The Old Chestnuts Song Circle Newsletter
May 1999


v Last Month and Next Month at OCSC - Margaret Jackson

We missed our dedicated regular hosts at the April Song Circle as Jack and Lori took a well-deserved vacation. However, "Jack" was celebrated in song. We shared an eclectic collection of tunes including "Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor", songs about "Jack Williams" and "Jack Doolan", "John O'Dreams", the "Sloop John B", "John Barleycorn", "Fishing With John".. And more!

Our small group of about fifteen regulars and one visitor from the Toronto Song Circle (welcome, Rick!) managed to stay on theme with songs with names in them. James sang one of my favourites - Cathy Fink's song "Names", about the AIDS quilt, and Jakki wowed us with her listing of the names of all the flowers in an "English Country Garden". Gwen kept us supplied with various percussion instruments.

The Baldasaro home was warm and welcoming as usual. Thanks to Mary and Barry! We wrapped up at about 11:45 (in spite of the efforts of the tireless "supply" host to keep it going until midnight) and decided on the theme for the May Song Circle; hope to see you there, with "songs that make you feel good"!

[ Note: The May Song Circle (the last until fall) is Saturday May 29 (not the usual weekend) back on Chestnut Street. Thanks for hosting Margaret!]

v May 8, Concert & Workshops - James Morgan

Dulcimer Workshop: Playing like Paddy Tutty
If you think that hearing 16 lap dulcimers in one place, all being played at the same time, some of them played by people who have never HELD a lap dulcimer, is like being in a beginning fiddle class you couldn't be farther from the truth. The beauty of the lap dulcimer, also known as the mountain dulcimer, is that, once it is tuned, it's impossible to play a wrong note. Because of the construction of the fret board, any place you play will be in the right key.

That fact was a blessing for the 16 people who attended the dulcimer workshop given by Paddy Tutty on May 8th. After some time spent tuning we were all quickly playing together a simple version of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody", which sounded pretty good! Not at all like a beginning fiddle class!!

For those who had played before but were lost in the mysteries of "modal tuning", Paddy gave a simple set of instructions for how to tune in different modes within the same key. For me this was a key piece in the overall success of the workshop. I never could figure out what modal tuning was all about, and now I know! (Perhaps at a future Song Circle the dulcimer players will give a demonstration!)

Because of the wide range of experience with the dulcimer among those attending, the class broke into two. Paddy took the absolute beginners who worked on learning a tune called "Southwind". The rest of the group worked on a different tune, "Spanish Jig". We had a "slow jam" under the leadership of Jean Mills. Jean figured out the tune and then we all slowly played our way through it. We ran out of time before we got it up to speed but we all could see the possibility of getting there.

The net result of the workshop was an increase in enthusiasm for the dulcimer, an appreciation of the wide range of possibilities it holds, and a boost in resolve to practice it more often.

Voice Workshop: Learning to sing like Cathy Miller
Just open your mouth and sing! Sounds simple, no? After Cathy Miller finished her Voice Workshop on May 8th I believe that we all could understand why there is often such a gap between the sound we imagine in our heads and what actually enters our ears. (And we had an exponential increase in appreciation for all the work which Cathy must have done to be able to produce such an amazing range of sounds!)

We learned about the operation of the vocal chords and how the use them to produce sounds in two ranges: the chest voice and the head voice. We did work on breathing and learned how to properly use the breath to make a relaxed and open sound.

Cathy talked about her "quadrant theory" of voice education. One axis of the quadrant is technical / emotional while the other is music / lyrics. Her concept is that it's possible to over-emphasize either end of each axis. A purely technical singer, for example, would do everything right but the music would lack heart. Her ideal position is to be right in the centre of both axis so there is a balance between all four components.

After spending about half of our time on the technical side of the voice we moved to the emotional side. The question was: how do you put emotion/heart into the music? We had a lot of fun working on singing "Happy Birthday" with a variety of emotions in mind. How would it sound when sung to a 90 year old aunt who had an amazing and wonderful life? How would it sound when sung to the biggest jerk in the office? Or to the love of your life?

