Sunday, October 30, 2011

Good Night & Joy Be With You All

"Good night and joy be with you all"
Those are the words you need to learn for the sing-a-long part of my closer - "The Parting Glass". It will be the last song of the night of my music party, and I hope to make it a tradition. Every musician must have at least one closer, sometimes it's a rousing and exciting song. Sometimes it's a little more quiet to end the night on. And frankly, the saying "good night and joy be with you all" is a bit nicer that "get the fuck out of here', which is also a closer.

The song has become synomonous with Irish Pubs, so much so it has become the title to a book on the subject. I think I shall put that on my wish list, especially since someday we hope to decorate our basement like a pub. I'm looking forward to music parties held down there!

Once upon a time I had a friend named Fred, where every song was a closer. Hard to follow, but fun to hear, he has been a longtime favorite of mine with his twelve string guitar. The last time he played at one of my parties was 15 years ago. Much too long, and never since I began having regular music parties. I miss him and his twelve string, and the "Red Dancing Shoes" we would all sing along to in harmony. I hope he makes it to this party, I sure would love to hear him play.

That's what I love the most about music parties, I love singing in harmony, and it's always different. Unrehearsed, filled with joy for the music and the people around you, you just sing your heart the best you can next to your neighbor. The churches got that part right, and even provide handy hymnals to sing from. My music parties are a bit more informal, but I want to let everyone join in on the music. Live acoustic music is something that I crave on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that is something rather hard to find sometimes. Except that I know there is a wonderful jam Tuesday nights at Merlin's Rest, and I indent to attend that this coming Tuesday, since I will not have to go to work the next day.

Yes, I am taking the entire week off leading up to the music party. It's my annual fall stay-cation, because this is my favorite time of year. Raking leaves and practicing my Mountain Dulcimer in preperation for the party are my active tasks for the week. Less active are reading and snuggling with cats. Much snuggling has already been done today, with reading to come and fixing a tasty dinner for my honey and me.

But I digress...the song is a wonderful classic, and I found a terrific accapella version of it by the Wailin Jennys on YouTube. I'd never heard of them before, and I'm really excited to find a new group of ladies singing and playing music from the heart. Bonus is that they're from Minneapolis North, also known as Winnepeg Canada! Woot! They're practically family already.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Missing My Autoharp

As much as I love my mountain dulcimer, and my kantele for that matter, I do miss my autoharp. I had two years of happy play with her, and I miss holding her against my heart. Lap instruments are warm and cozy,  but actually being able to embrace an instrument the way you do an Autoharp...well...there's just nothing like it. There were times that I would just put my ear next to the harp and close my eyes and play. There was such a wonderful sense of the vibration of the strings, and feeling the sound resonate from the body of the 'harp to my body when I played. That is what I miss, and that wonderful sound of so many strings ringing out at once.

Rather than break into my little pile of emergency savings to buy a new one, I'm saving for it instead, so it will take a while. Because, no matter how much I miss my autoharp, this is not an emergency. With my trusty mountain dulcimer at my side, I will get through the long and cold Minnesota winter while my savings grow to buy a new instrument. One thing that I have decided is that I plan to get a custom instrument, and my teacher Karen Mueller recommends the Arkansas Autoharp as a good option at a good price. I like the way it looks, and I'm sure I could adapt from a 21 bar to an 18 bar for most songs that I have in my book.

Until my savings account is full, I shall continue to give myself little pep talks like this in my blog, as a reminder that I'm a multi-instrumentalist. But I will continue to miss playing my autoharp anyway.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Moments With My Dulcimer

Moments are spent with my mountain dulcimer, both playing and enjoying it's beauty. For my birthday, my husband bought me a wonderful display stand for my lovely instrument from Ray Lynn Woods. Each morning I sit in a chair where I can see my lovely girl in her stand, looking pretty. Before work I have to have my quiet time, when I sit and have my first cup of coffee and write my morning pages in my journal. It's become a daily ritual for me that I rarely ever miss. My cats join me in the room and we have a good time, them gazing out the window or dozing in a chair, and me with my coffee, journal, and view of my mountain dulcimer. She really is a work of art in and of herself, and having a hand crafted stand is the best option for her as well. As I get to know her voice, I am reminded of all the other dulcimer players out there, who love their lovely fretted friends as much as I do. They bring us so much joy in their quiet sweet way. It's like the first time I lived with cats, I knew that I never wanted to live without them. Both came to me later in life, and both have taught me many lessons about patience, kindness, and being able to just relax once in a while.

Relaxing is the key to happiness I think. I get so caught up in things emotionally, that I need to find a place within myself to rest. That place is full of sleepy kitties and the sweet sound of the mountain dulcimer. Autumn has arrived here in Minnesota, and it's my favorite season. The leaves are decorating the lawns and dancing in the streets. In just over a week, I'll be taking a Stay-cation and loving every minute of it. Finally I get a chance to slow down and spend entire days like my precious mornings. No goals or ambitions, other than to get the house ready for my music party. Tonight's practice went a little better than last night's, and I worked on fingerpicking while singing "Red is the Rose". I've known the song for many years, so learning it on the dulcimer makes a lot of sense to me, and I'm so happy to do it.

I'm feeling very peaceful, but still excited about the party. My hope is to play my songs without my music stand and book in front of me, that means memorizing quite a bit, but it makes me quite joyful too. That way it's just me and my mountain dulcimer, as I play music learned by heart. Finding moments with my dulcimer brings a lot of happiness into my life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sore Fingers

The problem with practicing mountain dulcimer immediately after doing dishes is that my fingertips have softened a bit after soaking in warm water. While I have managed to work up some callouses, I found my fingers a bit sensitive at the beginning of this nights practice. Sore fingers are common among musicians specializing in stringed instruments, and my first few days of practice were a little uncomfortable. It's the price we pay to get to know our instruments.

Today is the first day in over a week that I actually did practice. Avoiding housework except for necessary puttering to get through each day, I also successfully avoided building up a bank of time to practice. So tonight, even though I'm very, very tired, I cleaned a bit and practiced a bit. Because I was never blessed with discipline, I have to rely on my innate stubbornness to get me through my plan to have both a clean house and a well rehearsed list of songs in time for my music party. Sleep is what I need right now, so off I go, in the hopes that a cat or two will come tuck me in.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Truth About Taking Up The Mountain Dulcimer

While looking in on the Fingerpicking group on Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, I discovered another beginner like myself who has learned an interesting fact: the more you play, the dirtier your house gets. It's true, the dulcimer calls to me much more often and loudly than the dishes, the laundry, the toilet, even my thirsty plants aren't getting enough attention. It is so common that there's been a song written about it, "Cat Hair on My Fretboard" recorded by TNT. They even have the TAB for sale. So cats are common as well among dulcimer enthusiasts, interesting.

With a big music party coming up, I need to get my practicing in, but the house will need to be kept clean as well. Being the persnickity person that I am, I have devised a plan. For every hour that I spend cleaning each day, that's how much time I get to practice my dulcimer. Please do not take this statement lightly, because I certainly don't, in fact I have a form that I will be logging my time in. That way I won't cheat myself out of a clean house. It's for my own good really, and I just might be stubborn enough to get something accomplished. I'm turning over a new, and neater, leaf this Autumn!

And because it's all about folk music for me, I thought it would be fun to end this post with an amazing video of Butch Ross singing his original tune, "I like Singing Folksongs"

It really describes a life doen't it? There's so much talent out there in the Mountain Dulcimer community. Down to earth, real people with a passion for this kind of music. That's why I'm doing it too, nothing speaks to my soul more than Folk Music. It's best live and with a room full of friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Grey Day

Tonight after work I stopped at Homestead Pickin' Parlor and scheduled my next dulcimer lesson with Karen. When I walked in the door, right before my eyes, were a couple of albums by Mimi & Richard Farina. After updating the dulcimer page on the blog here, I knew I had to get my hands on some of their music. I chose the cheaper album which also features an autoharp. There are several instrumental songs on the album, which is exacty what I wanted.

The title suits me as well. "Celebrations for a Grey Day" fits my mood of late when I'm not happily strumming away at my dulcimer. It's been too long since I've seen some live folk music, and I will have to remedy that soon. Having a lesson will perk me up a bit as well, I'm sure. Visiting HPP always is a welcome retreat from the pristine world of my corporate job. They're an old school mom and pop shop with an old fashioned cash register, so after sitting all day in front of a computer with my wireless earpiece taking customer service calls, the low tech world really appeals me. I'm actually longing for old style phones with chords and everything. Oh to have a rotary phone! One of the big heavy black ones that were made out of some kind of ceramic/plastic hybrid. Glorious days of old. As I sit here at my home computer, listening the album I just Ripped to my hard-drive, I sit and wonder at the passage of time. Richard died in a motorcycle accident a few months before I was born, but here I am listening to his music.

The title track to the album is playing which is a medley jam of an assortment of tunes. It somehow works and I'm looking forward to the day when I know enough songs to choose some for a medley of my own. The liner notes are an interesting ramble, wrapped up with a folk musician's point of view.

"Time, tide, and the accident of what the statisticians call birth have conspired to provide us with a tradition barely ours and hardly it's own.  Music, if it has a mind to, can sing about things like that, and maybe set one or two of them straight, yes?" ~ Richard Farina
A passage through time forms between the drone of the dulcimer and the bass strings of the guitar. So many days pass with nothing but work, but in the evening all is music. It is my refuge in so many ways. We are having warm days this week with highs in the 80's, twenty degrees above normal for the start of an October in Minnesota. Some days I just want to go away to the woods for a while, like maybe the rest of my life, and play my dulcimer and snuggle with cats. Life has gotten so complicated, I want something simpler, something full of stories and song.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

From Kantele to Dulcimer

With my next music party just a month away, and my autoharp out of commission, I need to get more tunes for the mountain dulcimer. While I have the wonderful book by Neil Hellman on Celtic music for the mountain dulcimer, I really want to explore my Finnish heritage in song as well. Lucky for me one of the major tunings used on the Kantele is the key of D, so tonight I made up my first Mountain Dulcimer TAB from the book "My Kantele is My Teacher" by Lani K. Thompson that I got a year ago. I picked a very simple tune for the first one, because of my lack of skill with my MD as well as it's my first time coming up with my own tab. I found this is a really good way to learn more about what makes a song a song. Even this simple one, which is just eight bars long, had something to teach me.

My experiment worked very well, and I should have a Traditional Finnish folk song or two memorized in time for my music party. It helps that I'm taking my staycation the week leading up to it. So I will have no excuses for either having a messy house or a lack of playing ability. Most of my musician friends have RSVP'd as maybe. I will have to do a little begging and cajoling to get then to commit to coming to play. I'm kind of obsessed with learning to play better at the moment. I want to pick up my instrument every chance that I get. At least I won't embarrass myself too badly in front of my party guests!