In praise of live accompaniment

When I was in college, I took modern dance every semester I could. I had done a very very short session of ballet once when I was little, but when my feet cramped I was confused and quit. Dance counted for the physical education requirement at my college, which is why I got started in it, and I loved it so much I continued. Embodied music and art, creative expression, grace and beauty and truth and stretching, opening the heart, the parallelism of bodily systems and mental / emotional ones. Amazing stuff.

We had a piano in the studio, and a thin young man named Blanton would accompany our classes. The teacher would explain and demonstrate the combination or the exercise we were to do, and he would immediately have the most fitting music for it. Tribal sounds for moving across the floor with wide legs and arched arms. “Ashokan Farewell” for a seated stretching sequence. Always just perfectly matched to the kind of movement we were doing. And, of course, his timing matched ours — an intro to prepare us, and an ending as we finished. At the end of every class we all applauded our thanks to him.

Now my daughter takes dance, and there is no piano in her studio. Her ballet teacher uses recorded piano and orchestral music, which means she has to pause her instruction to go start it and stop it, and the piece rarely takes the same amount of time as the movement, and often enough doesn’t quite match the mood very well. Her modern teacher uses some recorded music but occasionally also uses a hand drum, which I like a lot.

We went to her grade’s spring music program, and the whole thing was done to recorded music. There’s no flexibility for adjusting the tempo to the students’ abilities or for recovering from mistakes. The recorded music just goes — it runs the show — the students simply have to keep up and go along with it.

In high school I sometimes did “special music” in church — in the beginning it was wonderful because our worship band was able and willing to take the time to learn the pieces and practice with me. After a while though they required soloists to use recorded tracks.

I don’t think it’s simply an ego thing — wanting to be supported by or in control of the music instead of feeling like one has to follow or keep up with the recording. I think it’s more about synergy — collaboration — mutuality. It’s being part of something larger, something communal, relational, human, instead of standing alone in front of a recorded background.

I wish I could play the piano, well enough to improvise and select wisely like Blanton, so that I could offer to accompany my daughter’s dance class and school programs.

Published in: on April 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Simply Dulci

On Sunday afternoon, November 4, a small bunch of us gathered to celebrate my twelfth dulcimer anniversary with a little concert.

(Picture by Ruthie)

John Sherck got the whole thing on video:

Original
Bach
Traditional

Published in: on November 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm  Comments Off  

A couple of jigs

Published in: on July 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm  Comments Off  

Concert videos, part i

My friend and harp-playing colleague Beth Pare’s husband Paul graciously agreed to film the concert yesterday. Please excuse the fuzz and buzz — the video was taken by a point-and-shoot digital camera from all the way across the room.

Scandinavian Walking Tunes

Polska efter Höök-Olle

Marenje

And here’s a video of the Masanga Marimba Ensemble covering the original by Mhuri Yekwa Muchena.

Slip Jig from Style, by Denis Carey

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 10:10 am  Comments Off  

A dulcimer decade

Maps and directions; Legion Memorial Building is #26 on the map, lower left by the lake shore.

Interactive tour

Published in: on October 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm  Comments Off  
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Some videos for students

O’Keefe’s Slide

Liberty — student version

Liberty — at tempo

I’m not sure what’s going on with the ringing / buzzing.

Published in: on September 24, 2011 at 11:45 am  Comments Off  
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A little one

Sometimes I like to let little ones try the dulcimer. I brought it to Amy’s preschool class once, and here’s another one exploring. It’s sweet to see them enjoy the sounds they can make and discover different aspects of the dulcimer, the hammers, and music in general.

I confess there are also times when I am not up for young (or old!) exploration. If anything ever happened to my dulcimer I’d be heartbroken, and it would not be easy to replace. Plus, I don’t have insurance that covers it outside our home.

Published in: on June 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm  Comments Off  

Easter Thursday

I am gaining confidence in “good enough” tuning — sometimes what doesn’t sound perfect to me right in playing position sounds just fine via a video, or if I’m on the other side of the dulcimer or a little further away.

I would want to be more exact in tuning for a CD, or for an important event like a concert or wedding ceremony. But for background music, especially outside, this tuning is good enough.

Easter Thursday is an English country dance tune, in 3/2 meter. The middle section is what I play if someone else is playing melody, but it sounds rather nice on its own as well.

A trio version is available on my Christmas CD, What Child Is This, with Craig Higgins on guitar and Jerry Drumheller on fiddle.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 9:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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Strobe tuner repair

I love my Conn Strobotuner ST-11.

It’s an old strobe tuner. Inside there’s a patterned wheel and some strobe lights — one moves according to the pitch of the note on my dulcimer, and the other moves according to the correct pitch, and the closer I get to exactly in tune, the slower the movement. It’s so precise that even if it’s still moving a little, I know it’s going to sound good. So, for me, it makes tuning a little more relaxing, with a lot less second-guessing and waiting than I had with the digital tuners I’ve used.

It’s almost always made some noise on the B note, and recently it’s started having noise on C as well — and the movement for C doesn’t seem to be accurate any more. Sometimes it is — but sometimes it claims my dulcimer is far sharper than it actually is.

From what I’ve read at Peterson’s forums (they bought Conn), it sounds like the bearings in the motor are wearing down, so the motor will need to be replaced. Their service facility is about three hours away, so I could avoid shipping charges, which with something this heavy would probably cost more than six hours of gas. In 2008, the motor cost $80. That’s almost as much as I paid for the tuner.

So… I may look around Ebay for another one… or maybe look into having this one repaired… or maybe consider a newer model if I can get one used.

Peterson also makes virtual strobe tuners — I don’t know whether they have the same advantages a real strobe has, or whether it’s just about aesthetics. More research needed.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm  Comments Off  
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Sheep May Safely Graze

Tomorrow morning I am playing at the South Bend Farmers Market, outside, on probation. If approved, I might get to play there regularly, and inside.

I thought I would need to tune the beastie this afternoon, and didn’t get around to it before my student arrived. I noticed that it sounded fine as she played it, so I figured it would be fine for tomorrow as well. Whew! It’s always nice to avoid a tuning, especially when I’ve been doing a lot of work with my hands and don’t want to stress them. (I have hypermobility and not much strength, so they’re prone to injury; hence my special ergonomic hammers.)

Anyway, I rejoiced by practicing the obligato for Sheep May Safely Graze, and then decided to try recording it. I wasn’t able to get an errorless recording, but here it is anyway. Oh, and I’m sorry it’s rather quiet — I forgot how weak my camera’s mic is!

(I can’t play the obligato and the melody at the same time; check out this one to hear the melody sung beautifully.)

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 8:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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