Saturday, September 22, 2012

I denne søte juletid (NoS 44)

Kirsten Bråten Berg - I denne søte juletid ("Julefolk", 2011)

Traditional tune with lyrics by Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764). The title means "In this sweet Christmas-time". Kirsten Bråtern Berg with Sigbjørn Apeland, pump organ, and Sigrid Moldestad, hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle). From the NRK Christmas programme "Julefolk" ("Christmas Folk"), Dec. 2011.

Detailed background in Brorson-bloggen til Leif Haugen. Haugen describes the blog like this: "Om den danske presten, biskopen og salmedikteren Hans Adolph Brorson." This song is perhaps Brorson's most well known. Says Haugen:

Salmen er skrevet av H. A. Brorson i 1732. Vi finner den i Landstads Kirkesalmebog som nummer 134 med tittelen I denne søde Juletid, i Landstads reviderte salmebok som nummer 21 med tittelen I denne søte juletid og i Norsk Salmebok (NoS) som nummer 44 med tittelen I denne glade juletid. På dansk står salmen i salmeboken som nummer 109 med syv strofer, mens vi i Norsk Salmebok bare har den med seks strofer.

It is also in in Den Danske Salmebog No. 109 w/ lyrics in Danish and a MIDI file - Melodi fra 15. årh./Joseph Klug 1533 [Mel.: Et lidet barn så lysteligt].

Another very old Norwegian carol in the in the NRK concert _video of a group called Kvedarkvintetten backed by lute and Middle Eastern sounding percussion - Eit barn er født i Betlehem ("Julefolk", 2011). Lyrics by Bernt Støylen to a traditional tune. The title means "A Child Is Born in Bethlehem". Kvedarkvintetten with Tore Bruvoll, lute, and Birger Mistereggen, percussion. Kvedarkvintetten are Helga Myhr, Margit Myhr, Sina Myhr, Silje Risdal Liahagen, and Tonje Risdal Liahagen. From the NRK Christmas programme "Julefolk" ("Christmas Folk"), Dec. 2011. All the music in the programme:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Psalmodikon in Steeple Building at Bishop Hill

According to information provided by the Bishop Hill Heritage Association, the psalmodikon in the Steeple Building museum was crafted about 1870 by Peter Hedlund, of Galva Township where Bishop Hill is located. I first saw it several years ago when I was visiting Bishop Hill with my wife's family, and I was struck by its resemblance to a mountain dulcimer. I'm getting a replica made, and the measurements and description here are for that purpose.

Hedlund came to the United States from Gafleborgs län as a boy in 1850, married in 1876 and farmed 115 acres in Galva Township. An independent in politics, he was a Christian ("tror på kristendomen") but was not a member of any church (tillhör ingen kyrka), according to Svenskarne i Illinois (Chicago, 1880) by Eric Johnson. [Link here for the full text at] Judging by the instrument on display in Bishop Hill, he was an accomplished woodworker.

The fretboard is 28" in length. The frets are chromatic, but the patterns of lighter and darker wood -- white and black in the diagrams in Johan Dillner's introduction to the 1846 sifferskrift (psalmodikon tablature) edition of Johan Olof Wallin's Swedish Psalmbook of 1819 -- indicate diatonic scales. The heading in the picture at left above reads, "Om bruket af denna Psalmbok" [on the use of this psalmbook]. Basically, you would play the intervals marked by the white frets.

To change keys, you apparently retuned the instrument.

To see how Dillner's introduction to the 1846 edition compares to the Bishop Hill psalmodikon, pictured at right below, orient yourself as follows:

  • The nut and tuning peg on the left-hand end of the instrument in picture, at right below, are pictured at the bottom of the diagram, at left above; and
  • The bridge is on the right-hand end of the instrument in the picture and the top of the diagram, indicated by a line perpendicular to the playing string.
In other words, if you rotate the diagram clockwise, or to 3 o'clock, it will line up with the picture of the instrument.

Dillner doesn't call for a violin-style tailpiece like that on the Bishop Hill psalmodikon. The bridge on the Bishop Hill instrument is moveable.


