Thoughts on Maintaining Friendships

I’ve recently moved to an offshore island. My relationships are really important to me. How can I lovingly maintain them? I’ve done some reading on the subject, and formulated the following game-plan …

In an ideal scenario:

1. I return my friends’ calls – because in a study of 8 million phonecalls, this was the leading cause of a lasting relationship.) [1]

2. I have contact with my friends at least once every 15 days. (Research says this is the golden numba to keep a pal.)[2]

3. I remember big life events, e.g. birthdays.[3]

4. I attend milestone events, even if it’s challenging – I drive out of my way to visit their new home, I make an effort to see my friend before the new baby arrives, I book that flight to attend their wedding.[4]

5. If a pal with a young kid rings me, I make a special effort to take their call there-and-then (fuller schedules, higher need!).

I have the following strategies for getting more ‘friend-time’:

6. I identify a habit, and if possible, associate a communication with it – e.g. for the last fortnight, I’ve done my daily run and rang my Dad afterwards. Today I ‘ran, then rang’ automatically. Less conscious effort + more communication = good!

7. I combine a task / activity with friend-time: e.g. I call Sarah on a walk; chatted to my my uncle Maurice while cooking; I’m attending an online history course with Claire.

8. I think outside the phonebox. I really enjoy emails, postcards, & letters; if I don’t have time for that today, voicemails & video messages are a nice runner-up.

9. I haven’t tried it yet, but I dream of making regular dates with friends: e.g. every second Monday at 11am I call Valerie? If possible within the two schedules, I suspect this strategy could be really effective.[5]

But inevitably there are certain days or weeks / a period where I am less available.

How to minimise the impact of this? Well, I can give my peeps a ‘heads-up’ to so that they don’t feel unimportant or abandoned.[6] I can include the following:

a) how long I expect to be off the radar (“I’m pedal-to-the-metal to get a grant in for the next few days…” )

b) what’s the best way to reach me during this time (“So I’m really sorry, I haven’t even got the time to pee, not-a-mind listen to a voicemail; wil ya send me a text?!”), and

c) when my schedule is expected to go back to normal (But the deadline is due on Tuesday at 5pm. Gimme Wed to sleep and I’ll ring ya Thu! 🙂 )[7] and …

d) and I then make a conscious effort to connect with my friend, after I emerge from the work-vortex. [8]

I try to never say “I’m too busy”. The receiver doesn’t know if that’s my temporary reality, or if I am trying to brush them off. Instead, I

a) qualify the busyness: “I’m busy for the next 10 days,” or “I’m tied up until the end of the school year.” and then

b) make a counter offer. If I can’t meet face-to-face in the near future, I suggest a phone call, video call, or another way to connect so the pal doesn’t feel abandoned.[9]

And if I have the headspace, I try to send short, but thoughtful, texts. I try to …

– make the text as personal as possible to show the cara I’m thinking about them, e.g. remember small things like a doctor’s appointment / stressful workday that I know they have coming up, and check in with them to see how it went

– ask questions that invite reveals (“How was the holliers? How did the gig go?? How’s the new job?”)

– give information about my day that my friend couldn’t glean from mutual acquaintances / the online world

– avoid statements (“I hope you’re having a great day!” or “You’re in my thoughts”), as they don’t prompt meaningful back-and-forth exchanges. (But if desperate, I think a one-liner statement like ‘you popped into my head today – hope you’re doin’ OK!!’ is better than nothing.)

Remember that regular date idea I aspire to but have not yet succeeded in setting up? Current opinion is that a regular friend date as rare as once a year – e.g. an annual festival / Christmas party – is more powerful than one might think, and, once again, better than nada.[10] This concurs with my experience; I have a good pal living abroad whom I only meet once a year (at a music festival), but that one meeting suffices to keep us so connected that I feel I can pick up the phone and ring him anytime.

WHEN IT’S UNEQUAL

Because we’re human, and, ya know, life – sometimes in a friendship, the communicational balance is unequal.

If my friend is making more effort than me for a while, I acknowledge that. I know how much mental and emotional effort it can sometimes take to stay in touch, and I am mindful of the attempts my friends make to connect.[11]

If I am making more effort to stay in contact for a little while, I give my pal the benefit of the doubt.

