Fall 2005

Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest

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I love going to the UPDF each September.

This year the highlight of the festival for me was having a whole day of interesting classes with Dan Landrum (which has its own blog entry).

I also enjoyed seeing friends and meeting new folks, jamming, and the hospitality of my gracious and fun hosts.

Dan and I in this first picture. Below are my hosts Fred and Sarah on the left, and on the right are Don, Joanie, Butch, Christine, Nick, and Christie standing, with me and Kitty seated. Unfortunately I don’t remember all the names of the folks in the final picture.

(Can you tell I forgot to scan these until after I’d already cropped them and stuck them in my scrapbook? Guess which one overlaps Dan on the album page…)

hosts group

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A few other things

presbytery

Also in September, our pastor hired The Hanshaw Trio to play at a presbytery dinner featuring a lecture on arts and the church.

In October, I celebrated five years of dulcimer with an anniversary concert at Cornell’s Johnson Museum. (See the concert flyer in another blog entry.)

The show began with the duo Pas de Deux, and closed with The Hanshaw Trio.

pasdedeux

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marketjam1

Then there was a surprisingly gorgeous day in November when a bunch of us got together to jam at the farmers’ market.

Here’s Rick Biesanz who books for the Peaceful Gatherings Coffeehouse in Corning and singer-songwriter Joe Crookston.

In the second picture, that’s Debra Chesman, who runs a jam and house concert series near Corning, Rick, Joe, and Gary Kline, a fellow Rick plays with in the Seneca Moon String Band.

marketjam2

Published in: on December 10, 2005 at 2:09 pm  Comments Off on Fall 2005  

Jam

On October 2, I went to a house concert: Carolyn Cruso, who plays hammered dulcimer, flute, and sings with guitar.

Joe Crookston, a recently-arrived local singer/songwriter, organized the event and also performed a short set of his own songs. I met him this spring when I was busking on the Commons; his little girl liked the dulcimer, so he stayed a while and we chatted a bit. He’s another one of those people who seems to be comfortable in his own skin. I saw him and another singer/songwriter, jazzy-folky Linda Stout, in a concert this summer. I really like his music. He’s got a driving rhythm, great guitar licks, a warm rich voice, and a way with lyrics.

The email “flyer” for the house concert said something about jamming afterwards, so I brought my dulcimer. No one else had brought an instrument, but the three of us — Carolyn, Joe, and I — jammed anyway. What fun! We did some traditional tunes — Morrison’s, Staten Island, Julia Delaney — and some Irish songs, and improvised in Am. That was the scary part, for me — but I managed to throw in some interesting ideas.

This morning Joe sent me this picture:
jam

Published in: on October 17, 2005 at 9:45 am  Comments Off on Jam  

Concert flyer

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Published in: on September 30, 2005 at 1:47 pm  Comments (2)  

Spring 2005

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“The River” Coffeehouse

Once again, in March, I performed for Bristol Christian Fellowship’s “The River” coffeehouse in Bristol, Vermont. Daniel Hamilton, who is also a great painter, opened with a set of his original songs. My set included dulcimer pieces and some songs with guitar, including “Eve’s Song” which I’d finished just in time. Several years before I’d started working on a song about what it might have been like to experience the Fall — particularly exploring separation not only from God, but from self and others as well. I’m somewhat more articulate in prose than in lyrics, so it was difficult to put these ideas into something that would work as a song. I think it’s done, now, though.