This workshop was not long enough. We learned a bit about the foundations of good singing and could have used another 2 hours to practice what we learned. It was certainly clear that Cathy could teach us how to put the theory to use. She worked briefly with one of the participants who complained that her voice was too tight. In less than 10 minutes Cathy had her singing with a more relaxed and open voice. The difference was remarkable. My only regret was that we all didn't have a similar opportunity.

So next time Cathy is around, I vote for an all day voice workshop!

Cathy Miller and Paddy Tutty House Concert
Mountain singer meets show girl is how I characterize the May 8th house concert featuring Cathy Miller and Paddy Tutty. I find it hard to imagine two voices and styles more different. Paddy's voice has a lot of the nasal quality associated with mountain music and perfectly suited her favored instrument, the lap dulcimer. Cathy, on the other hand, has a voice with the range and power of someone who might sing jazz or show tunes. While we may place her in the folk music world, she is equally comfortable with the greater range of musical expression and technical demands of jazz. (Her latest CD has on it a jazz standard, "My Funny Valentine".

Putting these two voices together on the same night was a creative risk on the part of Jack Cole, and it worked. Ticket sales exceeded the capacity of the Cole's home and the concert was moved at the last minute to the home of Mary and Barry Baldasaro, which is rapidly becoming a regular venue for both song circles and house concerts.

The traditional format of the house concert was followed: a brief opening set by song circle regulars (tonight Linda Dale on her new guitar and Jack) and then the feature performers. Paddy was the first on stage and quickly demonstrated her talents on a number of instruments: guitar, fiddle, concertina and dulcimer. Her music ranged from traditional to that composed in a traditional style. She is drawn to music having to do with the seasons and seasonal events. One of the most interesting was "The Prairie Pagans", which told the story of a prairie ritual: the hunt for the first crocus. She also gave us several instrumental numbers on concertina, dulcimer and fiddle.

Paddy's voice is similar to many others who perform with the dulcimer. It has a thin, narrow sound with not a lot of overtones. It is a love it or hate it type of sound and I think there were people present in both camps.

Cathy's set was pure Cathy Miller: a wide range of types of songs all sung with energy and emotion. We were treated to music which emerged from what must have been a "songwriter's challenge", e.g. write a song about a backhoe!, in "God Bless the Backhoe", a quirky piece which details how the backhoe has saved souls by digging graves deep enough to prevent bodies from being eaten by animals, as well as saving many a back . (Who else but Cathy Miller could write a song about a backhoe?) We also heard, at the other end of the emotional continuum, the familiar "Christmas in the Trenches", a song which always brings tears to my eyes. In the middle of the continuum was my favorite, "Living for the Stars" (title track of her new CD) which deals with the struggles of relationships. (So, O.K., I am a therapist!)

If there is anyone who hasn't heard Cathy sing they shouldn't miss the next opportunity. She has a voice with a range and quality which is simply remarkable. And she can use it to move the audience into absolutely different emotional spaces in an instant. I liked her!!!

The evening ended with Paddy and Cathy joining forces on a bonus set. Much to my surprise their voices worked well together as Cathy backed off to fit Paddy's style. With this bonus set the music went on to close to 11:30 p.m. ---- probably the longest house concert on record.

[ Thanks to everyone who helped stage these 3 fantastic events, Mary & Barry for hosting, Christa and Michael for lights, everyone for munchies, Lori for food between events, the Growdens for breakfasts, and all the helpers. What a great day! We had 13 people for each workshop, and over 50 for the concert, from as far as Toronto, Burlington, Hamilton & Durham! - Jack ]

v The Traditional Appalachian Dulcimer - Diane Kennedy

[Reprinted from The Ceilidh Planet with the author's permission. This concludes a three month dulcimer feature; hope you enjoyed it!]