But if I’m beginning to notice resentment on my part, or if the communication is not balanced in either side for a prolonged amount of time, I examine if I and the other are OK with the imbalance. If it’s not, can we try to come up with a solution that suits both of us? For conversations like this, intentional dialogue can be useful…

If the other person is initiating far more and the balance feels off, I agree with Dr. Miriam Kirmayer: “Addressing friends’ bids for attention can mean the difference between having a dear friendship flourish or fade during a frantic time.”[12] In my experience, it’s really important to give validation and affirmation in that situation, rather than just dismissing and saying we’re too busy.

And it’s important to keep dear friendships, coz they make life worth living[13].

Plus, on a practical note… as we grow older, it’s rare that we make new friends[14]. So let’s hang on to the ones we got!


[1] Zyga, L., 2020. Physicists Investigate ‘Best Friends Forever’. [online] Phys.org. Available at: <https://phys.org/news/2008-04-physicists-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[2] Zyga, L., 2020. Physicists Investigate ‘Best Friends Forever’. [online] Phys.org. Available at: <https://phys.org/news/2008-04-physicists-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[3] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[4] Carlin Flora, quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[5] Carlin Flora, quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[6] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[7] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[8] my addition to Miriam Kirmayer’s recommendations quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[9] Shasta Nelson quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[10] Carlin Flora, quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[11] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[12] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[13] Barker, E., 2020. This Is What Your Relationships Are Worth In Dollars: – Barking Up The Wrong Tree. [online] Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Available at: <https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/01/what-are-your-relationships-worth-in-dollars/> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[14] Gordon, S., 2020. 5 Easy Ways To Be A Good Friend Right Now. [online] Woman’s Day. Available at: <https://www.womansday.com/relationships/family-friends/a31981452/how-to-be-a-good-friend/> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

Where are all the Galway Girls? Some stats on gender in Irish traditional music

I’m a female Irish traditional musician from county Galway, and have played in sessions around Galway city for a decade. Sometimes I’m one of the ‘anchor’ musicians (paid by the publican to start and lead a session so they can schedule a trad session at a certain time for their punters). Sometimes I just go along to a pub session to play for fun. I’ve played in most of the pubs at one point or another, and with many different musicians.

Liz Coleman holds a doctorate in Physics from NUIG, and is also an excellent fiddle-player. She did a small study where herself and her partner went to all the sessions in Galway in one week, January 7th – 13th 2019, and noted the gender of every player. Out of the 65 musicians they observed playing in the sessions, 57 of the musicians were men.

9 of the musicians playing in sessions in Galway that week were female: 14%.

“Deconstructing FairPlé: Is There A Gender Bias in Traditional Irish Music Practice? Do We Need To Address It?” Liz Coleman, Women in Traditional & Folk Music Symposium, NUIG, 9/2/2018

As Liz observed, ‘[This is a] temporally and regionally limited sample’. But her findings accurately represent my experience of gender balance when playing sessions in Galway, and all over Ireland, for the past decade.

Why does there seem to be such a considerable gender imbalance in the trad sessions in Galway?

I posted an excerpt from Liz’s research on social media; one suggestion was perhaps “[female musicans] are just fewer in number”.

It’s difficult to gain data on how many Irish traditional musicians there are in Connacht, and their gender. However, there’s three sources that can give us a clue: results from the Fleadh, the Leaving Cert. music exam, and university admissions.

Let’s look at the number of adults (over 18 category) who competed in solo, duet, or trio instrumental categories last year. The county Fleadh has no barriers to entry, so let’s ignore those entrants – they could have been playing jazz, for all we know. But a musician who has won 1st, 2nd or 3rd in their county Fleadh is definitely an active Irish traditional musician who has reached a basic level of proficiency in tune-playing.

Last summer, 14 adults from Galway won 1st, 2nd or 3rd playing in a solo, duet or trio instrument competition at their county Fleadh. Of that number, 6, or 43%, were female.

The county Fleadh give an even more telling picture when we look at all age groups: overall, significantly more girls qualified for the Connacht Fleadh than boys, with 424 girls qualifying in the categories under 12 to over 18, as compared to 319 boys. The gender imbalance was most pronounced in the 15-18 category, with 71% of the youngsters who qualified for the Connacht Fleadh being female. 