In the cool of the day, we would walk together
In the garden, by the river: the Lord, and Adam and me
In the cool of the day

His voice came to me from across a great gulf
Distorted and strange, though familiar
He said, “Where are you?”
I answered: my eyes are opened, I see that I am a stranger

To myself, to my lover, to my Lord
I’m ashamed, ’cause I’m naked; I’m afraid, so I’m hiding
From myself, from my lover, from you, my Lord

In the cool of the day… in the cool of the day

I’m still fleeing, withdrawn and defensive
Still keeping my distance from everyone, but
I’m so lonely

I’m still fleeing from the garden where I walked with God
But in his grace, I know he’s leading my steps
And I’ll walk with him again —
In the cool of the day

© 2005 Marcy Prochaska, all rights reserved

Thanks to the Hamiltons, for having me back; to the Orvises, for their gracious hospitality.

filmscore

Film Scoring

In March, I also started working on my first film score. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Plantations were working on a joint production of several short nature films, to feature narration, natural sound, and music.

The film I worked on is about the Wildflower Gardens, one of many natural areas on campus. The piece takes the viewer through the seasons of the gardens, with great footage of plants, birds, and other wildlife. Scenes with water punctuate the film and provide natural transitions from season to season.

I chose pieces that would fit the mood of each season’s footage. Spring begins with Praeludium I (Bach), then summer features Hewlett (O’Carolan), Easter Thursday, an old English D minor tune, carries the piece from fall into winter, and my original upbeat Third Street Market welcomes the return to spring. For the credits, I chose Menuet (Quantz), arranged by Carrie Crompton.

The next step was to arrange the music to fit the film — adding a little bit to the Praeludium and Third Street Market, and cutting Easter Thursday and the Menuet a bit short. Then I met with the director and one of the sound engineers to see if they liked what I’d come up with.

In May we recorded all five pieces in one long session, I think from noon or 1:00 to 5:00 or so. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to record that much in so short a time, considering how long I’ve spent on my own recording projects. Pyramid was a lovely studio to work in, despite its unappealing exterior and complete lack of parking. I thought the mic they used was particularly cool — a wooden ball, about the size of a person’s head, with the mics where the ears would be.

What I especially love about being in a studio is the amazing sound. Recordings never sound as good at home as they do on good studio equipment. I guess that’s why some people spend so much money on good home systems.

The Lab is not sure yet if they will offer this film for sale to individuals or not, but if you’re in the area, stop by and you can see it in their theatre.

Published in: on June 10, 2005 at 2:03 pm  Comments Off on Spring 2005  

Winter 2004-2005

Pas de Deux

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A new duo was born this November. Lisa Fenwick and I met when we were both asked, along with some other musicians, to provide ceremony music for Elissa Tompkins’ wedding this summer. When the Johnson Museum asked me about a harpist for their elegant Byrdcliffe evening, Lisa and I formed Pas de Deux. With harp, flute, and dulcimer, we play elegant classical and Celtic music, and we’re looking forward to more events in the future.

CD Release Party

release

The Hanshaw Trio and a great audience helped me celebrate the release of What Child Is This? on Sunday evening, November 21 at the Moosewood. We started with a set of tunes from the new CD, took a break, then came back with sets from my first album and from our usual mostly Celtic repertoire. Thanks to Jerry and Craig, to Christian Anible who ran sound for us, to the Moosewood for hosting us, to Jim Catalano for the interview in the Ticket, and to everyone who came.

The Johnson Museum’s Annual Holiday Party

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I’ve been privileged to be part of this event each year that we’ve lived here. This year’s was the best yet, with the Hanshaw Trio joining me for a set of Christmas and other music in the first hour of the party. We were followed by the Dryden High School Flute Choir and then the Sage Chapel Choir. Santa closed the party with a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

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Malcolm Dalglish concert

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Yesterday (2/27), along with fellow dulcimist Eric Ludewig, I got to see a concert with Malcolm Dalglish, pictured here with soloist Emily Cole. The Bel Canto Children’s Chorus, with Malcolm and world percussionist Glen Velez, performed his Hymnody of Earth in Quakertown PA. Oh my! He’s the hammered dulcimer player who most makes me sit up and say “wow,” and “how is he doing that?” I didn’t really know what to expect from this show, since I hadn’t heard his choral work before. The concert was fabulous, starting with an opening set of dulcimer and percussion duets and solos, then a few individual choir, dulcimer, and percussion pieces, then the Hymnody. The choral music was just the sort of thing I loved most from my choir experiences — close harmonies and even dissonant clusters at times, music that illuminated and illustrated the words, sometimes sung by the whole group and sometimes by smaller subsets with instrumental interludes and a few solos. I was honored to hear it, honored to have him sign my copy of Thunderhead, and — honored to sit next to him at dinner afterwards, thanks to Cliff Cole, who told me about the concert in the first place. Oh my.

