Friday, May 31, 2013

CTO ... "Inspire you musicianship. Strengthen your playing. Discover new insights."

I'm supposed to be practicing right now but wanted to pass on information about a blog that one of my students shared with me. It's written from the perspective of a harp player but includes plenty of interesting reading that will generalize to the hammered dulcimer.

Check This Out ... "Inspire you musicianship. Strengthen you playing. Discover new insights." That's what this blog's banner promises. Scroll down the "Home" page to the "Categories" listing. There's lots of good stuff in there! Here's the link:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

10 Reasons Why Music Buddies are Essential

I just read this article:
Practicing Your Musical Instrument with Others versus Practicing Alone
It was written for woodwind or brass players but contains plenty of wisdom to go around! Here are some of the benefits of practicing with a buddy ... or two ... or more!

  • Improved consistency in your practice schedule
  • Immediate feedback on your performance
  • Improved rhythmic / timing competence
  • Opportunity to practice harmonies, backup ideas, improvisation
  • Ear training ... learn to listen, become a part of the whole, improve your musicality
  • Collaboration and cooperation as you work out arrangements, set goals, etc
  • Useful ideas from others on how to practice, how to interpret a piece of music, etc etc
  • Opportunity to listen and learn from those who are better musicians
  • Regular nudges out of your comfort zone
  • Fun!

I started playing the hammered dulcimer in 1995. I met a group of like-minded individuals in 1998. We formed a band, called ourselves Blue Moon Rising, and set a goal to play for contra dances. The instrumentation was nice ... hammered dulcimer, English concertina, fiddle, and guitar ... and the players became good friends. We did provide music for some contra dances, as well as for local fundraisers and private parties. We played together for 10+ years.

We disbanded several years ago. The boys were distracted by work and family duties. Something had to give. But Betsy and I have persevered. We continue to get together once a week to catch up on each other's lives, share lunch, and practice music. I sincerely believe that playing with others has made all the difference in my personal practice and in my growth as a musician. Where would I be if not for my music buddies?

Here's the earliest photo of BMR that I have in my possession. It was taken at my parents-in-law's house during a political event in the fall of 1998. Wouldn't it be fun to reproduce this photo as we are today?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday's Muse

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America."
~ William J. Clinton

Friday, May 24, 2013

CTO ... Skunk Tail Dulcimer Duster

Dusty hammered dulcimer soundboards - now, there's a problem!

Sometimes I use a BBQ skewer inside a dusting mitt for marginal success. Or take it outside and give it a good brushing with a soft paintbrush reserved for the task. Too bad this typically results in bits of brush bristle stuck in the tight places. Some players believe a little dust is advantageous ... minimizes the glare of bright lights on the sound board!

Check This Out ... Here's a nifty accessory that really seems to work. One of my students showed it to me at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival. The bristles are black and white, hence its funny name - Skunk Tail.
I found it at the String Fever Music website. Just scroll down the accessory page until you find it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Language Beyond Words ... Playing for Hospice and the Homebound

“It's not enough to have lived. 
We should be determined to live for something.
May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, 
sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, 
bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”

~ Leo Buscaglia

I had the pleasure of teaching at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival the first weekend in May. It was a fabulous weekend packed with jam sessions, concerts, and a wide variety of classes for players of the dulcimer - both hammered and fretted varieties. From novice to advanced levels, my classes were full of students eager for information and new skills. It was the last session of the day, though, that generated the most interest. It was an enrichment class open to anybody. The topic: "Playing for Hospice and the Homebound." 43 people registered for the class! We had a productive and lively discussion. Everybody had some wisdom to add to the conversation.

Based on the overwhelming attraction to the topic, this is what I know for sure ...  no matter the level of playing experience, many of us feel called to serve and to share the gift of music. It just seems to be the right thing to do. But it can be intimidating. There were a lot of questions and concerns.
  • Who should I play for? Where can I find folks who might benefit from my music?
  • How many tunes do I need to have in my repetoire?
  • What kinds of tunes should I play?
  • I think I'd like to play for Hospice patients but it scares me a little bit.
The first question of who to play for is an easy one once you start thinking about it. When a person's world becomes restricted for any reason, they - along with their caregivers - often appreciate a visit and a musical interlude in their day. It's true that charity begins at "home." Look around your own neighborhood, your own community, your own church. We brainstormed a list of possible venues: 
  • Visit an elderly, ill, or otherwise compromised neighbor in their own home
  • Hook up with the Pastoral Care committee at your church
  • Volunteer to play at assisted living facilities, cancer centers, the VA hospital, senior centers, Ronald McDonald House, or similar. Speak to the activities director or volunteer coordinator. Each place will have their own set of guidelines that visitors must follow.
  • Complete the volunteer training with your local Hospice or similar organization, then provide music as a specialized service to those who want it.
Here's what I think you need to know:

Know yourself
Remember that you are a volunteer, a friend, a neighbor. Know your personal limits. You are never obligated to do anything you feel uncomfortable doing. Ask for help when you need it. Don't overstep your bounds.