But maybe this was a freak year? Surely there’s not usually 424 girls of all ages playing trad to a provincial level?

Actually, I think it’s likely this is the norm, as the trend of female over-representation is reflected in general music education.

The Leaving Certificate Music curriculum includes trad, classical, jazz and pop. Every year since records were published, girls studying music at Leaving Cert. level have dramatically outnumbered boys[1]. in 2018, 78% of the students who did the Leaving Cert. Music exam were female[2]. That means there’s currently almost 4 girls to every 1 boy in a school music classroom.

Not everyone who plays trad enters the Fleadh, or does music for Leaving Cert. Ergo these numbers are a subset of the amount of people who play trad in Connacht. However, they tell us that at the exact point Dr. Coleman collected her data, there were at least 44 adult women who were proficient trad players in Connacht. The stats also imply that it’s highly likely more girls than boys learn to play music. They tell us significantly more teenage girls than boys choose to study music in school and enter music competitions. So why were there only 14% women playing in the pubs that week last January?

Let’s say what everyone’s thinking: maybe more little girls learn music, and more girls enter the Fleadh, but maybe adult female musicians just aren’t good enough to play in a session?

Firstly: in the majority of sessions, you don’t have to be a brilliant player to participate. Sometimes the stars align and everyone is ‘flying’, but in general, you just have to:

  • ask if you can join in
  • play at a sensitive volume
  • be able to play around 40 common tunes to intermediate standard.

The 44 young female adults who have won 1st, 2nd or 3rd in their county Fleadh in Connacht have definitely reached a standard whereby they could play in a session in Galway city.

Secondly: at senior level, 7 of the women who qualified for the Connacht Fleadh proceeded to the All-Ireland and won first prize in their competition at national level. That means that of all the people from Connacht who proceeded to national level and won first in the the All-Ireland last year, 41% of them were women. This is exactly in line with the national average:

last year, 41% of all senior instrumental champions in Ireland were female.

www.una.ie/all-ireland-fleadh-results-2018

The trend of girls achieving an exceptionally high standard of music performance is amplified at Leaving Cert. music level, where girls don’t just outnumber the boys, they slightly outperform them: in 2018 4.7% girls attaining an A, grade, compared to 3.2% of the boys.

So not only are the vast majority of female musicians good enough to play in a session, lots of them are exceptional musicians. So why are women not playing sessions in Galway?

Well, maybe women who play music don’t want to be professional musicians, or maybe they don’t like performing in public.

But the statistics suggest otherwise: there’s one undergraduate course in Ireland in Irish traditional music and dance – the B.A. in Irish Music and Dance in the University of Limerick. To date, of the 250 students who have graduated from this course, 63% are female.

UL also offer a masters degree in trad. Many musicians choose to initiate a performance career in the Irish traditional arts by doing this specialized postgraduate degree. Since 2003, 267 trad musicians have graduated from the MA in Irish Traditional Music in UL, presumably with professional development as their goal. Of that 267 graduates, 157 are women. So 60% of the people who have consciously decided to pursue Irish traditional music performance at a professional level are female.

So where are all these female trad music graduates? They’re not playing sessions in Galway; maybe they’re focusing on concert performance instead.

I’ve just analysed the concert line-up at the Fleadh for this year. Of the 145 instrumental musicians named in the programme, only 25% are female.

It is not my intention to bash the Fleadh – this male-oriented gender balance is typical of Irish traditional music programming. Ireland’s second biggest trad festival, Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, had a line-up of 38% females this year.

In fact, all this data shines a positive light on the competitions in Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann: they seem to be an accessible platform for young women to perform instrumental music. When doing this research, I remembered a conversation with a female professional musician years ago: she confided in me that winning an All-Ireland title on her instrument gave her the affirmation, and a kickstart, to ‘go pro’.  

However, this is the current situation: 41% of the 2018 senior All-Ireland instrumental champions are female, but only 25% of the instrumental musicians who got a gig at the 2019 All-Ireland Fleadh were female. At least 43% of the adult trad musicians in Galway are female, but only 14% of them are playing in sessions.

Is this a problem? If it is, what’s causing it? How can we change it? My purpose in doing this research was to get some clarity for myself. I thank Liz Coleman for raising this issue; I hope for respectful, constructive discussions on this subject, where we all check our privilege, and really try to listen to one another.

