Gebhard Woods Dulcimer Festival

On a whim, thanks to an email reminder, I decided to go to the Gebhard Woods Dulcimer Festival this weekend, at the state park in Morris, IL.

At this Saturday-Sunday festival, workshops and concerts run all day from 10am to 6pm. There’s always someone performing at the main tent, sometimes someone at the new talent tent, and — simultaneously — workshops conducted at five perimeter locations. A string of vendors lines the edge of the field by the parking lot, too.

I had an early slot in the new talent tent. I played Easter Thursday, a Bach prelude and Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, a trio of Scandinavian walking tunes, my original jig set Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze, What Child Is This? / Menuet (Quantz), an original meandering arpeggio-based tune Winter East and Kensington, and an upbeat rhythmic original Third Street Market. One fellow listened for the whole set; he was performing right after me. Three different people manned the soundboard in succession. And occasionally — during the faster numbers, a few other folks wandered in to listen a while.

After my set, I grabbed some lunch (provided by a Boy Scout Troop), then stayed to listen to the other fellow for a while before wandering toward the site of my first workshop — West African Improvisation with Max ZT. There was so much to say about this topic that we didn’t play a whole lot, but it was interesting stuff. At this point, though, it’s getting mixed up in my mind with the stuff from Max’s workshop this morning on Indian music.

Next was a workshop by Andy Young introducing Gypsy Swing. It was interesting to see how even some of the chromatic stuff fits into visual and movable patterns. Later in the afternoon, there was intermediate penny whistle with Guy George, in which we played through melody and harmony for two Carolan tunes and another traditional piece. I learned a G# and an alternate fingering for C# that’s useful when a neighboring note is D.

In the evening the old time dance was held at a nearby school. We kept trying for a square, but never had the right number of couples. So we did several circle dances, one contra, the Virginia Reel, and the Texas Star. Great fun — I haven’t done this sort of dancing since we lived in upstate NY. I know there’s a contra dance in Goshen, about an hour away; might have to look into going once in a while.

This morning started with Max’s Indian workshop, in which we learned a little about what a raga is and explored one a tiny little very interesting bit. At the next site over I took Luke Notary‘s second workshop on polyrhythms, in which he sat on his box drum with an African shell shaker thingy strapped to his leg and led us in one groove after another. I especially want to remember and play around more with the one in six (accents on 1, 2, 4, 5, 1, 5) and the reduction in three (1… 2… 3… 1.. 2.. 3.. 1. 2. 3. 1231231231). Back to Max for his workshop on developing speed — through some seventh chord patterns, travis patterns with melody bits over top, and buzz / long rolls with one hand while the other hand plays a melody or bass line or something.

There weren’t any other workshops I wanted to take, but I stuck around to hear Lisa Ferguson play — while waiting for her set I had lunch, wandered around, heard Max’s band’s set (loud, intriguing, obviously highly skilled, a little more improvisational music than I would normally listen to in an hour). It was super hot, and it was very hard to sit still, but there wasn’t much else I wanted to do. I did manage to stay put long enough to hear some of Lisa’s set, which was rhythmic and interesting. Then a friend who’d just gotten in wanted to hear me a little, so we found a quiet spot and I ran through some of my new talent stage set. That was it for me — Mark and daughter picked me up and we headed home.

Yellow River Festival 2011

I’m remiss in not posting about this festival earlier — I did remember to post information about it on my facebook page but forgot the blog.

The Yellow River Festival is this weekend. Today I played at the Argos Library — a selection of traditional music, mostly for dancing: hornpipes, reels, jigs, polkas, marches, waltzes, and airs.

Tomorrow at noon, Beth Pare and I will be taking the main stage with harp, dulcimer, recorders, and a lovely assortment of classical music and folk and hymn tunes.

See the festival site for more information — there will be numerous music performances, an arts and crafts show, an education stage, and more.

Kentucky Music Week

It’s late on Monday night. I wonder how big the post-concert jam is? My hotel neighbor and I returned after the concert — there will be another time for jamming, but we want to sleep. After I unwind a little online.