I've taken pictures of the instrument twice, once in 2008 not long after I first saw it in the Steeple Building and again this year when I decided to have a replica made. I didn't want to take the instrument out of its case, since the tailpiece and bridge had fallen off in the meantime. So I photographed it in the museum case and my measurements are approximate. It is shaped like an elongated trapezoid 39" x 5.5" (at the nut end, to the left in the picture above) x 7.5" (at the bridge end, to the right). The soundbox is 2.25" deep; the nut end is roughly 5.5" x 3" (but the end piece is irregular in order to accommodate the raised fretboard). The picture at right above was taken in 2008, when the bridge and tailpiece were still attached to the instrument.

My measurements correspond very closely to those in Dillner's introduction, although the units of measurement are not exactly the same.

Dillner gives the following dimensions:

  • Length: 39 or 40 tums.
  • Breadth: 4.5 tums.
  • Height: 2/5 tums.
  • Fretboard: 30 tums.
A tum is an old Swedish unit of measurement equivalent to the width of a thumb. (The word means "thumb" in English.) It was approximately one inch in English measure, and was standardized in 1855 at 2.47cm. (An inch is 2.54cm.) Dillner's plan calls for the instrument to be rectangular, but trapezoids were not uncommon -- perhaps influenced by the hummel, a northern European box zither? -- and the psalmodikon in the museum at the Jenny Lind Chapel in Andover looks rather like a hummel with an indentation to facilitate bowing.

Construction (misc. notes)

Bridge and tailpiece are similar to a fiddle. Since 2008 when I first took pictures of the instrument, they have fallen off. But at that time the tailpiece was apparently attached to the body with string (please see picture below), and the bridge was held in place by the downward tension of the playing string, which at that time was still attached, although it appears from the picture below that the string was loose and the bridge had moved out of position.

I am not sure how the tailpiece was attached to the instrument originally, but I suspect it was more substantial than what I saw in 2008. Since that time, the string has come off that end of the psalmodikon and the nut and bridge are lying beside it in the display case.

The instrument was tuned by a peg attached to the nut end. To play in a different key, you retuned the instrument. The tunings are related to the old ecclesiastical modes -- i.e. ionian, dorian, etc. (see diagram "Tabell öfwer kyrko-tonarterna" [table of church modal scales] below. The patterns of darker and lighter wood mark off sharps and flats in much the same way as the black and white keys on a piano, and the different modes have different intervals indicated by the numbers, pluses and minuses on the table.

The soundholes are especially nice, suggesting a stylized lyre. See detail below:

No time to look this up now, but it looks interesting and I don't want to lose it. Has pix of several psalms from Wallin 1819 in sifferskrift ...

Psalmodikon var musikintrumentet i många kyrkor och skolor Infört under juli 2002 i Lysekilsposten och Stenungsunds-Posten med Orust-Tjörn

By Sven H. Gullman

Part I at and Part II at

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bruce Springsteen, the Jewish high holy days, the possibility of atonement and connecting the dots at a concert in Washington, D.C.

Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" tour, which I heard out my hotel window a couple of months ago in Oslo, was in Washington, D.C., this month. And I was struck by what Jeffery Goldberg, who writes for The Atlantic magazine, had to say about it on the magazine's website.

Since Springsteen's concert came just a month and a half before the presidential election, Goldberg looked for political implications. That's what he does for a living. So he noted "Springsteen didn't say much of anything about the race from the stage," but added:

... He is obviously supporting Obama, but so far he has stayed away from campaigning. The set list, though, was like an indictment of every-man-for-himself Ryanism. First he played "My Love Will Not Let You Down," and "The Ties That Bind," both of which could be heard as pleas for community, for understanding that we're all connected, and all responsible for each other (the second song more than the first). Then he wheeled into "We Take Care of Our Own," which served as a bridge to songs of economic devastation: "Wrecking Ball," "Death to My Hometown," and "My City in Ruins." It was pretty obvious to me what he was doing.
And since Springsteen's concert came on the eve of the Jewish new year, Goldberg also found a religious subtext. In fact, he headlined his piece "Darkness on the Edge of Rosh Hashanah."

I think it all fits together, but it wouldn't fit on a bumper sticker or a 30-second political spot. And we need a little translation first. Taking Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, together, the high holy days of the new year are a time of atonement, repentance and new beginnings. Some of the imagery is a little dark, as Goldberg suggested, but no darker than the Christian imagery of sin, repentance, atonement and reconciliation.

