Sunday, December 9, 2012

Kantele Journey

Taking up the Kantele is a journey through another land, mainly Finland, and one where I do not speak the language. But I think I have met a guide, and I will be contacting her about learning to play the 10 string Kantele. It is none other than Diane Jarvi, and I had the pleasure to make her acquaintance a week ago. I have been thoroughly enjoying the new albums of hers that I picked up, and it's renewed my excitement in really learning to master this instrument and a learn a wider variety of techniques. Diane studied Kantele at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, and has done workshops on playing the Kantele across the region. One thing I am considering is added a strap to my 10 string so I can play it standing up. Here's a little bit of inspiration for me and all you other Kantele fans out there: All in Finnish, of course! I'm learning some words and phrases here and there, and working on a song in Finnish right now that is quite lovely. This journey began with my lovely five string kantele in 2010, and now continues with the ten string here in 2012. It is an odd journey, but it's rich and fascinating, filled with unexpected twists and turns. I learn and sing and play as I go along, and it is delightful and my soul glories in it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Long Expected Party

My posts here of late have been few and far between. It's not that I haven't been pursuing music, it's quite the opposite. Since I last posted I have completed building my ten string Kantele, pictures were taken by my sister and husband and I have yet to obtain them. When I do I will be certain to create a nice long blog post of my kantele building adventures.

Rehearsals for Season 4 of the Idisi has begun, and I am having a wonderful time with all of my wyld sisters every wednesday night. We are getting ready for a big photo shoot this coming Sunday, it will be a great time providing the weather is accomodating. Wyld women photograph best in a natural environment, after all. It's an exciting time in my life, and I am most looking forward to sharing all the happenings with my friends next month at my Annual Fall Music party.

Let's talk a little about The HOBBIT A Long Expected Party, shall we? I have preared some songs that are Middle Earth inspired, one on my mountain dulcimer, and three on my autoharp. I hadn't even had my autoharp in my little eager hands a week when I was suddenly inspired and worked out a melody to one of my favorite Tolkien poems, I Sit and Think, which is attributed to Bilbo Baggins:
I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall never see.
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.
This is the first song I have written that has words to it, so it is a milestone for me. I have a couple that I wrote on the mountain dulcimer and a couple on the five string kantele. I love to play them and I think they sound good, to my ears anyway, and if there are some quiet moments I may play them at the party as well.

While I would like to spend all my spare time practicing my instruments between now and November 17th, I will be spending a considerable amount of time getting the house ready. We pulled up the carpeting in the living room this past weekend, and there is more prep work to do before we can sand and finish the hard wood floors. The good news is that there does not appear to be any gouges or damaged boards. But there are many stains which may or may not come off in the sanding process. We'll see. A stained but re-finnished hardwood floor is still more attractive than a stained old carpet.

But back to the music, there is one little bit of trivia that I want to share. There is a strong link between Authoharps and The Hobbit. Marc Gunn, Autoharpist and Tolkien fan extrodinare, wrote some of my favorite songs in honor of middle earth that I have ever heard. In fact, his song Ring of Hope, is one that I have prepared for the party. But don't worry, you can learn some Hobbit friendly tunes in time for the event yourself. Just purchase his songbook via downloadable PDF, like I did!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dream Autoharp Arrives

The long wait is ended, and my Dream Autoharp, the d'Aigle Desert Rose 18 chord chromatic, is resting comfortably in her stand between the bookcase and my little electric fireplace in my studio. In the end, she did not get the chord bar layout that I selected, but the standard one. It was a surprise, but I found one song that I can play in my book that I wouldn't have been able to with my selection. And two that won't work. But one of those is "Red is the Rose", which is now one of my favorites on my mountain dulcimer, so all will be well. It's part of the challenge, learning to play with the limitations of the instrument. All instruments have limitations in one way or another, as do our dreams.

Zithers as a whole are nearly limitless, especially in their most well known form, the pianoforte. That's right. I said pianoforte, because that was the original name, and yes it is a zither. A hammered zither that can play both soft, piano, and loud, forte. This was an advancement of the original harpsichord design, which plucked the strings and therefore did not have as much variety in volume. But I digress. The important thing is I have an Autoharp again, and I can play it. I'm actually amused at how easy it was to pick up and start playing again, I even can pick a bit of melody of Ode to Joy. Delighted doesn't begin to describe what I'm feeling. It's like coming home again, full of comfort, but also knowing I don't have to leave. My autoharp is here to stay, and I'm eager to work on more music and master the tunes that I was just beginning to learn a year ago. The camera is not here, but there will be pictures posted this weekend for sure.

I think I shall play her one more time before bed...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Them's Pickin' words

I don't think I've ever taken a picture from my facebook feed and posted it here before. Well, there is a first time for everything, because I love everything about it. Here's why:
  1. It's true
  2. It's on a pick
  3. The pick is on a chain that you can wear around your neck
Yup, that pretty much sums up what music can do. It keeps bringing me back, time and time again. When I need to express myself and I can't find words, I pick up an instrument. It's all about communication, even if it's only the cats I'm playing for. Frankly, I think they just may understand the music better than my innane banter I throw at them. Playing music has become a meditation privately, and all that time spent alone means I've gotten practice enough that I can play with other musicians now and again.

In two days I will be ready to send my final paymenet for my autoharp, and I feel really blessed. Many friends contributed to the Dream Autoharp fund, and I am humbled by their generosity. Dreams are something we can share with each other and participate in. Like songs, they speak to the heart when words fail.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Jammin' at Merlin's Rest

Last Tuesday night I resolved myself to be brave and join in the Tuesday night jam at Merlin's Rest. When I arrived with my dulcimer, book, and purse, I would have awkwardly stumbled in through the door, but a waitress opened it for me. I've known about the Jam for a long time, but I just never got the courage to join in until now. This was a big step for me, as there usually are some very fine musicians who show up.
Musicians Open Jam Session: 8:30
If you are a musician and want to share your talents or maybe learn some new ones – stop in every Tuesday. A fantastic evening of listening and joining in with some of Minnesota’s top musicians
So I was there at 8:30, and a hammered dulcimer player, who also plays guitar was there, as well as one other guitar player. I asked if it was OK to join them, and open means open, so I sat down to play. The hammered dulcimer player did not want to lead in any songs right away, so I alternated with the guitarist. I led in three songs: Wild Mountain Thyme, Diamonds & Rust, and Where Have all the Flowers gone. Actually I was kind of nervous, but not as nervous as I thought I would be.

My quiet dulcimer did not do well against all the noise of the bar, but I got a little applause starting out anyway. Sometime after my second song, the hammered dulcimer player wandered off. I played anything I had that wasn't a ballad, so I began packing up at around 9:15 and the other guitarist went for a beer break. Minnesota Ren Fest starts this weekend, so I'm guessing that may have affected how many musicians were showing up, or how few. I might try showing up again when I am confident of a couple more "bar friendly" songs, and with heaviers strings and pick in hand to try and combat the noise. All in all, it was a successful night for me, if a short one. My new autoharp might be a better choice regarding the noise, and it has more chords, so I'd be less limited in a jam environment.