But right now, I’m off to play a few tunes. The best of luck to all competing and performing at the Fleadh. Here’s hoping there’s a warm and welcoming attitude towards everyone there, regardless of gender.

Úna


[1] https://www.examinations.ie/statistics/

[2] 2018 Leaving Certificate Music, Higher Level: https://www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/BI-ST-55538710.pdf

2018 Leaving Certificate Music, Ordinary Level: https://www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/BI-ST-62521982.pdf

Celtic Puns

Celtic music is a rich landscape, full of Hills and Vallelys. Here’s a selection of puns to date. (I’ve kept it brief, lest you think I’m making a mountain out of a Noel Hill.)

BAND NAMES

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers

Tradivarious

ALBUM TITLES

A Reel Piece of Work

A Sound Skin

Affairs Of The Harp

All You Need is Láimh

At My Grandfather’s Knee and Other Such Joints

Back To The (Seventeen) Eighties

Between the Jigs and the Reels

Changing Time

Drumshanbows

Green Grass, Blue Grass

Heirs & Graces

In Am Trátha (Well–Timed)

Louth Mouths From Drogheda

Morning Rory (Michael McGoldrick’s son Rory was born when the popular Oasis album was released)

Pleckin’ About

Pluckin’ Mad

Reed Only

The Great Danes

Timing is Everything

Trí Tones

Triple Harp Bypass

Wind & Reeds

Wonderwaltz

TUNES

Heir Conditioning Anne-Marie O’Farrell composed this tune while pregnant)

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Hibernian Rhapsody

How the West Was Won

Welcome to the Hotel Connemara

Speedy and Seasonal: 2nd Edition

After a year of experimenting with locally-grown vegetables, I’ve expanded my collection and slightly altered the format.

This time, I calculated every possible combination of vegetables grown monthly in Galway, Ireland.

I paired 2 vegetables with potato and a selection of protein sources available in Galway – plant-based, egg, cheese and fish.

I calculated how much of each protein source, combined with potato, would be needed to provide 20g of protein (the optimal amount for muscle protein synthesis[1].)

I then indexed all the combinations per month, and in order of popularity (as roughly indicated by Google search results).

I also listed them in alphabetical order (for that day when you sleep in, arrive late to the market and all that’s left is Jerusalem artichoke and swede. This way you don’t need to think about how much protein and potato you need for your basic dietary requirements – just look it up!)

So now, with 181 different vegetable combinations, here’s “Speedy and Seasonal”… take 2! Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh tairbhe as seo!

Úna

[1] https://www.precisionnutrition.com/protein-limit

Just how accurate is ‘in tune’?

Short answer: within 5.9 Hz of your target frequency.

The long answer, though, is a little more involved…

According to Jake Mandell, at 500 Hz, a normal person can reliably differentiate two tones 6 Hz apart. For harpists, this little tidbit of information is potentially revolutionary. It means that …

if I tune my harp string incorrectly by 5.9 Hz, or less, the average person won’t be hear that it’s out of tune. 

This may sound unimportant, but…  

I spend around 13 hours a year tuning my harp!

It takes me 3 minutes, around 250 times a year. If I can shorten my time by one minute every time I tune my harp, and still achieve a sound acceptable to most humans, I’ll save 4 hours of my life every year… and I’d gladly watch a few films rather than tune my harp, thank you very much!! 🙂

Quick caveat: 500 Hz is around the B natural above middle C. Does the normal person’s sensitivity to pitch change according to the register of the two tones; e.g. if we pluck 2 of the high strings on the harp, or 2 the lowest strings? Probably. Also, perhaps a normal person’s sensitivity to pitch changes according to whether two notes are sounded simultaneously OR one after the other. I’ve emailed an expert asking these questions and am currently waiting on their answer. But while I’m waiting, for a fun experiment, let’s presume that the average person’s differentiation of two tones is >6Hz at all registers of the harp, and for tones plucked simultaneously and consecutively. So…

For the average person to hear something as ‘in tune’ we have to make sure that the interval between 2 imprecisely-tuned strings is less than 6 Hz. 

That’s easy, right? I’ll just tune each string within 5.9 Hz of its correct pitch! Bingo!