This year's High Holy Days are Sept. 16-18, so they were on Goldberg's mind when he went to the Springsteen concert. And he quoted from a Sept. 4 column in Jewish Week, a newspaper in New York City, by Erica Brown titled "Born To Repent: The Boss And The Month Of Elul" (during which the high holy days fall). Brown, who is scholar-in-residence for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, wasn't concerned with politics. Nor was she concerned with the "Wrecking Ball" album and tour. But Goldberg connected some of the dots in her essay.

Noting that "Springsteen fans, like Dylan fans, can find deep meaning in almost any song," Goldberg quoted Dr. Brown on Springsteen's battle with depression and how she believes the pain he experienced early in life is reflected in his art. Brown said:

Bruce knew what to do with the pain. He translated his struggles into music: "Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose." At one concert, he told his adoring audience: "We're repairmen -- repairmen with a toolbox." The darkness on the edge of town is sometimes so close that we can reach out and touch it. And at times, the darkness within is so palpable that we understand what it means to be born to run. We run away from the scars of difficulty and the encounter with our past and our inadequacies, even as they stare us boldly in the face.
She's quoting there from a profile in the New Yorker at the end of July. I was struck by it, too, and quoted one of the same passages when I wrote about Springsteen's appearances in Oslo in this weblog. In her Jewish Week essay, which is linked to Goldberg's blog post, Brown said this quality in Springsteen's music leads her to repentance (in Hebrew, teshuva), which is the focus of the high holy days:
So this year, in recognition of teshuva’s difficulties, I will be taking Bruce with me to shul [synagogue]. He could probably bring down the house with a moving Kol Nidrei [a traditional, and very beautiful, chant associated with the season]. It is not the music that I will think of as I open my machzor, my prayerbook. It is the man who gets up on stage and smiles widely not because he is hiding behind the pain of problems he never fixed, but because he has found a way to work through them to bring relief to himself and joy to others.
And if it works on the personal level, it might also work on a political level. Brown quoted an early 20th-century rabbi in Jerusalem who said "pain is a universal language," and those artists "who are able to harness it can bring others to a place of solace and change."

I can't be precise about how all of this works -- wouldn't even want to try, in fact -- but think it all fits together, the personal, the redemptive and the political.

When I read the New Yorker profile soon after Springsteen's appearances in Oslo, including one in which he sang "We Shall Overcome" at a memorial concert for the young people who were murdered by a right-wing terrorist the year before, I was struck by the same quote Dr. Brown cited, "we're repairmen ... with a toolbox." And seeing it again in the context of a political analyst's perceptions of a Springsteen concert in the runup to a national election in which issues of pain, atonement and redemption are hovering in the background, I was struck by it again.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

DPN stories on John Tignor, dulcimer maker of Frankfort, Ky.

Obituary article in 1982 with authoritative discussion of Tignor's place in the Thomas-Amburgey tradition by Ralph Lee Smith, "John D. Tignor and the Kentucky Dulcimer Tradition" in DPN Vol 8 No 4 (pp. 18+)

Article in 1994 on John S. Tignor, son of John D. Tignor, who was then teaching in Illinois (Quincy) and making instruments in his father's pattern (pp. 27+):

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Stephen Siefert's "Join the Jam" workshop, the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings and a way to survive your first jam sessions at upcoming fall festivals

When Stephen Siefert and I were talking last month about his upcoming workshop in Springfield, I suggested we have a lot of beginners in the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings and we have a couple of really good festivals coming up in central Illinois. So Steve decided to focus on how to "Join the Jam" (which is also the title of his series of mountain dulcimer tune books) and pitch it to players of all skill levels.

So Steve spent the evening here Aug. ___ sharing tips on how to get into the rhythm of a song, get a feel for its melodic structure and start playing the music along with other players. Except he didn't use big words like "melodic structure." Instead, he showed us where the important notes are and how to improvise harmonies and make things more interesting when we join in with other musicians.

"What really counts, with music, is that your heart is in it," he said. "Better to play something simple from the heart than live a life of frustration attempting complication."

(Full disclosure: Steve did say this, but I'm not quoting from the workshop in Springfield. I'm quoting from an article on his website. In it he asks "What Role Does Talent Play?" His answer: Not much.)