dalglish

Published in: on February 28, 2005 at 2:03 pm  Comments Off on Winter 2004-2005  

Fall 2004

What Child Is This?

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This October, I finished recording my second album. I kept a journal about the process, and there’s a handful of cool pictures there: the studio, guest musicians, and engineers.

CNY Dulcimer Circle Fall Session

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Eleven dulcimers, two guitars, and a fiddle!

Published in: on November 10, 2004 at 10:16 am  Comments Off on Fall 2004  

Coda: final thoughts

This morning I went to Fed Ex to ship the CD master, another CD with the graphics files, color proofs, and a deposit check to National Tape and Disc.

It’s amazing to me, but not really surprising, how all that stress and overly-focused anxiety has just melted away, and how I’ve regained perspective, remembering that the important thing is that this album show the beauty of the coming of Christ. I slept well last night.

Doing the graphics was a pretty amazing experience. I wish I’d allotted more time to it, especially considering I had no experience with PhotoShop.

The stripped-down program that came with my scanner is also an Adobe product, and I’d just assumed PhotoShop would do all the same things the same way, just with extra features and tools I wouldn’t need to worry about.

Oh no. Very different products, so a lot of my design time was figuring out how to do things.

I learned how to use some of the cool features PhotoShop has that PhotoDeluxe doesn’t, like writing text on a curved path for the CD imprint, adjusting kerning and leading to space text horizontally and vertically the exact way I wanted it in the booklet, using “Curves” to adjust the color of a photo more precisely than I could with other color adjustment tools, and modifying a selection to make it smoother or smaller.

Eric Hause helped me learn my way around, and Christi Sobel helped me with a lot of the scanning and image work.

One particular challenge was that the original artwork, a beautiful collage by my college friend Andrea Seavers, uses a textured paper for Mary’s and Jesus’ skin. That paper didn’t scan well, so Christi used various tools to smooth out the texture and even out the color. I made the final adjustments last night and had color proofs made at Kinko’s, so everything would be ready to ship this morning.

Whew!

I can’t say enough about the folks at Electric Wilburland.

Calm and assured, kind and patient and generous, easygoing and humorous, not to mention highly skilled, Matt and Will have made this project a fantastic experience. Matt’s engineering has been thoughtful, sensitive, attentive both to details and to context; he’s also given helpful feedback and suggestions throughout the process. And both of them have given me confidence when I was too far gone to think anymore.

Thanks, guys; you’re the best.

poem2 mattandwill2

Published in: on October 14, 2004 at 8:16 pm  Comments Off on Coda: final thoughts  

The effects and limits of volume

doorSo tired…

Thinking about graphic design, editing and mixing, and whether or not I liked my arrangement of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” kept me up late last night, and then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. “Above thy deep and dreamless streets…” — in my case dreamless because sleepless! Not the best way to prepare for a week in the studio. However, there is good news… (No, I didn’t switch to Geico.)

…Today we finished recording! Woo-hoo! I added one dulcimer note to “Gesù Bambino” (I’m so glad I only had to tune that one note and a few neighbors). Then I redid one recorder section of the same tune so that the breathing would be the same as if one were singing the words, and I also did the recorder parts for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” I decided I liked my arrangement just fine.

