Thursday, October 31, 2013

Signs that Christmas is coming ...

  • Students are requesting Christmas carols.
  • I've already accepted this year's first holiday gig request.
  • I saw a lit Christmas tree in a private home as I drove through town last night.

In all other areas I resist the cultural push toward the holidays. Being a good Episcopalian I've learned to value the season of Advent. My personal rule? Don't think about Christmas at all until after Thanksgiving.

But when it comes to playing seasonal music for the enjoyment of others … that's a different piece of fruit cake. The play list must be ready by the first of December. Event organizers are making their plans, lining up entertainment for their holiday parties and programs … all of which will happen prior to December 25.

So, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Time to dust off the holiday repertoire. Maybe add a tune or two. Work out some new arrangements for students. 'tis the season!

Just wondering … Are you playing holiday music? What new tune(s) will you add this year? In your experience, what do you find to be the most requested holiday tune?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday's Muse

"The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, "Is there a meaning to music?" My answer would be, "Yes." And can you state in so many words what the meaning is? My answer to that would be, "No."  ~ Aaron Copland

Friday, October 25, 2013

CTO ... Maggie Sansone and Marya Katz present workshops and concert

This a bit further afield than the Triangle of central NC, but a worthwhile opportunity within a reasonable driving distance.

Check This Out ... Music in the Mountains, hosted by Marya Katz, Saturday, November 2, 11:30 - 5:00pm, Northside Presbyterian Church, 1017 Progress Street NW, Blacksburg, VA. Maggie Sansone and Marya Katz present a fun-filled hammered dulcimer workshop in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Cost: $50, payable at the door. Includes 3 workshop sessions and a class jam, plus a mini-concert with Maggie and Marya. Bring a bag lunch to eat while setting up and tuning.

The day's schedule looks like this:

11:30 -12:15    Arrive, tune, meet & greet (bring a bag lunch, or eat ahead of time)
12:15 -  1:00    Mini-Concert with Maggie and Marya
  1:00 -  2:00    1st workshop session, led by Maggie (slow tune, possibly a celtic waltz)
  2:10 -  2:50    2nd workshop session, led by Marya ("chord choreography")
  3:00 -  4:00    3rd workshop session, led by Maggie (faster tune, probably a Scottish jig)
  4:15 -  5:00    Class jam for all who are interested

Other instrumentalists are welcome at the jam. Maybe there'll be a guitar or two, a bass, some percussion... Encourage anyone interested to join the jam at 4:15.

Contact:  For more information and registration contact Marya Katz at 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Plan to be the Stress-Free Wedding Musician

You've signed the contract. Details have been discussed. You and the Bride have decided on the music for all the significant parts of the ceremony. You've been paid in advance. You've practiced. The big day approaches. Count down to performance time!

Getting Ready
There's a lot more to being a wedding musician than simply preparing and practicing a list of lovely tunes. Minimize the stress of the day with a little advance planning. Complete some tasks in the days leading up to the event.

Directions and Instructions
Find and print out directions to the venue. Pack them safely into your gig bag. Alternatively, program the address into your GPS. Determine how long it will take to travel to the wedding site. Allow plenty of time for an empty gas tank, unexpected traffic tie-ups, and other little surprises. Make a list of special instructions for the day, i.e. where you are to set up, how many mothers will be seated, who's the last one in before the Bride, what's the last thing the clergy says before the recessional, etc. Include emergency phone numbers for important contacts, such as the wedding director or other persons "in charge" ... preferably NOT the Bride!

Play List 
I typically work with the Bride well in advance to make tune selections for the seating of Mothers, Grandmothers, and Special Guests; the Wedding Party Processional; the Bridal Processional; optional Special Ceremonial music; and the Recessional. These are important tunes that may require extra practice time. I've always worked with Brides who trust me to develop a list of beautiful and happy tunes to play for the 45 minutes prior to the ceremony while guests are being seated. I do work out a play list for this period of time, paying attention to varying tempo and key signature to keep it interesting. I suppose you could "wing" it, play what you feel like playing, but I personally don't like to have to think of tunes while I'm under the pressure of a performance situation.  Make a point of playing through your list and timing it. It's not much fun to get to the end of your tune list and still have 20 minutes left to play!

