Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ghost Story

As I was practicing my dulcimer, just playing around moving up and down the scale, one of my favorite songs of all times has begun to appear. The melody is lovely, and the words reach into my heart the way few songs do. OK, more than a few because I'm a pushover. But this one touches me so deeply, that I weep just about every time I hear it. So the plan is to learn the tune on the dulcimer, and revisit it as often as possible, as my skill increases. It is called Ghost Story, by Sting. Of course I had to find a video for it so I'll post that last, first I have to share the lyrics that makes me weep so readily.

The moon's a fingernail
And slowly sinking
Another day begins
And now I'm thinking

That this indifference
Was my invention
When everything I did
Sought your attention

You were my compass star
You were my measure
You were a pirate's map
Of buried treasure

If this was all correct
The last thing I'd expect
The prosecution rests
It's time that I confessed
I must have loved you...

Words and Music by Sting
from A Brand New Day 1999

It's an incredibly brilliant piece of work. I just don't know what else I can possibly say about this one. All time favorite from one of the best albums ever made. So this is the video, watch it and weep.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Music as Tradition

Learning the mountain dulcimer brings up the prospect of learning traditional old time mountain tunes. Many are fiddle tunes that are now being played on the dulcimer, and it's interesting to learn about them. They have crazy names like "Old Black Cat Can't Catch a Rat" and part of the joy is the history. Learning the tunes on the internet takes a bit away from that history, it lacks the traditional feeling of passing them down from master to student. When I get some of the basics down I do intend to take some classes. One day, when I've learned enough to jam with other instruments, I will go to a folk music festival an see what's to be seen there.

It is a mystical little instrument, and I'm not sure how far that will take me, but I'm willing to find out. Today is Sunday, which means I have work to look forward to tomorrow. As jobs go it's a pretty good one, and I can't complain, but I envy the retiree student who gets to spend all their time puttering, practicing, and going off to folk festivals. At least I will have something to look forward to in 20 years or so. That's the dream anyway.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wishing on a Star

It is day seven with my Mountain Dulcimer, and after I went to see open mic night at the 42nd Avenue Station, I came home for my practice session. First I put the kitties to bed, and then I sat down and tuned my dulcimer. After playing for a week I was pretty out of tune, just getting the strings going here folks! I'm working on developing my personal version of "Bile Them Cabbage Down" and just getting to know "Liza Jane" so there's plenty to do. I find that I keep missing the melody string when I go fast, and some of my noting gets a little buzzy, so I decided to slow it down and just work through things methodically.

My fingertips are toughening up nicely, so much so that I can easily do slided with at least my left index finger. I'm also working on some L shaped chords so I can get the side of my thumb used to this business as well. After seven days of play I am getting some song-like things coming out of my little beauty, and I am still trying on some different names for her as well. Tonight I was playing around with noting, and I stumbled upon that old familiar tune "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" along the way. As I played I concentrated on strumming cleanly and gently, and getting a good tone with my left hand. The sweet melody was so pure and reminded me so much of summer days when I was a little girl it actually brought a tear to my eye.

Where once I was wishing on a star to get my dulcimer, now we wish together as I get to know her form and tone. My mountain dulcimer is my BFF for sure, it's no wonder the group I joined is called Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer! She is my constant companion in the evening, and when I'm ready I will share her with some of my other friends. I like what Bing Futch has to say on his dulcimer blog Nowhere,Nevada:
From the music made to the sights seen, with the spark of inspiration to the joy of being around folks that have tapped into this mystical little instrument and claimed it as their own personal totem...
Which is what she is quickly becoming. There is a spiritual quality to music, as is well known. It communicates and carries a message from one soul to another. Sometimes the instruments seem to have a voice of their own as well. Each dulcimer sounds a little different. The type of wood that goes into them makes a huge difference in the tone they give, and then every player plays a little differently too. We are creating a symbiotic voice, she and I. She really is a mystical little instrument. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Take Down the Dulcimer

"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

— Rumi

Well, if it's good enough for Rumi, it's good enough for me! Mornings for me are generally about writing in my journal. My morning pages keep me on track with my life, that way I'm reminded that I don't live to work. Work is a part of my day, not all of my day. In the evening I practice my music. By taking down my dulcimer, I am creating a space of beauty. The songs I am learning are really basic, beginning with some simple things so I can start building that muscle memory. Over time I'll get better, and the music will be more beautiful, and the melody will kneel and kiss the ground.

