Monday, January 28, 2019

Monday's Muse

Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine. ~ Macklemore

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday's Muse

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?  ~ Mary Oliver

Friday, January 18, 2019

CTO ... Song of the Wood has Moved!

You may have heard rumors and talk... but now it has come to pass. Song of the Wood, North Carolina's premier dulcimer shop, has relocated. Jerry Read Smith has announced the opening of the new showroom.

Check This Out:  Jerry has taken the showroom home... a few steps out his front door and adjoined to his workshop and Perelandra Studio. The entire complex is up a ridge, overlooking the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jerry reports the downtown Black Mountain building that has housed Song of the Wood since 1980 was sold. So, the first week of January they packed up and moved to the East Asheville location.

Open hours for the store are limited:  Saturdays, 10:00am - 2:00pm, BUT visits may be scheduled by appointment any day of the week. Jerry notes that the phone number, email and website addresses have not changed. There is a new facebook page and the opportunity to follow on instagram.

Song of the Wood still carries the same beautiful instruments - hammered and mountain dulcimers, bowed and plucked psalteries, some harps, as well as books and accessories, music, gifts, and more. In addition, there is always the online store.

Check out the website for photos and more information.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday's Muse

Music sounds different to the one who plays it. It is the musician’s curse.  ~ Patrick Rothfuss

Monday, January 7, 2019

Monday's Muse

I've seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write... and you know it's a funny thing about housecleaning... it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she "should" be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.  ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Friday, January 4, 2019

CTO ... Marya Katz Presenting Annual Workshop on MLK Day

Marya Katz, of Blacksburg VA, is back, with her annual all-day hammered dulcimer workshop on MLK Monday. What a great way to begin the new year ... musical inspiration in the company of old and new friends.

This workshop will be geared to advanced-beginner to intermediate players, but Marya says ALL are welcome! She will assist beginners as needed, and says that even advanced players will get some interesting arranging ideas to try... plus some new tunes! Since this is a "repertoire" session rather than a "technique" session, the focus will be learning the tunes and nuances of Welsh music.

Check This Out for all the details ... and come join the fun!

Monday, January 21, 2019
Doors open 8:15am
Workshop 9:00am - 3:30pm

College Park Baptist Church
1701 Polo Road, Winston Salem, NC

The Theme:
Exploring the Unique Sounds of the Music of Wales
(i.e. Celtic, but NOT Irish or Scottish)

The Schedule:
8:15                        Gather to tune, get coffee and snacks (included), hug old friends
9:00am - 3:30pm    Workshop, with a break for lunch (also included)

How Much?
$65 - payable at the door
covers the cost of the workshop, all materials, coffee / snacks, and a box lunch

How to Register?
Contact BOTH Marya at AND Terry Lefler
so Marya will know how many packets of information to prepare and Terry can make arrangements with you for lunch.

Special Requests (i.e. need tablature? don't need lunch? something else?)
Please email Marya Katz 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

And speaking of new things ...

There's a new dulcimer in the music room. Isn't THAT a fantastic way to start the year!

It seems that I've come full circle. In October 1995, I bought my first hammered dulcimer through Song of the Wood, Black Mountain, NC. It was a Master Works, 15/14 instrument. It was a great instrument to learn on, but eventually I needed more notes.

In 2004 I contracted with Jerry Read Smith to build a custom 3-1/2 octave instrument for me. This instrument failed in the first year due to a new glue system Jerry was using in production. For a reasonable agreed-upon fee, Jerry replaced / upgraded that instrument to a 2004 model JRS 4-1/2 octave Grand Concertmaster that was on display and for sale at his shop, the Song of the Wood. This was a happy outcome, as I didn't have to wait for a new instrument to be built! Plus, I had chosen the 3-1/2 octave instrument in the first place because I didn't think I wanted to haul around a larger instrument. Jerry allowed me to try the Grand Concertmaster at the Swannanoa Gathering dulcimer week. After schlepping it around the Warren Wilson campus for a week I figured I could manage it. I said, "I'll take it!" and never regretted moving up to the extended range.

The JRS Grand Concertmaster developed some issues over time, including a sinking soundboard (successfully repaired in 2006) and annoying buzzes that would come and go. So, in November 2011, I replaced my original JRS Grand Concertmaster with my current instrument... another JRS Grand Concertmaster built in 2000, almost identical to the first, purchased sight-unseen on eBay from a woman in Georgia. The instrument has served me well. And that brings us to the present time...

On October 4, 2018 I ordered a customized Russell Cook Edition 17/17XR-R from Master Works. It was delivered on December 27th. How's that for good service!

Dampers - the real game changer
Photo from Master Works

How long have I had damper lust? Who can say? I do know that I've been "thinking" about a new instrument for years. I've come very close to purchasing a number of different instruments, but none seemed to be "just right". There was always something that posed an unacceptable issue to me. Gradually, more and more players began using dampers. I was feeling very behind the times!

Then Russell Cook came up with this iteration of his Russell Cook Edition (RCE). With Ruth Smith's input, he developed an extended range RCE with:

  • the treble and bass bridges moved closer together
  • the super-bass bridge on the right side of the instrument
  • a 4-1/2 octave chromatically complete instrument in a compact, lightweight body
  • availability in lower sustain
  • and a slick damper system

I have always liked Master Works instruments ... the quality, the sound ... and have admired Russell Cook's personal integrity and the way he runs his business. But the distance between the bridges at the bottom of his larger instruments was a deal breaker. Splayed out, far away from each other, I could not visually see complete patterns at the bottom of those instruments and valley rolls were made unnecessarily difficult. The re-design took care of that problem. Also, I have a definite preference for the low bass notes to be located on the right side of the instrument. Voilá! Plus, the obvious fact that I'm not getting any younger... in recent years I had decided my next instrument would have to be a smaller one.

More desirable options available in this custom instrument:

  • Pick-up optimized for use with this instrument
  • Internal sealant for more stability in tuning
  • Curly maple pin blocks and contrasting wood bindings
  • Choice of exotic woods (I chose leopard wood for the end rails) with the soundboard and the back custom stained to match

Photo from Master Works

Custom sound hole inserts - why Man in the Maze?
Photo from Master Works

Man in the Maze is an ancient Native American design, originally found on Tohono O'odham baskets. This prehistoric pattern symbolizes one's journey through life. My interest in Native American stories and art began at the age of 13 when my mother and step-father married. He was nearly FBI - full blood Indian - 27/32 to be exact, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. From that time on I spent my summers on the Cherokee Qualla Boundary located in western North Carolina. It is a beautiful place, bordered by the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, and I have very fond memories of the people I grew to know there.

A good description of the iconic Man in the Maze symbol can be found on Garland's Indian Jewelry / Navaho Rugs website. I have included a portion of that description here: According to the legend, the man at the top of the maze depicts birth. By following the white pattern as it winds toward the center, the figure goes through the maze encountering many turns and changes, symbolic of life’s choices. As the journey continues, one acquires knowledge, strength and understanding. The labyrinth illustrates the search for balance in the physical, social, mental and spiritual realms while working toward our dreams and goals.

The crew at Master Works did a fine job of creating these custom sound hole inserts, a beautiful addition that makes this instrument truly unique, and reminds me daily that we are all on a spiritual journey.

It was a pleasure to work with Ruth Smith, who advised and guided me through the process of designing my custom, one-of-a-kind instrument, and acted as my contact and go-between with Master Works to get the order just right.

For help creating your own custom instrument, contact Ruth:  828-297-1918

To find out more about the Master Works RCE instrument check out Steve & Ruth Smith's website: