Sunday, March 31, 2013

Prairieland Strings April 2 - "Be Thou My Vision" and learning tunes by ear

At our last session of the Prairieland Strings, we made a lot of progress learning a couple of difficult tunes. But it was kind of a hard slog after a while, and some of us decided -- let's have a little fun at our next jam. That's coming up Tuesday (7 p.m. at Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield), and we've selected some tunes we want to play that are:
  1. Fun to play; and
  2. Easy for beginners to pick up by ear.
By ear? He say what? Did he really say "by ear?" How can anybody learn a song by ear? Especially beginners! Well, don't be intimidated. Tuesday's session is especially for beginners. But it's also for more experienced players who want to be less dependent on printed tablature.

You see, we're modeling some of what we do in our sessions -- especially the learning jams out at Clayville -- on the Small Circle Tune Learning Session in Colorado's Denver-Boulder metro area. They're a "friendly and supportive group of musicians," and they "welcome all skill levels to play at a moderate and steady pace." They're able to bring the beginners up to speed by stressing "aural learning" -- learning by ear. It's especially important in Irish trad music, the type they play at Small Circle sessions, since Irish musicians tend to have an attitude about printed music. But it can help us, too, especially when we're playing at a moderately brisk tempo.

A couple of tips from the Small Circle folks on how to "pick up tunes in a session, with everyone roaring away but you." There's more at

  • "Well, first of all, remember that listening IS practicing in Irish traditional music. It's not unheard of to spend 75% or more of your time in a session listening rather than playing, and it's generally considered a good thing, because when you're playing, it's much harder to listen, and listening and paying attention to what's going on musically (and otherwise) is key to becoming a good session player."
  • If everybody else is playing up to speed, start to join in softly, one or two notes at a time, "... try to pick up just one phrase in the part, or even just a piece of a phrase. Every time that piece comes around, play it. Once you have it solid, try adding a note or two to that each time it comes round. After a while, you'll have the entire tune."
  • "Never, ever, feel uncomfortable about putting your instrument in your lap and just listening to the tune everyone else is playing. Nor should you ever feel uncomfortable about humming the tune along with them until you know it. (Don't sing so loud that you put off anyone, though.) In actual fact, many players will respect your evident ability to respect the music and learn the tune ..."
  • "Most importantly, remember -- this is supposed to be fun! Relax, give yourself a break and some time to get used to this. It'll pay off big in the future!
Here are the tunes for Tuesday night's session. Two of the three you already know, and the third is a fiddle tune that's so easy it practically plays itself:

"Be Thou My Vision" (SLANE)

I'll introduce the song Tuesday, but it needs no introduction. The text is ancient Irish, dating from the 6th century, but the tune -- called SLANE -- was first paired with it in a 1919 Irish hymnal. The CyberHymnal, a very popular website, explains the legend behind the tune's title like this: "It was on Slane Hill around 433 AD that St. Pat­rick de­fied a roy­al edict by light­ing can­dles on East­er Eve. High King Lo­gaire of Ta­ra had de­creed that no one could light a fire be­fore Lo­gaire be­gan the pa­gan spring fes­ti­val by light­ing a fire on Ta­ra Hill. Lo­gaire was so im­pressed by Pat­rick’s de­vo­tion that, de­spite his de­fi­ance (or per­haps be­cause of it­), he let him con­tin­ue his mis­sion­ary work. The rest is his­to­ry." However, Wikipedia weighs the evidence and concludes, "the folk song has little prior connection to the text."

Benjamin Esh, who has compiled a two-volume "Dulcimer Hymnal" (info on his Facebook page at, has a nice flatpicked mountain dulcimer version ...

And the song, unlike a lot of hymns, is in the public domain. So the music is freely available on the Internet:

You'll need both the tablature and the chords, at least till you learn the song aurally, since the chords aren't indicated on the tab.

Another song that's easy for beginners to pick up is "Shall We Gather at the River." We've been playing it forever, but I have no evidence that we have permission to use the tab in our folders. And a very good arrangment for dulcimer in DAD with backup (i.e. guitar) chords by Benjamin Esh is available at

Four-part harmony in D, for voice, on the website (click on "view PDF sheet music [.pdf]") at

And "Coleman's March" is a nice fiddle tune that's usually played at a slow tempo. (It's a march instead of a reel.) Different members of our group have different versions of the written tab -- the "dots" -- and they all work together. (To get a really very good explanation of why, go back to the Small Circle Tune Learning Session's page on learning tunes by ear. It's just about the best thing I've read anywhere on how a fiddle tune, Irish or American either one, is structured.) To get DAD ducimer tab by Terry Lewis of the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association, follow this link ...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Prairieland Strings / Clayville - how do we keep beginners and more experienced (novice and intermediate) jammers on the same page?

The following blast email (lightly edited here for the web) went out last night to people on the Prairieland Strings dulcimer club and Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music tune learning jam session lists.

Hi everybody --

We had a fine session Thursday night at the Prairieland Strings meeting. Several new people joined us, and we learned two new songs, "The Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Si Bheag Si Mhor." I think that was quite an accomplishment, especially since "Si Bheag Si Mhor" is a fairly difficult piece of music with an intricate melody and subtle dynamics. We were starting to get both tunes down by the end of the session, and we finished up with "John Stinson's No. 2," which is always fun!

Even so, for a while there, things were about as lively as memorizing verb conjugations back in high school Spanish, and some of us left the session vowing to find some music that's just fun to play.

So we're taking requests!

We're especially looking for jam tunes that are beginner-friendly and fun to play. Fiddle tunes, gospel songs, whatever you'd like. If you're new, what would you like to learn? If you've been with the Prairieland Strings for a while, which of our oldies-but-goodies would you like to keep playing? Let me know, and I'll try to find dulcimer tab on line or arrange to have PDF copies made of our old Prairieland tunes that we can email around.


In the meantime, several of the folks at Thursday's session wanted to hear "Si Bheag Si Mhor" so they can get the melody better in mind. It's pronounced "sh'BEG sh'MORE," by the way; it's an Irish Gaelic song about a battle or a field hockey match - I've heard it both ways - between the fairies on a little hill ("si bheag") and a nearby big hill ("si mhor"). I'm not aware of any translations in English.

So here, by popular request, are a couple of YouTube performances of "Si Bheag Si Mhor":

1. Fingerpicked on mountain dulcimer tuned to DAD, by YouTube user 6FIDS

2. An Irish fingerpicking guitar arrangement in DADGAD tuning, by French musician Jean Banwarth

3. A freestyle guitar version in DADGAD as taught by folk and jazz maitre Pierre Bensusan, also of France

Be sure to listen for what Bensusan says beginning at 4:38 about giving the tune his own interpretation. He's talking about solos, of course, but he's an absolute master of feeling the music on a stringed instrument. Any stringed instrument.


As we help our beginners get up to speed, I think we can strike a balance between practicing techniques, chord positions, etc., and just playing the songs. There's a lot of good advice on the Small Circle Tune Learning Session website at ...

At SCTLS jams, they play tunes over six and seven times each at what they call a " quick beginner's pace, slow enough that you can pick them up fairly easily if you are familiar with the process of learning aurally" (by ear, in other words), but fast enough that you don't lose the rhythm and melody. That way the more experienced players can improvise harmonies, play on the bass string, try out new techniques and chord positions, etc., while the beginners learn the melody and everybody's happy.

Which is why we're asking for requests -- what jam songs would you like to play?

We're looking for a good jam book at the moment, but in the meantime there are a lot of good tunes we used to play in the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings. Two that I'd like to bring back at our next session are "Shall We Gather at the River" and "Coleman's March."

