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Review by Neal Walters, Dulcimer Players News Vol. 31, No. 2; May — July 2005

Marcy Prochaska’s second CD, What Child Is This?, is an early candidate for my pick as one great Christmas stocking-stuffer. Marcy plays hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltery, guitar, and recorder. She is ably supported by Jerry Drumheller on fiddle, Craig Higgins and Tom Abernethy on guitar, and Stuart and Robin Milliken on recorders. The album is mostly traditional Christmas material mixed with some lesser-known pieces. She opens with her own composition, a September 11th remembrance, “Fallen,” which evokes “the fallen lives and fallen buildings” as well as “the Fall in Eden that Christmas promises to redeem.” This is a gorgeous piece that fits well with the seasonal material. Marcy’s playing is graceful, unhurried, and full of nuance. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” begins as a stately anthem that Marcy dramatically transforms into a sprighly melody with a complex accompanying hammer pattern before returning to its original majesty. Her use of similar but subtly different hammer patterns each time through a piece is a source of consistent interest and variety in terms of harmony and rhythm. Selections include “The Lord at First Did Adam Make,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus / Planxty Irwin,” and “He Shall Feed His Flock.”

Interview with Jim Catalano, Ithaca Journal Staff

“Prochaska releases holiday dulcimer album”

Local hammered dulcimer player Marcy Prochaska — you may have seen her playing at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market or other community events during the past couple of years — has recorded her second CD, a holiday album titled What Child Is This? She’ll be playing a CD release show 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Moosewood Cafe, accompanied by The Hanshaw Trio. She spoke with Ticket this week via e-mail to talk about the new album, which was recorded at Newfield’s Electric Wilburland Studio.

Ticket: What gave you the idea to record a Christmas album? How did you choose the songs?

Marcy Prochaska: Other than “What is that instrument?,” two of the questions I’ve been asked most frequently are “Do you have any Christmas CDs?” and “Do you have anything that’s just instrumental?” So, when I started planning a second recording, the theme and format were the first and easiest decisions.

Deciding how to approach the album — what tunes to include, how to arrange them musically, how to combine them into a meaningful whole — was more difficult. Most of the tunes I learned in church; many when I was little, some more recently. Others I got from recordings or from playing with other musicians.

More specifically how I chose the tunes: I went through my hymnal and a folder of Christmas music gathered from various music lessons, jam sessions, and so on. I looked for pieces with lovely melodies that would sound good with my instruments. I also thought about songs with good lyrics — even though it would be an instrumental album, I wanted to include music with meaningful texts. I narrowed down the list based on my overall concept, choosing the pieces that best fit the theme and that worked best together musically.

Two pieces are new. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Christmas Star” is, of course, essentially the children’s song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”; but with a slow rhythm, highly ornamented style, unusual chords, and a meditative interlude. (This arrangement developed largely at the Ithaca Farmers Market, where I’d use “Twinkle” to first demonstrate the dulcimer’s simplicity and then show how to add ornamentation and chords.) Its mellow, somewhat mysterious flavor seemed perfect for honoring the star-guided journey of the Magi. “Fallen” began as a September 11 remembrance. As I was looking at the finalists’ entries for the memorial competition, I was struck by each one’s emphasis on powerful images of hope and light despite the darkness of the tragedy. This idea of fall and redemption is the essence of the Christmas story this album tells. It begins with the Fall in Eden that Christmas promises to redeem, and looks forward to Easter, when that promise was fulfilled. At the center of the collection, uniting and illuminating the various pieces, is the title question, “What Child Is This?” and its answer, “Easter Thursday / O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

Ticket: You’ve got a few pieces featuring other musicians. How did you hook up with them?

MP: Tom Abernethy, who has recorded a dulcimer CD of his own called Climb With Me, plays guitar on “He Shall Feed His Flock.” Tom and I became acquainted through the Richmond VA dulcimer club, then formed a trio with a flute player for weddings and such. He does amazing things with all of his instruments — dulcimer, Celtic harp, and classical guitar — and when I was having trouble with “Flock” I knew he could help. We sent the tracks down to Outback so Henry could record Tom’s part.

I met the Millikens, who play recorders on “The Lord at First Did Adam Make,” at Bethel Grove Bible Church, where I learned this carol. I’m not capable of much ornamentation on the recorder, so it was great to have more advanced players join me on this piece.

The Hanshaw Trio, who will be performing with me at the release show, plays on two medleys on the recording. I met our fiddler, Jerry Drumheller, at the summer Monday night contra dances on the Commons. Craig Higgins, our guitarist and mandolinist, answered our call when we lost our previous rhythm player earlier this year.

Ticket: Do you play differently in a trio setting?

Playing with a group is definitely different from playing solo. For me, music is best when it’s shared, and playing with others is a close sharing. In Hanshaw, we get a lot of energy from each other, and having three folks means more variety — we get to switch around who’s playing melody and who’s doing rhythm or harmony, sometimes one of us drops out and comes back in later, that sort of thing.

Ticket: You’ve been in Ithaca for a couple of years now. Have you managed to build up a regular performance schedule? What do you like best (and worst) about the Farmers’ Market gig?

MP: Most of my solo and ensemble performances seem to be events: weddings, luncheons, receptions, and so on. Not the sort of thing you’d describe as a regular performance schedule.

The Farmers’ Market is probably the most regular thing I and the trio do. I love playing there; good food, so many interesting items. And people can stop and listen or keep moving; it doesn’t have the pressure of a concert. The main downside is the weather. The market runs from April through December, but temperatures below 55 cut the playing-dulcimer-outside season short.

Ticket: What directions would you like to take your dulcimer playing in the future?

MP: I’d love to continue to expand my performances, both solo and ensemble. It would be cool to play for some winery events, or restaurant dinner music, for example. The Hanshaw Trio is looking forward to expanding our repertoire, including some trio originals. I’m excited about a new duo, Pas de Deux, with harp and flute player Lisa Fenwick. We’re doing mostly Baroque music, with some English country dance and some Celtic material, too. I’ll continue teaching dulcimer privately, and I’ve also started teaching at festivals, including Binghamton’s Cranberry Gathering. Finally, there’s the constant goal of playing both more accurately and more expressively.

Ticket: Any thoughts on the next CD?

MP: Many! Who knows when I’ll have enough money to record again, but I can at least dream. I like albums that have a connecting or organizing principle or concept (“Only connect!” — E. M. Forster, Howards End), so the most important task will be to find out what might unify the various things I’m thinking about recording, and leave out things that won’t fit. I have enough unrecorded original pieces to make a full-length album, but I’m not sure I want to do only originals. There’s some classical and traditional things I’d like to record as well. I’ll also have to decide whether to include vocals again or not. And, while I see myself more as a musician who is a Christian than a “Christian musician,” I have some songs about faith that I might want to record someday.

Then again, it sure would be fun to have a Hanshaw Trio CD.

Originally published Thursday, November 18, 2004

Honorable Mention by Jim Catalano, Ithaca Journal Staff

“The best in local music”

Each year Jim Catalano lists his own local music awards. Follow the link above to see the whole story; I’ve quoted below the introduction and the paragraph that includes my album.

As 2004 winds to a close, it’s time for me to announce the winners of my annual Soundoff awards, nicknamed the “Jimmies.” I started doing these awards in 1994 to recognize my favorite acts of the Ithaca music scene, which continues to teem with immensely talented people (especially the current crop of high school bands).

There were around 30 CDs released locally in the past year (plus a few more from neighboring Cortland), and while I didn’t get to hear of all them, I did listen to the ones that made it to my mailbox at the Journal before early December.

As always, these award choices are entirely subjective and the categories are completely arbitrary. The winners (I try not to repeat them from the previous year) receive absolutely nothing except a handshake and a “Way to Go” next time I see them around town.

The envelopes, please: . . .

Acoustic CD: The Thins, “Postcard Angels.” The power trio of AJ Strauss, Gabe Tavares and Brian Dudla whipped up a huge sound despite its minimalist setup, incorporating tribal rhythms and pointed lyrics into catchy songs. Honorable Mention: Paso Fino, “Into the Desert Plain”; Traonoch, “Macintosh Jon”; Kitchen Chair, “Kitchen Chair”; Marcy Prochaska, “What Child is This?”; Tom Mank and Sera Smolen, “Souls of Birds.”

Originally published Thursday, December 30, 2004

Review by Joseph Prusch in The Ithaca Times

“New Spins”

The full article includes reviews of three other albums.

The new Christmas album of local hammered dulcimer player Marcy Prochaska shows us all just what a wonderful composer / arranger she is, reminding listeners of the richness of Christian musical tradition. The hammered dulcimer looks a little like a harp turned on its side, and is played with two hand-held mallets, a little like a string xylophone. Prochaska is also fluent at the guitar, the recorder, and the bowed psaltry (an instrument similar to a harp but whose string is individually played by a bow instead of plucked by fingers).

Prochaska’s playing is more forward than that of Maggie Sansone, America’s best-known hammered dulcimer player, and that stylistic difference is a welcome departure from Sansone’s bare playing. A good example of Proshaska’s style is her version of “Noel Nouvelet,” which is coupled with the Wexford Carol. She doesn’t hold back on well-executed rolls, rhythmic improvisations on the melody, or a driving rhythmic motive that is so lacking in similar music. It will make you wish the track was three times its length.

The differences are augmented by the gripping fiddling of Jerry Drumheller, who lends his own special voice on a couple of tracks, in strong contrast to the much more subdued tones of the other instruments. In all, the recording will be a treat for anyone looking for a good Christmas album, but ancient music afficionados will be proud to add this one to their libraries.

Originally published Wednesday, January 12, 2005. © Ithaca Times 2005


Tim Seaman, my former dulcimer teacher

Here are some excerpts from an email Tim sent me recently.

Back when you sent it to me, I listened very carefully on headphones to your new CD — it’s really fine, and well-recorded.

As you might expect, my favorites are the less familiar pieces, like “The Lord at First Did Adam Make,” “Fallen,” and “Easter Thursday” — and the beginning is especially intriguing because of that. The more familiar pieces are uniquely and sensitively enough done to make them fresh. Your arrangement choices were often quite colorful and imaginative, as in the “O Come Emmanuel” last part.

I like your expression of the whole gospel: it didn’t veer too far from the Christmas theme, so it’s clearly still a Chrstmas album for those who want that, but it brings in the broader theological picture in a meaningful way.