Friday, December 28, 2012

CTO ... Winston-Salem Dulcimer Festival Poster, Corrected

I posted this announcement several weeks ago.  It turns out the date for the concert was incorrect on the original poster.  Here's the corrected version.  Feel free to share with other dulcimer enthusiasts.  Don't miss this fantastic dulcimer event, right here in our own "backyard". Make plans to attend.  Mark your calendars today!

Check This Out ... The website is still under construction, but you can get a sneak preview of what's being planned for the Winston-Salem Dulcimer Festival at W-S Dulcimer Fest 2013

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Playing Music for Others is the Greatest Gift

I'm continually surprised at the people I run across in the community who make a point of telling me how much they have enjoyed hearing my music.  It happens quite frequently this time of year because I've been "out" there a lot, performing special music during church worship services, presenting programs at holiday events, playing at private parties. People get quite specific about how a particular tune made them feel, or how the ambiance of the evening changed their mood. It's clear to me that music touches us deeply, and one never knows how far-reaching the effect might be.

One thing I have learned for sure. The opportunity to play music for others is a gift. It's not about me. It's not about the beautiful arrangements and carefully worked out medleys. It's not about a perfectly executed program. It's simply about the music. It's about the real-time energy that flows from me ... my heart, my mind, my soul ... through my hands, into the hammers, onto the strings, and through the air, creating an ocean of sound that washes over the listener, awakening him / her to a different way of being.

Let us all aspire to use that great Ocean of Sound to serve the way of understanding and love.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

CTO ... Ruth Smith's Music Keeps Me Sane

I stuck Steve and Ruth Smith's holiday recording, "An Appalachian Winter", into my car's cd player a couple of weeks ago, and there it has stayed, keeping me company as I drive around town, completing the many errands that must be accomplished this time of year. Gentle instrumentals, played from the heart ... just the thing to cultivate a little calm at the center of this busy time!

Check This Out ... If you haven't heard Steve and Ruth's music, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Steve and Ruth Smith - Appalachian Winter

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

'Tis the week before Christmas ...

... and all through the house, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. The decorated tree looks good over there.
And I'm in my 'jammies, despite things to do, but, boy, am I sick!  At least it's not flu.

Just when you think you've got everything figured out and neatly fit into a manageable schedule, life throws a curve ball (or three) forcing a re-prioritization of "things". That's how the last few days have been around here. You never know what the day will bring!

But at the end of the day, it does help to remember ....
What is done, is done;
What is left undone, remains undone.

From my cozy perch on the couch, covered with a blanket of fleece, I'm thinking about what gives me joy ... the presence of family and friends, gathering around the table - even for something as simple as soup and bread, watching the effects of Christmas magic on the face of a child, singing songs of old.

Today I don't have any profound dulcimer-playing words of wisdom other than this ...
Do what you love ~ love what you do. Take time to play some music!

The Light is descending, hopes are high. Embrace your family, the solstice is nigh.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday's Muse

"There is no boundary between the music and myself.  The thin layer that separated me from it has dissolved.  Now, I am the music.  This is a time of great joy."
~ Ravi Shankar
RIP April 7, 1920 - December 11, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

CTO ... Snark tuners make great stocking stuffers!

I just placed an order for a bunch of Snark SN-2 Chromatic Tuners, taking advantage of a $0 shipping and handling deal on Amazon.  If anyone is having a tuning emergency, they'll be here before Christmas!

I keep tuners on hand for my students, and I love the Snark. It's so easy to use!  It clips right onto your instrument, so no separate wire and contact mic.  It's convenient, precise, and reasonably priced.  And the ones I ordered today are RED!

Check This Out ... Looking for the perfect little stocking stuffer for the musician in your life?  Or the next cool gadget to keep in your gig bag?  Check out the Snark tuners.

PS  Be sure to shop around! You'll see quite a variation in prices. You should be able to find the chromatic Snark online for $10-15.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Make Your Practice REAL

I hear my students complain about how hard it is to maintain a decent level of enthusiasm for practicing. Here's an idea ... schedule a gig for yourself. It's a great way to make your practice more meaningful. It gives you a deadline and forces you to focus on getting it right.

If you're feeling shy, start by playing background music. One of my long-time dulcimer buddies refers to this as "potted plant" music. Believe me, playing in the background and playing on stage are two different experiences. Do yourself a favor. Take yourself out of the limelight. In some settings, the audience won't even know live music is being played. They'll think it's a cd!

What's that you say? Nobody's beating down the door with invitations for you to play? No worries! There are plenty of ways to make your own gigs.

  • Play at a family gathering or neighborhood party.
  • Play at church, nursing homes, the VA hospital, or your local Hospice facility.
  • Present an Elder-Hostel program.
  • Support your favorite non-profit organization by playing at a fundraising event.
  • Play in the park or at your local farmers' market.
  • Provide music during brunch or sign up for open mic at your favorite local cafe.
  • You may be sick of politics, but political functions are great places to hone performance skills.