But … we hear strings in relation to one another. If one string is 5.9 Hz sharp, and the next string played is 5.9 Hz flat, the interval between both pitches will be bigger than normal by 11.8 Hz, and therefore the average listener will hear the interval as ‘wrong’.

So my second idea is: let’s make sure that each string is tuned to within 2.95 Hz of its intended correct pitch. Now, if one string is 2.95 Hz sharp, and the one played after it is 2.95 Hz flat, the difference will be 5.9 Hz, which is less than 6 Hz, and therefore (in theory!) our listener will think it sounds beautiful, even though in theory it’s out of tune!!!

Next step: the unit of measurement we’ve been using so far is “Hertz”. However, the majority of harp tuners use a unit of measurement called ‘cents’. So we have to translate the 2.95 Hz into cents. 

I did this in an Excel file, which I include below; the column marked ‘2.95 Hz in cents’ is the hypothetical margin of error for a harpist so that they sound in tune… even when, precisely speaking, they’re not!! I’m a bit sceptical, myself… according to these calculations, the lowest C on my harp can be 77 cents out of tune and the average human won’t notice. I have more faith in humanity – I think they’ll notice the harp sounds a bit dodgy. Help me out here…  try tuning your harp with my crazy experiment and tell me how it goes!

Note: Hertz are logarithmic (they multiply from one tone to the next), cents are linear. So the margin of error for each string is different. 

LEVER HARP 8VENote2.95 Hz in cents
LEVER HARP 8VE 5C 276
LEVER HARP 8VE 5C # 2 /D b 272
LEVER HARP 8VE 5D 268
LEVER HARP 8VE 5D # 2 /E b 264
LEVER HARP 8VE 5E 260
LEVER HARP 8VE 4F 257
LEVER HARP 8VE 4F # 2 /G b 254
LEVER HARP 8VE 4G 251
LEVER HARP 8VE 4G # 2 /A b 248
LEVER HARP 8VE 4A 245
LEVER HARP 8VE 4A # 2 /B b 243
LEVER HARP 8VE 4B 240
LEVER HARP 8VE 4C 338
LEVER HARP 8VE 4C # 3 /D b 336
LEVER HARP 8VE 4D 334
LEVER HARP 8VE 4D # 3 /E b 332
LEVER HARP 8VE 4E 330
LEVER HARP 8VE 3F 328
LEVER HARP 8VE 3F # 3 /G b 327
LEVER HARP 8VE 3G 325
LEVER HARP 8VE 3G # 3 /A b 324
LEVER HARP 8VE 3A 323
LEVER HARP 8VE 3A # 3 /B b 321
LEVER HARP 8VE 3B 320
middle CC 419
LEVER HARP 8VE 3C # 4 /D b 418
LEVER HARP 8VE 3D 417
LEVER HARP 8VE 3D # 4 /E b 416
LEVER HARP 8VE 3E 415
LEVER HARP 8VE 2F 414
LEVER HARP 8VE 2F # 4 /G b 413
LEVER HARP 8VE 2G 413
LEVER HARP 8VE 2G # 4 /A b 412
LEVER HARP 8VE 2A 411
LEVER HARP 8VE 2A # 4 /B b 411
LEVER HARP 8VE 2B 410
LEVER HARP 8VE 2C 59
LEVER HARP 8VE 2C # 5 /D b 59
LEVER HARP 8VE 2D 58
LEVER HARP 8VE 2D # 5 /E b 58
LEVER HARP 8VE 2E 58
LEVER HARP 8VE 1F 57
LEVER HARP 8VE 1F # 5 /G b 57
LEVER HARP 8VE 1G 56
LEVER HARP 8VE 1G # 5 /A b 56
LEVER HARP 8VE 1A 56
LEVER HARP 8VE 1A # 5 /B b 55
LEVER HARP 8VE 1B 55
LEVER HARP 8VE 1C 65
LEVER HARP 8VE 1C # 6 /D b 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 1D 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 1D # 6 /E b 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 1E 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 0F 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 0F # 6 /G b 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0G 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0G # 6 /A b 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0A 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0A # 6 /B b 62

How To Find An Amazing (Arts) Accountant

A few years ago, I went to my accountant with a costing question. He took a 5-second glance at my carefully-prepared folder of data, and utterly ignored my question. I was grumbling about this to a harp student’s parent, when she said ‘Well, I used to be an accountant … how about I take a look?’ She took away my file, pored over it, spotted a serious mistake he’d overlooked, and got me a refund of over €700. My take-away? It’s vital to 

find an accountant who really cares about you.

