January 29, 2014

Long Lonesome Road, Or: Planes, Dutars, and Melons, Oh My!

We flew out Saturday evening around 10 at night. Lauren and I ended up watching Wolverine which was not particularly good, and then we all tried to get some sleep. 8 somewhat drowsey hours later we landed in Frankfurt Germany. Will decided to celebrate by playing banjo while eating a Frankfurter. The next flight took us to Baku, Azerbaijan where three quarters of the already half empty plane left. We got to stay on and continue to Ashgabat. During the time on the ground we met up with a Turkmen woman who had moved to NY and was coming home for the first time in 3.5 years. She told us a bit about the places we would visit and emphasized that every time she has gone home it is hard to recognise the places she knows because of the rapid development. When we told her we would be touring around performing music she was very excited and so we ended up pulling out our schedule whereupon she promised to meet us in another city for one of our shows!
At this point the flight was so empty that I managed to stretch out completely across a row of four seats and got a bit of rest. Upon exiting the plane (at 12:45 am local time) we were met on the tarmac with signs and a van ride to the Commercially Important Person lounge. IMG_0299There we were met by the immigration expiditor as well as the ambassador!

Well, the ambassador wasn’t there to meet us, but he knew who we were and immediately came over to say hi. After determining that no, our Windborne postcards were not cigarettes, and yes, we did have all the recipts for our two dollar fees, we piled into a van and drove to the hotel. The road on the way there had illuminated white center lines and the most fashion forward bus stops I have ever seen. The hotel was huge and lit up with red lights. We checked in and were given keys with huge metal fobs that could probably knock someone out (we later had a lot of trouble taking them on the plane!) before going to bed.

I woke up at 7 the next morning on jetlag time. John, the director of American Music Abroad, had arrived later than us and called my room at 8 looking for passport photos to take to the immigration office to get our migration stamps. The rest of Windborne got up a few hours later and we had a delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant including some potato baked into bread which Will fell in love with.
We met up with John in the hotel lobby for a few minutes to talk about some logistics and then the folks from the US Embassy arrived. Mike, the Cultural Affairs Officer came to meet us along with Meylis and Maya, two Turkmens working with the embassy. Everyone was exceptionally friendly and they explained the rough outline of our tour along with some of challenges we would face on the way. The biggest thing it seemed was that the Ministry of Education was currently trying to do some power play by canceling our workshops in the schools. The concerts, which were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, were fine, but the workshops were getting cancelled left and right. Meylis even helped us work on the words to Yar Yar, our Turkmen song.
They then took us in search of a music store because Will’s homemade banjo bridge had snapped in transit. The first place that we visited was closed, but we ended up finding a huge mall with a music shop in it. John was in shock, as the last time he was here in 2005, there were only little local shops and nothing close to the modern four story mall that we found. I was reminded of my mother’s reaction to seeing the change in the Mongolian State Department Store in Ulan Batar during our visit last year, everything was shiny, new, and modern. Not only did we get a new bridge made by filing down a violin bridge, but will bought several new jaw harps and we encountered an electric dutar! IMG_0301

The dutar is a traditional two string instrument from turkmenistan and this particular one had a little door in the body where one could open and insert a 9v battery with two leads. Somehow this was hooked up to a speaker or something because it amplified the whole instrument. Meylis gave us a little concert and then we headed back to the hotel.
We went across the street to the russian bazaar where we bought the “best melon in the world” from a fellow for whom everything was “no problem.” We also got some amazing raisons and got to try a bunch of other dried fruits and nuts. IMG_0303

We then headed to a turkish restaurant to meet Mike and his wife for dinner. They both worked in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan for two years and then later joined the Department of State and came back. IMG_0305The dinner was great and we drank lots of tea while waiting for our drivers to come and pick us up at the end of the evening. Tomorrow we head out for our first concerts! Keep you updated soon!

Spoiler: The concerts were all amazing!!! But more soon!

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January 17, 2014

Windborne Around the World: Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Angola!

Our bags are packed, songs rehearsed, countries briefed, and banjos tuned. Haha, I’m obviously kidding about the last one, but seriously, we are off on a world tour and WE”RE LEAVING TOMORROW! Make sure to Like our Windborne Facebook page and follow along!

