Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Theory In Action

Oh God, not a cold. Not now. As my wife always says: I can't afford to be sick.

So, I'm currently recording tracks for another song by Mizieya for his upcoming release "The God Who Had An Affair With Himself." Our collaboration on "Rites of Passage" went so well that he offered up another track of a distinctly different flavor. I like this one too. It's called "Avalon" and is more of an uptempo dance piece, though still dreamy in its structure. It calls to mind (at least to me) the work of Seal, or maybe just the song "Crazy", in general. You know the one - "we're never gonna survive unless we go a little crazy."


I had absent-mindedly strummed along with it in DAD tuning when he sent me a demo several days ago and found that it was another song in D - perfectly suited for the dulcimer. Or so I thought. Upon closer inspection while running through it today, I discovered that my scale wasn't right for the tune. Even though it appeared to be in D. So what was the deal?

A little sleuthing led me to work out the chords of the chorus, since the verses are sort of built on a sustained Dm. That was my first clue.

Dm contains the notes D - F and A. Of course, the dulcimer, when tuned to D, has two sharps on the scale. C# and F#. So that Dm wasn't gonna happen. The chorus then goes Dm - C - G - F. Well, that F ain't gonna happen either. So what key was this? I plucked around on the piano next to my workstation and discovered that the scale I was using was an F major scale. The relative minor scale (beginning with the sixth scale degree) was Dm.

F Major Scale - F - G - A - Bb - C - D - E - F
Scale Degrees - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - (6) - 7 - 8

D Minor Scale - D - E - F - G - A - Bb - C - D

So, obviously I can play all of the chords in the song except for Dm and F Major. What to do?

Well, I decided to run through and try some alternatives, finally landing on substituting an Am chord for the F as a chord extension. Since Mizieya plays the F chord on the keyboards, it wasn't really necessary for me to play it anyway. So by playing an Am chord (6-4-4) over the F, I'm actually extending the F chord into a F Major 7th chord. Here's how that works.

Am includes - A - C - E (1 - b3 - 5)
F includes - F - A - C (1 - 3- 5)

The E (5) of the Am chord serves as the 7th of the F chord! (Remember, a dominant 7th is flatted. That's the standard seventh chord. This is a Major 7th chord I'm creating.)

With that hurdle out of the way, I set about playing the chords to the song and was pleased and relieved to find that the Am chord worked beautifully. Now I just had to resist the urge to do any soloing into the F territory.

I'm still mixing down the various parts that I've conjured and sending them over to him in Wales - when there's something available as an approved demo, I'll post it here so you can see what I'm talking about!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dulcimerica Video Podcast now in iTunes!

Whoa, seriously - production has been nuts around here, lots of video projects popping off the hard drive, which is good - keeps me off the corporate trolling runs.

The Dulcimerica Video Podcast now features its first bona fide episode and is currently listed in the podcast directory of the Apple iTunes store! To subscribe, all you have to do is click here and iTunes opens automatically and takes you to the podcast page. Or, you can simply browse for The Dulcimerica Video Podcast from the Apple iTunes store. Of course, it's free to subscribe, and you can also download videos directly from the page without subscribing, if you like. The benefits of a subscription are that you will always be alerted when new episodes arrive and using whatever podcatching software that makes you happiest, you can keep all of your podcasts together in one area of your computer. Less headache, more fun!

I've been busy booking shows for the spring and summer, even into the fall. It's going to be such an eventful year on the road and I'm really looking forward to seeing some new parts of the country as well as revisiting some favorite places! Given that so much of my work is done on the computer, it was decided that I needed a laptop in order to keep operations flowing from the road. Unfortunately, they're like, not cheap, and our flow of "extra money" - you know, the stuff that hangs low from the trees, is sort of non-existent.

So I made a big sacrifice - and actually SOLD my beautiful Masterworks 16/15 Chromatic hammer dulcimer. I know - wow. But the rationale went something like this: I spend most of my time working with mountain dulcimer and only take the hammer dulcimer out when I'm obscenely curious about it, which amounts to maybe four times a year. I figure that when I decide mountain dulcimer is really under my fingers good enough and that I want to expand my musical horizons (keeping in mind that I've still got a chromatic Dulcitar here that I have to explore more of), perhaps then, I'll go ahead and purchase another hammer dulcimer.

In the meantime, it's going to a very nice home in Idaho, where it will be played frequently by a wonderful lady named Linda who is really excited about getting it. And, with the proceeds from the dulcimer sale, I'm going to purchase that MacBook that I've been eyeing for some time and start enjoying the processing power of the Intel Core 2 Duo. (And, since it runs Windows software, I can enjoy some downtime by playing "Rollercoaster Tycoon", a habit I had to quit when my PC took a dump many years ago.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Casualties of Faith REDUX

"Casualties of Faith" has finally reached the finished demo stage, thanks to a bass guitarist from Portland, Oregon named Steve Hale (aka I. Spike).

