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.

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