Monday, December 29, 2008

Welcome to the dead of winter

This holiday season was fun; more than ever Jae and I were looking forward to all the events, shows, get-togethers, parties, Disney parks and having family over for Christmas. And it all started early this year when I began recording "Christmas Each Day" in August - so we've had our share of Christmas music around the casa. Happy to say that we're just going to chill at the homestead on New Year's Eve, which means that this is effectively the Dead Of Winter.


I love being busy, but I also love the quiet, non-busy times when there's not a whole lot of commotioning going on. Time to just sit down with the dulcimer and let go. Work on learning tunes or writing tunes, exercising towards the ever-present goal of improvement. Thinking about future projects and shoring up the foundations for them; woodshedding, basically. We don't have one of those. But if we did, I'd be out in it, head bent over a dulcimer and cutting loose.

The new Greibhaus arrived on Christmas Eve (so I named her "Eve", natch) and I'm sending "Paloma Blanca" back to Jerry for refinishing before he puts her on the market. After a few gigs, I realized that some of the tone/sound controls were getting in the way of my strumming. After talking with Jerry, he created a new configuration for those controls, which I tried out up at the NGFDA Fall Festival. The lovely sunburst design was another step in the right direction and I had him install the 1+ and 8+ frets so I could continue to explore that world. "Eve" is just as sweet-sounding as "Paloma Blanca", but with an added bit of punch in tone and a more solid fretboard which cancels out finger-knocking. The recessed tone switch makes it easier to strum without obstruction and also allows me to anchor while finger-picking or palm-muting. I still have to get strap buttons installed (our drill died) and then give her the stand-up performance test.

"Dawn" was one of Jae's Christmas gifts to me this year (hence the name, dawn of a new day) and is pretty special; she did a little research on this one. It's a 1970's era Cripple Creek Dulcimer, teardrop design much like the first Cripple Creek that I ever bought. It was during the summer of 1986 that I worked for Bud and Donna Ford there in the Knott's Berry Farm shop and I sold many instruments just like this one. It sounds great and Jae figured I'd hang it on a wall somewhere, but I've been playing it quite a bit. It's neat having a purely traditional dulcimer (no 6+ fret) that sounds decent - I use the dulcimers that Jae gets online for student loaners, but I'm not sure this one is going home with anybody!

Current Workings

Now that "Christmas Each Day" is finished, having sold quite a few copies at shows this past month and it's now available through iTunes and CD Baby. It's doubtful that I'll record a Christmas album annually, most artists tend to wait a few years before they offer another edition of Christmas tunes. Part of the reason for that is that you've got such a narrow window for sales - perhaps people will purchase some during the year in preparation for the holidays, but not many folks apply that much forethought to their music selection. Next on the to-record list is "Dulcimerica: Volume 2", the follow-up to my mountain dulcimer instrumental debut. Concurrently, there will be some original spaced-out composition going on, I'm sure - which will lead to something wacky in the spring. I've been itching to do something really progressive.

Work on "The Glasgow Reel" continues - I've got it memorized and am working with speeding it up before I begin improvisation. Last night, I tabbed out an arrangement of "Beauty and the Beast" that I'd like to have prepared for festival season when it comes around (won't be long now!)

Next month, Jae and I head to Anaheim, California (home of Disneyland!) for the NAMM Show, which is a bi-annual trade show of sorts for music merchants and manufacturers. I'll be at the Folkcraft Instruments booth demonstrating mountain dulcimer and kicking off the new year with a focus on this new endorsement. Hope everybody had a great month and that you'll have a wonderful New Year's celebration filled with promise, hope and, most of all, love!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh no, Ohana!