My first public appearance was at a fundraiser ... a contra dance sponsored by our local non-profit Education Foundation. Without much fanfare, I set up my dulcimer in the middle of the floor during "intermission".  I played a few tunes. I don't think many folks paid much attention. But Jim did. He happened to be assistant coach of my son's soccer team. As I was packing up he approached me and said, "I didn't know you played the hammered dulcimer! I play the fiddle. We should get together and play some music sometime." That's how Blue Moon Rising got started. The two of us invited two other friends and formed a band that played together for 10 + years.

So, use your imagination. Put yourself out there! You never know what it might lead to.  And it might be just the thing to take your practice and playing to the next level.

PS ... This time of year, some venues are overrun with do-gooders, and I do mean that in the most positive way.  Scout troops, Sunday school classes, amateur musicians :-) are all thinking about caroling and looking for ways to spread good cheer.  Think about scheduling an appearance in January or February when entertainment is more scarce.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday's Muse

"There is no such thing as a difficult piece of music. A piece is either impossible or easy. The process whereby it migrates from one category to the other is known as practicing."
~ Sir Yehudi Menuhin

Friday, December 7, 2012

CTO ... Plans for Winston-Salem Dulcimer Fest are Underway

Check This Out ... Hot off the press! What a line up!

The Winston-Salem Dulcimer Festival takes place annually on the first full weekend of May. It's a great place to meet up with old and new dulcimer buddies. Expect top-notch instruction, inspiring and entertaining concerts, jam sessions, dulcimer related cd's, books, and accessories for sale, and a whole lot of fun ... right here in central NC. Mark you calendar now and make plans to attend!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Silence as Technique in Music

One of the challenges and creative thrills in playing the hammered dulcimer is coming up with your own arrangements. If anyone had told me 15 years ago that I would be arranging my own music I would have laughed in disbelief. But it happens. As you learn your way around the instrument - practicing scales and chords, increasing your repertoire, accumulating ideas from other player's arrangements - you fill up your own bag of tricks. You develop opinions about what you like to hear and what you like to play. Out of this, your personal style emerges.

Now, the "bag of tricks" can be quite complex. But today I have one thing on my mind ... fill notes.

One arrangement idea is to fill "space" in a tune using arpeggiated chords, pieces of chords, pieces of scales, drone notes - or some combination of all these things - as "fill notes". The technique can be very effective. It creates a full sound. The instrument is laid out perfectly for it. It's fun! AND ... it's easy to get carried away. Don't overdo it! Plan for "empty" spaces.

  • Let the tune "breathe". It will give you (and your listener) the opportunity to breathe.
  • Give the melody its own space. The melody is THE thing and should always come through loud and clear ... or at least more loudly than the accompanying notes. Avoid crowding the melody by surrounding it with too much fluff. 
  • Leave some notes out. While it might be instructional and useful to your practice to fill every eighth note division of time, it's often more pleasing to the listener to leave some space. You'll find that even some melody notes are dispensable. It's OK to eliminate notes that are not critical to the bare bones of the tune.
  • Use dynamics. It's never too early in your playing career to start thinking about dynamics, i.e. playing more or less loudly. Lighten up on the fill notes to allow the melody to shine through.
  • Record yourself and listen with a critical ear. Can you hear the melody?  Is it too busy? Is there room to breathe? Are you satisfied or worn out in the end? Make adjustments.
Good luck incorporating more "space" into your arrangements.  Here's one jazz musician's take on The Role of Silence in Music .

Monday, December 3, 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

CTO ... Music Theory in a Holiday Mode

Check This Out ... for a chuckle.  MaryLynn shared this gem.  Extra credit if you understand the meaning of the lyrics!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Attitude of Gratitude

I love the Thanksgiving holiday. The main event is all about gathering with family and friends and sharing good food ... two of my favorite things! Around our house, the extra long weekend tends to be relaxed, with plenty of time to indulge oneself in projects, games, long walks ... and, of course, playing lots of music.

This year we were on the road for Thanksgiving, but I toted an instrument along, just in case. With 28 folks expected for the "big" dinner celebrating Thanksgiving AND my mother's 72nd birthday there wasn't much time or space for the dulcimer. But in between the ample appetizers and the fantastic feast I did manage to get in a few familiar tunes, including these Thanksgiving classics ... Over the River and Through the Woods, We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing,  and of course, Turkey in the Straw.

So, here come the holidays ... and the tone is about to be amped up, thanks to the associated hype that surrounds us. No matter how you and your loved ones participate in the holiday season, the cultural environment in which we live can get pretty intense this time of year. Set your intention now - while "giving thanks" is still on your mind - to approach it all with an attitude of gratitude.

Between now and the end of the year, start each day by acknowledging one thing for which you are thankful. Think of something different every day. Write it down, if you want. Or say a little prayer. Make up a mantra. Reward yourself with a chocolate kiss. Whatever! Have fun with it.

