Friday, June 28, 2013

CTO ... The Transformative Power of Classical Music

You'll be inspired by this passionate and humorous presentation. Benjamin Zander believes that classical music is for everybody, that everybody has a fantastic ear, and that musicality comes when one stops thinking about every single note and starts thinking about the entire line along the way. You'll get a kick out of his name for that!

Check This Out ... Thanks to our friend, Allen, who shared this TED Talks link: Benjamin Zander on The Transformative Power of Classical Music.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I had fun at Chatham J.A.M. Camp!

Kudos to Tim Tron and all the other fine folks who have worked to put together this year's Chatham County JAM Camp! What an experience ... great kids, playing music, singing, dancing, trying new things, and having a blast doing it!

For those who don't know, JAM stands for "Junior Appalachian Musicians." Chatham County JAM is an ongoing music program for kids, grades 3 - 8, affiliated with Regional JAM. Their mission is to "provide music education in basic old time string and bluegrass instruments accessible to children regardless of eligibility to pay or own their own instruments."

The hammered dulcimer is not one of the traditional instruments, but I was invited (for the second year) to lead afternoon "enrichment" classes one day during the week of summer camp. Today was the day! We had a fabulous afternoon ... four classes, a total of ~ 50 kids.

We gathered on an outdoor stage with four hammered dulcimers:

We had plenty of hammers to choose from:

And all kinds of rhythm instruments:

The kids were focused! The youngest ones were hammering out various rhythms on the dulcimer - including the rhythm of their own full names - while being accompanied by their friends on rhythm instruments. The older kids were taking turns playing melody lines and backup on the dulcimer, or rhythm on the shakers and other percussion instruments. By the end of each session we were jammin'! Wouldn't you love to play music with this crowd?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Keep what is worth keeping and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."
~ Dinah M. Craik

Friday, June 21, 2013

CTO ... Landfill Harmonic

Music, making a difference, the indomitable human spirit, inspired creativity ... It's amazing what people can do!

Check This Out ... Setting out to teach music to the poorest children in Paraquay - certainly a noble project. But look what happened when the demand for instruments outgrew the supply. Recycled orchestra! Necessity IS the mother of invention. Anybody for creating a hammered dulcimer out of trash?

Oh, the Irony!

I direct you back to this week's Monday's Muse ...

I procrastinated long enough to miss the self-imposed deadline on my mid-week blog post. Now it's Friday, and time moves on! Check back next week. I intend to be back to my regular and dependable self.

In the meantime, happy first day of summer! The google doodle is pretty cute today.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday's Muse

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” -Pablo Picasso

Friday, June 14, 2013

CTO ... I Caught a Black Snake Today!

Ha! Ha! It has absolutely nothing to do with playing the hammered dulcimer, but ...

Check This Out! I used my handy-dandy snake grabber to put the squeeze on this guy after I came across him in my laundry room. (I have no idea how he got in there.) Of course I had to show-off to my hubby, who snapped this photo. Then we stuffed the snake into a brown paper grocery bag and I relocated him to the far side of the nearby four-lane highway. He won't be terrorizing our local bird population any longer, nor will he be eating any more of my chicken eggs!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A postscript to last week's article about counting ...

Here's a story to illustrate a creative strategy for keeping your place in the music.

"For the Future" is one of the songs I performed with the Binkley Baptist Church choir last Sunday from Malcolm Dalglish's Hymnody of Earth. It's a round that keeps coming back around with the dulcimer part repeated six times. It's a fun piece. The dulcimer part is plucked and consists of a D pattern repeated four times, a G pattern repeated three times, then one A pattern that moves back to the beginning.

  • The first time through the dulcimer plays an intro, alone.
  • The second time the first round of voices begin, in unison.
  • The third time the round begins, with all voices joining in at designated times.
  • The fourth, fifth, sixth times voices are weaving in and out. Lovely!
  • Tags and retard at the end.

Here's the trick: (Pay attention, now! If you ever play this you'll want to know.) When the round begins during the third time through, the dulcimer must play the D pattern five times!

In my practice everything was working out pretty well the first three times through ... up to and through the point where the round began. I could successfully play the intro alone, then with voices in unison, then the odd part when the round began. After that I knew I had three more times to the end, but I was having a hard time counting to 3! There were too many things being counted at the same time and "1 - 2 - 3" just wasn't getting it. Then I came up with this bright idea ... I named each part after one of my children.