"Learn to play something ridiculously simple ridiculously well and completely from the heart," he adds. "I believe, if you CAN'T do this, you'll spend the rest of your life trying to make music and wondering why you don't have the talent."

In the meantime, with the rest of our lives before us, there are some cool opportunities coming up for beginners to start jamming:

  • Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the Traditional Music Festival at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site off Ill. 97 at Petersburg (20 miles northwest of Springfield). Due to state budget cuts, it's only one day this year and no dinner will be served. Our group has been playing at the "Bluegrass Festival" (as most of the musicians in our area call it) for more than 10 years. We usually gather on the hay bales next to Doctor Allen's.
  • Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. I'll be demonstrating the mountain dulcimer at the Sangamon County History Through the Arts II sponsored by the Sangamon County Historical Society and the Old State Capitol Foundation. I'll have several dulcimers on display, and if you want to join me in a couple of tunes, please feel free to do so!
  • Saturday, Sept. 22, and Sunday, Sept. 23 the Clayville Fall Festival at Clayville Historic Site on Ill. 125 just east of Pleasant Plains (15 miles west of Springfield). We'll play at the Clayville Fall Festival from 1 to 4 p.m. both days. But the festival begins in the morning -- see Clayville's website at for details -- so you'll want to come early. We played at their spring festival in May and had a wonderful time!
Sound like fun, don't they? But why do I say they're a good opportunity for beginners?

For one thing, there's a difference between jamming and performing for an audience. Here's what Wikipedia says: "A jam session is a musical act where musicians play (i.e. "jam") by improvising without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements." What could be more welcoming for beginners? Without extensive preparation ... that's me! Continues the Wikipedia article: "Jam sessions are often used by musicians to develop new material, find suitable arrangements, or simply as a social gathering and communal practice session." Social gathering and communal practice ... that's us! That, in a nutshell, is what we do at Prairieland Dulcimer sessions.

Except I think we like to take it a step beyond that, since we've made it our policy to be welcoming and beginner-friendly.

There's a group out in Denver called the Small Circle Tune Learning Session (SCTLS), "one of Colorado's most friendly sessions," that prides itself on getting beginners up to speed in Irish traditional music. One of their goals is:

One of the things that makes the SCTLS unique is that we want you to be free to make mistakes, feel your way through some of the stranger bits of session etiquette, and get comfortable with playing your instrument in public, without feeling ostracized if you inadvertently commit a faux pas or some such. Feel free to ask questions or try something new.
That's how we want new members of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings to feel, and that's just as true at a festival as it is in our Thursday night sessions at Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield. Here's why: At a festival, visitors will come up to us and listen for a minute or two. Then they may wander off to the next exhibit, or they may linger to talk with us between tunes. But we're not grimly marching through a predefined setlist. And we're not trying to entertain anybody. In short, we're at a social gathering (to use Wikipedia's words), and it couldn't be a better place for beginners.

Which brings us back to Steve's workshop back in August. If you're a beginner, how do you join the jam?

A lot of Steve's workshop was about that. I won't try to repeat it all, but here are a couple of things you can do from the very beginning:

Listen for the beat, and concentrate on the rhythm. In most of our tunes, it'll be on the downbeat. GO tell Aunt RHO - dy; GO tell Aunt RHO - o -dy; GO tell Aunt RHO - dy, the OLD gray goose is DEAD.

Steve said it helps us as we play the dulcimer to think of ourselves as a little one-person string band.

"Your right hand is the drummer for the band," he said.

North Carolina dulcimer player Don Pedi, who specializes in playing fiddle tunes, has another analogy. He takes it from the way southern Appalachian fiddle players set up a rhythm by rocking the bow back and forth across the strings as they play.

"[The music] is all in the bowing," he says.

And on a mountain dulcimer, the "bowing" is in the right hand strum. Don teaches a trick I like to use at jams. When we're learning a new tune, he says, we'll learn it faster and better if we dampen the strings and just play the rhythm the first few times around.

Here's how: Cup your left hand, palm and fingers down over the fretboard so you get a "whapping" sound when you strum across all three (or four) strings with your right hand. If you hear musical notes, you're pressing too hard. Ease off a little, and you'll hear the whapping sound.