-- "Shall We Gather at the River" is available on line:

1. Dulcimer tab in DAD with backup (i.e. guitar) chords by Benjamin Esh at

2. Four-part harmony in D, for voice, on the website (click on "view PDF sheet music [.pdf]") at

-- "Coleman's March" is tabbed out by Terry Lewis of the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association. His DAD tab is available at

It's one of several versions we play at Prairieland Strings sessions. They all work very well together.

So, if you've played with us before, please let me know which of our tunes you'd like to see us play this spring. "June Apple," for example. That wonderful tab we have with "Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm" and "Shortning Bread" on the same sheet. "I Feel Like Traveling On" and "Uncloudy Day." Songs like "Hard Times" and 'Wild Mountain Thyme." And whether you're an old-timer or a newbie, let me know what new tunes you'd like to learn, and I'll see what I can find on the Internet without violating copyright.

And, as always, if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please don't hesitate to get back to me.


For future reference ... links to lead sheets with dulcimer tablature, lyrics, chords and YouTube clips for songs we've played in the past and might again in the future as we go through the stacks and stacks of old dulcimer tab.

  • Very nice version of "Coleman's March" by the Kentucky Wonder String Band of New Liberty, Ky., at According to their Facebook page, "The band was formed inadvertently, and over time its members have waned and waxed, come and gone, and stumbled accidentally into venues where Old Time Traditional Music is appreciated, most frequently on porches or under shade trees."

    Of special interest to Appalachian dulcimer players, a very traditional version by _____ aka "birdrockdulcimers," a British dulcimer builder and vendor, pick and noter style on an Uncle Ed Thomas replica. It looks like he's tuned in DAA, and you'll notice he's not chording. He can't chord, in fact, because Uncle Ed's instruments were only fretted under the melody string. ...

    The Bird Rock Dulcimers website at is also well worth checking out in detail. The guy knows a lot about historic dulcimers and has some instructional videos on pick-and-noter style playing.

  • Sheet music, in four-part harmony at for "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" on Barbershop Harmony Society website. Use the sheet music search engine or go directly to (Heritage of Harmony).
  • Chord sheet for "Be Thou My Vision" at in D at the Worship Archive website. Prints out as a nice one-page HTML text document. Nina Zanetti has DAD tab at on her website. Both a simplified melody and a more intricate arrangement with lots of nice ornamentation.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Prairieland Strings Thursday March 21 - "Battle Cry of Freedom" w/ links to tab, backup chords

At Thursday's meeting of the Prairieland Strings dulcimer club, Bev will teach us the "Battle Cry of Freedom" out of Maureen Sellers' book Songs of the Civil War - available on her website at by mail order. Click here for a capsule history of the song, with both Union and Confederate lyrics, and here for a short biography of composer George Frederick Root. It was very popular on both sides, although it is probably more associated now with the Union cause. A New Englander by birth, Root was from Chicago. Also known for "Tramp Tramp Tramp (the Boys Are Marching)" and "Just Before the Battle Mother," as well as gospel songs.

Here's a nice, slow verison on Appalachian dulcimer by sailplane enthusiast and YouTube user Tom McDonald, who says, "I recorded this at Ridge Soaring near Julian, PA on a day when I couldn't fly sailplanes due to the weather."

McDonald has a link to tab in DGD, the tuning in which he plays the song. (The song is usually written in G, and DGD is a wonderful "reverse Ionian" tuning well worth learning. But we play it in D.) It's available in "D for dulcimer" at in tablature that includes fret numbers for both DAA and DAD. (Don't worry, if you want to experiment - they'll sound the same if you play either one, as long as everybody's tuned in D.) Either way, if you "play by number," you may want to get out a highlighter and mark the line of tablature you want to follow. If read music, of course, you can just play the notes!

Guitar chords - or "backup chords" - in G are available on line, for personal use only of course, at ...

Of course, you'll have to transpose it to D. You can do that by going to where it says "transpose" in the upper lefthand corner of the page and clicking down from G to D.