I would think of Noah while playing Round 4. Abi was on my mind during Round 5. When I got to Round 6 and envisioned Andrew I knew I was finished. Ha, ha! It worked!
Plucking "For the Future" with Binkley Baptist Church choir

What creative strategies have you used successfully to keep your place in the music?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday's Muse

“Music is the strongest form of magic.”   ~ Marilyn Manson

Friday, June 7, 2013

CTO ... Malcolm Dalglish's "Hymnody of Earth" to be performed at Binkley Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, NC

"A ceremony of songs for choir, hammer dulcimer, and percussion. Composed and arranged by Malcolm Dalglish. Featuring the poetry of Wendell Berry. Songs are in praise of the beauty and glory of nature."

I agreed to take this project on during the winter. As expected, it has been a lot of work!
  • choreographing written music to the instrument
  • working out hammer patterns
  • listening again and again to recordings of the dulcimer parts with the choral parts
  • playing along with my best friend - the metronome
  • rewriting sections that are beyond my skills without losing the 'feel'
  • getting help when I needed it (thanks, Marya)
  • memorizing everything
  • practicing whether I felt like it or not
  • practicing some more
  • attending rehearsals
  • focusing on focusing 
Don't get me wrong. It hasn't been all bad. In fact, I would say it's all good! I am certainly enjoying the benefits that come from intense practice ... in all my playing. And now it's time to perform!

Check This Out ... The choir at the Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church, 1712 Willow Drive, Chapel Hill, NC, will perform selections from Malcolm Dalglish's "Hymnody of Earth" this Sunday, June 9, during the regularly scheduled 11:00am worship service. Sue Wilson will play the hammered dulcimer accompaniment. (There will not be a percussionist performing this time.) It's a beautiful work. Come on out and hear what it's all about!

For those who are interested in which songs will be performed:
  • The Dark Around Us
  • The Wild Geese
  • For the Future
  • Thrush Song
  • Walking at Night
  • Hunger and Thirst
  • Plus, more that do not require dulcimer accompaniment

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Having Trouble Counting to 'Two'?

There's so much counting required in playing music! How many beats in a measure? How many measures in a part? How many parts in a tune? How many times do you have to play each part? How do I keep up with all of this? 

Certain types of music do have a regular structure, particularly music written for dancing. Much of the traditional dance music played on the hammered dulcimer follows an AABB structure, where each letter represents a separate 8-measure part. The written music typically shows Part A written with a repeat, then Part B written with a repeat. So, the A Part is played twice (8 bars + 8 bars), then the B Part is played twice (8 bars + 8 bars), for a total of 32 measures.

If you play for set dances ... contra dances, for example ... the dance movements are designed to fit the music and vice versa. You may hear a piece of music being referred to as "crooked". That means it doesn't fit the standard 32 measure form, and that piece of music would not be welcome in the dance hall! If you're playing the music and want to ruin a good dance, skip an A or B part. You won't be asked back.

There is a typical structure that exists within the AABB form that may be considered in two-measure units. Call - Response - Call - Different Response , where the "call" is exactly the same phrase. Additionally, sometimes the end of the B part is exactly the same as the end of the A part. All this repetition comes in handy when learning a piece of music, but the more repetitive the phrases, the more confusing it can get. It is not uncommon for musicians to get lost in a piece of music. Suddenly it's unclear ... am I playing A1 or A2?!

I have to admit, I sometimes have difficulty counting to two!

What to do?

It starts with PRACTICE
Some of my students are in the habit of NOT playing the repeats in a piece of music. This is a bad habit. Tunes contain multiple cues within the phrasing that help us keep our place. By playing in improper form you are training your ear to hear the tune improperly and training your brain and hands to play the tune improperly. Always practice a tune in the proper form.

Especially in highly repetitive tunes, use arranging ideas to create something different in a tune that will help you keep your place. Settle on a plan that you like then habitually play it that way. For example:

  • Always play the first ending of a part one way, the second ending a different way
  • Play one part in one octave, more to another octave for the repeating part
  • Embellish a phrase in one part, use a variation in the other

Nothing beats FOCUS
You must be 'in the moment' to successfully play music. Keep your thoughts on what you're doing. This is often easier said than done, but it does get better with practice!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts."  ~ Buddha