Equipment  Will you be providing amplification or contributing any part to amplification of your instrument? Be sure everything's in proper working order. Gather cables, cords, adapters, mics, pre-amps, etc and stash them in your gig bag. Get your amp ready. Settings look good? Battery charged? Are you sure there's power available if you need it? Better throw an extension cord into the gig bag while you're at it.
When's the last time you changed the battery in your pickup? Yeah ... that's what I thought! If it's been awhile, you may want to splurge on a fresh battery AND figure out how to remove the old one in order to install the new one. At the very least, be sure to have an extra battery in your gig bag just in case the juice runs out as the first guests arrive.

The Big Day

The Lovely and Handsome Musician

You should look good, and by that I mean "professional." Unless the Bride has asked you to wear something specific to match the theme of the day, such as lime green or psychedelic florals, it's best to choose conservative attire. You certainly can not go wrong with a neutral pallet. Black and white are safe standards. Cover up your tattoos, leave your red high-top converse tennis shoes in the closet, and make sure you're not showing anywhere near as much skin as the Bride!

While the Bride and her attendants are primping and preening, so are you! Allow the time you need to complete your beauty routine. After all, you might appear in the wedding album, a wedding video, or somebody's FaceBook post. It could happen. Let's hope none of us end up on "America's Funniest Home Videos"!

Keep up your Energy  Eat a little something before you leave the house. It would be bad form to pass out in the front of the congregation. Take a snack and a bottle of water, just in case. I personally don't like to eat too much before a gig, so I'm usually starving afterwards! I toss some nuts into my gig bag, and consider chocolate always a good idea.

The Unique and Stunning Instrument
Be prepared for a few questions, especially if you'll be set up in an area where guests walk past you. Someone is sure to ask, "What is that?" Be polite, but remember your job is to play music. While you will certainly not be center stage - that's the Bride's place - be sure that you're set up in a location that allows you to see what's going on with the wedding party, the officiant, and/or the wedding director. I had a lovely place behind a big fern at the last wedding I played. It actually was the perfect spot in that particular setting.

Tune It  Follow your own routine, but I like to do the big tuning at home. Playing outdoors? I put the dulcimer on the porch a few hours before tuning time and let it soak up the natural air. Expecting to play in heated or air conditioned space? I attempt to mimic that at home. Since I usually play solo for weddings I don't have the additional stress of being perfectly in tune with other instruments. I allow at least 30 minutes to tune. There's always a string or two that will not cooperate! Then I allow time to fine tune after set-up at the venue.

Pack it Up  Keep the essential check list in mind ...
  • Instrument √
  • Hammers √
  • Stand √ (+ preferred chair or stool if you sit)
  • Tuner and Tuning Wrench√
... PLUS your gig bag with all that stuff you've been collecting!

Leave on Time It's better to be a few minutes early than a few minutes late. You do not want to contribute one moment of stress to the Bride's special day.

Last Minute On-Site Considerations
  • Turn off your phone.
  • Breathe.
  • Do not rush.
  • Play beautifully.
  • Say, "Thank you," when guests compliment your playing.
  • Pack up and leave promptly. Your job is done!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday's Muse

“If you want to play at all you have to practice. I have to practice every single day to be as bad as I am.”  ~ Woody Allen

Friday, October 18, 2013

CTO ... Is Music the Key to Success?

Interesting article written by Joanne Lipman, co-author with Melanie Kupchynsky of the book "Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations."

Check This Out ... "Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening."

Read the entire article:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

20 Tunes that will Rock the Jam

There's nothing more fun than getting into a jam with a bunch of trapezoids! In between Ken Kolodner's instruction and M.J.'s food there was plenty of time to play music with friends at the Sandbridge Dulcimer Workshop last week. It was great to have a variety of instruments to enhance the experience ... guitar, mando, banjo, fiddle, piano, a shaker or two. Over a crabby dinner at Margie and Ray's last Friday night a group of us at the end of the table brainstormed our favorite jammin' tunes. As one might expect, there's some overlap with the list I generated myself and posted last March, "Today's Top 20 Favorite Jam Tunes." Looking to enhance your own play list? These tunes are hard to beat!