A volunteer musician is not a Music Therapist. That job requires a specific educational degree and clinical expertise. You may choose to take your amateur skills up a notch by becoming a Certified Music Practitioner through the Music for Healing & Transition Program. The program requires 75 hours of study and a 45 hour internship.

Know your audience
Be open to the recipient’s condition and response. Adjust the music to the situation. Is your client alert or not alert? Are you providing music for the client or for the caregiver - or both? What’s needed today?  Something upbeat and lively? Something more meditative? Will you be providing "Entertainment" or creating "Ambiance"? Be prepared for either situation.

Know what it's all about
It's NOT about YOU or your music. You are there to serve - to provide what is needed in the moment.

Know that you are making a difference
“Never underestimate the difference YOU can make in the lives of others. Step forward, reach out and help. This week reach to someone that might need a lift”  ~ Pablo

There’s a lot of reward in this work. I truly believe my music has made a difference for people in their day to day life.  But playing for Hospice clients and others has been beneficial to me, too. One valuable side effect: It has taught me to be more flexible and spontaneous in my playing.

The power of music has long been associated with benefits due to the release of stress and the ability to change or enhance moods, and the healing effect of music has been proven in studies. Click here to read more about the healing effects of music.

Trust that you "know" more music than your "official" repertoire suggests
Don’t be afraid to play something you don’t “know." If you can hum a tune you can probably pick it out on the instrument. People like to hear something familiar. On more than one occasion, after playing a complex arrangement of some beautiful traditional tune, I have heard these very words, “That was pretty, but I don’t know what it was.  Do you know (fill in the blank)?”  The request may be for something as mundane as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” – and I’m not kidding!

If someone asks for a tune and it's somewhere in the recesses of my brain I will attempt to play a basic version. If I'm inspired I might add some simple embellishment. No one has ever complained about a missed or bad note. They’re usually impressed that I “know” almost everything they ask for! Do I play fancy arrangements? No. Do they care? Not at all.

Here are some stories to illustrate…
One summer, one of my lady friends asked me to play “Silent Night”. Had I played that in 7 months time? No. Did I remember my well-thought-out arrangement? Not really. But I played a respectable rendition. She said, “That was so beautiful. I haven’t heard any Christmas music in a long time.” I said, “Neither have I.” From then on, “Silent Night” was on the play list each time I saw her. Christmas and all the associated family traditions were very much on her mind at the end of her life. She died that August.

The spouse of an Alzheimer’s patient had pleasant memories about a family trip to Disney World. He asked for “It’s a Small World”. I had never played it before, but from that day forward I played it for him every time I made a visit. Over time a fairly nice arrangement evolved!

Mixing familiar music with the generally less familiar tunes of the traditional dulcimer repertoire can work just fine. Simply keep in mind that if your client is awake and alert familiar tunes are preferable.

The “unfamiliar” tunes work best when people are too sick to be responsive. They may appear to be asleep, but don’t count on it! An unfamiliar tune, or an improvisation on a chord progression, will allow a person to rest without “clinging” to the music… the mind won’t grab onto the tune. If the person is “resting” play continuously, creating a ‘ground of sound’ within the room. If they really do fall asleep (patients and caregivers alike) consider your job well done! Your listeners have escaped into the music, let go of their worries and anxieties, and have totally relaxed with a relative stranger in the room.

But what about repertoire? Is there a "must know" tune list?
The repertoire you use for these gigs will be a work in progress. It will vary depending on who the listener is and what kind of music you enjoy playing. Keep a list of your own tunes that have been well received. Develop personalized play lists by honoring client requests. Mix the two together for success.

Most of my Hospice/homebound/assisted living-type playing has been geared to the older generation. Elders here in Chatham County, NC like the old hymns. They like tunes that used to be taught in elementary schools. Some people like to sing along.  Here are some examples. This is by no means an exhaustive list!

Amazing Grace (must know tune)
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Be Thou My Vision
Come Thou Fount
How Great Thou Art (#2 hymn, next to "Amazing Grace" in a survey done in 2001)
I’ll Fly Away
Shall We Gather at the River?

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (people love this)
Ode to Joy (Many people know this as the hymn: Joyful, Joyful)

Americana and Popular Music:
America the Beautiful (and other patriotic tunes)
Arkansas Traveler
Bicycle Built for Two
Happy Birthday
Home on the Range
Irish Washerwoman
Oh, Suzannah (other Stephen Foster tunes)
Polly Wolly Doodle
She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain
She’s a Grand Old Flag
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Streets of Laredo
Tennessee Waltz
Turkey in the Straw
Yellow Rose of Texas
You Are My Sunshine

For Veterans:
Air Force - Wild Blue Yonder
Army - The Caisson Song
Marines - The Marine Hymn
Navy - Anchors Aweigh

Etc. Etc. You get the idea.

