Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Cripple Creek" -- Prairieland Strings jam session Tuesday June 4 / plus a new format for sessions at Springfield, Clayville

Several people in our group have suggested we have separate groupings for beginners and more experienced players in our Prairieland Strings dulcimer club sessions. So I've been checking around for ways of doing that without hurting the cohesiveness of the group, and I believe we've got something that'll work. So let's try it over the summer.

Basically, we'll meet from 7 to 9 .m. like always, and we'll continue to learn a new tune during the first hour and go around the circle calling jam tunes during the second. However, we'll split into two groups during the first hour and come back together for the second-hour jam. I've volunteered to take the beginners off to the side and work with them on the basics, including ways of fitting into a jam with more experienced players and how to find the melody line in dulcimer tablature, while the rest of the group learns the new tune.

We think this will have two advantages:

  • More experienced players aren't as likely to get bored while the beginners are learning the "string-side-up" basics; and
  • Beginners aren't as likely to feel intimidated by novice- or intermediate-level players, which is where most of us probably rank in the Prairieland group.

And if we feel like the format isn't working, or we're beginning to get clique-ish, we can always tinker with the format. Both of our groups have grown into friendly, noncompetitive learning communities, and it's important for us to keep it that way. But I think if we make it a point to play together during the second hour, we'll be OK.

So ... Our next beginners' (and novices') session at Clayville is from 10 to noon Saturday at Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125 at Pleasant Plains (for details scroll down to the next item, posted Sunday, May 26, or click here to open a new window). And our next Prairieland Strings meeting is 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, June 4, at Springfield's Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson. Judy will introduce the old fiddle tune "Cripple Creek."

"(Going Up) Cripple Creek" is one of the classic old-time southern Appalachian fiddle tunes! If you like tune histories, Andrew Kuntz has a good one in the Fiddler's Companion that includes a rundown on the brothels in Cripple Creek, Colo., a hundred years ago. And the Athens (Ala.) Dulcimer Jam Group has a YouTube clip that you can play along with at home. A good way to build up speed and learn to hear chord changes!

If you're interested in hearing the traditional sound of the Appalachian dulcimer before it got popular outside of Appalachia, there's a 1973 film available on YouTube that shows North Carolina artisan Edd Presnell explaining how he made dulcimers. He was one of the master builders in his day. For example Don Pedi, who will do a workshop here in July, bought his first professional-quality dulcimer from Presnell.

Presnell's wife Nettie plays "Cripple Creek" with a pick and noter (a wooden stick she used to press down the strings) in the intro and "outro" at the beginning and end of the 10- to 15-minute film, and you can hear her playing in the background throughout. The buzzing sound is the "drone" that traditional dulcimer players used instead of chords in order to add harmonic texture to their music.

We won't try to play it the way the old-timers did, but a lot of today's professionals like Don Pedi and Steven Seifert still make it a point to keep the sound of the drone in their playing. It's the authentic sound of the Appalachian dulcimer.

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