In my experience, the self-employed artist is a financial paradox: they have to submit accounts, but there’s generally very little in them. ! All a typical self-employed artist really needs from an accountant is…

  • one initial meeting with explanation of business models, record-keeping, allowable expenses, preparing accounts
  • initial registration with ROS and a demo of how to file a tax return
  • answering a question via email once or twice a year.

So how does one find the perfect arts accountant? Well, in theory your accountant will have knowledge in, and experience of, the arts. However, in my experience, this is only secondary to them caring deeply about your welfare. The lady who helped me with my accounts question was a stay-at-home parent who used to do budgeting for a fuel company. She didn’t have a clue about artists’ exemption, and wasn’t au fait with lodging personal tax returns. However, she is a really lovely person, plus hyper-brainy. So with a couple of phonecalls to Revenue, a bit of Googling, lots of tea, and a bit of craic, we figured it out together.

If you’re both on the same page, you can figure out the finer points of an artist’s tax return with a few calls and the ability to read.

It’s also really important to be clear on an accountant’s fees, and what’s included in their service. In my experience, there’s a massive disparity in accountancy fees. From what I can see,

some accountants are like handbags. Their price is based on prestige, rather than the actual product.

For example, the exact same accountancy service – auditing – can cost €800 or €2000, based on the status of the firm. Filing a tax return can cost €240 or €0, depending on the accountant. This makes it even more important to research your accountancy options!

So if I could go back in time and get an accountant for the first time, I would… 

  1. Ask MULTIPLE, seniorself-employed people in my artform to recommend an accountant
  2. Interview multiple accountants, doing my best to evaluate who has integrity, getting information on how they structure and charge for their services, and asking about their experience working with artists. 

So if you’re at that stage, you may appreciate these brainstorming questions … 

  1. Is there any senior self-employed artists in your artform you have a good relationship with, whom you could ask for recommendations?
  2. Is there any self-employed artists outside your artform you could ask for recommendations? E.g. do you know any playwrights, authors, poets, composers, classical musicians, pop musicians, trad musicians, rock musicians, visual artists, sculptors, actors, directors, or theatre technicians you could contact? 
  3. Do you know any self-employed people, whose opinion you respect, who could recommend someone?
  4. Best of all… do you know of anyone in your artform who double-jobs as an accountant? E.g. a theatre maker who did accountancy in college, an uilleann piper who’s an accountancy teacher?

I would ring up 3 people from that list and ask for their recommendations. (If I couldn’t think of any self-employed referees, I would simply Google ‘accountant arts <my local area>’).

I would ring up my shortlist of recommended (or Googled) accountants, and informally interview them on the phone / during a free initial consultation. 

I would then choose an accountant based on these factors, in this order …

  • their integrity – this is crucial.
  • how much of a good communicator they are – if you don’t understand what’s going on with your money, you are dangerously vulnerable. It is vital that they communicate clearly and promptly about your finances.
  • their availability – it’s no use having a genius accountant if you’re not a priority for them. 
  • their location – I like to meet my accountant in person for an initial consultation, and thereafter once every year / two years. 
  • their cost – all other things being equal…
  • how much I like them – bring on the craic!
  • their experience in the arts – this is a cherry on the comptrolling cake! 

So that’s my two bitcoins. I hope you learn from my experience, and that these ideas help you find a brilliant book-keeper!!

Intentional Dialogue

Lately, a good friend sent me a link to a video on ‘Intentional Dialogue’, a relationship tool invented by Harville Hendrix. I found it really helpful for changing an argument into a constructive conversation.