Once the recording was done, we started on the mixing. First, we tackled “He Shall Feed His Flock,” after loading the tracks Henry Smith sent from his Outback Studio in Virginia, where Tom Abernethy recorded a guitar part for me. Then we finished editing “Hewlett / Silent Night,” and mixed that and “Easter Thursday / O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” the two Hanshaw Trio medleys. Finally, we worked on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Christmas Star.”

So what is mixing, anyway? I’m not an engineer… but as far as I understand it, mixing is about setting relative volume levels among multiple instruments or parts, panning different parts so they sound like they come from the left, right, or center, adjusting equalizers so things have the proper amounts of high, mid, and low sounds, and adding effects like reverb, which provides a little echo as if one were playing in a cathedral or something.

As a general mixing philosophy, I prefer to leave sounds pretty natural. I’d like to control the sound through performance as much as possible — i.e. playing loudly or quietly, using different kinds of hammers, etc. Sometimes, though, judicious use of equalization or effects can smooth or clarify a sound, or occasionally adjust a performance choice that perhaps wasn’t what I wanted after all.

I especially like to use a little reverb on the recorder, psaltery, and fiddle, because I love the sense of soaring or floating it provides. Matt has also used just a hint of reverb to add a sense of space to the dulcimer.

One of the challenges I face in the mixing process is deciding whether I want a different volume level or an effect or equalization adjustment. It’s partly a communication challenge. If I express dissatisfaction with the character of the sound, Matt expects to deal with it by equalization rather than by volume. He knows that changing the volume doesn’t change the character of the sound.

Sometimes, though, changing the volume changes the way I perceive the sound. For example, when I recorded the first psaltery parts for this album, I thought they sounded too scratchy and wobbly. But when we lowered their volume, I discovered that the sound only bothered me when it was too loud compared to the other parts.

I had to deal with this challenge with the first melody line of “Twinkle” and some of the other things we mixed today. Some of them we adjusted with volume, some with equalization; in the case of “Twinkle,” I ended up asking for a lower volume and an equalization adjustment.

This morning I was thinking about nearing the end of this project. As glad as I am to be almost done, I’ll miss the studio work. I enjoy recording (in spite of the stresses), and I find the engineering part fascinating. It’s cool to watch Matt position mics, splice different takes together, and set up all the mixing adjustments. The board at Wilburland is even automated, so that once we decide what should happen to what tracks and when, we can sit back and listen while the board moves all the sliders and such. That’s just cool.

Published in: on October 5, 2004 at 8:58 pm  Comments Off on The effects and limits of volume  

Summer 2004

Chenango Summer Music Festival

barge

This weekend festival in Hamilton, NY, features mostly classical music but also a variety of other musical acts plus a dessert contest. My official performance was a morning show at the Barge Canal coffeehouse; after lunch I also played some on the Village Green. In the afternoon I headed over to Susan Nolen’s home for dinner and a jam session — we had a fiddle and three hammered dulcimers (including a new Nick Blanton… mmmm) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

villagegreen

The Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering

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In July, I attended the Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering in Binghamton. This festival features workshops, concerts, jams, and sales for hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, and autoharp. I taught two classes, one on modes and one on weddings, and I also got to take classes, including Cliff Cole’s “Special Effects” and “Singing With Dulcimer,” Bob Wey’s “Playing With Your Blocks,” Deb Justice’s “Irish Tunes,” Rick Fogel’s “Playing From The Heart,” and Donna Missigman’s “Waltzes,” shown in the picture. This was a great festival. It was so cool to meet various people: Curt Osgood, who also recorded at Wilburland; Cliff Cole, who reminds me of Tim Seaman; Deb Justice, a fellow William and Mary alum; Bob Wey, who helped me decide to get a strobe tuner; Sam Edelston, who does some really interesting things on the dulcimer; Marya Katz, who also plays a Jerry Read Smith dulcimer…

The Hanshaw Trio

When Trim the Velvet lost Harry Lawless, we found Craig Higgins and became The Hanshaw Trio. Here we are at the Ithaca Farmers Market on a late August Saturday. The mostly Celtic ensemble includes Jerry Drumheller (fiddle), Craig (guitar and mandolin), and myself (dulcimer).

