Friday, November 28, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Applied Theology of the Hammer Dulcimer by Fr. Michael Shields

How fortunate I am to be a part of the trapezoid world! The hammer dulcimer has put me in relationship with many fine people, for which I am truly thankful. One of my favorite fellow hammer dulcimists is Fr. Michael Shields of Siberia … that's right, THE Siberia.

I first met "Fr. Mike" in 2009 at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival. He was enjoying a visit to the US and had begun studying the instrument with Ken Kolodner who happened to be teaching at W-S that year. In the summer of 2011 Fr. Mike and I had classes together at the Swannanoa Gathering and then at the Sandbridge Dulcimer Retreat later that fall.

We both attended the most recent Sandbridge event this past October. Afterwards, he sent out these words of wisdom to fellow participants and gave me permission to share them here with you.

Thank you, Fr. Mike for helping us recognize the symbology of our musical endeavors. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Applied Theology of the Hammer Dulcimer
or Resolutions and Learnings for Life from the Hammer Dulcimer
by Fr. Mike
  • You can with great patience actually tune to the beautiful green light. The temptation is to settle too easy for the slide to the right of left into the red. The idea of living with less compromises and seeking the center where it all vibrates so beautifully can be a real goal. Not perfection just less compromises.
  • In practicing it is not important how many times you repeat as much as how many times you repeat it correctly. It is not how many mistakes you make but the willingness to correct them that is important. Not perfection just a willingness to change.
  • Each note is there for a reason. Alone they might at times seem dissonant or unnecessary but placed in the whole movement of the song and played together they are necessary. The willingness to find meaning in the dissonant times and see them played out in the whole of life patterns softens them and gives them meaning.
  • Look for patterns. Life has a way of repeating itself in surprising ways. It may look to you upside down but it is the same notes just played differently.
  • Look for the chords. If you can see the chords you will be more confident in your hammering. The key is why that note is found in the patterns of chords. Confidence in making good choices is found in following good patterns.
  • Play the basic song first in a simple pattern and know that pattern. Often we make things so complicated that we forget how beautiful one well played note is following another. Enjoy the simplicity of a tune and of life.
  • Play with expression which means the space between the notes actually is the music. Let silence and pauses enrich the song and your life.
  • See the pattern in the music. There are questions and there are answers. Let the questions come and seek the answers that follow. Much of life is a question being answered over time.
  • The hammer dulcimer is in itself a large, cumbersome, and difficult to keep in tune instrument. Those who play know the trouble it brings from carrying to setting up to tuning and tuning again and again. The struggle is worth the sweet sound. Sacrifice and struggle - at the time difficult - makes for deeper faith, more humility, great patience and a greater compassion for others who struggle. So it is with all hammer dulcimer players.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday's Muse

There is no technique, there is just the way to do it. Now, are we going to measure or are we going to cook?  ~ Frances Mayes

Friday, November 21, 2014

CTO … Order Your Sunrise Dulcimer Posters and Notecards Today!

Check This Out … Artist Geek, a.k.a. Laurie McCarriar has created posters and notecards using a photo of her "favorite beach sunrise ever" - an ethereal image of a hammered dulcimer, upside down in the sky over the Atlantic.

Laurie took the picture during Ken Kolodner's Sandbridge Dulcimer Retreat last October. She added a line of poetry written by Triangle Trapezoid player, Rosemary Hornak. Need a little inspirational wall art or the perfect gift for your favorite trapezoid player? Check it out!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Setting up an Intentional Practice

In an effort to maintain a more deliberate and intentional practice I have adopted a new system for monitoring my progress. Using Google sheets, I’ve set up a spreadsheet that allows me to:
  • record time spent at the instrument
  • maintain a complete tune list at my fingertips  color coded, mind you ... red for a brand new tune, orange for a tune in process, green for a tune that has been mastered.
  • keep notes specific to each tune, i.e. accomplishments, goals, trouble spots, solutions to problems, current tempo, etc.

Only a week into it, the system seems to be working.  I had been feeling somewhat adrift in my practice, but this system keeps me on task and moving forward. I’ll keep you posted!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday's Muse

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."
 ~ Scott Adams

Friday, November 14, 2014

CTO … I said, "No."

