Monday, July 1, 2013

#2 Transatlantic Sessions-- not reading but sure worthwhile

      With retirement I've discovered the joy of an uninterrupted hour or two each evening as the sun sets behind some tall trees in the back yard and the deck and chairs are the place to read until sunset. So I rediscovered the beauty of reading the Arkady Renko/ Martin Cruz Smith and Bernie Gunther/ Philip Kerr novels in order and will get to the Alan Furst series sometime. But I got caught up in the "Lincoln" epic, first by seeing the movie twice this year and then by reading the illustrated Carl Sandburg compilation of the Prairie Years and the War Years biography of Lincoln. "Spectacular" is not too strong a word to describe what Sandburg, another Illinois boy did in capturing the character, humility and humaneness of Lincoln.
       With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War underway, I read Michael Shaara's "Killer Angels" about Gettysburg and Jeff Shaara's "Chain of Thunder" about the battle for Vicksburg, both of which happened and concluded 150 years ago this week. Both books, though written almost 40 years apart by two separate authors, each capture the scope of the two battles beautifully. I have visited both battle sites, but walking the fields and grounds doesn't begin to give the scope of what happened at each place. Each book focuses on the leaders of each army but does so in a way that humanizes the decisions, problems, and choices they and their field officers had to face day after day. Throw in heat, lack of food and reliable intelligence from missing cavalry officers, it was a very close battle fought each day. Those two books really bring epic actions into a visible scale.
          So what then are the Transatlantic Sessions and how do they tie into reading? I guess they don't since they are music DVDs, but, boy, if you like folk, country, Celtic music and you've got other things to do while  listening and watching like ironing, matching socks, doing taxes, this is the series for you. The sessions, begun as half hour music TV programs in Scotland in 1995 and were reprized in 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011 with rumored series planned in 2013. There are typically six or seven shows in each session filmed or videographed at a great house or hunting lodge in Scotland over what seems several weeks.
           The Sessions are now the brainchild of Aly Bain, a revered Scottish fiddler and founding member of the Boys of the Lough and Jerry Douglas,lap steel and resonator guitar master and current member of Union Station. They organize a golden house band of English, Irish and Scottish musicians and bring the cream of the crop from the US and the United Kingdom to play for each other with no outside audience in a fantastic house party setting. Interspersed with the music performances are scenes of the beauty of Scotland.
            But we are there for the music and it is sublime. Sample some of the sessions on Youtube, but you really need to see and hear each year's collection. Imagine visiting musicians like Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Sara Jarosz, James Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Emmylou Harris joining the best of Europe-- Paul Brady,Karen Matheson, Donal Lundy and John Martyn in an intimate house concert.
             Youtube can only give a taste. Whirlie Records in Scotland have released all 5 Sessions but currently only the second, fourth and fifth can be viewed on US DVD players and computers. I'm not sure if Netflix offers these, but I got them through my local public library and if you're real nice, you might talk your library into buying them. They are the real deal.  Ted Schmidt  July 1,2013