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Published in: on September 10, 2004 at 10:17 am  Comments Off on Summer 2004  

Semi-conductor

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. I worked on four pieces. First, I wanted to finish “Christ Child Lullaby.” I did the dulcimer parts without too much trouble, thanks to practicing each of them ten times daily since my last attempt. Then I tried the recorder — but after maybe half a dozen takes on one recorder part, my fingers were stiff enough that I needed to do something else for a while.

So, second, I corrected an error in a harmony part in “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus / Planxty Irwin,” then added guitar to the medley. I’m not very good at finger-picking stuff, so this part was difficult to learn and took a lot of takes to record.

Third, I added guitar to “Three Ships Medley.” This part was mostly strumming, so it wasn’t as difficult as the other. There’s one section played with a capo — Matt suggested I retune with the capo on, which I’d ignorantly never done before; it makes a big difference. I wonder if that says something about the intonation on my guitar…

Anyway, my back and left shoulder were really stiff after recording these two guitar parts, because I’m one of those “guitarists” that has to look at the left hand all the time. That’s when I decided to give up on those “Lullaby” recorder parts until next session; too stiff, and extra practice would probably help a lot, too.

The last thing I did that afternoon was a preparation for the evening session. We’d decided to record Craig’s guitar part first, so that Jerry, the fiddler, would have both dulcimer and guitar tracks to follow. But on one of the tunes, “Easter Thursday,” Craig needed to hear Jerry’s part, too. So I recorded a dulcimer version of Jerry’s part as a reference track.

Home to rest a little and make and eat an early dinner. And my in-laws arrived just in time for me to let them in and then head back to the studio for the trio’s evening session.

craig2 jerry2

The trio convened at 6 p.m. Jerry headed downstairs to warm up, and Matt got Craig set up to record. We started with “Hewlett / Silent Night,” which turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would be: I’d unintentionally slowed down in places, which made it difficult to keep tempo with my tracks. We figured out that recording section by section made it a lot easier. Once the guitar tracks were finished, Jerry recorded his parts.

Next we tackled Craig’s parts for “Easter Thursday”; Jerry joined me in the control room to watch and listen. This tune is difficult because it’s in an unusual meter — it’s a 3/2 hornpipe — and because there’s a syncopated section at the end of the B part. Having that reference track helped a little.

I ended up standing in the window sort of conducting — keeping track of the first beat of each measure, and indicating when to play during the syncopated part. Lots of fun… when we were off from each other we’d be shaking our heads and laughing silently, and when we got it right my index finger “batons” would become thumbs up. Meanwhile Jerry sits on the couch fascinated, as I am, by all the technology and the whole recording process.

Once we thought we had Craig’s part down, Jerry went out to do his part. But the middle section was problematic. I realized that my decision to have Craig play this section syncopated was not only making things difficult for Jerry, but also just didn’t sound good. So I wanted to have Craig redo that section.

Matt was unconvinced about being able to position him the same way so that the part would blend seamlessly with the previous parts — both of them suggested instead that we just copy the part from a previous section and recycle it for this section too. I’m not comfortable with that idea, so they agreed to try re-recording the section… fortunately, we did manage to get the positioning essentially the same. Whew.

Now it was Jerry’s turn again. He’d never recorded before, but he did his parts for the first tune in four takes, and just three takes for this one. Impressive!

After doing some editing and checking the other takes to make sure they didn’t all have the same mistakes in the same places, I offered everyone cucumbers (Craig actually accepted) and sent Craig and Jerry home. Matt burned the end-of-session CD for me, I wrote a check, and, at about 10 p.m., headed home myself.

Published in: on August 26, 2004 at 11:41 pm  Comments Off on Semi-conductor