I do keep running across people online who have fallen in love with this instrument too. Today I found the Dulcimer Girls, and they really have a wonderful way of playing and singing together. The mountain dulcimer is a very welcoming instrument. It's like the girl next door inviting you in for lemonade and cupcakes, hard to resist and adding a sweetness to life. Time to practice.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My New Mountain Dulcimer

At long last my mountain dulcimer arrived safe and sound! When I heard the knock on the door I took the necessary 15 steps to get there and open it, only to see the FedEx driver running back to his truck. Naturally I ran outside and jumped up and down yelling "Hey" while flailing my arms. He pointed to the side door and I found the box.

At this point, I knew I wanted to record every step of welcoming my new instrument home. So I got the camera out, it was bright overcast that day, and it had sprinkled a bit in the morning. Friday May 13th was my lucky day! I grabbed a small knife out of the kitchen and carefully opened the box.

There it was in the hardshell case, and a flyer for the Indiana Dulcimer Festifal for July 23 & 24th 2011. My vacation time is already scheduled out for the summer, so I won't be able to attend. At this point I'm very glad I had the day off to get started on my gardens, that way my new baby wouldn't be sitting all lonely by the side of the house. Of course, since it was not yet noon, I figured I wouldn't get much gardening done!

She's even more beautiful than I could imagine, I love the way the sound hole vines & hearts seem to follow the grain of the wood. Five hearts on each side, it arrived on our fifth wedding anniversary. Cradled safely in her case, my new mountain dulcimer has come home as a welcome addition to our family. Since the fifth anniversary is the wooden one, David pitched in towards the cost. The rest of it is me spoiling myself rotten, but it's been my obsession the past few months, the mountain dulcimer.

I was correct in that I did not get much gardening done that day, instead I starting going through the Fundamental lessions at DulcimerSchool.com thrilled with my new instrument. She sounds wonderful. A full sound loud enough to carry but not so loud that it competes with my voice. Just as I suspected it's the perfect compliment to it. It has some of the bell-like quality as my Kantele does as well, but better volume, and of course lots more notes to play with.

I took a few more pictures of her as well, so that all the details can be seen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When The Trees Dance

When the trees dance, they just may be dancing to Ruth Barrett playing her dulcimer. I had the great priviledge to hear her play at Sacred Paths Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota last Spring. That was before I was thinking of taking up the Mountain Dulcimer, and was studying hard on my Autoharp. My husband and I had heard of Ruth before, being fans of anything to do with Mother Earth. So it was natural that we would go to see her live. It was a wonderful performance, with a full house in an intimate space.

I remember being enchanted with the clear tones of the dulcimer supporting Ruth's strong voice wonderfully. She played songs that spoke to the time of year, which was an in-between time. Warm enough for short sleeves indoors, cold enough for jackets outside. Winter had passed, and Spring was arriving. After the show, our big decision was which CD to take home with us. We decided to with the new one "Garden of Mysteries" because we loved the picture of the tree with the green lights all around it. Lights that were not added by any kind of digital trickery, just the tricks of the Gentle People who dwell near the sacred trees.

When I got the CD home, I was so thrilled with it, the wide variety of songs were an absolute delight. There are two instrumentals featuring the dulcimer as well, which I love to listen to as I wait for my own teardrop dulcimer to arrive. I think one of my favorite's is Archibald McDonald of Kippoch, which is a wonderful traditional tune, and this version combines dulcimer, guitar, fiddle, whistle, viola, and concertina beautifully. Of her original tunes, I think I like New Crone Rising the best, as it celebrates a woman entering her wisdom. This album was new a year ago, she has now journeyed farther into the enchanted realms with "Songs of the Otherworld" which is next on my list of inspirational recordings, along with "A Dulcimer Harvest" of course.