Besides the addition of his wonderfully in-the-pocket bass performance, I retracked the vocals and added some organ. Other than that, it's the same drums and same dulcimer tracks/solo that existed on the previous version. Steve's bass playing really energized this piece, you know, made it new again, since I've been working with it since September of last year. It just goes to show how important "feel" is to all the elements of a song.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Lovely Surprise

I got an e-mail from Jean Ritchie yesterday. It's not completely out of the blue, though it was a lovely surprise. I met Jean and her husband, photographer George Pickow, while shooting video of Kentucky Music Weekend last summer. For those who aren't familiar with the dulcimer world, Jean was responsible for introducing so many to the instrument back in the 60's and she remains the grand dame of mountain dulcimer, though she would modestly deny such a glorious title today. I had always wanted to meet Jean since the early days of my courtship with the dulcimer and Nancy Barker, the founder of Kentucky Music Week and its satellite events, promised to introduce us, mentioning also that Jean's husband George was quite an accomplished photographer.

True to her word, Nancy introduced us and Jean was quite charming, cutting up as George took a photo of us looking up at some backstage lights, but we didn't talk about much: that conversation was had with George. We talked video for quite some time.

Nancy has turned to me for assistance in archiving on video the ongoing history of Kentucky Music Week, Kentucky Music Weekend and the Winter Dulcimer Weekend, not a small feat by any means. As it turns out, not a lot of video has been taken in the past, which is a real shame, considering the stellar talent list that has been involved over the years. Once in a lifetime moments, performers who are no longer with us and a steady chronicle of events going on 32 years in 2007; that's a lot of history. George Pickow has quite a lot of that history on video, since Jean has been a part of many a Kentucky Music Weekend. He offered to send me a DVD to see if it could be useful and when it arrived in the mail, the images were incredible.

Jean and George will be in Mt. Dora next month for the Mt. Dora Dulcimer and Autoharp Festival, so I dropped a line to George, thanking him again for the DVD and inquiring further about his assistance with producing a retrospective of KMW. When I saw the response in my e-mailbox, I began reading and then noticed, with some surprise, that it wasn't George at all, but Jean writing to me. Apparently, they have an arrangement - Jean doesn't drive and George doesn't type!

It's not every day that you receive an e-mail from a legend, and Jean might cringe at that sort of praise as the country girl from Viper, Kentucky has remained simple at heart for the whole of her career. But there's no denying her place and influence within the folk music scene and outside of it as well, from her own music to the preservation and presentation of old folk tunes both European and American in origin, it can be said without exaggeration that Jean is indeed what you call a national treasure, even an international treasure.

Which makes it even cooler to note that I once had a late breakfast in a Denny's with her somewhere in Louisville, Kentucky at a long table filled with musicians. (after getting lost in a car with Butch Ross and Christie Burns.) I have a great life.

Music Stuff

Stephen Seifert started up a live call-in internet radio show last week which is turning into one of the coolest things for dulcimer enthusiasts on the web. The show is currently scheduled for every Monday at 9 pm ET and runs for about ninety minutes with Steve appearing on a video screen while playing music, interviewing special guests and talking with listeners. Luthier and music theorist Jerry Rockwell was the interviewee for the premiere program while Everything Dulcimer creator Bruce W. Ford was the spotlight guest last night. Steve played "Swing Low Sweet Chariot/He's Got The Whole World In His Hand" from Dulcimerica: Volume 1, which prompted some early morning sales today, always a nice thing to see upon awakening.

Not only that - but Sweetwater Folk has included a track from the new album (available here) on their latest playlist as well. I haven't started the big push with this CD yet, though it's been available at shows since August. Some remixes here and there have shored it up production-wise and it's been submitted for a review in the spring issue of Dulcimer Players News. According to staffer Neal Walters, the magazine will be including a CD with each issue featuring tracks from albums covered in print. Wow. Talk about distribution!

Behind The Barn

What else is going on? I've been talking to some prospective players for Mohave as we gear up for festival season, though I'll be spending a large amount of time on the road this year. Bud Ford of the Dulcimer Shop and organizer of the Manitou Music Festival wants Mohave to play the 25th anniversary show in Colorado, so we're hoping everything works out. Many other solo dates have been confirmed and they can be found below in this calendar, which will update with new gigs as they come in:

There's other news, but I've been sitting here for far too long already and there's rehearsal to be had. My dulcimer group gets together tonight and there's at least one tune that I need to get under my fingers. There always is.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Rites Of Passage

The track that I worked on with Mizieya is now up at MacJams. "Rites Of Passage" is a gorgeous song and I'm both pleased and proud to have been a part of it!

I wrote a new tune called "I Cried For Days" and finally got it Tabbed out; it's available at my music page. There are words coming eventually, but I wrote it to stand alone as a dulcimer instrumental as well. The .mp3, TablEdit file and .pdf are at the above link.