We'll see if I go next week.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Musical Adventures

Once upon a time the warriors were in a battle and it wasn't going well. They needed to call in for additional reinforcements, and so they used the Merseberg Incantation:
'Once the Idisi sat, sat here and there,
some bound fetters, some hampered the army,
some untied fetters:
Escape from the fetters, flee from the enemies.'
Such is the way of things, that when all else fails, calling for the magical women to come and do their work is what changed the fate of those in battle. In Minnesota, women have taken up the call. Led by the phenominal Dayna Jean Wolters, The Idisi makes music and magic.
'The Idisi is a gathering of women intent on singing and opening the world up to the sonic healing, especially that of the Divine Feminine.

We are a chorus of women raising the vibrations of ourselves, and of those we encounter through music of many cultures, faith practices, and life paths.

The Idisi come together with great love, respect, and honor among ourselves as artists and access the healing properties of sonics to share that energy with as many people as we can.

We are on a powerful journey of Joy, Love, and Light.'
Yesterday I auditioned for the Idisi, and I was welcomed into their company. Rehersals start in October, and I am thrilled to be on this new and wondrous journey of music and spirit, becoming one of the Idisi myself in truth. I have their album and found it to be moving and wonderful.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Finnish Folk Music

Falling in love with the music of my Finnish ancestry was easy. It is beautiful and many songs can be played on my five string kantale. The Finns are known for their rather dark sense of humor, but there is another way of looking at it. Marjorie Edgar was a collector of Finnish folk music in the first half of the twentieth century and she had this to say about it:

Finnish dance tunes are gay and Finnish humor is charming. The latter appears in many of the songs, and there are so many hearty rollicking tunes that one wonders if the usual American idea of "the gloomy music of the northern countries" Is not a misconception. Even the melancholy airs, of which there are plenty and among the most lovely, have no feeling of self-pity; they are rather detached in spirit and have a mysticism of a purely Finnish type, as unconscious of its quality as a stream or a spruce would be.
On the other hand, I personally have a tendency to get into some down moods. But it's not depression, I've decided, it's just my Finnish nature. It's taken me until middle-age to realize that it's OK when things don't go your way, and if you truly love something, keep at it no matter what. At the same time I need to be practical and pragmatic, but pursuing my love of zithers relentlessly is my ultimate musical goal. Another way of putting it is a uniquely Finnish term called sisu. From Wikipedia:
Sisu is an ability to finish a task successfully, as defined by Roman Schatz in his book From Finland with Love (2005), and decisiveness. Usually sisu means the will and decisiveness to surmount challenges against impossible odds.

I've never considered myself as disciplined, but rather stubborn and determined. Add to that a willingness to do the work, and I think I'm beginning to understand sisu a bit. I have goals, in that I want to share Finnish folk music and the Finnish folk instrument of the Kantele by writing some music books in the next year. To that end, I've begun learning a program to create tabulature for the Mountain Dulcimer, plan on learning the 10 string Kantele after I build it, and I just learned about Finnish music camp. I missed it this year, but I'll keep an eye on the website for next year. For more on Sisu and the Finnish mentality, check out this video on car racing. It makes me proud to be half Finnish.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dream to Reality: Autoharp Aquisition Part 2

My vision of what my life is with music is pictured here, specifically, my new Autoharp sitting inside Bag End in Hobbiton. The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien have, for the past 30 years, been a delight and inspiration to me. This coming winter The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be coming out in theaters near you, (get your Facebook covers now!) and I am thrilled beyond belief. So much so that I really wanted to share this feeling with everyone here, because it ties in with my Autoharp in a big way. In my last post I mentioned the Bards of Old, and I have to say, that Tolkien was one of the best bards of all time. My goal, when I get my Autoharp, is to learn some Tolkien inspired music. Lucky for me, Marc Gunn has been out there playing his Autoharp and writing songs! His most recent release is Don't Go Drinking With Hobbits, and I had to get a copy, of course. He even signed it! Now that I'm totally into music, adding some of his tunes to my repetoir is a key goal. Since my love of LOTR began, the lyrics Tolken wrote have filled my mind. My sister once put some to music, and I hope to be able to do the same as well, and I also want to learn the theme to the animated Hobbit movie.

That's the goal. The reality is I still need to make one more payment and patiently await the arrival of my Autoharp. Or not so patiently. Every once in a while, I'll pick up my poor old broken autoharp and hold it and press the buttons. I can never play it again, but it's good to feel it in my arms, close my eyes, and imagine myself in Bag End with my new one. For me, music has become the greatest adventure. I can create and learn and share, it's just so exciting! I also get to dive deep into the folk music of my ancestors while I'm at it. I've gone a year without being able to play this instrument which opened up a whole new world to me. To be able to hold and play one that was made just for me, well that will be a day of joy indeed. Until then, I am still accepting donations, there's just $312.00 left on my layaway. Please consider making a donation today.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Itchy Fingers

It's summer and I have itchy fingers. They are itching on a daily basis for the Autoharp that I have on layaway. It will be several weeks yet before I get my new baby, but they are itching nonetheless. This malady is coming with increasing frequency and intensity as the day of arrival draws near. Visions of songs dance in my head, the ones that I learned on Autoharp that I never learned on Dulcimer, and the ones I had planned to learn...all are popping into my mind as I wait for my new Autoharp. Tonight I write the check for the fourth of five payments, and I'm amazed at how quickly time has passed since I made my decision in April.

A lot has happened since then. I've written another song on the Dulcimer, and learned two new lovely standard folk tunes: "Southwind" and "The Storms are on the Ocean" which I play just about every day. It's fun learning just the melody on the mountain dulcimer and not worry about the words.  Maybe I'll learn the chords and lyrics when I get my Autoharp, so I'll have two different versions to choose from on my different instruments. And as much as I enjoy practicing my dulcimer, and it sits so joyfully on my lap, I long to embrace my new Autoharp. Nothing can compare with the intimacy of that instrument, as it vibrates against my body, my heart can't help but respond. So much joy these zithers have brought to my life! They are like members of the family, as much as the cats are. I learn to care for them, play with them, and share them with others. And then there are the long moments we spend alone together, getting to know our abilities and strengthening them together, my zithers and I. It is a mystical relationship, and I feel connected to the Bards of Old as I learn tunes played hundreds of years ago.