A couple of performances on YouTube

A string band in Michigan. More up to tempo, at least as I've heard it played. Fiddler Brad Battey joins Picks and Sticks on Aug. 7, 2010, at a wedding reception barn dance. Sherry Humecky on hammered dulcimer, Morgan Humecky on banjo, Bob Miller on bass, Alex Belhaj on guitar. Fiddler Brad Battey joins Picks and Sticks on August 7, 2010 at a wedding reception barn dance. Sherry Humecky on dulcimer, Morgan Humecky on banjo, Bob Miller on bass, Alex Belhaj on guitar. "Battle Cry" begins at 1:29.

Brass band - period instruments. The Federal City Brass Band's sunset concert atop Little Round Top at Gettysburg, November 2012. Brass bands and string bands of the 1800s often played the same music. Here's a better-than-average group of Civil War re-enactors playing on what look like period instruments.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Post-folk" band Ilgi - tracks featuring (or at least briefly showing) Gatis Gaujenieks on the giga - a Latvian folk instrument derived from the Swedish psalmodikon

PLEASE NOTE -- On March 12, 2013, I also posted several links to Hogfiddle on the Hedgehogs Baltic Folk Ensemble (also known as Ezisi, in Latvian, or Siilikesed, in Estonian) of Indianapolis (permalink, which features another bowed folk zither, or giga, directly related to the Swedish psalmodikon. That gives us two bands who apparently play secular folk music on it, and it's always been on my "B List" to find out more about these bands -- "Hedgehogs" in the US and the folk-rock group "Igli" in Latvia -- but I've never gotten around to it.

The giga, which appears to be a folk adaptation of the psalmodikon in Swedish-speaking parts of Estonia and Latvia, is playing a small part in the burgeoning traditional and "post-folk" music scene in the Baltic nations since independence from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Link here to primer on folk music in the Baltics, with several embedded videos from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, at ...

If you look carefully at the YouTube video of the Latvian "post-folk" band Ilgi embedded below, you'll see Gatis Gaujenieks on the right with his giga. The video will show him playing it from time to time in the midst of all the music video pyrotechnics.

Ilgi - Saule brida miglajos.

CD Baby biography at has a thumbnail that shows Gaujenieks with his giga at lower right. Also this:

In 1981 Ilga Reizniece, a classically trained violinist, formed the folk group ILGI (Latvian for friendly spirits). She soon was joined by Maris Muktupavels on kokle, bagpipes and accordion. They traveled the country learning folk songs and traditions from their elders at a time when the Latvian folklore movement was more of a political statement than a musical trend. In contrast with the Soviet sanctioned sugar-coated presentations of Latvian "culture", true Latvian culture was preserved in folk songs and dances by folk groups such as ILGI. The latter groups became de facto centers of national and cultural studies.

As Reizniece recalls, "from the very beginning we were different from the authentic music ensembles in the traditional sense. We have always been interested in music as art, not just the folklore aspect of it. There always has been a dual purpose of the group: we had to fulfill our mission in preserving the Latvian heritage, return forgotten lore to the nation, but at the same time we really enjoyed just playing the music. I am a professional musician after all."

After Latvian independence was restored in 1991 ILGI began to travel abroad, and some of its music shifted from minor to major keys.

Another shift occurred in the late 1990's. Muktupavels and Reizniece had been playing in ILGI as well as in the rock band, Jauns Meness. Gatis Gaujenieks, a native New Yorker of Latvian descent, moved to Latvia and joined ILGI in 1997 as a musician, sound artist and producer. ILGI's meditative and somewhat traditional approach gave way to fuller instrumentation and bolder arrangements without undermining its foundation of Latvian folklore. ...

Photo IĻĢI: Gatis Gaujenieks 1301. Playing the giga, a fretted low note instrument, also known as a trough-fiddle or -violin.

