Simple Song from Mass

Most of my musical energy has been focused on church music lately, as I continue with the pipe organ and choir. The dulcimer will again be part of our late Christmas Eve mass, with one or two solos and two songs accompanying the choir.

Meanwhile, our choir director Mary Pat had invited me to sing this Leonard Bernstein song, which I hadn’t heard before. The more I’ve worked on it, the more I’ve come to like it both musically and lyrically. With thanks to Mary Pat for her accompaniment and help preparing the song, and to Pat Pearish for recording:

Light for Winter

7 pm Saturday, November 14, 2015
St Thomas Episcopal Church
412 N Center St, Plymouth IN 46563

As winter approaches, pause to be refreshed with the light of music’s beauty.

This recital marks my fifteenth year of playing the hammered dulcimer. I will also include some pieces on the church’s marvelous pipe organ, two a cappella songs, and two songs on the guitar. Joining me are special guests Olivia Martinez on French horn, alto Mary Pat Glaub, tenor John Sherck, baritone Michael Wraight, and alto Xenia Czifrik.

Reception following.

Church organ

So yesterday I had my first official lesson on our church organ. It is a tracker organ — all mechanical connections from the keys to the various pipes. Two manuals, I think 16 stops? and oh, two and a half octaves of pedals?

Our former organist retired last November, and starting in the new year we have Cindy Boener playing once a month. On the off weeks, I have been leading hymns on hammered dulcimer or guitar (with Michael Wraight) when I’ve been able. Cindy agreed to teach me organ, got me started with some beginning tips and a book and shoes to borrow — one needs a flexible thin sole and a substantial heel. I have exercises, a hymn, and a prelude to be working on. It is very challenging — it has been a long time since I have played any kind of keyboard, and the church organ literature is pretty different from anything else I have played, and there are new techniques, and so on.

Take a look at this historic picture of our organ; you can also see a bit of it in this recent picture from our last summer’s Vacation Bible School.


I am still around. I have been playing very little, and so I forget to update this blog, plus there isn’t much dulcimer-related to say in an update!

A semi-local friend recently invited a few players from around to jam at his house one Saturday, and daughter and I enjoyed the time very much. I hope he does it again.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Daughter has learned the first verse of this carol, and she’s heard me sing two other verses as well. She recognizes it when she hears it on CDs or the radio, too.

O Come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lowly exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

It’s an Advent carol; Advent is the season of the church year in which we contemplate the promise of Messiah’s coming.

I’ve been participating in a Bible study group that has been reading Isaiah this year. It’s one of my favorite books. There’s so much in it — a call to abandon the idolatry of trusting in anything other than God, to practice justice and righteousness, and a warning that exile waits if the people continue unrepentant. Even then God is still bent on redemption — he will destroy those who have tried to destroy his people, and he will bring the people back from exile and deliver them from idolatry and unrighteousness.

And how?

Through a child — a little branch from the old stump of David’s dynasty — one who will suffer while serving his people — one on whom all our iniquity will be laid, by whose stripes we will be healed.

What child is this?

Emmanuel means, “God with us” — ordinarily it’s enough to just say it means God will not abandon his people but remain with and for them, but God does one better and literally — in the flesh — comes to be with us.

If you celebrate, Merry Christmas to you!

Whether you do or do not celebrate, may I invite you to consider again who this Jesus is, and whether or not he might have something to say about your exile.

To go or not to go

On October 2, there’s going to be a concert. I’m not sure if I’m going or not.

Because this is a concert I might have been part of.

And I just might be immature enough not to be able to handle being there very well.

I once offered to another musician that if he ever wanted some dulcimer on any of his stuff, I’d be pleased to play. He mentioned this dulcimer player who would be in the area this fall, and would I be interested in doing a show with them. I found this idea rather intimidating — as I tend to find lots of things — and said so but also said yes, please count me in and let me know what happens.

Nothing for weeks.

Then an announcement from the dulcimer player: here’s the concert date, and I’d love to do a workshop, would you pass the word to your dulcimer club, thanks.

I guess I’m not going to be in the show.

Is it because I admitted being intimdated, and they figured they didn’t want to work with someone who is that easily scared?

Is it because they don’t like the way I think, the things I believe, or other aspects of my personality?

Is it because they don’t think my music is up to par?

Is it because they just wanted to keep things simple and not get involved in something new?

Then I get the official email “poster” for the event, with all the details. It’ll be mainly the dulcimer player, who also sings and plays flute and guitar, and also the other musician will do a set, and then — then there will be “jamming and singing.”

If I go, do I stay for the jam? Can I join in the jam without feeling defensively self-promotional and competitive?

