Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thoughts from Mike Anderson's 5th annual Winter Weekend in Chillicothe, Illinois: "Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm"; a blogger's cat picture; and two Celtic tunes by Linda Brockinton

One of a series of random thoughts -- sometimes very random -- I occasionally post to the blog after a dulcimer festival. I make no attempt to "cover" it like I did in newspapering days ... instead I record stray observations on technique, dulcimers, music or life in general that I may want to remember later. This time, in the spirit of that first generation of bloggers I joined nearly 10 years ago, I'm posting a cat picture. His name is Oley (short for Olaf), and I'll bet he would enjoy a Tennessee farm. A picture of our other cat (curled up in a dulcimer case) is posted to the "Show Us Your Pets" forum on the Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer website. Back when I went online with Hogfiddle, cat pictures were nearly obligatory on a blog. Sometimes I miss those days.


Toward the end of Mike Anderson's beginners' class, Mike was asked what we should do the day after we returned home from the workshop ... how to build on the weekend's experience. He thought a minute, recommended some books and online resources like Dan Landrum's and Stephen Seifert's Dulcimer School video lessons and added this advice -- keep coming back to workshops and festivals.

"This is community," Mike said. "It keeps me practicing and learning. If I were sitting in front of a computer screen, I wouldn't do it."

There's something about being in the same room with a group of other people that keeps you focused on the music, he said (even though from time to time we'd stop and look out the window where barge tows were plowing upstream through the ice on the Illinois River). Go to festivals, he added.

"Ever since the 90s I've taught at Dulcimer Week in North Carolina, at Appalachian State and Western Carolina and finally at Dulcimerville in Black Mountain," he said. "And I've been going to festivals all over. I know people all over the country from that, and we do have a community of dulcimer players."

Ironically, the online lessons are making it harder for the people who organize festivals to attract beginners. If you want to grow as a musician, you should try to do both. If you have a local dulcimer club (adds your correspondent, declaring his conflict of interest with no sense of shame whatsoever), join it. Keep coming back. That's how we build community.

"Little Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm"

That's Mike's name for the Uncle Dave Macon classic that's become kind of an anthem in the mountain dulcimer world, and there's a valuable hint for beginners -- not-so-beginnerish players, too, in his variation on the title.

The words pick up the meter of the song. (I think it's anapestic, which is kind of like the iambic pentameter we learned in school but with an extra unstressed syllable, if you're into stuff like that.) Mike says to find the words on line, or just make them up if you have to. A lot of fiddle tunes have the rhythm of the tune right there in the title -- or those nonsense words about Old Joe Clark or how you black 'em boots and make 'em shine with a goodbye and a goodbye when you're going down to Cairo. Mike did something like that teaching his arrangement of "Little Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm."

I think by adding "little" to "gray cat," he gives the tune a couple of extra notes, a little syncopation, a little extra bounce you don't get when you're just plowing through the tablature. Try it. Get out your dulcimer, and sing the words to yourself while you're playing the melody.

"You're just singing the song with your left hand while you're singing the words in your head,' he said. "And it doesn't have words, it does in my head. …"

He demonstrated by playing and singing, in unison, "Little gray cat on a Tennessee farm, little gray cat on a Tennessee farm, little gray cat on a Tennessee farm, little gray cat …" and so on, to the end of the tune. And there was that little whiff of syncopation there, as he sang it, that's almost impossible to transfer to standard musical notation.

The lyrics are really kind of nice, though, if you look them up in the database or somewhere else on line. They scan, too, just like Mike Anderson's little gray cat:

Cattle in the pasture, hogs in the pen
Sheep on the ranch and a-wheat in the bin

And just about every other kind of good thing you can imagine in the rich farmland around Murfreesboro. But also this refrain, which maybe isn't quite as nice but also varies the rhythm of the music:

Oh, the big cat spit in the little cat's eye
The little cat, little cat, don't you cry

R.L. Walker of the Dogwood Dulcimer Association in Pensacola has dulcimer tab with chords and lyrics, at ...

The tab is in the right-hand directory column. And I have several embedded YouTube clips, including a funky interpretation by Randy Adams, in an earlier Hogfiddle post at We'll be playing it this weekend at Clayville.

Two by Linda Brockinton

Teaching the intermediate class was Linda Brockinton, known for her finger-picking. Also for her Celtic repertory. She didn't disappoint at Saturday night's concert. The clips below feature two of the songs she played, although neither is from Chillicothe.

Sheebeg Sheemore.

Take two right hand on March of St Timothy. Right hand? Well, yes, but both hands are worth studying in this clip (even if I don't even try to play chord-melody anymore). "The March of St. Timothy" was written for hammered dulcimer by Judi Morningstar.

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