Thursday, January 27, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road in D Modal Tunings - Feb. 5 - New Salem

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Thursday, January 27, 2011 9:57 PM

Dulcimer Workshop Feb. 5 at New Salem

The February session of “Songs of the Wilderness Road in D Modal Tunings,” our off-season workshops on music of the 1830s, is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 5, in the Visitors Center at New Salem. We had people who play guitar and fiddle as well as mountain dulcimer at our first session in November, and everybody is welcome. You don’t have to be an accomplished musician to attend these workshops. They’re for learning ABOUT the music as well as learning the music.

We had half a dozen participants at our first workshop before Christmas, and we decided to read Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil's "Songs and Tunes of the Wilderness Road." It is a Mel Bay book, and it's available for $11.16 plus postage and handling at and for $15 directly from Ralph's website at ...

This is one of the best short histories of the dulcimer available, and it has the music for more than a dozen songs that are appropriate for New Salem. Many early Illinois settlers, including Abraham Lincoln's family and several families who lived in New Salem, came down the Wilderness Road through Virginia and up through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky on their way to the lower Midwest. Ralph Lee also has an article "The Appalachian Dulcimer’s History: On the Trail of the Mountains’ Secrets," in the online magazine Mel Bay’s Dulcimer Sessions (July 2003).

We’ll focus our attention Saturday to the parts about the history of the dulcimer, ballads, modal and "gapped" scales, tonal range, etc., in southern Appalachian music, on pages 17-22, and two Ionian songs in DAA (on other instruments, D major):

1. “Cumberland Gap,” pp. 24-27. How to use a noter and a homemade plastic pick on a fiddle tune.

2. “Riddle Song” (I Gave My Love a Cherry), pp. 74-78. Three variants of a Child ballad collected by Cecil Sharp in southern Appalachia.

We'll meet again Saturday, March 5, and I hope to schedule one or two additional sessions so we can cover the most important parts of the book.

For more information, contact Pete Ellertsen at

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