For me, the best approach was to watch the video. Here’s a brief summary:

  • The person who wants the dialogue is the ‘sender’, the other is the ‘receiver’.
  • The sender asks for an intentional dialogue. The receiver agrees to do intentional dialogue within the next 24 hours. (pro tip: ensure neither of you are hungry or tired before beginning the intentional dialogue.)
  • Sender says ‘When … , I feel ….’
  • Receiver says ‘What I’m hearing you say is . . . ‘ and repeats the sender’s words back to them
  • Receiver asks ‘Did I get it?’
  • Receiver asks ‘Is there more?’
  • When the sender has finished speaking, the receiver puts themselves in their shoes, and empathises. ‘I can imagine that when …. ‘

There are full instructions here: https://www.relationshipjourney.com/dialoguetipsdawn-print.html

I suspect that if we all listened more deeply, our relationships, plus our music, would improve! Here’s to more listening in our world.

xxÚ

Eating Seasonally in Ireland

Broccoli tomato

Eating local is key for lessening carbon footprint and opimtising scrumptiousness. But for meal-planning, that requires knowing what comes out of the earth, when! Cáit Curran, an organic and biodynamic farmer in Co. Galway kindly took the time to list all the veggies that come into season simultaneously for me. Here’s the low-down and dirty on the, well, low-down and dirty! 🙂

JANUARY: beetroot, cabbage – winter, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, mixed leaves, parsnips, potatoes, sprouts, swedes

FEBRUARY: beetroot, cabbage – winter, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, mixed leaves, parsnips, potatoes, sprouts, swedes

MARCH: beetroot, broccoli – sprouting, cabbage – winter, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnips, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, swedes

APRIL: asparagus, broccoli – sprouting, cabbage – winter, kale, leeks, lettuce, mixed leaves, potatoes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach

MAY: asparagus, broccoli – sprouting, cabbage – spring, carrots, lettuce, mixed leaves, rhubarb, scallions, spinach

JUNE: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage – spring, carrots, cauliflower, courgette , cucumber, garlic, lettuce, mixed leaves, peas, potatoes – early, scallions, spinach

JULY: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, courgette, cucumber, garlic, lettuce, mixed leaves, peas, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, sweetcorn, tomato

AUGUST: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, courgette, cucumber, lettuce, mixed leaves, peas, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, sweetcorn, tomato

SEPTEMBER: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, courgette, cucumber, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnip, peas, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, sweetcorn, tomato

OCTOBER: beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, kale, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnip, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, swede, tomato

NOVEMBER: beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnip, potato, scallions, spinach, sprouts, swede

DECEMBER: beetroot, cabbage, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, lettuce, mixed leaves, parnsip, potato, scallions, spinach, sprouts, swede

My next step is going to be some recipes incorporating seasonally-available yumminess … watch this space!

xxÚ

Decision-making: advice from a priest, a Google exec, and Tony Robbins

One thing I really struggle with is making decisions. For years I’ve read books and articles, listened to podcasts, and asked wise people (including a karate black belt and a priest) for advice on how to make good decisions. Lately I decided (! 🙂 ) to synthesize all the pertinent ideas I’ve found into one system.

1. Avoid and minimise

Decision-making is what shapes our lives, but it also takes time and energy. So how about conserving your decision-making mojo for the big ones? Be like Barack Obama, who only wears 2 colours of suit, and if you can avoid a decision, do.

2. Limit the time allowed

Well, if I’m trying to decide whether to do an hour-long gig, it’s totally ridiculous to spend more than an hour on this decision-making process. I could have done the gig while deliberating.! I agree wholeheartedly with former Google exec, David Girouard: WHEN a decision is made is much more important than WHAT decision is made. So before making a decision, I ask myself…

  • How much time is this decision worth? I agree with David Girouard’s advice: “There are decisions that deserve days of debate and analysis, but the vast majority aren’t worth more than 10 minutes.” And a decision should definitely take less time than the duration of the longest outcome, e.g. in the above case, less than one hour.
  • I also ask myself: what’s the deadline?

3. Make minor decisions in 1 minute or less…

If I have to make a minor decision quickly, I use my friend Father Ciarán’s trick: I imagine myself vividly doing option (a), then option (b), and simply choose what feels best.

4. Make major decisions using OOC/EMR

If it’s a complex decision I use Tony Robbins’ OOC/EMR system, which I find supremely helpful. Here’s an article on Tony’s site where it’s outlined: https://www.tonyrobbins.com/ask-tony/making-tough-decisions/ My summarised, slightly amended version follows…

Step 1: GET A PEN AND PAPER.