CD Baby has this blurb on Tur saulite perties gaja, a 2012 album that won a best CD prize in Latvia ...

llgi's mature roots in Latvian folk music and the skilled musicianship of its members are apparent in profound and bold interpretations, album after album. Ilgi takes kokles, violin, a cello-like giga, acoustic and bass guitars, percussion, and an adopted kalimba on a tranquil journey in Tur Saulite Perties Gaja, released in 2011 as Ilgi celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The album's central theme is the Latvian pirts, a place for cleansing the body and soul. "Spirits are tossed" by ladling water onto rocks heated by a wood fire, creating a steam bath in the typically small wooden structure. To "perties" (gently flog) with a pirts slota (bundle of twigs) is invigorating. Whether in a private pirts in the countryside or under the direction of a modern day pirts keeper, the tradition is alive in Latvia. Nevertheless, it lacked music - until now.

In "Pirts Kurinasana" (Lighting the Fire), Ilga Reizniece sings of a pirts near a golden oak by a silver stream, "where the Sun went perties" (the album title). Celojums (Journey) is the story of a pirts mouse. Cels (The Road) is a gentle interplay of strings and kalimba. In Persana (Flogging) Reizniece names health promoting flora used in pirts slotas. Lidosana (Flying) showcases Egons Kronbergs' guitar and Maris Muktupavels' kokle and accordion. Gara Pupa (The Beanstalk) is the classic story of a beanstalk that grows up to the sky, but the music suggests the wonderfully languid feeling resulting from a trip to the pirts. It features a duet by Reizniece on violin and Muktupavels on kokle, playing as one after collaborating for three decades. Finally, Paldies (A Song of Thanks) is offered to everyone who makes the pirts possible, from its builder to the water carrier. Throughout, layers of depth are created by Gatis Gaujenieks on giga and bass guitar, and Martins Linde on percussion.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Latvian ģīga - misc. notes and (maybe!) a video *** UPDATE - definitely a video! *** and links to music of an Indianapolis traditional Baltic music ensemble

PLEASE NOTE -- On March 16, 2013, I also posted several links to Hogfiddle on the Latvian "post-folk" band Igli (permalink, which features another bowed folk zither, or giga, directly related to the Swedish psalmodikon. That gives us two bands who apparently play secular folk music on it, and it's always been on my "B List" to find out more about these bands -- the Estonian heritage band "Hedgehogs" in the US and the folk-rock group "Igli" in Latvia -- but I've never gotten around to it.

An obscure instrument in Latvia, a two-stringed box zither known as a giga or "trough fiddle" ... that by all accounts represents an authentic folk tradition that evolved out of use of the Swedish psalmodikon by Lutheran pastors in that Baltic nation. Scattered references on the Internet ...

For the basics, as always, I consulted Wikipedia. As follows, in its entirety: "The ģīga is a two-stringed bowed zither found in Latvia. / The instrument is descended from the psalmodicon, a bowed monochord developed in Sweden in 1829 for liturgical singing. From there it filtered down to the Latvian peasantry who added a second string for harmony.

Picture at right shows traditional Latvian instruments depicted on a Soviet-era postage stamp. The ģīga will be the second instrument from the top on the righthand side of the stamp. Instrument at bottom right is a kokle, an iconic Latvian box zither related to the Finnish kantele. (Photo Wikimedia Commons).

** UPDATE ** MONDAY MARCH 18 - Baltic ensemble in Indianapolis --

Here is a promotional video for the Hedgehogs Baltic Folk Ensemble (Ezisi, in Latvian, or Siilikesed, in Estonian) of Indianapolis. Closeup of a giga being plucked at 0:46-0:47 and video of the entire ensemble playing from 0:48 to 1:14. The giga player uses a bow and stands the instrument on a chair.