This is my first time at a week-long festival, as opposed to a weekend. I like the format so far — five class sessions each day, so you get five hours of instruction each day from five teachers. Unless, like me, you take four classes, or fewer.

I’m taking Linda Lowe Thompson’s class on jigs — we learned a really nice mixolydian one today called Double Dutch. She does the two-note bounce thing to get two sixteenth notes with one hand, one stroke — it would be a cool trick to learn.

My second class is beginning whistle with Guy George. The Susato whistles he had for sale were so much easier to play than my Waltons, and have such a nicer, sweeter tone, that I had to buy one. Guy uses his pinkies to help hold / balance the whistle, but my right pinky doesn’t quite reach without locking or overextending, which makes it stiff and a little sore — so I’m going to try to either not bother, or to change something to make it work more comfortably. I also discovered that you don’t have to lift your fingers much — which, lo and behold, makes it a lot easier to find the right holes again.

Then there’s lunch. I bought some havarti cheese and some crackers, some baby carrots, some yogurt, and some fruit, so that I could pack lunches. I even bought a mango. I love mango, but have never bought one before. I hope I picked a good one.

My third class is Stephen Humphries, percussion rudiments. I’ve taken rudiments classes several times at weekend festivals, but I haven’t made use of the stuff on my own much. I’m hoping that a whole week of it might help at least a little.

Then there’s a long break for me — there’s about forty-five minutes for short workshops or jamming, then the fourth class session when I don’t have a class, so for me it’s two hours of down time. Not enough to go back to the hotel… but a lot to just sit. I’m glad I brought my knitting. It might be the best time to tune my dulcimer, if I end up having to tune it at all — but my strobe tuner is rather big and heavy and I hate to have to take it to the festival site along with my dulcimer, guitar, knitting, and everything else. Perhaps I could borrow someone’s digital tuner — but with my past experience I don’t know if I would be happy with the results — especially the results for my fragile overwrought pysche, ha ha.

I arrived yesterday in time to check in, get some dinner (Kurtz Restaurant has a nice atmosphere, and the grilled chicken salad was very nice), then register and jam a little. On my way back to the hotel I remembered about lunch so I had a late shopping trip to Wal-mart before getting to bed.

Tonight my hotel neighbor and I had dinner together and then went to the instructors’ concert, which, hurried as it was (each performer got about two songs or tunes), still lasted a good three hours. There were some really nice things in the concert. Les Gustafson-Zook had a great kids’ song about getting in (and out) of the bathtub. Bing — wow, what a voice. Rick Thum and Ken Kolodner were driving energy and so was Butch Ross. Cathy Barton and Dave Para had a funny work song about the hard life of a folk singer. And there was more, and more, and more.

And now, folks, I am off to bed.

Chattanooga Rambles

1. I have a new sister: Christie Burns. I am pleased. We didn’t really spend any time together when we’d both been at the Upper Potomac Fest, but both times in Chattanooga we’ve enjoyed each other’s company. She feels like a sister to me, somehow; maybe it’s the New Jersey connection, or maybe something else.

2. Two excellent salads: Blackened chicken at the Big River Grill, with perfect greens, the kind of bleu cheese crumbles I actually like, sunflower seeds, and so on; Citrus Salmon at Tony’s, also with perfect greens and with a citrus aioli dressing I was nervous about (I don’t really know what aioli is except it has garlic) but was perfect.

3. Cute dessert idea: Also at the Big River Grill, little mini desserts for a buck-fifty served in glasses — bigger than shot glasses, smaller than juice glasses. The berry trifle was fabulous.

4. Rick Davis and Christie Burns moved to Chattanooga with the help of the ArtsMove organization. They live just about across the street from each other. Their neighborhood is a handful of quiet streets lined with mostly three bedroom single-story homes, mostly new construction. Yes, the train goes by very close, but seriously the window glass is so good I never heard the train while I was inside with the windows closed.