You’re going to write out all your workings on good ‘ole-fashioned paper. As Tony cleverly observes, if you try to keep it all in your head you’ll just end up looping over the same facts and conclusions. Boy do I identify with that…

Step 2: DESIRED OUTCOME?

Write your desired outcome on top of the page. If there’s a few, write them all down.

Step 3: WHY?

Write the reason(s) you want this / these outcomes. Tony Robbins says knowing the ‘why’ means you’re more likely to execute the ultimate decision. I agree, but I also find knowing the ‘why’ is a good reality check to see if this outcome is really what you want. E.g. Desired outcome: do a triathlon. Why? because I want to improve my swimming. Mental review: well, Úna, you could just go to swimming lessons… or do the swimming section of a triathlon relay team… or … you get the idea. It’s a great tool for clarifying what you really want out of the situation. Once you’ve confirmed your desired outcome is what you really want, and you know why, it’s time to brainstorm your…

Step 4: OPTIONS

Write out each potential course of action for achieving your desired outcome, no matter how nutty.

Step 5: CONSEQUENCES

Write out the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option.

Step 6: EVALUATE

Evaluate the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option. I answer the following questions for each pro and con:

Will this fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (y/n)

How likely is it to fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (0-10)

What’s the probability this will occur? (0-100%)

What’s the emotional consequence of this option?

When evaluating I may need a bit more information; if possible, a real-life sample is invaluable. E.g. when deciding ‘When doing artistic research on chords, should I also make a harp tutorial on the nice chords I discover?’ I played around with one chord (5 seconds), and then made a mock tutorial of that process with my phone (37 seconds). Knowing the difference in the duration of the tasks, and my focus while doing the tasks, was invaluable in helping me make the best decision.

Step 7: MITIGATE

Review the ‘cons’ and brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate them. E.g. I was asked to do a last-minute gig when my harp was at the harp-maker’s being restrung. I would be performing on a loaned harp, so it wouldn’t be my usual performance standard, and I was worried an influential guest would form a low opinion of my playing. I rang the event organiser to check if The BigWig would be present, and … was told they wouldn’t be there. Con eliminated! Did the gig to the delight of all concerned!

Step 8: RESOLVE

This, for me, is one of the great gifts of the OOC/EMR. In the words of Tony: “This is your best option – and because you’ve looked at so many other possibilities, you know that to be true. Resolve that, no matter what happens, this option will give you a win.” So the final step is to decide, and then to be confident in your decision. Then, of course, you EXECUTE. He makes the great point that it’s better to make a decision, and subsequently change approach if necessary, than to remain in ‘paralysis by analysis’.

…. So that’s it!! I have finally decided upon The Úna-Guide to Decision-Making! 🙂 Below is a chart I designed to help myself out the next time I use OOC/EMR. Click here to download and use, and I hope it brings you as much clarity and motivation as it did me. Go n-éirí leat with your decision-making, and may your decisions bring growth, and joy!!

Úna

Lost your keys?!

Let’s set the scene: one of my fave songs starts in F# minor, flirts with F# mixolydian, and then starts the chorus firmly in F# dorian. I’m currently sifting through 16 songs like this to figure out which to put on the album, plus experimenting with harp accompaniment. My head is MELTED! Fortunately a few years back I made this quick-reference table for a workshop on trad accompaniment. I hope to goodness I get this done ASAP, and here’s hoping the table might help you too some day!

ÚNA’S TABLE OF TONAL CENTRES

 MAJORMIXOLYDIANDORIANMINOR
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭, F♭C flat majorG flat mixD flat dorianA flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭G flat majorD flat mixA flat dorianE flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭D flat majorA flat mixE flat dorianB flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭ A flat majorE flat mixB flat dorianF minor
B♭, E♭, A♭E flat majorB flat mixF dorianC minor
B♭, E♭B flat majorF mixC dorianG minor
BF majorC mixG dorianD minor
NO # OR C majorG mixD dorianA minor
F# G majorD mixA dorianE minor
F# C# D majorA mixE dorianB minor
F# C# G# A majorE mixB dorianF# minor
F# C# G# D#E majorB mixF# dorianC# minor
F# C# G# D# A# B majorF# mixC# dorianG# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E#F# majorC# mixG# dorianD# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E# B#C# majorG# mixD# dorianA# minor