EMAIL CELIA RAMSAY AT, or call 510-995-6615



April 8, Saturday: Libby McLaren and Robin Flower perform at the Freight and Salvage, 8:00pm (Celia will perform backup vocals)

April 15, Saturday: Fortunate Strangers at The Monkey House Theater from 7:30 - 10:00pm



April 22, Saturday; Sebastopol Contra Dance 8:00 - 10:30pm

May 6, Saturday; Nevada City Dance 8:00 - 11:00pm

May 13, Saturday; San Rafael Contra Dance, 8:00 - 11:00pm

September 2, Saturday; Nevada City Dance 8:00 - 11:00pm

October 14, Saturday; Reno Contra Dance 7:30 - 10:30


Carmony Progress - Level One

Libby McLaren and I have finished recording our "Level One" lessons for Carmony: Learn to Sing Harmony While You Drive. We're very pleaseed with how it sounds, and think that it will provide a great foundation for learning basic harmony singing. Now we're onto planning for Levels Two and Three. Level One is very basic with simple explanations and familiar tunes to learn and practice against. By that, I mean that you can learn both the melody and the harmony, but because we provide tracks of both, once you've learned, say, the harmony, you can practice singing "with" us, by singing your part against the track of us singing the melody. Or the other way around!

We're pretty sure that once you've mastered the Level one material to your satisfaction, you'll be keen to take on some more-challenging songs. That's where Level Two and Three will come in! Also, we plan to provide PDFs of all lyrics and muscial notation on our respective websites. There's a reason we don't want to include these in the CD package: Libby and I both feel - no, let's go further and say, we know - learning by ear is important for harmony singing -

It's the best way to let your brain gather it all in! 

Why? Harmony singing requires you accustom yourself to singing a part that is different from what others around you might be singing at the same time. You have to learn to hear differently, but if your eyes get involved in the process (reading notes or lyrics) you are using a dfifferent part of the brain than if you're listening to learn. Based on our many years of experience, we know this is the most organic and successful way to do it. But we also know some folks will want the paperwork to refer to - especially those who are music sight-readers. So anyone who is keen to have the supporting paperwork can get it - but you'll have to work a little bit! Besides - you better not be reading while you're driving!


Fortuante Strangers offered a lovely short Celtic music program at Mountain Music Parlor in Reno, Nevada that was followed by an Irish jam session. Mountain Music Parlor is the dream child of Don & Renee Lauderback. It's a new music store, classroom and performance venue all rolled into one, and we really hope they are successful. If you're Reno-local, check them out.

For Fortunate Strangers, it was a nice way to start our career together; we had an appreciative audience and many folks brought instruments and played afterward. One gal didn't bring her guitar, but she got to "audition" one from the store!

Joe, Kathy and I are gearing up for our second concert at my digs in North Berkeley on May 28 at 8:00pm, and personally, I think it's time to start reserving your seats. You can do that by emailing me or calling 510-995-6615 (be sure to leave a voicemail if I don't pick-up!) And if you'd like to host us in a house concert in your home, email or call, and I'll tell you how that might work!



The Time I Met a Famous Music Guy

When I was 20 years old, I briefly lived in Cambridge and worked at the Harvard Coop. The Coop (said like "chicken coop" though it was short for Harvard Cooperative Society) is Harvard University's student store and it has changed greatly since I worked there. It used to have a fine gifts and pen counter, where you could buy an expensive Montblanc fountain pen, it had a poster store in an annex you accessed from a skyway, and a wonderful bookstore. It also had every conceivable stationery supply you could think of, and as someone with some knowledge of calligraphy, I was allowed to be in charge of art supplies.

One day I was restocking, when I noticed an elegant, elderly gentleman studying a list in his hand and looking a bit perplexed. I went over and asked if he needed help finding anything, and directed him to the ruled legal pads he sought. But I noticed his very thick glasses and that he moved a bit delicately, so I asked if he would like me to gather the things on his list. He was grateful for the help, and after we'd accumulated his items, I opened a cash register by the front door so he wouldn't have to walk all the way to the back to be rung up. Now, if you were a grad student or faculty at Harvard, you could get a Coop Card - a charge account card - and this gentleman presented his to me. As I was imprinting the card (as we did in those days), I naively said, "Oh, that's funny - your name is Randall Thompson, just like the composer." Then as my brain began to actually process the context, I looked up at his face, his eyes large behind his lenses, and I blurted, "Wait! You're THE Randall Thompson! Oh, my god, I've sung several of your choral works, and I LOVE them!" Then I blushed and allowed that now I was acting like an idiot, and he kindly said he was delighted to have a fan. I finished my encounter with him by saying,

"Well, I'm so glad I was nice to you before I knew you were FAMOUS!"

