Congratulations to Nina!

Introducing Nina, my featured musician for July and April!

Shortly after Nina and her wonderful family moved to the area, I noticed her beautiful voice and serene presence in the Family Folk Machine and my heart leaped in recognition of a true up-and-coming artist.

Nina’s innate talent is matched ounce for ounce by sheer determination and she has already accomplished an incredible amount as a fiddler, not the least of which was her May 2017 appearance in City Circle‘s ANNIE GET YOUR GUN both as an actor and an onstage fiddler. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for our Nina.



Ready, Set, Summer!

Borrowing from my charming, talented and articulate pal Jeffrey C. Capps because it all applies to me too (and why reinvent the wheel?):

Dear Friends,

It’ll be a busy musical weekend for me, and I hope to see many of you!
On Friday, I am honored to join Tara in opening for John Rapson’s must-see Hot Tamale Louie benefit for IC Compassion at The Mill. We’ll be performing a couple of tunes during the 8 o’clock hour and the show will follow at 9. This is a really incredible show and a great cause! More info here.


On Saturday, I’ll be performing twice as part of the Longfellow Front Porch Music Festival. Family Folk Machine will kick off the afternoon with a 2 p.m. set at 604 Grant Street, and Jeffrey C. Capps and His Almost All-Girl Band will immediately follow on the very same porch. Grab your lawn chair, and come on out! More info here.

And if you’re one to plan ahead, please mark your calendar for Saturday, July 1 when Tara and I will make our annual appearance at the Iowa City Farmers Market. We’ll play from 9 until 11 a.m. on the temporary stage right outside of City Hall!

Thanks so much!

Sound as ever,


I also have two other related events this weekend: at 4 pm on Saturday, I am honored to accompany on guitar some of my fiddle students as part of the Longfellow Front Porch Music Festival. At 9 pm on Saturday, the Hot Tamale Louie ensemble will be playing at the Motley Cow. This is a ticketed event and it will sell out so look sharp.

Happy summer!!

Congratulations to Ambrose!

Introducing Ambrose, my featured musician for May and June!

Ambrose’s talent for composition has been emerging alongside his pianistic abilities beginning very early on in our musical adventures together.

Ambrose has the unique and precious ability of finding and revealing stories in his music. I feel so grateful for the gift of witnessing him discover himself as an artist.

May 2017 Featured Musician (1)-page-001

Congratulations to Anna!

Introducing Anna, my featured musician for March and April!

Anna and I both have April birthdays, we both love to play fiddle and we are both devoted fans of Hamilton so we have plenty in common.

Anna is an enthusiastic and creative musician who takes risks and reaps the rewards of her courage. She has so much joy to share and is truly a gift to all who know her.



But, it isn’t.

A is for Accordion

When I was twenty, I worked in the preschool classroom of a child care center and got to know the children and families really well. Since I was known to be studying music in school, I was often asked by parents to give some early music lessons to their children or to assist with music practicing for the older siblings who were already in lessons.

I was practically a baby myself and an inexperienced teacher but my advantage was that I knew the children so well.  I was taking a year off from being a full-time student to establish residency in Iowa and so I was at the child care center all morning and most of every afternoon. We ate our snack together at those squat little tables. I watched them squabble on the playground. I observed them making discoveries about words during story time. They were all bridging that magical time between being a baby and becoming a kid and it was fascinating to see the possibilities of the world bloom before their eyes.

There is one piano lesson that I will never forget. We’ll call him Jacob (not his real name) and he was about four years old. Jacob was a cheerful and comical little boy, very well liked by his friends. He was unusually proficient on the playground for his age, always the fastest kid to get to the slide and the first to tackle a new piece of playground equipment. No fear, no hesitation, just all energy and determination. I had already been working at the child care center part time for a year or so before that and I remembered him in the toddler room, always zooming around with a big smile.

I can’t remember what exactly we were doing that day at the lesson but I remember how his little fingers stumbled on the keys and how much grouchier he was than usual.

Jacob was a really smart and charming little boy and he was adept at steering conversations and situations to suit his purposes so I was never surprised when he became rather chatty. “I have a question”, he would say, and he would ask something vaguely relevant to the situation: “why are there black keys?” or “could I fit inside the piano?”

His frustration waned as his questions became sillier until:

“Why do I play piano, Tara?”

“What do you mean?” I laughed, taken aback. “Because it’s fun! We play music because it’s fun.”

“But, it isn’t.”

Do you know that, until that moment, it had actually never occurred to me that a music lesson can be the first truly difficult task that a child has ever encountered? Learning to walk or to talk is no small feat either but the natural scaffolding of each of those skills makes their acquisition so gradual that the challenge can go largely unnoticed, except by the doting parents.

The good news is that learning to play an instrument becomes fun, more so over time, and that a positive relationship between a teacher and a student can carry both of them until then.

That conversation so long ago has informed my teaching so much through the years. I think back on it often to remind me of the enormity of what I’m asking of these amazing little people.

Beyond that, it has sustained me when my own creative work feels crushing and terrible and worthless. We tell ourselves that our work is hard because we’re lacking in some way. That’s not it. It’s hard because it’s hard.


Congratulations to Waylon!

Introducing Waylon, my featured musician for January and February!

Waylon and I had several fun and productive years working at the piano and when he recently he discovered the joy of the mandolin, he clicked with it immediately.

From his picture, you might guess that Waylon is a delight and you’d be correct. I especially love listening to Waylon and his mother Carrie make music (and treasured memories) together with Waylon on mandolin and Carrie on guitar.


Polly’s Pantry Partners

Inspired by both the tireless generosity of volunteer superhero Polly Nichols and my love of alliteration, I’m launching a new opportunity for my home music studio: Polly’s Pantry Partners.

Many of you surely know Polly already, whether from her work helping to found the Coralville Ecumenical Food Pantry, from her joyful and loving presence at New Song Episocopal Church, in her professional capacity as a psychologist or in any number of other ways Polly has been blessing our community for decades.

The basket pictured above sits in my entryway. I invite you to bring a non-perishable food donation to your lesson any given week and I will deliver to the pantry each time the basket fills to capacity. You’re welcome to participate in any way that you wish: every week, once a month, or not at all. A jar of peanut butter every once in a while might not seem like a big deal but that’s one more jar of peanut butter gracing a pantry shelf than there was before. There’s no effort too small to make a difference.

As the far more eloquent cultural anthropologist Margeret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”




This is me at my happiest onstage.


Collaboration is where it’s at for me. I write these words as I listen to some tracks from a project in the works with my bandmate Keith Reins and our friend, piper Jon Cooper. The final recording session is scheduled for early next year but I can’t keep to myself how proud and grateful I am to be part of this project and to soon(ish) be able to share it with the world.


To all my friends who are as fascinated by (okay, obsessed with) folk music as I am: go read Keith’s essays about this project. They are insightful, hilarious, and thought provoking.

Special thanks to Ginger Joslin VeDepo for taking these photos at the 2015 St. Louis Tionol.