At Logan Airport, heading to DC for our send off!

At Logan Airport, heading to DC for our send off!

I wrote a few months ago about our audition process for American Music Abroad, a program funded by the US Department of State in collaboration with American Voices. We found out a few months afterwards that we were getting to go to Kyrgyzstanand Turkmenistan in central Asia and then down to Angola in southern Africa. Now, if you think about this for a second, this means we get to be in winter in one of the coldest regions (down to -20!) and then summer in a rather tropical climate. Packing has been fun. No, actually what has been really fun has been preparing for this tour with my Windborne bandmates Lauren Breunig, Lynn Rowen and Will Rowen. We got together in Concord in early January and spent a few days rehearsing there and in Vermont.  We had to flesh out our Americana stuff and we ended up putting together a little EP to give out on our tour.Windborne Americana CD

I love these guys and so it was a good time as always, but the real highlight was that I bought a NEW BANJO!!! It is a beautiful banjo made by master luthier Will Fielding who lives just a little ways away in Marlboro VT. It is called the Rooster and is delightful in sound and appearance. I decided to deck out my banjo case as well with flags of the countries I have visited in order of visitation, so i’m pretty excited about that too!photo (20)

Fielding rooster Jeremy carter-gordonFielding Rooster

Flags of the world Jeremy Carter-Gordon












Anyway, we got to do a few concerts around New England, including selling out Hubbard Street Music for the first time ever! We had great audiences everywhere we went and it was so wonderful to really feel the support of our hometown communities as we head out on this tour! Here is a little clip of our last performance in Concord. We will be singing Bring a little water, Silvie and teaching some hambone during some of our educational stops during the tour!


photo 2Anyway, we flew down to DC yesterday and had dinner with some Ashley, Shannon, and Bill who are our contacts from AMA, the DoS and the program evaluator. After a nice meal we got to put on a great little show at a retirement home in Foggy Bottom. The folks there were really appreciative and excited for our tour. Give Me Just a Little More Time was a huge hit as always and got everyone clapping along! Then this afternoon we had our meeting in the Department of State. We started by just introducing ourselves and why we decided to apply for this program. I spoke first and got to talk about my experiences growing up in the folk community, Village Harmony and my Watson Fellowship on sword dancing. As I was talking I realized how much informal cultural diplomacy I have been doing in my life. I love getting to find the human side of a new place and sharing a little bit of my culture with them. Lauren and I both overheard a program on NPR’s On Point the other day which was talking about the world’s perception of American culture in which they mentioned Louis Armstrong touring with one of the forbearers of American Music Abroad. We really are part of a long and wonderful history of showing a different side of American culture; a tradition where people sing together, not just listen to pop stars, and where music brings people together. We got a great introduction to culture, sights, and behaviors we should expect in each country. The folks there emphasized several times that we were really just going there to be ourselves, which was nice to hear. We don’t have any agenda that we are pushing or any responsibility to represent the USA. We really are just going to make good connections and learn as much as we can about these new cultures. Oh, and we get a motorcade!

Windborne Motorcade!Just kidding, it was Vice President Biden, but that was pretty cool too! Now we’re off to get dinner at DC restaurant week.

Did I mention WE LEAVE TOMORROW?!?!?!?


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April 15, 2013

Windborne Goes Abroad!

In December of last year, my wonderful friends Lauren Breunig, Lynn Mahoney Rowan and Will Thomas Rowan invited me to join their trio Windborne, for a short quartet tour of New England. They are all wonderful singers who recently had put out a new album, which I loved. I had also sung with them in Renewal, but as Renewal couldn’t get enough folks together for a tour, we got to take its place. We gathered at Lauren’s father’s house a few day after Christmas and talked, drank, played games, went dancing, and generally had a great time! We also did some pretty serious rehearsing  putting together a concert with songs from the US, Bulgaria, Georgia, Corsica, and particularly exciting to me, Basque. I had traveled to Basque country last year to study sword dance traditions during my Watson fellowship, and in the course of my stay ended up learning lots of songs! I got the chance to teach Windborne two of them. Here is a video of us rehearsing a Basque song about a man sending a bird to his lover with a message of love!