I'll get you started. Today, I'm thankful for the gift of music. As I practice and prepare for holiday gigs, my intention for my music is to start at the beginning, to play through to the end, and to play with joy and gratitude for the gift of music and the opportunity to share it.

I wish you joy in the coming weeks ... along with a heaping helping of sanity!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday's Muse

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'thank you', that would suffice."
~ Meister Eckhart

Friday, November 23, 2012

CTO ... Free Christmas Music

Thanks to Carol L who found this link to FREE Christmas carol sheet music:

Search by title, first line, composer, or arranger. Listen to the tune in four parts, or just the basic tune.  Find who has recorded the tune and on what cd. Choose sheet music written to include the basic melody plus chords ... all you need to create your own arrangement. Sorry, no guarantee that you'll find every tune in a "dulcimer friendly" key, but that just forces you into the netherlands of your instrument.  Or ... you can always transpose, right?

Check This Out ... while you're digesting that Thanksgiving feast. The day after Thanksgiving may be the biggest shopping day of the year for some, but I'd rather stay home and play music. In my book, it's the official start to the  holiday music season!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ted Yoder Visits the Triangle

I met a new-to-me hammered dulcimer player the other night.  Ted Yoder, of Indiana, performed a house concert in Durham on Sunday evening.  He presented an informal program of original and familiar tunes, including such crowd-pleasers as Chocolate Skies (the title track of his new cd), Bach's Cello Suite, Carol of the Bells, and Eleanor Rigby. Now that's diversity!

On top of that, he accompanied himself on a few vocal pieces.  I'm not talking about striking little chords here and there in between phrases.  He was playing full out arpeggiated chords throughout the entire song!  A member of the audience asked if singing and playing at the same time is difficult.  He said no, that his experience singing with the piano helped. Impressive!  I would have given a different answer to that question.

Ted's background in piano is evident in his varied repertoire and his use of interesting chord progressions.  He plays with the deftness of a drummer ... hand separation, stick control, rhythmic variety ... but denies having previous percussion experience.  I consider Ted to be a member of the "new generation" of hammered dulcimer players.  His percussive style breaks away from the more traditional manner of play.  Yet, with that full wall of sound he has enough control of the dynamic range to allow the melody to stand out.

I'm inspired to incorporate some of this type of play into my own practice ... better hammer control and better execution of complex rhythms seem like good goals.  And I have to admit - I do have damper lust!

Click here for more info:  Ted Yoder's Music

PS  It was great seeing some of my students and dulcimer buddies at the concert, too!  I'm curious ...  Are you ready to "yoderize" some of your arrangements?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday's Muse

"I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well."
~ Johann Sebastian Bach

Friday, November 16, 2012

CTO ... iPad Apps

Thanks to Lynn Hayes who found this great link:

iPad apps for musicians

James Jones, builder of fine custom-made musical instruments since 1978, has published a list of musically relevant apps for the iPad on his blog.  I know many of my students are having fun with music on their iPads.  Tuners, metronomes, digital dulcimers, recording devices, slow-downers, ear training ... it's all out there.

Check This Out ...
Which apps do you find most useful?  Tell us about the great ones and the not-so-great ones.  Any real stinkers?  We want to know!

And for all of you who don't (yet) own an iPad?  Holiday wish list??

Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Practice

You have a nice list of tunes.  You have some good arrangement ideas. You've set goals for yourself.  Now comes practice time.  But what is the best way to practice?

Many of us have heard that old axiom, "Practice makes perfect."  Turns out, that's not exactly true.  But practice does make permanent!  Be sure you're practicing in an effective and efficient manner so that skill development is accentuated and the "perfect" is what becomes permanent.

Here's a great article written by Noa Kogeyama about the art of practice.  I couldn't have said it better myself!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Time to dust off those holiday tunes!

Ready or not, November is here.  It's time to get serious about compiling this year's holiday play list and getting those "once-a-year" tunes back into shape.

The hammered dulcimer is in high demand this time of year, and for good reason.  The sweet sound of the dulcimer just seems to suit the soundtrack of the season.  Whether you're playing for your own family or church, providing a program at the local nursing home or civics club, or creating ambiance at a private holiday party, you'll want to be ready to say 'yes' when the opportunity arises.

  • Start by dusting off your favorites from years past.
  • Choose one or two new tunes to learn and/or arrange this year, always building your repertoire.
  • Mix in some tunes that aren't necessarily holiday tunes. Possible candidates:  classical pieces, O'Carolan tunes, hymns, celtic beauties that aren't commonly recognized
  • Write out your play list in an order that pleases you, taking into account such things as tempo, key, and mood changes.
  • Practice!
  • Play for somebody ... your spouse, your neighbor, your church family ... your cat!

At the end of the season, record yourself.  It'll help you remember your good ideas and might give you a head start next November!