5. Buddha Board: Rick and Brandy had one of these on the counter. It’s a large board that looks like some kind of stone — actually it seems to be some kind of paper or plastic film attached to plastic, but the original one is finished so nicely that it doesn’t look like paper or plastic. It sits on a water-filled base that holds a brush. You paint with plain water and get black marks that gradually fade — they stay long enough to draw a pretty complete picture, but fade quickly enough to draw another in several minutes. They kindly got me one of the little ones; it’s red instead of black.

6. Depression: I found out that several dulcimer folks I know also deal with depression and anxiety and some of them are also medicated. It is always good to feel less alone.

7. Anxiety and sleep: I got one hour of sleep Wednesday night before traveling to the festival. That’s not really a good way to start such an event. I continued to sleep rather poorly during the festival, even though I tried to get into bed at a reasonable hour and faithfully took my anti-anxiety medication. I didn’t usually feel all that anxious, but just agitated; festivals are busy places with lots of people, and even good stress is stress. Saturday morning I woke up feeling miserable enough that if I’d had my own car, I would have gone home. But as the day went on I actually found energy and enjoyment, and it was a better day than Friday was.

8. People. I met Bruce, John Bob, Ted, Rosalind, and several other folks but didn’t get to talk to them much. I saw a bit more of Larry, who I knew from Everything Dulcimer but hadn’t met in person until this festival, and of Dawn, who I met last time. I saw many folks I’d met before, but again didn’t get to spend much time with: Ann and Darlene from Virginia, Lisa, Dan and Angie, Mark, Bob, Randy, Stephen, Garrett, Jerry, and I’m sure several others. And of course I saw a lot of Shelley, Dave, Rick and Brandy, Christie, and Kitty.

9. I tuned my dulcimer Wednesday morning. I haven’t tuned it since — I’m supposed to play this evening, so I need to at least check it before I go out, but it was so stable despite different air conditioning and outdoor conditions, I expect it’ll still be sounding fine tonight. I discovered that Shelley takes just as long to tune as I do. I’m not alone!

Chattanooga Dulcimer Fest: Chronological

This weekend I went to the Chattanooga Dulcimer Fest.

Shelley from Chicago spent the night here, then we drove eleven hours on Thursday. When we arrived, we got her checked into the hotel, found our mutual friend Dave, and finally got some dinner around 8 or 9, then got me over to Rick Davis’ house.

On Friday, after registering and putting in my lunch order, I played on the front steps in lieu of a first class, which was a nice way to get started.

My second class was Dan Landrum’s Rudiments II — the third time I’ve taken it, I think. It’s interesting each time, although I still haven’t done much work on these things on my own.

Lunch was provided on site — in the vendor area — by a local restaurant; I had a roast beef and cheddar sandwich. It might have been nice to have tables, but at least there were chairs and plenty of space. And people playing music while we ate.

Stephen Humphries’ class on playing tunes in different genres and styles was fun to listen to, and I learned a tiny little blues riff, but the topic was so broad that it was more introduction and demonstration and not so much practical.

Then Christie Burns taught us a cool tune that has both B and Bb, C and C#, and F and F#. I think it might have been Swedish. Yes. It was a polska. Right now I only remember bits, but I have the sheet music.

Classes didn’t end until 5:30, which made dinner a little tight, with the concert at 8. We were still at the restaurant at 8:15, I think. Being rather tired, I just went back to the Davis’s and relaxed and went to bed early.

My Saturday began with Mark Wade’s class “Playing Nicely With Others,” which was a handful of nice little rounds. Nothing I have a burning desire to perform or record, but a wonderful way to begin the day, just exactly playing nicely with others — and a nice idea for dulcimer clubs to include in their sessions.

I especially liked the way he taught the tunes. He let the music-readers sight-read, which gave the ear-players something to listen to, then did a call and response / echo for each phrase to be sure we all got it. That’s a nice way to balance the needs and preferences of music-readers and ear-players.

Then I sat in on Kendra Ward’s class on licks — arranging / improvisation ideas. Her approach is like Rick Thum’s — more replacing phrases with something similar, and not so much ornamentation.

This time I brought a sandwich instead of buying one, and after Rick played a set, I played a little at Dan’s invitation.

My favorite class of the weekend came next — Christie Burns taught a polyrhythmic African song. The foundation or ground of the piece had a bit in three for the left hand and a bit in a swung four for the right hand, which is a nice challenge and fun to play, and it is also just really lovely. Then there are some other bits that can be sung or played over the ground. I really really like this piece. Christie said she’d record it and post it on her blog soon.

I was supposed to go to Stephen Humphries’ class on rudiments next, but I just wasn’t in the mood. So I returned downstairs to the vendor area and there was a jam class going on. I borrowed a guitar from a vendor and played thunky amateur chords and had fun and hopefully didn’t annoy anyone too much.

Another dinner, and this time I went to the concert, and enjoyed it rather much. It was diverse, with each performer just doing two pieces, and various combinations of folks and styles. I think that’s a great idea for a festival — usually I’m so tired and hopped up from the festival day that I don’t have the attention and mood for an extended set from one performer.

I went to the Irish jam afterwards for just a few tunes without even getting out my dulcimer. I was tired — and I didn’t know any of the tunes.

On Sunday, there were little lectures or something going on in the morning; I got there at the tail end, in time to catch a group for lunch and get over to the aquarium for the jamming outside there.

There was some nice jamming here and there for a while. Then some non-dulcimer players started rattling off tunes amongst themselves and the circle of dulcimers around them was empty and silent. After a bit Shelley, Dave, Kitty, and I ran around the corner with our dulcimers and played by ourselves.

And that was the Chattanooga Dulcimer Fest. But wait! There’s more!

The four of us stopped at Ben and Jerry’s, then back to Christie’s and Rick’s houses where we hung out chatting with the English folks, Christine and her husband Peter, then went out to the Tremont Tavern to listen to the Irish session and eat dinner. No one but Rick took a dulcimer, but I got to play one or two pieces that Rick didn’t know.

On Monday, we all traipsed about Chattanooga — Christie, Rick and Brandy, Christine and Peter, Shelley, and I. (Dave left after a late breakfast at Niedlov’s Bakery). We looked around the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, visited Horsin’ Around, a carousel animal carving school, visited a book store, rode the downtown carousel, ate a late lunch and more ice cream (Clumpie’s is much better than Ben and Jerry’s, and they have coconut almond chip, and better prices, too), meandered back to the neighborhood, then went out to the place where the Old Time session was. Shelley and Christine and I had our dulcimers, and Christie played fiddle. That was fun.

Tuesday morning we eventually got up and dressed and said good-byes, and Shelley and I headed home — arriving in time to see daughter before she went to bed. The next day Shelley went on to her home in Chicago.

Next — some thoughts and stories and such about other things that happened while I was there.

Yellow River Festival

The town of Plymouth is having its second annual Yellow River Festival on Saturday, June 7. I’m new in town, but from what I hear, it’s got crafts and food and music and such somewhat focused on the town’s pre-1900 history.

I will be playing from 11 to noon.

My set list is still developing, but I’m planning some O’Carolan and Bach (both 18th C), some British Isles stuff (reels, jigs, a 3/2 hornpipe), and some original and contemporary stuff.

Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest

This weekend I was at the Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest in Harpers Ferry, WV.

I think this was the eighth one I’ve been to, nineteenth one they’ve had. My first was in the spring of 2001, and I went to another spring one this year, but I’ve attended and enjoyed the fall fest the most. In the spring, you have one teacher and class for the whole weekend, which is a great way to get in depth into one topic. But in the fall you have different classes with different teachers, so you get a little more variety. Plus it’s not like other festivals with tiny one-hour classes where maybe you get through learning one tune — these are mostly longer, with some as short as an hour and a half and others as long as three hours, and there are more technique-focused classes than repertoire classes.

I traveled with Keith and Marty, students of mine, and we arrived Thursday evening. I got to listen to part of the great jam session at O’Hurley’s General Store in Shepherdstown before sitting all day caught up with my back.

