Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dec., Jan. music workshops at New Salem

Emailed tonight to the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings electronic mailing list.

Finally! Finals are over, and I have the time to write up this month's period music/mountain dulcimer workshop at New Salem and plan for our next session Saturday, Jan. 7. It's from 10 a.m. to noon in the Visitors Center, and I'm going to send this message to everyone on the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings list in case anybody else wants to join us. There's no charge for the workshops, and all are welcome.

We had five people there Dec. 3 at our first workshop, and I think this year we're off to a better start than ever before. We introduced a song that was sung at Rutledge Tavern, an Irish jig called "The Legacy" with lyrics by the poet Thomas Moore, and we talked about what we want to do in the remaining workshops, January through March.

What we decided on:

-- Playing tips on the mountain dulcimer, both for beginners and for more experienced players who want to learn the old-fashioned, traditional pick-and-noter style.

-- How the music fits into the "Southern upland" culture that early settlers brought to Illinois, plus background on specific songs like "Barbar'y Allen"

-- A written guide to dulcimer history and playing the dulcimer at New Salem, as well as building repertoire, or learning new tunes that are appropriate to the period.

We can do all of those things.

On Jan. 7, I plan to go over the open modal tunings in Jean Ritchie's "Dulcimer Book" and introduce a couple of her tunes in the Ionian, or major, mode: "Pretty Saro" and "Barbr'y Allen." (They're written in C, but we'll play them in D since you can do that easily on a dulcimer.) I also want to do a little more with "The Legacy," and show you how to read shape notes.

It'll take me some time to write a guide - I've been trying to find the time since summer - but in the meantime, here are links to a couple of sources on the internet with background on dulcimer history:

-- Ralph Lee Smith's article "The Appalachian Dulcimer's History: On the Trail of the Mountains' Secrets" in Mel Bay Dulcimer Sessions, July 2003, at

-- My article "Drones, Picks and Popsicle Sticks" on the website, September 2009, at

Ralph's article talks about the history of the dulcimer in America, and mine traces it from some of its European ancestors through to the folk revival of the 1960s. It has a lot of quotes on early styles of playing and tuning the dulcimer. And it's a pretty good cure for insomnia, too.

Hope to see you all Jan. 7 at New Salem!

- Pete

No comments: