Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering

Wednesday evening my friend Rick Davis arrived from North Carolina, in order to teach at the Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering in Binghamton this weekend. After a quick dinner, we attended a local “slow jam,” a group of musicians learning tunes together, often playing them first at a slower tempo and then again at the usual speed. Thursday we practiced a bit for the piece we planned to play in the Friday coffeehouse concert at the festival, had lunch at the Moosewood, and visited the Farmers Market. Friday morning I had to tune again, which was very annoying and discouraging. We had just enough time to eat a little lunch before we left for Binghamton.

Things began with Cliff Cole‘s workshop on mapping the dulcimer. He went over various ways to play major and modal scales and some chords. Then I taught a class on Carolan tunes. I’m not an expert on 18th Century blind Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan, but I do play a handful of his tunes, which are popular among dulcimer folks. We learned Blind Mary and Captain O’Kane, and I also handed out Hewlett and Planxty Irwin. I included chords and harmonies for each tune, so folks will have some additional options to work on at home.

The coffeehouse concert started after dinner. In the middle was a set by the featured autoharpist, and before and after were sets by other instructors, who each got to perform one song or tune. In fact, if someone was accompanying someone else, that counted as their turn. So I ended up doing a solo version of my piece so that Rick and Cliff could do their own pieces and not lose their turns by accompanying me.

Tip: Don’t commute an hour and a half to a dulcimer festival. Even though we left right after the concert, we still didn’t get home until a little after 1 am, and had to get up at 6am to get back in time for the morning meeting. It’s no fun to get so little sleep without even getting to jam.

Saturday morning I went to a mountain carols class by Donna Missigman. We learned three carols, including a G major version of Star in the East, which I’d previously learned in A minor. The next class was about arranging, by the featured hammered dulcimist, Mark Wade. He talked about arranging in terms of overall structure, like intros and conclusions, transitions, building up to a peak, and that sort of thing.

After lunch, Sam Edelston did a class reviving a variety of his favorite lessons from past festival classes, including a useful and fun exercise for learning to control hammer bounces and developing greater facility with fast reaches. Next I attended a singing jam, which was fun even though I didn’t sing much. My other class was the last one of the day; I taught four simple separated hands techniques, including octaves, sixths and fifths, three-note right-hand chords, and right-hand root-fifth accompaniment.

Rick, Cliff, Elliott, Nancy and I had dinner at a charming little place called The Copper Cricket. The dessert made up for the dinner. Cream cheese filling wrapped up in pastry with raspberries, raspberry sauce, and ice cream. Mmmm.

Saturday night’s concert began with the featured mountain dulcimer player, then Mark Wade. He started with some classical pieces, then went into some traditional things played in untraditional ways, and some other stuff like blues. Rick and I did stay late this night in order to jam a bit with Cliff, A. J. Bashore, and Sam.

Yesterday we tried to play at the Farmers Market but there wasn’t room for us, so we played out on the Commons instead. It was a lovely day with low humidity and a nice breeze, and we had a good time playing together. When we got home, we collapsed for a nap, woke up to go eat at Ralph’s Ribs, and returned to go to bed again.

Rick left about a half hour ago. Today, I think I’ll tune, go to Home Depot and Agway to get materials for a chicken wire fence for the gardens, since the groundhogs got through my stick fences over the weekend (grumble grumble grumble), practice for our next trio recording session this Thursday, and listen to the CDs I got from swapping with Cliff — one is something his band recorded in a cavern, and one is his daughter Emily’s.

Unless I get overtaken by a nap.