Saturday, February 05, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road - New Salem - schedule for March and April

The following message was emailed today to the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings electronic mailing list (preceded by one that left off the message line). In posting it to the blog, I have made a couple of revisions, indicated below, to get rid of things I said that were (1) ambiguous; and/or (2) kind of dumb:

Subject: Oops! New Salem dulcimer workshops

Let's try that again, and put in a message line so you'll know it's not spam! - pe

Hi everybody -

At today's workshop on 1830s-appropriate music in D modal tunings at New Salem, we decided to have two more sessions and took requests. So I checked with the site administration, and looked back through Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil's "Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road." We had to move the sessions back a little, since there are other events going on in February.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the workshops:

-- Saturday, March 5. Dorian mode (tune your dulcimer to DAG). Let's learn "Shady Grove"; "The Three Babes" [also known as the Wife of Usher's Well]; and "Old Man at the Mill."

-- Saturday, April 2. Mixed modes (tune back to DAA for all three). "I Gave My Love a Cherry" and "The Storms Are On the Ocean" (both Ionian); and "Sheep Shell Corn" (Mixolydian).

How to tune for the modes:

Jerry Rockwell, a nationally recognized luthier from Ohio who has written on music theory for the dulcimer, a good tip sheet called TUNING YOUR MOUNTAIN DULCIMER at ...

It'll show you how to tune into DAG for next month's Dorian songs. The key main point is: If you tune the melody string(s) down from A to G and play a scale that goes from the 4th fret to the 11th, you'll be in the D Dorian mode.

Jean Ritchie's "Dulcimer Book" also has a good explanation of the D modal tunings. It was written in 1963, when people still played in C. So you tune to CGF, start on the 4th fret and play to the 11th, which gives you a C Dorian scale. The modes or scales are the same, no matter what key you're in. (Good thing to know, by the way: I play a lot in C because D is too high for my voice. Other folks, with a different range, like to play in E.) There's a lot of stuff about the modes on the Internet, but not all of it is helpful. And some of it just flat wrong. Jerry Rockwell and Jean Ritchie won't lead you astray.

Rockwell adds: "When your dulcimer is in one of these traditional tunings, only the melody string plays the mode, and you must skip the 6+ fret if it is present. Middle and bass strings are relegated to dronal accompaniment. Modes form the basic fabric of dulcimer music and of American-Anglo-Celtic folk music traditions in general."

But playing in the old modal tunings is a powerful alternative to DAD. Try finger-picking in Dorian. Listen to Jean Ritchie singing the "Cuckoo" on YouTube, and you'll get the idea. (Ralph Lee has a slightly different version on pp. 60-63). Then try finger-picking yourself. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be blown away by how pretty it sounds!

Hope to see you there. I'll mail around reminders for our regular "third Thursday" session Feb. 17 and Prairieland Dulcimer Strings meetings in March, too.

- Pete

In connection with my workshops "Songs of the Wilderness Road in D Modal Tunings" at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site, Route 1, Petersburg, I have been posting blog items elaborating on points in the book we're using, Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road by Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil, and embedding video clips of songs and playing techniques. Older posts in connection with the Feb. 5 session are:

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