordwood walls, and an adjoining space with gracefully curved walls, has great acoustic qualities. 

His version of this may be different, but here's why I think the space is so good for music. Cordwood masonry is not flat. It has a combination of very hard and somewhat hard surfaces, curves, and little angled segments all over it. So while it bounces sound nicely (compared to a curtained room, for example), it doesn't sound at all like a tiled space or a stairwell, with that complicated echo on top of everything. Not only that, but it is a magical space, made by hand with love, using natural local materials, and it is the perfect place for me to record my music. After all, it's where I write most of it, and it's where my Honey and I first met. Unless somebody tells me otherwise, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is the first professional music recording in a cordwood masonry space!

James and I have much in common, including acoustic music, a similarly spiritual way of living in the world and a long-standing love of mead and mead-brewing. My first experience with his recording expertise was when he interviewed me years ago for his excellent blog, Bardic Brews. Back then, he made me feel very much at ease in front of a microphone, and this time was no different, except that it involved more microphones! Then he put in many hours fine-tuning everything for me. The end result is a very good presentation of my and my songwriting at its current best, and I can't say enough about how sweetly he worked with the very raw material. Please check out the music, which is downloadable from most mainstream venues, as Harper Meader's EP, "Honey."

Coming up, I'll talk in detail about some of the songs in particular, and also about why I like Bandcamp. Stay tuned...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Long Time Coming

Check out my (at last!) recording at
I guess you may have noticed, if you are a regular reader of mine, that I have been absent for way too long. Sorry about that! Here's what's going on...

A long-time friend of mine, James Lindenschmidt of Bardic Brews and Crafted Recordings, offered to help me with some recording. I have been a musician for my whole adult life, playing folk harp, fingerstyle guitar, hammered dulcimer, and an assortment of other instruments, but in the recent past my songwriting went into overdrive, fed by the life changes that came with falling deeply in love. Happily, my musicianship has kept pace with my heart and my writing aspirations, and I have a steadily-growing collection of really good songs to show for it! 

I went into overdrive, consulting with my Honey about which were the best songs to break out with, practicing like mad, making sure I had the words just the way they should be...and new songs kept intruding! But eventually, just a couple of weeks ago, Jim came to Ironwood Hollow, toting all sorts of esoteric equipment, and Honey left us to our own devices. He told me that he has always wanted to try recording in our home, with its very unique acoustics that come from the cordwood masonry, the high ceilings, and the curved walls. 

Long story as short as possible, we had about three hours of good recording time all to ourselves, and in that time we recorded six of my songs. For each of them, I played my solo arrangement and sang at the same time, then went back and recorded a harmony track and a second guitar track in some cases. The one that sticks in my mind the most is when I said, "Jim, let me just hear the tune, and I'll play through the lead guitar, and see if I remember how it goes..." When I was finished, he just said, "Oh yeah, I was recording; that's great. What's next?" 

Six songs of spiritual love recorded in a cordwood masonry meadhall!
It was that kind of session. Jim's knowledge of recording and innate calm made it a pure pleasure. Followed by many hours of his skilled time mixing and mastering, one of the finest gifts I've ever received, this session has turned into an EP of a small sampling of my recent music. (An EP is an extended play, several songs, but not long enough to be called a CD). I have been working my way through the process of making the songs available, now that Jim has declared the tracks finished. Actual CDs are in process, and I'll post details about that when it's all set up. In the meantime, is where to go to hear them. I hope you will purchase all or some of them for download! Bandcamp offers music affordably, with the option of paying anywhere from a minimum up to what you feel the music is worth. They will appear in the other usual venues shortly (itunes, amazon, etc), as that process does its thing. 

The changes in my life and my heart that my Honey has brought to me are only hinted at in these songs, but I am so pleased to be able to share a bit of that joy with you. There will be more, since I've determined to make songwriting a major part of my future. Stay tuned. Among these songs you will find a steamy celebration of midsummer loving (Magic in the Moonlight), a rousing sailing song (Snapping Sails), the perfect tune for when you're storm-stayed with your love (Snowdrift Love), a partial-capoed pattern-picked epic-love-song for the guitarists among us, with a nod to the great love-poet, Rumi, (The Glassblower's Breath), and more.

I hope that you like my work. My hope is that this project will fund the next recording, and that my love of music, words, spirit, life, and my Honey will become something more than a hobby, that it will bring a piece of that joy that is my life into the homes of many.

Okay, a final note...anywhere else you find my songs, they're likely to cost about the same, but at bandcamp, you get the lyrics for free, and you can hear the whole song right there before you decide to part with a dollar or two. Also, just sayin' one of my blog-readers, you know where to find me. If you play, and want to know my chords, or get a hint about the picking patterns that I use, you know where to find me.