The band's website at has 30-second clips from their CDs plus a 57-minute podcast of a noon-hour concert at the Hoagy Carmichael center at Indiana University Bloomington. You can hear the giga, described as "kind of like a cello ... a bowed instrument," beginning at 36:50. It plays chords in a sustained, dronal style.

Says Daina Gross for the Latvians Online website, reviewing a CD of the hedgehogs' music:

Ezīši (also known as Siilikesed in Estonian and Hedgehogs in English) is a group of musically talented individuals from Indianapolis, Ind. Most of the members are U.S.-born and only some have Baltic roots. Their common trait is a passion for folk music. They even made some of their instruments themselves and, according to the CD liner notes, their “goals are to help preserve and to spread awareness of the folk music of the immigrant communities from the Eastern Baltic area…our specialty is the presentation of medleys of similar or at least compatible tunes from different nationalities of northeastern Europe.”
Hedgehogs' webpage at has audio files, contact information.

Link here to IU's podcast page:


Also, based in Riga, the Latvian "post-folk" band band Ilgi includes a giga among its rather varied instrumentation - seems to add a bass drone to the band's folk-rock-Europop-jazz-ish sound. According to the blurb on the CD Baby online music store's website, Igli was founded in the 1980s by Ilga Reizniece, "a classically trained violinist," and Maris Muktupavels, on kokle, bagpipes and accordion. After independence from the former Soviet Union, the band has morphed into a folk-rock-jazz ensemble. "Over the years Reizniece and Muktupavels have been joined in ILGI by some of the best Latvian musicians. In addition to Gatis Gaujenieks on electric bass and ancient giga, they recruited Egons Kronbergs, an accomplished rock guitarist (The Hobos), in 2001. Martins Linde, a successful jazz drummer and percussionist (Time After Time), completes the current roster."

ANOTHER GIGA (?) YouTube clip below of an unidentified group of musicians - maybe a pickup band? - at a "Cuckoo Festival" in Lithuania shows a woman, on the left, playing an unidentified bowed instrument that corresponds to the description of a giga. It sounds like she's playing a drone accompaniment to the melody.

Latvian folk music. Uploaded by YouTube user haribo348 on May 10, 2010. Cuckoo Festival, Lithuania. No comments, no further info. User is in Lithuania.

A brief description on the website of the giga with pix (fuzzy, but with an interesting, apparently handmade bow) at
The monochord has been created in Sweden in 1829 for accompaniment of spiritual singing. Probably through the Lutheran parochial schools, monochord has got to the Latvian peasants, and they have begun to play on it, to make it and to improve it (the same instrument, but with two strings has been developed). [pix] "Monochord consists of a long, rectangular body, stuck or hammered together from wooden plates. In the upper plate the sound holes are cut and a stepped rod (neck) is attached, on which a string (or two) is put.

A horsehair or bow is used to play the monochord. The height of sounding is changed, pressing the string to the neck.

More information on a British website devoted to all kinds of fiddle music worldwide, with maybe a couple of good leads for futher information, at homepage. The page on the giga reads:
One of the most interesting aspects of fiddling in Latvia is the use of the giga or trough fiddle, a large rectangular box-like instrument played like a cello with one or two strings. Due to the shape of the body it is sometimes referred to as a trough-fiddle. In Ilgi, the giga is played by Gatis Gaujenieks. Indianapolis-based band the Hedgehogs also use the giga, alongside other Latvian and baltic instruments such as the kokle (a type of zither, and perhaps the best-known Latvian folk instrument), the bagpipe and the Novgorod lyre.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter - harp and nykelharpa duo of California

Quite a mixture of Carolan, folk, early music, New Age, a polska or two and a little bit of everything else - on harp, Swedish nykelharp and a little bit of everything else - by two California musicians. Lots of promotional tapes, especially on Lisa Lynne's website, good production values on the videos and Vblogs (video blogs). The embedded tape plugging house concerts below gives a pretty good overview, but there are also videos from music festivals, faerie gatherings, Renaissance faires, music camps and a wide variety of concert venues. Fascinating.