But you know, I wasn't making it up. In high school, I sang alto in the chamber choir and we performed both the Frostiana (poems by Robert Frost set to music with a very New England sensibility) and Peaceable Kingdom that Thompson had written. They were among several choral works that still stand tall in my mind. Our choral director, John Pleasant, was partial to contemporary classical pieces (late 1800s to mid-1900s) and we sang works by Irving Fine, Samuel Barber and Gabriel Fauré and I learned so much about harmony from singing these pieces. In fact, I would say that if you wanted to learn to sing harmony, a fine starting point is to join a no-audition choral group. You'd be one of many voices on a part, so you'd get to swim with the school. And no matter whose work you sing, you will drink in harmony - and it will intoxicate you! 

This last few weeks have been delightfully busy with studio work with Libby McLaren on Carmony: Learn to Sing Harmony While You Drive; we got our "level one" speaking parts recorded and will soon get onto recording our songs and their harmonies. I've also been rehearsing for an upcoming "giglet" with Fortunate Strangers at a new store/venue in Reno called Mountain Music Parlor (see below), which boasts a music store, performance space and classrooms for teaching, so if you're in the Reno area, check them out!

I also called a family dance for Sunridge School in Sebastopol, the Ukiah Contra Dance, and did a workshop at the Freight and Salvage for beginning dancers. Each of these had a distinctly different texture to them, but all were fun! I wasn't sure how the Freight workshop would go; regular Contra dances have beginning lessons, so I was prepared to find out that this was an unnecessary thing. But a few of the folks who attended who had a little previous experience said they were really helped by it, and the folks who'd never danced before said they felt braver about dancing in general. So we'll see if there are opportunities for more beginner workshops! 



Last month, I announced my new band with Kathy and Joe Bly, told you a bit about how we know each other from Lark Camp, and how we happened to run into each other in Ireland. And I mentioned our name, Fortunate Strangers - but not how we chose the name.

Naming anything is a challenge. You want to choose something that will endure and that suggests something true about the thing you are naming. So we tried listing words that we liked and then pairing them. We got online and Googled to find out if there were other bands that already had the names we were considering.

And then, fueled by a bit of whisky, we discovered name generators! There are generators for your Star Wars name and hipster business name, baby name generators, and gangster name generators. (My gangster name is "Salami Washington".) Then Joe discovered an Irish Band name generator, which gave us one we seriously considered - Last Night's Misfortune. We worried it sounded sorta sad, so we devised a plan to generate a new joke for what "last night's misfortune" was for each gig - you can imagine the possibilities! But after living with Last Night's Misfortune for a week, we threw it out. It just wasn't us. Kathy and I also wisely declined Joe's suggestion of Bile Geyser.

Ultimately, it was the original word-pairings that produced Fortunate Strangers. Once we settled on it, we came to the realization that the name was significant because of our chance meeting in Ireland. IT ACTUALLY FEELS LIKE THE NAME CHOSE US!


Libby McLaren and I have been working on our program and have all our "Level One" songs chosen and arranged. Our Big Idea is that if you use this lesson CD, you'll be listening and learning by ear! By some magnificence of the brain's inner workings, you tend to retain songs you learn by ear - and as evidence for this I suggest you think of songs you learned in childhood. In most cases, I think you'll be able to recall lyrics and tunes fairly easily. So our hope is that students will study the lessons on the CD without benefit of written lyrics or music. Of course, we KNOW that someone will want them, so we are writing lyrics and arranging music to send as PDFs to anyone who DEMANDS them. By the time you read this, we will have met with our favorite sound engineer, Derek Bianchi, to map out the recording schedule. Things are moving along!


Saturday, March 5, from 1:00 - 3:00pm, I will be teaching a beginners' Contra Dance workshop at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley for $10/person. If you have always wanted to try Contra Dance, but were timid about being a beginner at a regular dance where many people already know what they're doing, here's your chance. We'll have live music, with Patti Cobb on piano and James MacQueen on fiddle (of Stringfire fame), and the dance floor in front of the stage at the Freight will be cleared just for us.

Is this for you? If you can walk and sorta know right from left, YOU CAN DO THIS! Appropriate for adults, teens and children who can dance independently with people they don't know. Oh,



You're somewhere far from home when, wow - you see someone you know! Has that ever happened to you?

Once in 1985, I was in Pagan, Burma, on top of a Buddhist temple, truly out in the middle of nowhere most people go. Another tourist kept looking at me, and I at her. I finally said, "You are so familiar, where are you from?" It turned out she was from Palo Alto, CA and frequented the bookstore where I worked at the time. I had sold her the Lonely Planet guide she was using for the trip.