The feelings go so deep, I feel as if there are strings on my soul that I awaken as I strum my zithers, a resonance and mystery fills me as I play. I wonder what songs I will write on the Autoharp, and how will she feel under my fingers? I can only imagine and long for the end of summer to come, darkening evenings and hours by candlelight to practice. It's so exciting! I feel like I'm off on a new adventure.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Strange Zithers & Autoharp Gourmet Beef Stew

There's a pot of beef stew simmering on the stove, and my fingers are itching to play autoharp. I've tried plying them with my kantele, my dulcimer, even pulling out the wood pieces for my kantele kit and I still have itchy fingers. This ailment was probably triggered by writing out a check for my next payment for my Dream Autoharp that is on layaway with d'Aigle Autoharps.

I've also had dreams of strange zithers arriving on my doorstep. Rare and wonderful, I always find they come with complete instructions and I run into people who have played them for years. Never quite an autoharp, they have unusual gizmos or strings to set them apart from the ordinary zither. So now that the little beasties are haunting my dreams and making my fingers long for them, what's a girl to do? Look over her Autoharp Gourmet book that's what!

I have the CD around here somewhere too...ah there it is...much better having the soundtrack for this blog post going. The CD came with an electronic version of the music for every song on the CD. I was just starting to learn to pick melodies on my Autoharp when I had to set it aside due to a fatal crack in the soundboard that made it un-tunable. I was working with Karen Mueller herself as my teacher and her wonderful sheet music that came on the Autoharp Gourmet.

In just a few short months I hope to resume my lessons and continue on my journey as an autoharpist. Until then, I will peruse the web for videos, pictures, and more information. If I cannot feed my fingers by giving them an autoharp to play, then I will at least feed my mind and ears with the sound of this incredible instrument. The day my new autoharp comes will be a joyous one indeed! There will be happy fingers at last, and an Autumn Music party to plan. I love starting new things in the fall, it's a great time for me to learn and enjoy the good things in life. Even though it's the height of summer, that beef stew smells really good right now. I must be anticipating the arrival of the new addition to my little zither clan with all my senses!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Some Assembly Required

Six months ago I bought a new Kantele kit, which I never mentioned here in my blog. Why would a zither enthusiast like myself not mention this you may ask? After all, I was incredibly excited about the opportunity to build my own kantele, and I poured over the videos showing my how to build it. But it was a secret, because I bought one for my twin sister Jane too, and our birthday is June 17th. So I kept them in the closet and only brought them out once in a while to look over the woods and kit parts. She still can't believe that I never even dropped a hint as to what I did, getting us twins each a kantele kit. I had to get them in January because they were on sale. It's my Finnish frugality flexing it's muscles I suppose. So now, FINALLY, I get to gush about this new project that I'll be working on. Jane's not going to have much time until fall to build hers, but I might just have to start mine early. I've already waited six months after all!

So that's what I will be making for myself, and helping my sister make hers as well. I am so looking forward to having a 10 string kantele! It's going to be so much fun learning new songs and having someone to play some duets with. I bought the kits from Music Makers, and they came with all the parts including the correct size drill bit for drilling the holes for the zither pins. When I stumbled upon it online, I was so excited that I knew that both my twin and I needed one, and since Jane loves woodworking, it was the perfect gift. Since I found them just after Christmas, the next best thing was a birthday present. The other thing I loved about it was the chance to order from a Minnesota based business, think globally and buy locally as they say. The only catch was keeping it all a secret for six months. Only my husband knew what I was up to, and he kept the secret as well. Did I mention I was EXCITED! And honestly, I can hardly believe I kept this whole thing a secret myself. But now the kits are out of the closet and I can start assembling my new 10 string kantele. Yay! Another instrument to play!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Neo-Folk Romantique

It's June, the month of wine and roses, and I am listening to Sharon Knight play on her album Neofolk Romantique. A folk musician, cultural creative, and super cool redhead, Sharon's voice is the perfect accompaniment to a cloudy Saturday in Minnesota. Last night I saw her in concert with her talented guitarist and colaborator Winter. It was a rare treat and a feast for this folk music lover's soul. I had only heard a song or two by her before, but I knew I wanted to experience this minstrel live. Clearly, I was not disappointed. Her flaming red hair, her leather corset, her octave mandolin...yes, this is inspiration bold and beautiful. Her voice tells tales in a clear alto that lifts on fairy wings into a delicate soprano, making magic of the words. Whether she was playing traditional tunes or her own passionate and mystical songs, I was entranced by the magic she brings. Somehow she brings the line between old town pub and fairy forest together, in such a way that at the end of the night I felt like I had been in both.

Watching Sharon play her octave mandolin made me want to play my own instruments even more, and maybe take up the octave mando as well! Now I read on her website that she's a fan of Finnish Metal music, and that was definitely music to the ears of this Kantele playing zither enthusiast! While I'm not a huge fan of metal, the Finnish stuff definitely has that special vibe that has more in common with folk music than rock music. Sharon is a wonderful, friendly person as well, and this is her day job. So if you are reading this, you should definitely check out her website. Hard to describe, but her own bio sums it up pretty nicely:

Although her musical foundations are solidly built on her Celtic heritage, Sharon has never been one to hold fast to tradition, preferring instead to look to her roots for inspiration and then chart her own path.

That path often sounds less Celtic and more “Folktales that ran away with the Faeries at the turn of the century and took cover in an old trunk bound for the circus, which was then commandeered by pirates.” She likes it this way.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kantele Spring

It's another beautiful Spring day in Minnesota. The sky is blue and the breeze is blowing dandelion fluff all around. Too bad we don't like dandelions too much in these parts, I liked them well enough as a child. In the neighborhood I grew up in, we would pick the dandelions when they were in full seed, make a wish and blow them off the stem. If the seeds traveled all the way around the world and back again, your wish would come true.

The wish I have now is to take some of the traditional Finnish tunes I've learned on my lovely five string kantele, and create TAB for the mountain dulcimer with it. I've tried struggling with MusEdit, which is a free program with some nifty features. The problem is it doesn't always do what I tell it to do, and since it's free, there isn't a manual. Let's just say it has a few glitches that are not about to go away. In fact the website appears to be gone, so it looks like it's time to get real and pay for TablEdit.

My order has been placed, so I know what I will be doing on the rainy days this Spring, getting all my music down in TAB format. It's a wonderful tool, and now that I've written 1 2/3 songs (really, can't seem to get the middle part of that second song down yet) I'm excited to see them written in music. It's an exciting time for me while I wait for my Dream Autoharp. They have received my first payment, so they can start building it any time. For some reason the mail took it's own sweet time, so the check sent on the 24th of April didn't arrive until the 10th of May. So my dream was in limbo during that wait, now it's in Pete's capable hands. So my zither obsession continues, complete with dreams of obscure instruments in the zither family that never existed. Really, that's how deep these stringed instruments get for me, right on into my subconscious.

Well, it's not raining now, so I've spent enough times tapping away at this keyboard.
Next Week: MUSIC PARTY!!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dulcimer Day Delay

Today is Dulcimer Day in Duluth, and I'm not there. Nor am I spending all day playing my dulcimer and learning finger picking techniques via DVD as I had originally planned. I never got around to ordering the picks or the DVD. Instead I will be puttering about the house cleaning and doing some painting of walls. That way I can get the place spruced up a little more in time for my Third Annual Spring Music Party. I will check my calendar, and my checkbook, later this month and see if I can get the goodies I need to have a special day with my dulcimer later this month or maybe in June. I do intend to put in at least one hour of practice today, as I won't be able to tomorrow, it being a day spent celebrating Spring in Minneapolis.

And so the show will go on after a delay, and I will get my goodies and enjoy learning more about my dulcimer, from my dulcimer. She teaches me many things. I have learned patience, determination, joy, tranquility, simplicity, friendship, and relaxation. All these things add up to a richer and happier life. The sound of the drones when I play is a delight, and as I practice the tunes I know, I never tire of playing them over and over again. The challenge is to improve my technique now, and to learn to play a little faster and with more confidence. I love the way my voice works with her, my sweet Mary Ann with her three strings. Next weekend will be our one year anniversary, and my sixth wedding anniversary as well. It's all about the love! That's pretty suitable for the beginning of May.

There is a new song I have learned, utilizing my 1 1/2 half fret to play both the C and F chords. It's a lovely lullaby called "I See the Moon" by folksinger Sally Rogers. Her website is currently under construction, and I couldn't locate that particular song, but I found something called Thanksgiving Eve on YouTube. Just a album cover with the music. She has a lovely voice and I really adore her delivery. I've included a picture of her with a dulcimer of uncommon beauty above. I wonder if it's a Blue Lion, as they are known for their exquisite inlay work.

So we are still all about the dulcimer today after all, it's just that there are other responsibilities that go along with playing the dulcimer, like getting ready for the music party in two weeks. All this before breakfast too. Well, there's lots to do today so I better get started. Happy Dulcimer Day!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Play Date

Today my mountain dulcimer Mary Ann and I are hopping in my PT Cruiser to go play with my big brother. He plays the guitar, so we are going to have a jam practice together. My sweet Mary Ann turned one year old on April 19th, and I forgot to note it here in the blog. Actually, I forgot to note it in my life, but that's another story. I've had a very busy couple of weeks at work, and so all the home stuff was put on the back burner.

Now I'm ready to put more energy into things like my upcoming music party, hence the play date. We tried coordinating remotely, but my diatonic little lady needs face to face time with other instruments apparently. That's cool, as I love playing with others. This is the third year for my Spring Music Party, and I'm pretty excited about it. The RSVP's have been coming in, and there will be some very fine musicians and singers in attendance. Having musicians in the family is really awesome, and I'm going to take advantage of this perk more often. The family that plays together, stays together. I might just have to put that on a T-Shirt.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Still Point

Every once in a while you come across a rare and wonderful piece of work. Since 2009, I have been taking lessons on the autoharp and then on the dulcimer from Karen Mueller. During that time, I have been slowly collecting her albums. Still Point was released in 2000, and like most folk/world albums it is timeless. I was looking to listen to her play the dulcimer, since that is the instrument I am concentrating on learning right now. As a zither enthusiast, I just love to hear someone with her skill level play. This has some dulcimer tunes, but it also features other instruments that she plays as well, including autoharp.
The album opens with "30-Year Jig" which sets the tone for the entire work. On that song, Karen plays both the mountain dulcimer and the autoharp. The title for the album is a quote:
"At the still point, there the dance is..." - T.S. Eliot
For me, it emphasizes the listener. While we are still, her fingers do their lively dance on the strings of multiple instruments. This is the magic of recording, where Karen can play multiple parts on a single song. I think everyone should have this album. It has a good amount of Celtic classics along with some contemporary tunes. There are fourteen wonderful tracks, with the final song being "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" which is a joyful way to end the album, finishing everything with a statement of her incredible talent. Years of music making went into this, and it shows. Sometimes the magic is in the dedication. Being willing to focus on being the best you can be at whatever instrument you pick up. It's a great inspiration to me, and I'm looking forward to buying her newest CD Landscape of the Heart next.

The oddest part of all this for me is, right now I'm not even taking lessons! For the next few months I'm pinching pennies to pay for my Dream Autoharp, so I'm really starting to miss my visits with Karen at Homestead Pickin' Parlor. But I'm keeping myself busy with practicing my mountain dulcimer, and listening to some good music while I'm at it!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dream to Reality: Autoharp Aquisition Part 1

OK, now I've gone and done it. I've committed all of my fun money from now through August, and some of my savings, to purchasing an Autoharp like this one pictured on the left. It is the Desert Rose by d'Aigle Autoharps, and I'm already fantasizing about playing it. Now, I know what you're thinking, I've already announced my intention in a previous post, but this time things have changed. I had a question about options, so I emailed Pete, and one thing led to another and a Layaway Plan has been formed. My first payment goes out at the end of the week.

On April Fools day I blogged about my Dream Autoharp, on Friday the 13th I blogged about getting jammed, and was re-thinking my dream. So on Monday the 16th I started asking questions of the luthier and here I am today, making my dream come true. My new instrument will be paid off by the end of August, just in time for cool fall weather, and time to practice for my annual Autumn Music Party with my instrument. Maybe it was sending the invites out to my annual Spring Music Party that lit the fire under me, I don't really know. But I felt so much pressure and longing building up inside of me that I had to take action.

I reviewed my play book and my autoharp books to determine the chord bar layout that I wanted. I knew I wanted to simplify things, 21 chords was too many for me, and removing a few chords would give me a little more room to play. Not quite as much room as in the picture, because that's a 15 chord diatonic layout, but I should be able to reach the high notes with the 18 bar chromatic layout that I chose:

This selection of chords will let me play all the songs I already know on the Autoharp, and learn a few more which I have been collecting from time to time. The other option I went with is the stained soundboard, it just fit me so darned well, I started daydreaming about playing it right away. In the two weeks when I had my eyes toward The Luthier's Classic, I never once day dreamed about playing it. Though I did worry about it's safety should any party guests want to touch it. Nope. Music is meant to be shared, and I can't have something that I wouldn't share with my friends. I'd love to have a few more autoharp musicians come to my parties, dulcimer players as well. Bring it on!

I still welcome donations, as there are four more payments to go before I hold my Autoharp in my arms. Every little bit brings my instrument closer to me. So please click here and donate!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Let's Go Singing With Hobbits

The past few days I have not been able to stop thinking about the prospect of getting my new Autoharp. I'm so incredibly excited about it I can hardly tell you. I have some of my favorite Autoharp music playing on the stereo right now, including Memories of Middle Earth and Heart's Ease by Marc Gunn. A while back I wrote a review of the second of those two albums here on my little Strum Pluck and Drone blog. But with the vision of my new Autoharp in my mind, and the fact that The Hobbit movie will be released on December 14th 2012, it's the first album that is fueling even more excitement for me. I am a hard core Tolkien fan, and proud to admit it. My plan is to have a Hobbit themed music party in the first part of November. What would make it perfect would be to have my new autoharp a few months before that so I can learn some of the Middle Earth themed songs on it to share at the party. Until then, I will try and figure out the theme from the new movie on my trusy mountain dulcimer, because a fan girl has to do what a fan girl has to do.

Timing is everything, and with the saving for the new instrument in the beginning stages, I wanted some more information about that. So, to keep myself busy toward my goal, I sent off an email to the luthier to find out what the turnaround time is for an autoharp and when he would need a deposit. There are songs to learn before my Autumn Music Party, and Marc was kind enough to post the lyrics to a ton of his songs on his website. He is a true Bard, and I'm going to contact him for the chords on a few of them, as he noted he would provide on his lyrics page. If I can learn them on the dulcimer first, then they'll be that much easier to learn on the autoharp when I get it. Not many song writers are so open with their lyrics, and I'm just so glad that Marc is, it will make for a great night next November.

Until then, I have the songs to prepare for next month's Spring Music Party. There's so much to do! Diving into the Folk Music can be that way. Finding time to practice, people to jam with from time to time, research info on my latest music enthusiasm takes time. There are still Finnish tunes that I want to write dulcimer tab for, and now songs about Hobbits to get chord for and print out for my songbook. The printer broke, so now I have to research printers too, that needs to be replaced in the next few days. I still try to find time for my friends, and I was at a lovely tea party this afternoon, and a gathering last night with artists. So much fun to be had, so many songs to sing!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting Jammed

My annual spring music party has been scheduled, and I was talking with my brother about it the other day. We thought it would be cool to get to know a few of each other's songs ahead of time so we can get a better jam going. He plays the guitar, and I play the mountain dulcimer. So I sent him a couple of my songs, then he sent me some of his. I checked my book of chords for the dulcimer, checked alternate tunings, and I'm missing at least one chord for each of the three songs he sent me to learn. This is very frustrating to me, because I have been a big fan of music jams for years, and it's one of the main reasons I wanted to take up an instrument.

And then my printer died, so I couldn't print out the lead sheets even if I wanted to. This is not what I wanted a month before my party. So much for the internet making things easier! We will have to get together and see what songs in his songbook match up with my chord charts and go from there. It will be good to get together and play a bit anyway. But this brought to my mind the limitations of my instrument. Now I absolutely love the mountain dulcimer, but the local folk music jammers are mostly guitarists. Naturally I have to consider taking up the guitar, again, but maybe the third time will be the charm. But at the moment all my fun money is going into the Dream Autoharp Fund, so there is nothing left over for yet another instrument. I seriously started weighing the options...autoharp or guitar...guitar or I laid in bed last night not sleeping.

Pros for the autoharp:
  • I played it for two years and I was getting pretty handy with it - short ramp up to playing more songs!
  • A chromatic autoharp can play in multiple keys - just give me the chords and I will be good to long as they are the I IV and V chords and relative minor.
  • In keeping with my "all zithers all the time" music theme
Pros for the guitar:
  • It's fully chromatic and can play in any key
  • Lots of other guitarists to jam with and learn from, including both my brother and my sister
  • I love the sound, they are beautiful
  • A good guitar is less expensive than my Dream Autoharp by half...
OK, that last "pro" on the guitar is what really has me jammed. What to do?! I had almost decided to get the guitar instead of the Autoharp...almost. After more tossing and turning, I decided the best thing to do is to get a less expensive Autoharp this year, and then get a guitar next year. This is a Big Decision for me, but when I compared the D'Aigle TLC to the Desert Rose, I realized that it has all the features I was looking for. I really don't think I'll notice the difference in woods between the two, because it's still a big upgrade from my old Oscar Schmidt Appalachian model. So unless donations start pouring in over the next few months, I'll be putting down a deposit on the Desert Rose this Summer.

It will be wonderful to have an autoharp again, I can hardly wait! I'll still leave the TLC as my dream harp until I'm ready to place the order. Who knows, I might get lucky and come into an extra grand in the next few months! Hey a girl can dream can't she? Even if that means dreaming about having a dulcimer, kantele, autoharp and a guitar to play. We'll just blame it all on Becca, the multi-instrumentalist who inspired my original autoharp purchase in June of 2009. So I have figured out how to get un-jammed so I can continue to jam with all my guitarist friends. Life is good!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dulcimer Day in May

I first heard about Dulcimer Day in Duluth last Spring when I stopped in at Homestead Pickin' Parlor to pick up a few items for my new dulcimer, which I hadn't received yet. Marv mentioned it to me, and I told him that I wouldn't have my dulcimer until after the event. So it's been on my mind for a year now, and this year's guest is Sue Carpenter, finger picker extraordinaire. The picture on the left is the cover of her Following The Muse CD. I LOVE fingerpicking. There are a couple of songs in my playbook that I do finger pick accompaniment, and I really want to learn fingerpicking with melody. I just love the sound of it. So I went to the website and researched it, looked at my calendar and considered it, then I looked at my checkbook and rejected the idea of attending this year. All my fun money is being set aside for the new Autoharp, so I can't go the the Dulcimer Day in Duluth this year either.

But that doesn't mean that May 5th can't be my own Dulcimer Day! Here's the plan, I'll get a copy of Sue Carpenter's DVD on fingerpicking, which comes with TAB for all the songs. And I will also get some of those aLaska picks that are so highly recommended, because my nails are too weak to grow out and do the job. I will plan the day out and have a one woman festival, complete with an Open Accoustic performance for the cats, and good food for lunch. In the evening I have a wonderful event to go to which includes music, so my day will be complete! It will be my treat to myself and my dulcimer. You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Dream Autoharp

This post is about my dream autoharp. Since the soundboard caved and bridge cracked on my learning instrument, (see photo on the left) I have been without an autoharp to play. She is sitting in a stand, looking pretty in my studio. I had her as my playmate for two years, from July 2009-2011. While I had her, I learned more about myself, and what I would need in a new autoharp. First, custom chordbars are a must. The factory ones that came with her needed adjustments just to work properly, and because I have a slight tremor, the floating buttons were a problem to me. When I became nervous, which is almost always while playing in front of people, my hands would shake. When my hands shook, the buttons would rattle against the chord bar cover. Hearing that noise would make me more nervous, even though others couldn't hear it, it was a huge problem for me. The cover is also plastic, and frankly, I don't like all that artificiality! So custom chordbars are a must.

The second thing I would  need would be a custom body. OK, that sounds obvious, but I did consider getting an Oscar Schmidt and have custom bars put on it, just to save a little cash. But my autoharp playing days came to an end when the soundboard cracked causing the bridge to give way and Viola! My autoharp became untuneable. There is 1500 lbs of pressure on an autoharp due to the pull of the strings. My teacher had another student that happened to with an Oscar Schmidt. She was lucky enough to still have the factory warranty on hers, so she got a replacement. I wasn't so lucky. So I began researching autoharps online, thinking what my budget would be. I'm still very much a student, so I was trying to keep the amount at a reasonable level, but when I look at my wants and needs, it just has to be a luthier made instrument.

There are a few that I've been considering. The first is the Evoharp.
One reason I like it is the price, it's less expensive than other luthier built harps. Designed by a player and teacher, Evo Bluestein, it is made to be lighter and have a more traditional sound. I like tradition, and my old 'harp was definitely too heavy. I even got a bruise on my leg from playing it too long without a strap! So the Evoharp definitely would be a step up from the Oscar Schmidt. It is made by McSpadden, a company known for it's mountain dulcimers and producing quality instruments. I also like the unique soundhole, the crecent and heart. I'm not wild about the chord buttons on it, but it has the flat button option available at an additional charge. It's available in a number of chord bar configurations, which is cool, as I have some ideas of the chord set-up I want. It comes with a 1 year warranty. Fine tuners are available as an additional option. It comes with a soft shell case. Personally, if I'm going to drop a grand on an instrument, I want a hardshell case for it. Nice base price, but my extras will add a little bit, and since I'm spending that kind of money, I'd want an electronic pick-up. Hmmm...the price is adding up, but this will be the ultimate autoharp after all. My Autoharp teacher is also my dulcimer teacher, so I mentioned the Evoharp to her. She suggested a different luthier who makes a 'harp in that same price range as another option.

Enter option #2: The Arkansas Autoharp. Karen's opinion on Authoharps holds great weight for me. She has been my teacher from the beginning, and there is no greater authority or player in the state of Minnesota, and few comparable around the world. Really, she is truly a world class instructor and player. So I looked up the website, and it has the fine tuners and flat-top buttons already, not something extra. It has a plain sound hole. Very. Plain. I know I'm not supposed to make this decision on looks, but if I'm going to be dropping a big wad of cash on this thing, then, well. I want it to be Pretty. Really I do. That's why I got the Appalachian OS, it had a pretty look to it. I bought it off of Ebay because I was looking for the best price. 

Very little information on the website, so I emailed for pricing details, and Karen was right, it's in the same price range as the Evoharp. It also has pick guards. There is a good variety of pictures on the website, but no mention of a warranty, and he does do lots of set-ups for the OS models, so he's familiar with them. But Karen doesn't play either of these harps. She has some old Oscar Schmidts which she has changed chord bars on, and then she has one made just for her. A KM Special is what is on the lable inside, and it was made for her by master luthier Pete d'Aigle. He's the one who worked on my OS to get the chord bars to work properly, and switch out some of the chords too. Between shipping there and back again, the cost of the optimising, it was almost as much as the purchase price. But she played much better after that. Really good, but not quite great. But I know he can do great, Karen let me play her instrument, so sweet! The chord bards connected with the strings so easily and completely. It's based on the d'Aigle Cascade, and it is a really beautiful instrument.

So, after months of consideration, I have made my decision. My Dream Autoharp is the d'Aigle Traditional Luthier's Classic, TLC for short. I have that web page bookmarked on my favorite's bar. It has everything I need in an autoharp, and it does cost more than options One or Two, but it will be worth the extra time and effort in saving up for it. It has everything I want and need in an instrument, and I'm personally familiar with the luthier's workmanship. It is one of the most beautiful autoharps that I have ever seen, comes with all the options I want and need. It even comes with a Five Year warranty on the workmanship. That gives me a little more peace of mind. I was just at a music jam the other night, and I really wanted my autoharp to play. I have picked up my old broken one, just to hold it, a couple of times. The goal is to get enough saved up for it, that I can have it for Spring of 2013. I'm on a mission to play zithers to the best of my ability. To honor the heritage of my ancestors, and to share traditional folk music from both Finland and Norway. So I play the mountain dulcimer and the kantele, but it was the Autoharp that opened the door for me. It led me to both those instruments, and it is such an American instrument, it brings it all home to me.

The spreadsheet has been made, so I can check my progress on saving for my Dream Autoharp. Today is April 1st, so I think it might be fitting to post this. Because I intend to pursue my dream relentlessly, because I know that dreams really can come true. Today, 4/1/2012, I am at 14.9% of the total goal for purchasing my autoharp. If you read this whole page, then you must have an interest in Autoharps, or your a very good friend. In either case, consider contributing to my dream autoharp fund by clicking on the donate button at the top of the right hand side bar. Every dollar helps me get that much closer to my dream. Thanks for reading!

* Update 4/28/2012 *

My choice for Autoharp changed and I am now going to get the lovely Desert Rose by d'Aigle Autoharps instead. You can read all about it by clicking here now. Thank you for your support, and don't forget to donate! I'll add an update when my darling autoharp arrives in a few long months.  :)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Celtic Connection

I love Celtic music in a big way. Being all Norwegian and Finnish, you'd think I'd gravitate toward that, and I do like it. But there is something about the lilt of an Irish Jig that really sets my toes a tapping, and I find it completely irresistable. My very soul is moved and transported to the magical hills of Ireland, and I find myself longing for a land I've never been to except in books, pictures and movies. But the music can surround me and flow through my fingertips through my dulcimer, and out my mouth in singing. And my locks of light auburn waves fit the music so well, and the color comes from a bottle, but I can't be any other color. It suits me as well as the music suits my soul.

I found an amazing online source in The Session today. So I have signed up to fuel my obsession even further. Another useful link is the Irish Traditional Music Archive, which is an online treasure for folks like me. Add to that the following:
And I'm in my very happy place. I am seriously ready to retire right now, I have so many projects to keep my heart dancing, my fingers strumming, and my soul singing. Twenty years of work and then, then, I will be able to retire and pursue my passion full time. I should be a pretty good player by then anyway!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Strings and Songwriting

An amazing thing happens sometimes when I am playing my dulcimer, sometimes I get a musical phrase that is all my own. I'm building a relationship with her, my dulcimer named Mary Ann, and she is telling me her secrets bit by bit. I have written one tune, and have another one in the works, and I am looking forward to this wonderful dialog. Right now I'm concentrating on going through the book "Lapidus on Dulcimer 2" and so I am joyfully working on new songs!

The other thing I want to get back to is learning more traditional Finnish tunes on my dulcimer. It's an adventure for sure, as I'm still learning to play. Hey, I just started to learn my first song in DAa! I've been a solid DAd player since getting her last May. Which reminds me, her first birthday is coming up soon, April 19th  and then there is her adoption date, which conveniently matches my wedding anniversary of May 13th. I might as well be rambling on about a girlfriend that I'm infatuated with, because that kind of sums up the relationship. We're very close and I absolutely adore her. There is so much to be thankful for in the past year, and I'm starting to take her out and about and play her at some jams. Tomorrow night we're going to St. Paul to join in on one, and I hope we do well. We will endeavor to have a good time anyway.

I can't remember how I stumbled across this next clip, but there is an interesting Zither there, and I'm super inspired by it, you may be too. It's Basia Bulats and she's playing a zither called a Pianoette in the video. She also plays autoharp. I'm currently searching out her videos online.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Music and Fiction

This past weekend was spent hanging at MarsCon 2012, one of the local Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions. You might be asking yourself what that has to do with music, and all I have to say is LOTS. The theme this year was "Rockin' The Apocolypse" and it certainly lived up the title. One of the new things to come along is funny music with a SF&F or Fan theme. It is a great creative mix that's called the Dementia track and is put together each year by the great Luke Ski. It's fun and music taken to an extreme. There are some seriously talented folks who present each year, and not all of their stuff is Dementia oriented.

Case in point, the talented Beth Kinderman. She really is a fantastic songwriter, and it's mostly SF&F fan stuff. But it's her passion and she has been pursuing it relentlessly for the past several years. If you are a fan and are familiar with the term Mary Sue, you need to check out the lyrics of her song of that title. She also was one of the hosts of the Space Oddity Music Club & Brew Pub room party at MarsCon 2012. That's where I came in. Friday night there was a music circle and I brought my dulcimer as I threatened to. I managed to fumble through about four songs, and drummed a bit on another. I consider it a good effort on my part, and I managed to avoid the epic crash and burn that I did at Convergence in 2010 with my Autoharp.

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Dulcimer Book 2.0

A week ago I finally broke down and ordered Lapidus on Dulcimer 2. It is THE place to get tab/music of Joni Mitchell's four tunes written on the mountain dulcimer from her album "Blue". I fell in love with "Carey" when I saw Cyndi Lauper sing it on a tribute to Joni on TV years ago, and I've always loved "A Case of You" since I first heard it, who knows how long ago now. So I've been aware of this book since it was featured in Dulcimer Player News, added to a very long wish list of dulcimer related items that I want to aquire. I waited patiently...and it finally arrived last night! :)

Since I purchased it directly from the author it is a signed copy. This makes the geek in me quite happy, and the hippy in me loves the story of the book and how it came to be at the back. In just about a week I'll be going to one of my favorite SF&F conventions in town and a friend is hosting a music and gaming room, I plan to sit in on some music circles and enjoy hanging out with other music geeks like me. After that, I will dive in head first and study the book from cover to cover. There are lots of good lessons, chord charts, alternate tunings galore, and songs by all of the cool kids in there.

It looks like I haven't been updating in a while here, I've been very distracted with being distracted. My dulcimer now has a shiney new 1 1/2 fret and I've been happily playing with that, re-learning some of my favorite songs. Not having my dear Mary Ann for about three weeks threw me into a musical tizzy, and I found myself soothing my nerves with my kantele quite a bit. But that's the subject of a completely different post. Suffice it to say, I was thrilled to get my dulcimer back on my lap. She is a darling instrument and she sits quietly each morning in her stand as I sip my coffee and write in my journal. The cats think I'm just sitting and adoring them, but Mary Ann is part of the family as well.

And now I've got a thick juicy book to work through, so Spring is already arrived in my music room. I can't wait to see the flowers start to emerge and bloom to the sound of my dulcimer. That reminds me, I've been wanting to learn The Garden Song since before I got my dulcimer...I'll have to look up the chords for that one.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Music is Life

On Wednesday I was turned onto folk musician and duclimer player Claudia Schmidt, and I enjoyed viewing the YouTube videos of her performing. Of course I checked out her website, her wonderful and long history as a folk and jazz musician, and her long list of CD's to choose from. I had never heard of her before, and I was thrilled to find this dragon's treasure of folk/jazz goodness.

Just out of curiosity, I checked out her calendar. Sometimes you come across something really cool only to find the band or musician moved on a few years ago and has never been heard from again. Not so with Claudia! In fact, I saw that should would be playing locally on Thursday night! I immediately contacted my sister and invited her out to dinner and Claudia's show at the 318 Cafe in Excelsior. Talk about serendipity!!

We got there an hour before the show so we could get settled and get something to eat. The food was very good, with all kinds of yummy options on the small menu. I officially love Guac with tortilla chips, as an example. And they even had a couple of my favorite Surly Beers to choose from! I chose Bender for the evening, and it was definitely a good choice.

When Claudia got on stage in front of a crowd of about 50 of us, the mood in the room turned to joy. She really puts on a great show, and I've signed up for her update list. She mentioned that she has a new album coming out this Spring that she recorded with Sally Rogers, the first album they've done together in 22 years. I picked up their "While We Live" and I have yet to find time to listen to it. Maybe Saturday when I'm cleaning the house will be good.

Something fun to look forward to while doing drudge work anyway. It will be a good way to start the weekend, I think.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bass String & Cardboard Dulcimer Update

Well, thanks to my trusty wine opener I got my cardboard dulcimer strung with the bass string so it is now playable! It's a three string which is how I play anyway, and I think I found where it originally came from. It looks just like the barn red simplicity dulcimer from Backyard Music. The picture here is from their website, so I wanted to share where it originated.

Now that I have it actually playable, I went through my songbook and had a little fun tonight. I could not play one of the newest songs I have been learning, Edelweiss, as this dulcimer does not have a 6 1/2 fret. The action is fairly good, and while it's not as nice as my lovely FolkCraft dulcimer, it does an admirable job. When I pick out a melody with just one string, it rings out loud and clear. Strumming chords is a little trickier and I have to play with how I use the pick to get the best sound. It is a good learning experience, and I might just break out some art supplies and decorate it a bit. Giving it my own personal touch seems like the right approach for me, as I'm just so darned visually oriented.

Finding a company like Backyard Music is also exciting for me. Learning the dulcimer has been such a joy, it's great to see folks who make it possible for anyone to learn to play this wonderful instrument. They even have banjos and harps too!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dulcimer Jones

Dulcimer Jones, I've got a dulcimer Jones, I've got a dulcimer Jones oh Baby Oo-oo-oo!

It's true. I just dropped off my dulcimer to have the 1 1/2 fret added two hours ago, and I'm already missing it terribly. When I decided it was time to add that little option, I figured I would just use the cardboard dulcimer my friend gave to me. It's a backup! Yay! I wouldn't be completely without my dulcimer. The strings were ancient and nearly black, so a couple of weeks ago I got a new set. Melody and middle string went in without any trouble. This was my first time changing strings, and it was going very well indeed. Then, when I was tightening the bass string I was overconfident. I tightened it too much too fast and *SNAP* no more bass string. No problem, I said to myself, I'll just pick up a new bass string when I drop off my dulcimer for the addition of the fret.