The latest news on the advent of my own dulcimer is that it was released for shipping today, so hopefully I'll get a tracking number tomorrow so I can follow it's progress. This is so very exciting! The waiting has been an experience in patience for me. My fingers are itching to get their hands on the new instrument, and my eyes are longing to devour every detail.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Listening to the Spring Sampler

I got a little over-excited about taking up the Dulcimer. Other players understand what it's like to catch the bug, but my family is still a little wary about it. They don't know quite what to think or how long I will keep up my enthusiasm. With no dulcimer in my hands as of yet, I get by with what I can, by doing things like subscribing to the Dulcimer Players News. It came with a free CD too. Imagine that! A quarterly publication with great articles, dulcimer TAB, and a CD for only $30.00 a year? Well, of course I just had to subscribe right away. Then I got the latest issue right away as well. Sweet!

There are a full 11 songs on the sampler, and it includes hammered dulcimer tunes as well. I love the sound of a hammered dulcimer, I just don't think I'll ever learn to play one. I have plenty of work to do with the Autoharp and the Kantele...and soon the mountain dulcimer. Soon.

Sigh. Not soon enough to suit me, I grow a bit impatient with all this waiting. So the 2011 Spring Sampler CD is in the rotation on the stereo, along with Garden of Mysteries by Ruth Barrett which has two instrumentals with her on the dulcimer. The third and final CD that I use to keep me company while I wait for my new baby to arrive is The Wind that Shakes the Barley by Loreena McKennitt. Before I even realized I was going to take up the mountain dulcimer, I had started picking up CD's for inspiration. That last CD was one of those, because she goes back to her roots and sings a bunch of traditional Celtic songs. The music is lovely, but there are hardly any notes and no lyrics in the package, and I discovered that's one of the things that I love most about Loreena McKennitt's work. Her stories about the songs would transport me and help me share her perspective even as I find my own. Not on this one, I'm on my own.

I've also read two books to pass the time, my sister loaned them to me, along with a third. I think that's how I'll spend the rest of this evening as well. Reading and listening to music. I don't watch TV at all anymore. Why put up with the advertising when I can fill my heart with music and my mind with stories? With folk music the two combine as one, and I don't need anything else but others to share them with.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Puja Puja

I might have to rename my blog again. This time it might be Strum Pluck Drone & Shimmy. Tonight I went to my first ATS Bellydance class. The ATS stands for American Tribal Style, and I really love it! It's going to be an excellent work out for me as well, many of the movements are done with your arms over your head, which boosts the heart rate and works the shoulders at the same time. Here is a video of what I want to look like in a year's time:

I'll keep my red hair of course, but they look so majestic! That video has an interview with the founder of the style of bellydance. My teacher has a blog, Tasha-Rose: ATS is Religion, which deserves tons and tons of followers. Clearly I'll be going back again next week, as I had really fabulous time. I shook the dust off my hips, and lucky for me they remembered those shimmies I learned 5 years ago. This is going to be a delight!

Now I need to find some Mountain Dulcimer tabs for Middle Eastern music and I'll be all set. Since I've moved on to the Mountain Dulcimer, I did have a conversation with FolkCraft today. My dulcimer is built and they are working on finishing it, then it needs to be strung. It should ship in a couple of days, FedEx Ground, so there is a real possiblity I'll have it in my hands by the end of next week. Yay!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring is Here!

Spring is here in Minnesota finally, despite numerous instances of snowflakes spotted on May Day in Minneapolis. I am looking forward to many occasions to play music around a campfire this year. Tomorrow I am going to call Folkcraft and check on the status of my new Mountain Dulcimer. I really find it hard to believe that I've held out this long actually. Since I have the two days off of work BEFORE it is scheduled to arrive, I'll ask about maybe getting it a little earlier. Over the past month, I'm pretty sure I've watched all 186 episodes of the Dulcimerica podcast. At least that's what I tried to do.

Tomorrow I will post the result of my conversation, with the ETA of my instrument, and anything else I can think of regarding my Mountain Dulcimer.