Friday morning Dan Landrum kindly tuned my dulcimer for me — once again I’d managed to hurt something in my hand just in time for the festival. Later on a few of us helped with registration, and then the first class began at 2.

My first class was Dan’s percussion techniques, which I also took last fall. It was a good refresher, plus I got some new ideas. One thing I’m still trying to figure out is how it’s possible to not hold onto the hammers (just rest them on your finger and keep them from falling off with your thumb) and still play with volume and energy. I’m so used to using my fingers to drive and control the hammers, and I guess I need to keep learning how to use all my arm muscles — relaxed and fluid, not tense and forced — and also the energy the hammers get from gravity and hitting the strings.

At the end of Friday’s dinner, there was an open mic opportunity. I hadn’t planned to play anything — I always have before, but I wasn’t sure my hand was up to it, and I hadn’t wanted to aggravate it by practicing anything before the festival. Because there weren’t many people signed up, though, I agreed to play. I did some originals: “The Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze” which is on our trio’s CD new this year, and “In Him Will I Trust,” a song with lyrics from the Psalms.

Photo: Playing in the open mic.

I got some nice comments afterwards, which is always so reassuring and affirming. Ken Kolodner even told me I don’t punch the chords anymore, which was one of his main criticisms of my playing from previous years. This is one of the things that is great about going to a festival: getting useful feedback from other participants and from the teachers. Plus it’s great to hear what kinds of things other people are doing, especially folks who are at or above my abilities. Isn’t there a saying about how it’s best to be in a position where you are teaching some folks and being taught by others?

After the open mic, it was late night jam time. I helped in the festival store for a while just outside the room where the slow jam was going on. It was well-attended and sounded like it was going well. On my way up to bed I stopped in the Tap Room where the “fast” jam was going on. There was a nice small group playing, which I joined for a bit, and it was quite friendly and accessible. In previous years sometimes the fast jam has been so large and so driven by the best folks in the center that I would get bored, especially when they’d get to where all the tunes were in a particular key and I couldn’t tell them apart anymore or even tell whether the chords were changing or not.

Saturday I had three classes. The first was slip jigs with Maggie Sansone. I hadn’t had a class with her before, so it was nice to get to see how she teaches. We learned two really nice tunes plus The Butterfly, which I already knew.

After lunch was Jody Marshall’s Renaissance class, which I’ve done twice before. It’s more fun when a) there are other instruments besides dulcimers, and b) when it’s not right after lunch! But we did a bunch of lovely and challenging tunes and arranged two to play at the Sunday brunch.

Then I taught a small class on Pachelbel’s Canon. I think it was mostly a success — we got through two lines of chord patterns, the two main phrases that everyone recognizes, and talked through a lot of the other lines. We also talked a bit about playing for a wedding processional, and a bit about playing the Canon as a duet or with a group.

I don’t like to see people frustrated, but sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. Some of the students were not getting the stuff quickly, and there didn’t seem to be much I could do to make it click. I think probably all they need is more time with the tune, and they’ll do fine with learning it at home. It’s a bit hard for me to decide how to proceed in a workshop setting with that sort of thing — technically, I could have just handed out the sheet music and sent them all away to learn it and they would have been fine. Or I could have drilled each bit until everyone had it, but then the faster learners might have been bored and we would have covered less. With more teaching experience, I expect I’ll get better at judging this sort of thing and responding in better ways.

The evening concert was in Shepherdstown, where Rick and Felicia and I had planned to have Thai food for dinner. Before we could go, though, we helped Rick pack up the items in the store that would be sold at the concert. It looked a bit sparse, and the other store people weren’t there to help, so we weren’t sure if it had already been packed up or not. To be safe, we packed a bunch and took it over, but yes, they’d already done it during the last class. Oh well — we still managed to get our Thai food and arrive on time for the show.