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 7.11.03 PMThe tour was a great success, both musically and in terms of the group dynamic. What a wonderful bunch of people to sing with. We recorded a new album on tour that should be out soon and started thinking about what might be next. Lauren moved out to AZ last year and is teaching circus professionally out there, so there wasn’t really an easy answer, but we knew we wanted to keep working, singing, and hanging out together. Later that month I was tagged by a friend in a facebook comment about this program called American Music Abroad. Basically, the state department picks 10 groups to represent the US by performing on short tours of countries around the world! The deadline was that day, but at the urging of my mother we decided to apply anyway and hope for the best. We were all blown away a month or so later when we found out that we had been one of 40 bands selected from 350 groups to perform in live auditions in NYC! The State Department flew Lauren out to rehearse with us in March. We sang a few of our songs, did a kick*** lesson plan about shapenote music that involved holding up shapes and getting the panelists to sing, and presented our version of the “international folk song” they had assigned us. Yep, one of the assignments was to do a version of one of the four songs they sent us “in our style.” This was a dilema for us, as usually our style is to learn as much as we can about the singing tradition it comes from and present it as close as we can to the original sound. However, one night we were hanging out late after dinner at Lynn and Will’s house. We were listening to the different songs, harmonizing them and trying to decide what we should do. We listened to the Chinese song “Jasmine Flower” and Lynn, hearing our harmonies, said “that sounds like a shape note tune.” Problem solved. We ended up merging from a more traditional sound into old-timey into fulla on shapenote tune! We hope you enjoy!

We then all piled into my car, headed down to NYC and found our hotel. Lauren instagramed our progress (thanks to everyone who wrote to support us!) and we had  a night on the town (asian food, cannolis, and tea). We got up early the next morning arriving an hour early as instructed for the 9am audition. We got to meet a few of the other groups while getting warmed up, which was great! Our audition came and we went into the church sanctuary where it was being held. I told the judges that we would just take a minute to set up and then we would start. A minute later we were standing ready to sing. “Oh you actually meant a minute!” said one judge in suprise. We smiled, “Yep, we are pretty low maintenance! We did our pieces and our lesson plan and it all went quite well. They asked us a few questions; “Say the King of Thailand has written a jazz piece he wants you to sing in shape note and teach to the University chorus…” and we even got them up to dance Selingers Round! We felt pretty good about it, but it still seemed like a long shot! We hung out in New York for a bit before heading on home, fingers crossed.

WindborneA few days ago, I was driving back from NYC (again) after dropping off my Chinese visa application when I got a call from an unfamiliar number. I pick it up, “Hello, this is Jeremy.” It was the director of the program and the main State Department contact. “We’ll be sending you an email later today, but we wanted to congratulate you in person; Windborne has been selected for the American Music Abroad Program 2013!!”

I of course thanked them profusely and went and called the rest of the gang! No one could quite believe it, but it looks like this is actually happening. Check out the AMA program and the announcement of our selection!!

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April 10, 2013

New Adventures, New Blog

Norway atlantic rdSo, I’m heading off to grad school next year in Europe! I’ll be attending a program called Choreomundus, which is a collaboration of four different universities in the EU. The program is in “Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage” which basically means I’ll be learning about how to study, notate, and analyze dance’s place in culture and learning about working to preserve intangible cultural heritage. I start in Traundheim, Norway this August, not far away from the Atlantic Rd Highway, pictured on the right! I’ll be there for about a month with the other 15 folks in my program, and half the group stays there, and the other half goes to study at the Universiteé Blaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, France. I don’t yet know where I am heading, I believe that they divide up the group by whose specialities would be best supported by which institution. In May 2014 we all meet again in France as a large group and then break for summer/fieldwork. The second year we are all studying together, first a semester in Szeged, Hungary and then one at the Univ. of Roehampton in London. The EU is basically amazing and is sponsering my whole tuition and giving me a small stipend  (Oh countries that value education and the arts!)

Needless to say, I am beyond thrilled! It has been a little while, however, since I last was in serious writing mode, and I expect that doing a MA will require me to get back into that mindset! I have decided to start writing a blog again, with the idea of both sharing my adventures, ideas, and writings with you, as well as getting my mind producing written words again! Check back soon and keep me honest with this whole writing business!

Until next time!

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