This instrument has four names: appalachian, mountain, lap or fretted dulcimer, to distinguish it from the hammered dulcimer. It is related to the Autoharp, in that it is a member of the zither family of instruments, which are characterized by strings that reach across the full length of the frame of the instrument. The origins are still uncertain. The present form was brought out from the eastern mountain regions of the United States and, although it has a similar shape to German Scheitholt, Norwegian Langeleik, French Epinette des Vosges and Dutch Humle, all folk instruments from the middle ages, there are significant differences in the number of strings and the fret placements.

The Traditional Appalachian Dulcimer is considered a three- stringed instrument, even when it has four strings. For better acoustics, the melody string which is closest to the player, is often doubled. The first thing I noticed about the dulcimer was the recognizable diatonic or "do-re-mi" scale which could be played on the melody strings and that was the basis that I used to learn to play the instrument. The fret arrangements which so easily produce the scale, also are a limiting factor. To accompany music in different keys, it's necessary to change the tension or tuning on the strings. The correct reference to dulcimer tunings is modes, the musical forerunner of our present day scales, but our present-day music is separated into scales and that's why I'm using that terminology. There have been many innovators over the past thirty years who have experimented and increased the number of styles that a dulcimer can be played, so the method I'm describing below is only one of the many ways to play the instrument.

With your left hand curled into a loose fist and first finger resting against the fret board, lay the Noter across the first finger and on the melody string(s) holding it in place with your thumb. The Noter only covers the melody string(s) and to play a clear note, should be placed immediately to the left of the fret. (It's also possible to use your thumb or one finger to play the note instead of a noter.) The other strings are drones. The tunings I use for my material are (starting from the bass string)

D G G; EbEbBb; EbAbAb; E A A; (New Mixolydian)
The diatonic scale starts at the second fret.
DbAbAb; D D A; D A A; EbBbBb; E B B; C G G; (Ionian)
The diatonic scale starts at the third fret.
Bb F Ab; B F# A;D A C; (Aeolian)
The diatonic scale starts at the first fret.
D A G; (Dorian or Mountain Minor)
The diatonic scale starts at the first fret.

Because the instrument is light and playing with a noter and strumming will cause it to move, it's a good idea to secure it to your lap with a strap under your knees or around your waist or spread a piece of shammy across your lap and place the instrument on top.


v (Another) Blatant ad for GreenWood! - Jack Cole

Just a reminder that tickets are on sale for the GreenWood concert on Saturday, June 5. All proceeds go to Amnesty International. Tickets are available from Mary Baldasaro or myself, at $10 each. Hope to see you there!

v Some Events in The Area (as space permits!)

May 21 Black Walnut Folk Club, University of Waterloo $3. Open stage and featured host. Also June 18.

May 29 Old Chestnuts Song Circle, theme "songs that make you feel good". Call 578-6298 for information.

June 13 Mill Race Traditional Music Sessions, Golden Kiwi, Cambridge, 4-7 PM. Also 2nd and 4th Sunday of most months.

June 5 Mill Race Open Singaround, Ernie's Road House, Cambridge.

June 5 GreenWood house concert, benefit for Amnesty International. $10 578-6298

June 12 The Arrogant Worms, The Livery, Goderich, $12, 519.529.3516

June 25 Fergus O'Byrne, Black Walnut Folk Club, University of Waterloo. $12. Call me for more information.

June 27 Alistair Brown & Roger Houghton, Fiddler's Green 622-5270

v About this newsletter..... It's emailed if I have your address. It's available at OCSC and BWFC get togethers. Also available by regular mail, but for that I request a few stamped envelopes or a contribution to postage. Call 578-6298 for more information. If anyone feels like sponsoring Lori and I in a 10k walk to raise money for Juvenile Diabetes (May 30) please give us a call! Missed a song circle for the very first time! Great to see that it carries on. Hope you all know enough about dulcimers now! Come on out and play one! Kittens are CRAZZZZY! We've ended up with Mom plus two - named 1 and 4 so far. "Only clap the 1 and 4!"

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