  1. Bill Cheatham
  2. Booth Shot Lincoln
  3. Granny, Does Your Dog Bite?
  4. Hangman's Reel
  5. John Brown's March
  6. John Ryan's Polka (dum dum)
  7. John Stenson's #2
  8. Leather Britches
  9. MacDonald's Reel
  10. Missouri
  11. Nail that Catfish to a Tree
  12. Oklahoma Rooster
  13. Rock the Cradle, Joe
  14. Roscoe
  15. Sandy Boys
  16. Sandy River Belle
  17. Shenandoah Falls
  18. Snake River Reel
  19. Waynesboro
  20. Willafjord
I bet we missed a "few" good ones. Don't see YOUR favorite here? Add it in the "Comment" section below!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday's Muse

Overheard at Sandbridge Dulcimer Week #3

I'm recently back from a week of intense instruction with Ken Kolodner and 18 other experienced hammered dulcimer players. Despite the raging wind and rain storm that settled in over Sandbridge Beach (see last week's national weather map) it was an awesome week!
Be sure to read more about the Sandbridge Dulcimer Workshops on Ken's web site. In the meantime, here are some silly and profound quotes that I overheard from the back of the classroom ...

"I thought this was a surfing class." ~ Confused

"I'm here for the food."  ~ Hungry

"Is that all there is to that tune?" ~ Advanced

"We're all going to practice this, right?"  ~ Optimist

"Surely I'm in tune this morning. I just tuned last night." ~ Hopeful

"It's so hot in here ... really hot!"  ~ On the Spot
"It's going to get hotter."  ~ Teacher

"We've got one more note to add to this thing."  ~ Ambitious

"I'm more afraid to do this than make a felony arrest!" ~ Manly

"Remember, the count I give you should have some relation to what we play."  ~ Finicky

"Slow ... it works!"  ~ Triumphant

"There's an unbelievable amount of talent in this room."  ~ Awed

"I don't know which was more fun ... rehearsing or performing!"  ~ Satisfied

"We're in search and destroy mode." ~ Determined

"If you don't read music it's time to learn how. If you read it's time to start using your ears." ~ Smarty

"Put it in crab cake terms and I'll get it."  ~ Still Hungry

"Leave him on the beach in the nasty weather!"  ~ Sunken Sailor

"You're crazy!"  ~ Astounded
"It's been mentioned."  ~ Passionate Fanatic

"Let's go to the easy version."  ~ Friday's Child

"This tune is exactly like that tune, but different."  ~ Helpful

"Tombigbee went to the Falls of Richmond and Sawdade."  ~ Telephone Operator

"God grant me the serenity to accept the tunes I cannot play; Courage to play the tunes I can; and Wisdom to know the difference."  ~ Zen Master (w/apologies to Reinhold Niebuhr)

"Uh oh ... Sunshine!"  ~ Incredulous

Friday, October 11, 2013

CTO ... Look Who Crashed the Party!

She couldn't stay away!

Check This Out ... That face next to mine? That's the face of dedication! Mary Lynn made an appearance at all three Sandbridge Dulcimer Weeks. Beat that!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Feelin' Groovy

I'm at Sandbridge Beach, enjoying a week of instruction with Ken Kolodner and 18 other awesome hammered dulcimer players. It's great to have time to learn new tunes and practice arranging ideas. We spent today's morning session working on our "groove".

What is "groove"? It's not the easiest thing to define in words. Think of it as a rhythmic pattern, repeated. The groove is enhanced by the accentuation of certain notes. It's the swing ... the flow ... the beat of the tune. You have to feel it, then learn to play what you feel.

But how does one go about learning how to feel the music?

  • Listen
  • Loosen Up - light grip, relaxed posture
  • Move - Tap your foot, sway, nod, whatever! Move your body to match how you feel.
  • Count - Feel the pulse. Identify where the patterns start and finish. Develop your inner clock. Practice!
  • Don't Emphasize Every Note - "Groove" comes from accenting some beats and holding back on others. Leave off some beats. Sometimes less is more.
  • Jam with Others - Especially others who have a good feel for the music! If you don't have a music buddy play along with recordings. You can even record yourself playing a melody, then have your own personal groove-along. Mess around until you find something that fits.
Now, better get back to that groovy bunch of trapezoids!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So if you're feeling uncomfortable right now, know that the change taking place in your life is a beginning, not an ending." ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Friday, October 4, 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Passage of Time

"Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid."  ~ Frank Zappa

It's my birthday, a day to celebrate the passage of time. In the midst of meeting deadlines, I think I'll do a bit of decorating today!