So I left my dulcimer behind, confident in the knowledge that I would be able to play my back-up cardboard dulcimer tonight once I added that pesky bass string. It didn't go so well, in fact, the tiny flat head nail the loop end of the string goes in got pushed in so I can't get the loop on. Oh yes, I did try and pry it up with my fingernail, then a utility knife blade, even trying to grip it with the wire cutters, all with no success.

A two string dulcimer is not going to meet the needs of my heart, longing after it's dulcimer. Now I understand how people can have more than one dulcimer, and why I really would like to have a back-up one at this point as well. Hopefully I'll get the nail pulled and a new one put in it's place within the next couple of days. Until then, I'll be missing my sweet Mary Ann...big time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

I have plenty of songs to play in my home-made book of Dulcimer tabs, and I've enjoyed exploring new ones on almost a weekly basis. But it's time to get better, to really learn to play some songs well and by heart. So I am practicing every day, and every day songs get a little smoother. I still have some transitions to work through on "Edelweiss" and "Finlandia", but I can play them roughly without having to look at the music. This Tuesday I have another lesson, and I plan to leave my dulcimer behind to get that 1 1/2 fret added to it, which will open up some more chords and therefore more songs that I will be able to play.

I've had a cold with a cough for the last 2 1/2 weeks, so my voice is pretty much shot for singing at the moment. Still, I try and work through my singing songs some as well, but it isn't as fun because I can't get into the lyrics. The practice is worthwhile though, as I'm getting smoother on my finger picking. Eight months with the Mountain Dulcimer, and four months since my Autoharp became un-tunable, and I'm finally getting the hang of some of these songs.

My dear friend Denise gave me a couple of instruments recently, a cardboard dulcimer and a one string strum stick. Those and my Kantele will keep me entertained while my new fret is being added. So I will still be able to practice the dulcimer, but I sure do appreciate my beautiful Folkcraft instrument when I compare it with the cardboard one. But at least I won't get rusty between lessons. It looks like I've managed to get weekly posts in here lately, and I'm glad. It lets me track my progress and keep a record of what I'm working on. Soon I hope to be able to start singing again, and then watch out! I'll be making use of that extra fret in no time and adding to my repertoire.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Instrumental Roots

I am 100% Minnesotan, with equal amounts of Norwegian and Finnish ancestry. My mother was 100% Finnish and was born in Minnesota from Finnish parents, and my father was 100% Norwegian. Naturally, when my musical inclination led me to find the Finnish national folk instrument, the Kantele (pronounced KAN-te-leh), I had to have one. It was so exciting when my Kantele arrived, my Autoharp was with a luthier at the time getting some work done, and I had been without an instrument for a couple of weeks. She looked just like the pictures on the Kantele shop, and is made out of pine and birch, two trees common both in Finland and Minnesota.

My lovely 5-string Kantele has been my quiet companion ever since. I play her outside and at home when ever the mood hits me. I had discovered this lovely little folk instrument when I was searching for Autoharp music online. I found some recordings of the concert Kantele, a 36 string instrument, and was intrigued by the similarity to the Autoharp. Why did I take up the Autoharp in the first place? Maybe the music was in my blood all along. Both intruments are part of the zither family, so I realized that I really liked zither instruments, and my ears would prick up and I would pay attention any time a zither was mentioned.

One instance was at a concert by Ruth Barrett, when she said the fretted dulcimer is also a zither. The difference  is that it has a fret board running the length of the instrument. Aha! And my interest in the mountain dulcimer began. It turned into a mild obsession when I discovered the Dulcimerica Podcast on Youtube. And the rest is history, as I am now the proud companion to a beautiful mountain dulcimer.

But wait, there's more. It seems the origins of the American mountain dulcimer trace back to European Zithers, specifically the scheitholt, which was brought over from the old country by the Pensylvania Dutch. The Scotch-Irish of the Appalachian mountains adopted and adapted these zithers, using the same fretboard and drone quality creating the wonderful folk instrumenet we know today as the mountain dulcimer. It turns out there is a Norwegian instrument in that family, here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:

There exists a variety of box zithers in Europe. The German scheitholt and the Swedish Hummel have been suggested as the predecessor of the langeleik. However, in 1980 a langeleik dated as early as 1524 was uncovered on a farm in Vibergsroa, Gjøvik, Norway. This instrument predates any documented occurrences of the scheitholt, the hummel or any other similar instrument.

And so my instruments of choice have roots in my ancestory on both my mother's and father's sides. I was raised to be musical, starting with the piano when I was just five years old. Music is part of my heritage, and I'm very excited to be exploring the folk music of my ancestry. Minnesota is also a haven for folk musicians generally. Something about the long cold winter causes us to want to sing across the dark night skies with one another, I think. For me, my zithers give me great joy even just playing by myself. The cats seem to like it too.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Tomorrow night I have my next Mountain Dulcimer lesson, and there's lots to go over. It's been a month since my last lesson, and since then, I've learned to manage my tight neck which has the side effect of pinching a nerve causing all kinds of weird sensations down my left arm. Correct posture is important, as is regular stretching generally. I've taken my body for granted, and so on top of my super tight neck I have a horrid head cold.

But I will go to my lesson tomorrow and be sure to medicate myself beforehand. My nose is too stuffy/runny/sneezy to try and get one more practice session in tonight, but I wanted to pop online and stress the importance of getting some training when you are first learning an instrument. As adults, we sometimes set our expectations too high for ourselves. There have been many times during my lessons when Karen has made simple suggestions that have helped me learn better. While online resources like Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer are fantastic, nothing can substitute sitting down with an instructor. I'm one of the truly lucky ones to have a world class instructor available to me where I live, I know that.

Having regular instruction has kept me from getting stuck and that has made all the difference for me. My love for this little instrument continues to grow and I am amazed at how much joy it has brought into my life. Lessons continue to inspire me and increase my passion for folk music and my Mountain Dulcimer in particular. It is a continuing joy for me to sit with an experienced player and learn from her in the tiny music rooms at Homestead Pickin' Parlour. Watching her play as we go over a new song is a delight, her fingers effortlessly glide over the fretboard to find each chord waiting for her touch. My fingers fumble along and she corrects me as I make mistakes, and I always leave with an excitement to practice the new things I learned in class that day.

I remember when I first got my dulcimer, and how awkward it was the first time I played. I've come a long way, having learned a few songs by heart, and I have a great desire to learn many more. Hopefully I'll find others to play with as well, for I know there are secret dulcimer players out there among my folkie friends. Until then, I'll play with Karen for my bi-weekly half hour lesson, and continue trying to improve. Little by little I'm getting the hang of it.