Another time I was shepherding my kids through London's Heathrow Airport and noticed a friend in the departure lounge. "Paul?", I called out. He looked up and without another word, no oh-my-gawd-it's-you or anything, he said, "See - this is why I could NEVER have an affair!" He'd just been in Italy, as we had, and was returning to San Francisco on the same flight. It sorta makes sense that people you know would share similar interests, including in travel. But that doesn't mitigate the loveliness of the small-world meeting, or the slightly eerie aspect of the coincidence.

I had another one of those experiences in Ireland in 2010. Kent and I were touristing in the town of Dingle. Someone had recommended a visit to O'Flaherty's Pub, maybe to sing, but at least to listen, so we wandered in one evening, and immediately across the room, I saw someone I knew. Someone I knew and his wife. Only I couldn't place how I knew them. Kent doubted I could possibly know someone here in this somewhat remote part of Ireland, but I strode across the room to find that the gent of the couple felt he knew me, too. After a brief conversation, we figured it out: Lark Camp. Joe Bly and his wife Kathy, were hiking the Dingle Way with backpacks and the odds were we'd not have bumped into each other, but - we did. We shared a few beers and some fine conversation, and parted company, but that experience drew us closer next year at Camp.

And here we are, six Larks later. 

We've learned we have similar tastes in music and goals for performing, so we've decided to take a shot at being together as a band named Fortunate Strangers. A very fitting name for a Celtic band, don't you think? We'll have news to share as we progress, but we are thinking of having a house concert at Chez Moi on May 28. You might want to pencil that in and watch for updates!

We're probably not going to call it "Carmony", but if you've been reading these newsletters thus far, you'll know I'm referring to our "learn to sing harmony" CD. Libby McLaren and I are very much in the planning stages of the project, but things are taking shape and we're having fun. (How many people actually get as excited about the work of planning, as actually executing a project? I don't know, but we do!)
And good planning must happen first. We've decided on a format: three "levels" of lessons that include rounds, familiar songs and not-so-familiar songs. We'll include a little theory (minimal for the first level) and a whole lotta singing to learn and practice - either while you're driving, or hanging out at home making dinner. We've got level one sketched out, the melodies & harmonies chosen. So much more to do, but we're making progress!

May the New Year Fill All Our Hearts With Music!

Snippets of things are flashing through my mind, but first I want to wish you all HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Snippet #1: I figured out how to connect my electronic keyboard to my computer so I can write music faster as midi files! Yes folks, I just play it, and it flows through the wires of my stage piano to my computer and into a software program and onto the paper. Endless possibilities for this old dog and her new tricks! See - I wrote a dance tune! 

Snippet #2: In my October newsletter, I mentioned that Libby McLaren and I plan to create a CD that teaches harmony-singing. Dance caller pal, Ric Goldman wondered if it should be called "Carmony". Or he countered his own suggestion with "Auto-tune"?

Snippet #3: Libby and I have been shepherding that very CD through the production planning stage, and we're going to start recording in January 2016. Obviously, it'll take a little while to get it finished, but watch this space for progress reports! I'm excited about it!

Snippet #4: I got a testimonial from a voice student! Here's what was said:
"Celia, I had a wonderful comment yesterday that I was able to 'hold my own' & seemed more confident. I felt it too & absolutely loved hearing it & attribute the improvement to our working together. Thank you so much!" 


Folks are already reserving seats to hear Alan Reid and Rob Van Sante at my house - the perfect way to fight the El Niño damp that will be entering your bones, come the end of January! Alan and Rob present a lively show rooted largely in the music of Scotland; its rich and varied history and landscape provides much of the inspiration for their material. The duo combines their musical talents to offer seamless harmonies supported by sensitive arrangements on piano, guitars and accordion. I attended Alan's classes at Swannanoa and was very taken with his music and humor; I am sure you will be, too! Email me to reserve your seats for Saturday, February 6 at 8:00pm in North Berkeley. I'll send you directions once you reserve - and as you know, you must reserve a seat because they are limited!

For many years, it was a dream of mine to perform there, and I have done several times. But now I've gone a step further and I'm proud to be a recent addition to the board of directors for the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley. The Freight is still adjusting to its relatively new location across from Berkeley Rep, but that block has become dynamic as a performing arts district, with the Aurora Theater and Berkeley Jazz School also on the same block of upper Addison Street. I know many people miss the older, funkier venue of yore on lower Addison, but the newer location is full of possibility and its board is completely dedicated to the local music community. This is not my first time on a non-profit board (I've been on four others!), but it's one of the best group of directors I've had the pleasure of working with.