I would love for you to share the tunes that have made YOUR "must play" list!
Please leave feedback in the comment section of this post.

“May your heart open.
May joy emerge.
May love flow through you.
May you heal and help others.”

~ Charlene Costanzo, The Twelve Gifts for Healing

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet. "  ~ Roger Miller

Friday, May 17, 2013

CTO ... From Where I Sit

I'm sure my students would not recognize this as my "desk" ...

Check This Out ... The dining room table adjacent to the music room. Can you believe it? I cleaned up my work space. There's actually a table top under all that junk! No guarantees as to how long this will last.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday's Muse

"To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable. " 
~ Ludwig Van Beethovan

Friday, May 10, 2013

CTO ... Andy Young Making a Special Appearance in Black Mountain, NC

Chicago-based hammered dulcimer phenomenon, Andy Young, will be teaching and performing at Jerry Read Smith's beautiful studio, Perelandra , in Black Mountain, NC, just east of Asheville next weekend, May 17/18. I've been hearing rave reviews and would dearly love to be in attendance, but life is conspiring against it. I hope some of you will be able to go and tell me all about it!

Check This Out ... CONCERT Friday night and hammered dulcimer WORKSHOPS all day Saturday. Click HERE to see all the details, including how to secure your seat. Reservations are required.

Take advantage of this rare event.  Here's what you're in for:

"Andy Young’s virtuosic hammered dulcimer takes the spirited Gypsy Swing of Django Reinhardt in an exciting new direction. Never before have you heard the dulcimer played like this, transporting you at once to Jazz Age Paris and the Gypsy encampments of the dulcimer’s ancestry. Andy’s performances infuse traditional Irish, Quebecois, and Gypsy Jazz melodies with humor and insight to provide a deep understanding of the role of music in our multicultural and interpersonal world."  ~ Gebhard Woods Dulcimer & Traditional Music Festival

"I strongly recommend seeing Andy play if you're not familiar with him. He's one of my favorites and I'm wearing out his latest CD." ~ Randy Marchany of No Strings Attached 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Doing it all this week ...

... a slammed teaching and practice schedule, plus demands of the garden ...

Thanks to Gary Blehm at . This one speaks to me!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God."
~ Leo Buscaglia

Saturday, May 4, 2013

CTO ... Late Night Jam

Check This Out ... A few of us gathered at the Lowry's home for a little night music at the close of the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival. Hammered dulcimers, a bowed dulcimer, penny whistle, fiddles, etc ... even a harp! Sure was fun sharing some of our favorite tunes.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ken and Brad Kolodner in Pittsboro July 27

Mark your calendars now for a full day of music fun!

Hammered Dulcimer Workshop

Ken Kolodner will be teaching an all-day hammered dulcimer workshop for advanced beginners and up at the Eastern Chatham Senior Center, 365 NC Hwy 87, Pittsboro, NC on July 27. This is expected to be a mixed-skills class, with instruction geared to the less experienced player and extra ideas thrown in for the more advanced player. Topics to be covered: arranging, backup, chord theory, technique, and more!

The Schedule:
Sessions are set for 10:00am - noon and 1:00pm - 4:00pm.
Lunch plans are yet to be determined.
Doors will be open at 9:30am for participants to set up, tune, etc.
Stick around for the concert and jam session that night! (see below)

Cost of the Workshop:
$75 in advance; $80 at the door

Contact Sue via email or by phone (919)542-5854 to express your interest.
Your name will be added to the roster. Then ...
Secure your space!
Send a check (made out to Sue Wilson) to:

Sue Wilson
P.O. Box 940
Pittsboro, NC  27312


There will be a concert that evening featuring: Ken & Brad Kolodner, with Sue Wilson & Betsy Kraus, 7:00 - 9:00pm,
St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, 204 W Salisbury St, Pittsboro, NC.

It promises to be quite the variety show! Enjoy an evening of traditional music performed on the hammered dulcimer, fiddle, banjo, guitar, concertina, hammered mbira ... plus a tune or two on twin fiddles and some vocals thrown in for fun!

Ticket Price:
$17 in advance
$20 at the door

To reserve your seat(s):
Contact Sue via email or by phone (919)542-5854. Your name will be put on the list. Then ... Send a check (made out to Sue Wilson) to:

Sue Wilson
P. O. Box 940
Pittsboro, NC  27312
Seats are NOT reserved until check is received.

Hang around for the JAM SESSION after the concert, 9:00 - 11:00 pm.
We're making plans for a good time. Hope to see you there!