Lisa Lynne - All about doing House Concerts. "I made this video to inspire and encourage people to host house concerts for acoustic musicians. It features myself & Aryeh Frankfurter, we are a duo of two multi-instrumentalists who have recently started performing at house concerts. The footage was taken from San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Central California, Napa valley, Portland & Seattle. The songs featured are both traditional and written by me. The second half of the video features my "Hands-on-Harps" workshops and live music programs at various hospitals, school, retreat and rehabilitation centers.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

"Shenandoah Falls" - new learning video (well, only a year old)

Posted to YouTube since I last looked. But ...

(and this seems like a *big "but" to me),

his sheet music is in D and E minor instead of A. Still, I like the way he swings it. Nice tempo on his CD.

Learn SHENANDOAH FALLS on Hammered Dulcimer

Jess Dickinson·29 videos
Published on Jul 5, 2012

Another FREE hammered dulcimer learning video from http://DickinsonDulcimer.Com. Learn to play "Shenandoah Falls" on the hammered dulcimer. Download the sheet music FREE and see more learning videos at http://DickinsonDulcimer.Com. Sign up for Jess Dickinson's classes at ODPC Funfest 2013.


* Did I just say that?

Monday, March 04, 2013

"[P]ut a ribbon on that dulcimer and mount it on a wall": Misc. notes on dulcimers, Appalachian crafts

Excerpts from article in website based on a 1996 series in the Enterprise Mountaineer newspaper of Waynesville, N.C., quoting local musician, instrument builder and "folklore historian" Jim Trantham on dulcimer origins and some of his own experience with the instrument. Bio of Trantham and profile of the Trantham Family singing group consisting of his children and grandchildren, on the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area website. Trantham, who builds banjos and guitars in addition to dulcimers, is quoted on the history of the instrument:
Today's dulcimers evolved from a family of long, neckless instruments.

The monochord, a singled-stringed instrument with a soundbox, was around in medieval Europe and is thought to be the precursor of the zither, which was found in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. From the zither came the dulcimer.

The French name for the dulcimer is an epinette. In Norwegian, it is the langeleik. In Holland and Italy it's known as the humle. In Germany, it's the box-shaped scheitholt, which translates into "chopping block."

"Every culture will have a form of this instrument," Trantham said.

German settlers most likely brought a form of the dulcimer over to America, Trantham speculated. Crude hand-sawed boards fashioned into dulcimers may have killed the tone quality, but were fairly easy to make.

* * *

Today, dulcimers remain popular despite being looked down upon by some native Appalachians.

When Trantham played his dulcimer at the Asheville Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the festival's founder and a well-respected name in preserving Appalachian music, told Trantham if he ever wanted to amount to anything, he'd have to put a ribbon on that dulcimer and mount it on a wall.

Michael Beadle, "The Heritage of the Mountain Dulcimer." Mountain Grown Music: Celebrating the Traditional Mountain Music of Heywood County 1999. [Haywood County Public Library, Waynesville, N.C.].

Research and documentation of the Niles "dulcimers," by Dwight Newton, organologist and web publisher of Lexington, Ky., who is a musicology graduate of UK and has a long-standing interest in John Jacob Niles:

Niles called his instruments "dulcimers." He certainly had a lot of experience with the authentic Appalachian instrument by this name, but he took the concept in a fairly radical direction. As he did with the old songs he had collected, he took the essential idea of a dulcimer and turned it into an icon. I believe Niles thought of himself as a balladeer in the bardic tradition of Scots-English poetry. Certainly his repertoire has its roots quite consciously in the British Isles. His vocal style is rhythmically free and declamatory, with great emotional expression, especially as he employs his stratospheric falsetto. The instruments were used in a minimalist way, strumming the strings in a simple down- down-down-down... stroke, or in some cases in a single rolled stroke at certain moments for emphasis in an otherwise a cappella performance.