The concert was enjoyable. Bamboo Breeze, featuring Chinese yang qin and percussion, played first, followed by four dulcimists from Maggie’s record label: Maggie herself, Jody Marshall, Karen Ashbrook, and Ken Kolodner. Paul Oorts and Dan Landrum also played on some things. I think my favorite pieces were Ken’s waltz Summer’s End and a Middle Eastern thing Maggie played. This year’s concert was about a half hour or more shorter than previous years, and that was actually nice. There was enough to really enjoy, and not so much that it dragged.

Of course, near the end I was certainly dragging; at 31 weeks pregnant, I was stiff and sore from all the sitting and standing and bustle of a day and a half of festival. Nevertheless, I stayed up with the fast jam, sometimes playing, sometimes just sitting at a table crunching ice cubes, for a couple hours. It was again a small and accessible group.

At one point Paul and Pete started playing a polka, so Joanie got up and got first Kitty and then Dave dancing.

Photo: Dancing the polka.


Sunday morning there was some Gospel music at the breakfast open mic. It was lovely to hear Cindy and her sisters — and Rick and Felicia — sing in harmony, sometimes a capella and sometimes accompanied. Dan also played a fun medley in the middle.



The sweetest moment of the whole weekend, for me, was afterwards when Cindy and her sisters sat around me to sing “Jesus loves me” to the baby. Wow.


My final class was harmonic minor with Karen Ashbrook. We learned about the harmonic minor scale and basic chord progression, and learned a few really nice tunes, despite all of us being short on energy.

I perked up again at lunch for whatever reason. My young student Emory played in the open mic, which was the first time I’ve really seen one of my students perform for an audience. It was really cool. He played two of his original pieces. He and Dan Landrum impressed each other, which was fun — I had a feeling they would appreciate each other. Our Renaissance class played our two pieces next, which went well, and then Paul Oorts’ group played some very nice things.

After a hasty round of goodbyes, we were about to leave when I remembered I needed to check my CDs out from the store. Good thing I remembered! Good timing, too, as Joanie was just coming upstairs from finishing the final inventories.

We got home around 9:00 last night. It is nice to be home again with Mark and the kitty and a mattress that doesn’t insistently tell you where every single spring is.

A final thought: some tune types seem to run into each other. I remember being particularly confused by hornpipes and jigs when I was first starting, and then in Karen’s class we learned a mazurka that felt a lot like a slip jig to me. I’m guessing the dances that go along with these types distinguish them more than the musical characteristics do. I tried to write a slip jig a while ago — actually my first attempt ended up in 6/8 instead of 9/8. This second one folks think is more like a waltz, and I think at least one person thought it was most like a mazurka. If anyone reading knows about these things, let me know what you think it is! It’s called Toboggan. The link is a MIDI file, not a recording, so don’t expect a real dulcimer sound.

Bits and Pieces

Sacrificing the visual

One of the main reasons I was excited about this festival was that Jerry Read Smith was going to be there. I haven’t seen him in several years, and I wanted him to look at my dulcimer, sort of give it a checkup, especially to see if anything needed to be adjusted to make tuning easier for me.

Basically he did two things he’d told me I could do myself, but that I hadn’t wanted to do without an expert there in person to make sure it was the right thing to do. First of all, he took a hammer to any pins that were sticking or slipping, seating them further into the pinblock.

Secondly, he moved some of the strings up or down on the side saddles. I confess that I’ve always hated this idea. I find it visually distracting to have some strings not absolutely parallel to the others. And it bothers my idealism — ideally, the strings should all be absolutely parallel and tune just fine. Seems to me there must be something else wrong if they’re straight but not tuning properly. Jerry — and Dan — would like to persuade me that sometimes it’s just the best solution, and that the visual aspect is simply not that important. Sigh.

Loosening up

The first meaning…

Sunday afternoon Dan watched me play with regular hammers, and he thinks the way I play with my left hand is likely to lead to injury. My left hand doesn’t work the way my right does, at least not naturally or automatically. To compensate, I’d developed a finger flick — hitting the back of the hammer grip with a middle finger — that helps me get a nice clear tone and good accuracy with my left hand.