But apparently that wasn't the right answer!

What was the question? See yesterday's post. Then … Check This Out … All relaxed, enjoying the concert, and Ken calls Bart up to play guitar. I'm thinking, "Good for Bart." Then Ken looks and me and says, "Sue, get up here and play my dulcimer!" Me??

It's true that a well ingrained jam session tune would be just the thing. I can play Hangman's Reel in my sleep, right? The tricky part … playing it on Ken's instrument. Pitiful excuse, I know. Took a round to find my place, then it was all fun. Thanks, Ken, for believing in me!

Here's the link: Hangman's Reel, at the Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, SC
Ken & Brad Kolodner (twin fiddles), Bart Saylor (guitar), Sue Wilson (hammered dulcimer)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stay in Ready Position

Gosh, I must be getting old! Or maybe I'm just getting lazy. My personal policy has always been to say 'yes' to musical opportunities. If the challenge appears too great, too scary, too whatever … I say 'yes' then figure out a way to survive.

Last weekend I was in Charleston with my long-time friend, Bart Saylor, and my long-time teacher/mentor, Ken Kolodner. Ken invited me to play a tune with him and his son, Brad, during their concert on Saturday night. I really wanted to do it, but I'm a bit rusty in the performance mode. Not quite up to speed, the brain pathways are not as efficiently connected as they could be if I had been practicing recently with performance in mind.

Instead, the work I've done recently has been more cerebral. Meeting the needs of my students … arranging tunes, planning lessons, perfecting my teaching schtick … has taken up a large portion of the "music" time in my life. Make no mistake, I've learned a LOT. Teaching others will certainly increase a person's understanding of any topic. But, I'm not "performance ready" and I don't like that!

So, it got me thinking. How does one stay "performance ready"?

Real on-stage confidence comes from:
  1. being able to nail a tune consistently
  2. knowing that nailing it isn't a coincidence because … 
  3. you have identified what is required to play a tune perfectly every time
How do you get there? It's all about how you structure your practice.

Keep up the repertoire
Remember the old Girl Scout song? Sing along, now … Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. Of course we all want to continue to learn new stuff, but we must constantly revisit the "keepers" that are on our list. They do fade away without attention.

Establish a deliberate, intentional practice.
Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity. "Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process by which we relentlessly seek solutions to clearly defined problems." It's slow. It's repetitive. It requires monitoring. Here's a good article about this kind of practice:

What happened at the concert Saturday night? Come back Friday for the rest of the story.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday's Muse

You can't be that kid standing at the top of the waterside over thinking it. You have to go down the chute.  ~ Tina Fey

Friday, November 7, 2014

CTO … Have you considered the ergonomics?

Suffering aches and pains? Be more conscious of how you live in your computer work space. This simple video shows what's important:

But, hey ... Check This Out … Some of these tips apply to playing the hammered dulcimer! It's important to pay attention to posture, position of the body and arms relative to the instrument, hammering habits, etc. Lucille Reilly has written about Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and the hammered dulcimer. Read all about it here:

What changes will you make in your dulcimer set-up? or maybe you have a true story about how making changes changed your life for the better? Let us know what's working for you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Practice Creativity

I'm always on the lookout for inspiration, a new idea, a trick that makes it easier to accomplish my goals. No matter the passion of the moment … gardening, cooking, quilting, childrearing, playing the dulcimer … I assume every person I meet has something to teach me about how to do something better.

Of course, many of these tidbits are specific to one area of interest. But when it comes to creativity, the nice surprise is that some bits of wisdom may be applied across the board to all sorts of endeavors.

Years ago, when our creative young daughter wanted to learn to paint I signed her up for lessons with a local artist. I still remember her tips for success:

  • Paint every day.
  • Paint a lot.
  • Don't throw anything away because you might be able to turn it into something else later.

A friend recently shared advice she'd learned from a professional fabric artist:

  • Set aside some time every day to simply play at the sewing machine.
  • No expectations. No judgement. Just sew.
  • Choose a favorite piece of work and change it just a little. Then change it again.

Can you imagine applying these principles to your music practice?
Grow and stay fresh in your practice, no matter what that practice is.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Monday's Muse

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. ~ Virginia Woolf