Then with the strings dampened, you play the tune with your right hand. So "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" would sound like WHAP whap a WHAP whap; WHAP whap whap a WHAP whap whap; WHAP whap a WHAP whap, a WHAP a whap a WHAP.

Once you feel like you've got the rhythm, you can take your left hand off and strum the open strings. Your dulcimer is tuned in D, everybody else is playing in D -- at least 99 percent of the time in our Prairieland Strings jams -- and you'll fit right in.

If you're feeling adventurous enough to follow a chord progression, you can play a D on the open strings or the 7th fret, a G at the 3rd fret and an A at the 6th (forget about complicated stuff like A7 chords for the time being). Or you can ask a longtime Prairieland Dulcimers member about Mike Anderson's "cheap chords." (Mike has a trick that lets you play D, G and A7 chords by moving one or two fingers.) They're magical!

And when all else fails, there's something else, too.

Listening is always a good option in a jam. Sometimes it's my favorite option. "It is considered polite when first visiting a session to wait to be invited to play, if you are not an expert player," suggest the SCTLC musicians in Denver, who add, "If you are not a habitué of a [trad Irish] session, expect to spend at least half of your time listening at first." But they add of their own sessions, "This is an opportunity for you to develop and hone your skills and techniques. Usually in a session, if you don't know a tune, you should play quietly. At the SCTLS, however, we want you to play out so we know when you have the tune (and when you don't!)." So do we, but you always have the option of sitting back, listening and soaking up the music.

Jamming, even at a festival, isn't difficult. And sitting back and enjoying the music with a group of friends is always an option. Here's a good list of basic jamming etiquette do's and don'ts -- mostly do's -- from the Hills of Kentucky Dulcimers club in Covington, Ky.:

  • Keep the beat.
  • Listen carefully to the other players.
  • Do not start playing the tune until the leader has finished the lead-in phrase.

Matthew 25:31-40

Sometimes there comes a moment of clarity, even in the most convoluted of debates ...

One moment like that came Wednesday in Rich Miller's Capitol weblog on Illinois state politics and government. It came in a twice-updated item on the lowering of Illinois' bond rating and subsequent partisan political rhetoric by the governor of an adjoining state. Under the headline "*** UPDATED x2 - Scott Walker piles on *** S&P lowers Illinois rating a notch - Quinn wants leaders meeting in early September" (in its final updated version), it reported:

... Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating on Illinois’ general obligation (GO) bonds to ‘A’ from ‘A+’. At the same time, Standard & Poor’s assigned its ‘A’ rating to the state’s $50 million GO bonds of September 2012. The outlook is negative.

“The downgrade reflects the state’s weak pension funding levels and lack of action on reform measures intended to improve funding levels and diminish cost pressures associated with annual contributions,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Robin Prunty. “The downgrade also reflects continued financial weakness despite significant measures in the past two years to improve structural budget performance,” added Ms. Prunty.

Got that? Clear enough, especially if you've been following the Illinois Legislature this year. But the moment of real clarity came during an exchange in the comments section.

It's often like that on the Capitol Fax blog. Its readers include a lot of players in the world of legislative politics, and often they bring to their comments a perspective honed by experience.

The exchange began at 12:44 p.m. with reader "Grandson of Man," who said the state simply needs more revenue and suggested it could be raised by a "progressive income tax." He, or she, added, "I realize that income tax reform is a very steep hill to climb, but so is pension reform."

Reader "Plutocrat03" replied at 1:03 p.m.:

... It is nothing but misdirection to claim that any of the State’s fiscal problems can be solved by soaking the rich further. There are too few high earners out there to offset the loony spending the state is engaged in.
Which reader "wordslinger" quoted and answered at 1:40 p.m.:
–the loony spending the state is engaged in.– Loony schools. Loony nursing homes. Loony hospitals. Loony state troopers. Loony roads. It’s crazy. Why should I have any responsibility for any of those things? I’ve never gone to school, or a hospital or used the roads. And I don’t care if anyone else ever has use for them either. See, it’s all about me, all the time. That’s what they taught us in Sunday school.
Which of course isn't exactly isn't what I was taught in Sunday School. The irony couldn't have been clearer.