I know there are other players who do this — Nick Blanton and Tim Seaman among them. However, maybe they use their wrists better than I do. I didn’t think I moved either of my wrists while playing, and I didn’t think it mattered. In fact, I thought it was a good thing, preventing carpal tunnel syndrome. Dan said my right wrist does move just a little, nice and loose, but that my left one is locked stiff.

Those of us standing around talked about the whole ergonomics thing for a while, and the consensus seems to be that the more muscle groups involved, the better, and the more loose and relaxed these muscles are, the better. Dan doesn’t even really hold his hammers — they balance on his finger, and his thumb keeps them from falling.

So I need to think about what I can do to loosen up my left wrist, and the grip of both hands on the hammers.

The second meaning…

I tend to think fear is safer than arrogance. I suspect people will like me better if I need to be encouraged, reassured, than if I need to be taken down a few pegs.

It’s not really that simple. Being too fearful is just as annoying — but in a different way. It gets old pretty fast to those who have to do the encouraging and reassuring; the fearful person makes a high-maintenance friend.

The most comfortable people to be around are neither overly fearful nor arrogant, but comfortable with themselves.

For whatever reason — yet another symptom of pregnancy, lol? — I felt just a little bit more comfortable with myself at this festival than I have at similar occasions in the past.

It was nice.


Several people noticed my flexible shaft, angled cimbalom grip hammers from Sam Rizzetta. One person who has arthritis thinks she’ll look into getting a pair for herself. Other folks, including Dan and Christie, found them awkward. Dan said it would be impossible to play the kinds of things he plays with those hammers — percussion stuff is too fast, and the flexibility loses too much energy and requires more muscle. Interesting. So far, I still like them for keeping my thumbs loose, but I admit that I miss the sound of my old regular hammers.

Festival Review

The Chattanooga Dulcimer Festival this weekend was great!

The schedule is great!

There are six classes, three on Friday and three on Saturday. They’re all an hour and a half long, which is a nice length. An hour is too short to do more than lecture or learn a tune. Longer can be nice for some things, but there was only one class I thought really needed more than ninety minutes.

There is plenty of time to rest and recover from things. The lunch break is nice and long, with a mini-concert in the middle. Everyone eats together in the cafeteria, where the festival store is also set up. Angie took lunch orders during the morning class and so lunch was just a matter of picking out your sandwich and sitting down to eat it. Very relaxed and easy — for the participants if not for Angie!

There’s also a nice long break between the afternoon class and the evening concert. A jam happens in the cafeteria, or you can duck into one of the classrooms to practice something you learned or talk to a teacher or whatever else you need to do. It’s so nice to have jamming happen in the afternoon while folks are still awake, and not have to wait until after a long evening concert and battle the sleepies. Makes the concert more enjoyable, too, since you know you can go right to bed afterwards if you so desire.

The approach is great!

This festival is focused on technique. My other favorite festival, the Upper Potomac, also has lots of classes that focus on building skills, but apparently this is not the typical festival fare. I think it’s great — why go to a festival just to learn tunes? If you learn technique, you’ll be that much better equipped to learn — and arrange and compose and perform and improvise — tunes.

The classes are all team-taught. That means more help for the students — when there’s time to try something just taught, teacher and helper can both go around answering questions and making suggestions. Or if some folks are particularly struggling, the helper can stand near them and quietly advise without interrupting or slowing down the rest of the class. Helpers also may have a different way of explaining or demonstrating something. It’s also great from a teacher’s perspective — I got to see how three other teachers approach things, which can help me become a better and more effective teacher.

The classes were great!

I taught two classes, one introducing chords and one introducing some separated hands techniques. I had the help of Christie Burns in the one and Stephen Humphries in the other. The students in the classes were great, enjoyable to teach, willing to try new things, patient, etc.

Christie taught a class on bringing new life to old tunes — a new beginner and I spent the class out in the hall working on stuff more at her level, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the team-teaching approach. I’ll have to remember to ask Christie to send me her notes!

Mark Wade taught a class on adding accompaniment to melodies. I’ve talked to students before about “filler notes” or “arpeggios,” but Mark broke it down into very specific kinds of arpeggios — descending, down and up, ascending, with bass notes, and so on.

Saturday, Dan Landrum taught a class on modes. When I teach about modes, I focus on the four most commonly found in Celtic and Old Time music — Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, and Aeolian — and what tunes in these modes sound like. Dan’s approach is jazz-influenced: He taught how to find all seven modal scales, talked about chords from a jazz perspective (which led into a long discussion trying to clarify the different types of seventh chords), and went on to talk a little about improvising or composing based on modal scale and chord patterns. This is a class I would have enjoyed for another hour or so; ninety minutes was just enough time to introduce the topic and answer questions that had to be addressed before getting into the meat of it.

That afternoon Mark, Christie, and I talked about practicing. Mark had a great handout full of different drills you can do with two-octave scales and arpeggios, practicing shifting accents, evening out both hands, and so on. At the end we had a short question-and-answer / sharing time to discuss other practice tips and ideas.

There were also other classes going on — two or three at a time just for hammered dulcimer, plus some classes for mountain dulcimer.

What else was great?

I confess I skipped most of Friday’s concert, but the bit of Lee Rowe’s mountain dulcimer performance I caught was great. Saturday’s mini-concert by Stephen Humphries was really cool – it broke out into some discussion in the middle, and brought everyone to their feet at the end. Saturday’s evening concert was also a lot of fun, with various combinations of the instructors in the first half, and Dan’s new jazz group in the second half. I especially liked Christie and Butch’s two songs, one about getting married which was sweet, and one about being a folk musician which was funny.

I didn’t get to the pasta or Chinese places, but the Mexican place was great and so was the barbecue.

I think the festival store was pretty great, too. Jerry and Doug brought not only Jerry’s dulcimers, but also some made by Dusty Strings and MasterWorks and I think some others, plus bowed psalteries, mountain dulcimers, hammers, and other accessories. Plus there was a great selection of performers’ and teachers’ CDs, t-shirts, and more.

The downtown jam at the aquarium was a lot of fun — started out with a group of students and some of the teachers just jamming as usual, and morphed into Dan, Stephen, Christie, Mark, Randy Clepper, and others doing improv and other wild and unusual things.

You know what else was great? The people and the atmosphere. I got to know some of the other teachers better than I had before, partly because of the team-teaching thing, and just enjoyed hanging out with folks in general — at meals, at the guest house, at the Landrums’ Sunday after most folks had already gone home, and so on. And the Mountain Arts Community Center was homey and comfortable, and the whole weekend felt relaxed and peaceful.

Sure, I’ll go back if I can. And I’d recommend the festival to anyone, especially anyone who really wants to develop their musicianship and not just increase their repertoire.

Chattanooga Dulcimer Festival


Last night I got back from the Chattanooga Dulcimer Festival. I have so much to say about this weekend that I think I’ll break it up into several individual posts. Meanwhile, here’s a few pictures:

Alyce, Sharon, and Carol traveled together from Ohio. We stayed in the same guest house along with luthier Jerry Read Smith and Doug, who works in Jerry’s store. We had a great time hanging out together for breakfast, dinner, and evenings. This picture was taken with Sharon’s camera, but I forget who took it for us!


Those of us in the guest house all arrived Thursday evening. The festival began Friday morning with two 90-minute classes followed by lunch, another class, a break for jamming or practice, dinner, then the evening concert. Saturday’s schedule was about the same.

During lunch both days there was a mini-concert. I played on Friday, and Stephen Humphries on Saturday. I did a bit of classical, several originals including the one I’m singing in the picture, and “What Child Is This? / Menuet.”

This picture is one of the many Brad Bower took over the weekend.


Sunday everyone who was sticking around headed downtown to jam at the aquarium.


Some of us had to stop for snacks occasionally.

Kathy Angus (wife of Rob, who is seated at the right playing the Nick Blanton dulcimer) took these two pictures.

See more photos at the official festival site.