Niles performed with at least eight instruments that he built himself. This research project focuses on these instruments as objects, but in truth, they really cannot be separated from Niles the balladeer. The reality is that these objects are not particularly good musical instruments -- their ranges are quite limited, thay have relatively poor volume considering their size, and they are all clearly the work of a folk artist, not a luthier. But their musical function was secondary to their function as theatrical props. He rarely played melodic tunes on his large dulcimers. In all cases the real star of the show was Niles himself -- his voice and his expression.

Dwight Newton, "John Jacob Niles, Luthier." All About Musical Instruments. 2006.

scantling [ˈskæntlɪŋ] n
1. (Miscellaneous Technologies / Building) a piece of sawn timber, such as a rafter, that has a small cross section
2. (Miscellaneous Technologies / Building) the dimensions of a piece of building material or the structural parts of a ship, esp those in cross section
3. (Miscellaneous Technologies / Building) a building stone, esp one that is more than 6 feet in length
4. a small quantity or amount
[changed (through influence of SCANT and -LING) from earlier scantillon, a carpenter's gauge, from Old Norman French escantillon, ultimately from Latin scandere to climb; see scan] Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

Scantling a small quantity—Johnson, 1755.
Examples: scantling of apples, 1849; of burgundy, 1765; of eloquence, 1704; of food 1835; of geological knowledge, 1876; of paper, 1743; of time, 1665; of wit, 1680.
Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Prairieland Strings dulcimer club - "Farther Along" Tuesday, March 5

At our upcoming "first Tuesday" session of the Prairieland Strings dulcimer club, we'll take up one of the classic bluegrass gospel songs, "Farther Along." We meet, as always, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson in Springfield.

"Farther Along" is of uncertain authorship, dating from the early 1900s. It has been covered by artists including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, the 60s folk-rock group the Byrds, African American gospel singer Willie Neal Johnson and the Gospel Keynotes, country music icon Johnny Cash and blues legend Mississippi John Hurt, among many others. I first learned it in an inner-city ecumenical congregation in Knoxville, Tenn., and songs like "Farther Along" were perfect for getting 1970s-vintage hippies, street people, members of the old Epworth Methodist congregation and grad students from the nearby University of Tennessee singing - literally - from the same page.

"Farther Along" is also a favorite gospel piece in the mountain dulcimer world, where its harmonies lend themselves to group singing.

I'm going to embed two videos - the first is by members of the "Flat Mountain Dulcimer Club" in eastern North Carolina (where there aren't any mountains and it's pretty flat). It's representative of what a well rehearsed dulcimer club does with the song:

The other video shows vocalist Patty Mitchell, who has sung with artists as varied as Ralph Stanley the Dixie Chicks, backed by dulcimer player Stephen Seifert (who was in Springfield last year for one of our workshops). Steve's backup is understated, but the way he engages with the music shows how much the mountain dulcimer is capable of:

Here's the music:

A word about Steve Smith's tab: A lot of people get frustrated with it, because it packs a lot of information onto one page. In addition to the lead sheet - i.e. the notes for the melody line - it identifies the chords above the melody line and the individual notes by letter underneath the melody. It also has left hand positions in both DAD and DAA: as you play more in different tunings, it will help you transpose between them. (For example: The first note in "Farther Along" is an F-sharp, written F#, and it's played on the second fret in DAD and the fifth fret in DAA, but it's the same note and it sounds the same in both tunings. I like knowing stuff like that.) At Benedictine I used to tell my students to keep stuff they wanted to memorize in the bathroom, and hand to read in the bathroom, and this tab is perfect for that purpose.

But that stuff comes later.

For now, all you need is to play the melody line in DAD.

I like to mark the DAD fret numbers with a highlighter, so they'll stand out the first few times I've playing through the melody. It's a trick that comes in handy with church choir music, and it works like a charm when dulcimer tab gets complicated, too.