Not knowing how they feel about me and my music creates all this anxiety and uncertainty; I have no idea how to behave, how to think, what attitude or expectations to have, if I decide to go.

Will I ever grow up?

Comfortable in your own skin

Going to the Upper Potomac Dulcimer Festival each fall is a good strong blow to my ego mixed with some encouragement and flattery. It’s good for me, but also very unsettling, and it takes some time to metabolize.

To start with, here’s some of the encouraging things:

* At the great weekly jam at O’Hurley’s General Store, the bass player requested my original tune “Third Street Market.” I first played this tune for this jam session two festivals ago, and it’s amazing to me that they remember it and like it enough to ask for it. National hammered dulcimer champion Mark Wade, who was to my left, even commented that it was a nice tune.
* Paul Oorts, an amazing musician (who happens to be married to Karen Ashbrook, one of the country’s premier dulcimists), agreed to accompany me on my tune “Fallen” for the Friday open mic, along with my friend Rick Davis. Rick played the psaltery part I’d written and played for my Christmas CD, and Paul just made something up based on the chords and the melody — rich and deep and incredibly well-suited to the tune. Also, Karen, and Maggie Sansone, and a few other folks commented positively on the piece afterwards.
* When Dan Landrum found me to talk about what we should do in his morning class (since I was the only one who’d signed up, and since we needed to find a location for it), he mentioned that he had been looking forward to meeting me, apparently because he’d read some of my comments on or the hammered dulcimer email list.
* Joanie, who directs the festival, seemed to make a point of letting me know that she liked having me there, that I was helpful and worked hard, and that she intended to have me teach again.

Then there were the ego blows:

* Friday afternoon Rick and I were in charge of leading a slow jam. There were more people there than I’d expected, and I wasn’t sure what Rick expected or planned or what everyone else expected. I didn’t feel very helpful.
* Kitty, a woman who has studied with Ken Kolodner, mistakenly asked me for a private lesson on chords and backup, thinking I might have something to show her from a different perspective or something. I had very little idea what to do, since she already knew so much of what I usually teach about such things, not to mention all the other stuff she already knew. I felt my limits as a teacher, not only in material but in how to present it usefully.
* I participated in a regular jam after the open mic, and while at first I knew some of the tunes or could follow the chords of unfamiliar ones, it got to a point where I didn’t know any of the tunes and couldn’t hear anything but a constant A chord. All the tunes sounded alike to me, and I couldn’t even tell if I was playing things that sounded okay with them or not. I also got a little bored — perhaps a defense against feeling incompetent.
* Most of all, I heard so much fabulous music and saw and heard amazing technique and expression — particularly Christie Burns’ ease with syncopation, and everyone’s ease and grace in general — far beyond what I think I can do.

This sort of thing is unsettling for two main reasons:

First, because it is difficult to integrate. How can it be that I have enough skill or giftedness to provoke compliments and interest, and also enough inadequacy to feel like a failure at some of the same things? To be complimented for AND incompetent in expressiveness, composing, arranging, rhythm, teaching, helpfulness with jams?

I am tempted to think that only one is possible — either I’m nothing or I’m all that. I am also tempted to believe what people tell me about myself, as if I don’t know who I am. And so I seem to waffle between heights of arrogance and ambition on the one hand, or depths of insecurity and failure on the other. Any appearance of humility I might have is likely to be motivated by fear: fear of my own arrogance, fear of being exposed as less than people think or expect of me. It gets to the point sometimes where my attempts to deflect compliments look more arrogant than if I simply accepted them.

For example, in his afternoon class, whenever Dan started a topic we had discussed in our one-on-one morning class, he mentioned my name very casually — “as I told Marcy earlier…” Perhaps no one else even noticed, but I felt embarrassingly in a spotlight while also feeling flattered by the attention: it aggravated both my sense of grandeur and my sense of inadequacy — and my sense that neither one needs aggravating.

Dan seems to have something that I envy whenever I see it: being comfortable in his own skin. Perhaps he also sometimes has temptations to arrogance or insecurity or to depend on what other people think of him, but I didn’t see it like I see it in myself. He seems to know who he is, what his gifts are, what he lacks, and is at peace with it all.

The other reason this experience is unsettling is that it is potentially divisive. Ambition has a history of breaking up marriages, and this festival tends to fan the flames of my ambition. Plus there are the things I love about the festival that my husband would not enjoy. He doesn’t like dulcimer music, or Thai food, and perhaps he and the friends I have there would not enjoy one another. I find it disturbing that I love this trip without him so much, and I wish I knew how we could be that exciting for one another.