When Ohana opened at the Polynesian Resort in Walt Disney World around 1996 or so, it was a lot more involved than it is these days. There was much more formal goings-on, still centered around the 30-foot fire pit and the delectable courses of meat and veggies served out of it. Over the years, the pageantry and menu have changed, but the Ohana experience remains, at its core, all about great food, great entertainment and an awesome sense of belonging to the coolest family on the islands. During my time working with the Disney Fans bulletin board on the old Prodigy Service, we were at Ohana sometimes weekly, either introducing groups of visitors to the place or just coming to kick up our heels and hang with the crew, which included a stellar troika of entertainers in Kaleo, Kawelo and Lipoa.

All three would play ukelele and stroll through the restaurant, serenading diners, engaging cousins in conversation (at Ohana, everyone is family, therefore the term "cousins" applies all around) and rounding up kids and grown-ups alike for various activities such as coconut races, dancing the hula or appeasing the angry fire gods after requesting salt, pepper or other insulting condiments. As Kaleo always said, "those of you expecting a quiet dining experience; forget it." Ohana has always been bustling with energy, all the more balanced when combined with the ridiculous amounts of food that get served to your table (Kaleo also liked to say, "here at Ohana, you don't eat till you're full - you eat till you're tired.") The trio (there were others, but many didn't stay for long) did other things around the Polynesian Resort, from the main luau to ceremonies around the property. For the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World, Kaleo wrote the resort's official theme song and was often seen zipping between Ohana and other places to perform. They kept him hopping. Lipoa has also been MVP and between her and Kaleo - they've managed to become the voices and faces of the Poly.

Over the years, our trips to Ohana have dwindled in number (something had to give - weekly blasts of steak, pork, chicken and shrimp can add unto you, and how) but we've always been greeted as family by those there who remembered us, most namely Kaleo and Lipoa, who would make it a practice to come sit at our table during breaks from the show and catch up on what was happening with our respective "real world" lives. As Ohana got more popular, it became necessary to get reservations in order to dine there and pretty soon, it became required knowledge to book them far in advance. I tried mightily and failed to get reservations for last Saturday evening when Jae and I planned on visiting the Magic Kingdom for the first time in five years (we usually go to Epcot.) Still, we figured on taking the monorail over and maybe getting an appetizer in the Tambu Lounge, some drinks, perhaps catch some of Kaleo's act and say 'hello.'

I saw Kaleo preparing to perform after we had ordered a platter and the host stand was mobbed - we put our name in and were told it was a two-hour wait. The big banner saying "Aloha Kaleo" struck me as some kind of prop - but I somehow managed to miss the balloons and signs saying "we'll miss you." Kaleo turned from his business plugging in cables and greeted me warmly, saying that I was just in time to catch his last night.

"Last night?" I said, aghast. Without breaking his smile he said that it was so. Disney had told him a week ago that they were letting him go.

Unbelievable! No kind of notice after 18 1/2 years working for the company; I asked if they were giving him a decent severance package to which he replied calmly, "no severance." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The Poly's MVP big kahuna was getting the bum's rush; if there ever was a signal that Disney was prone to shooting themselves in the foot, this was it.

"You picked up some kind of signal, to be here this night," he said, still smiling. And perhaps maybe he was right. So Jae and I moved from the bar and got a seat by the front of the stage and listened to Kaleo's golden voice as he sung beautiful Hawaiian music. Asking if I wanted to hear anything, I requested his 25th Anniversary song, to which he replied, "wow - let's see if I can remember it" before launching into the tune like it had been written just that week. "Let aloha make all your dreams come true," he crooned and for a moment, we were back in the heyday of Ohana, when the menu was at its peak and the vibe was fun-crazy instead of turn-over table-tops crazy. No doubt that Ohana is more than likely a cash-cow for Disney - which is why it's so mystifying that they'd lay off one of its star-performers.

Lipoa was working the restaurant and she too was amazed at the news - wondering if maybe she wasn't going to be next. At one time, the Ohana experience could be considered casual dinner theater - a musical revue of culture and kindness that left everyone feeling happy and just a little bleary-eyed. It wasn't uncommon back in the day to spend three to four hours in the dining hall, rubbing our swelled tummies and getting up to participate in the ongoing sport taking place in the center of the hall. Many great memories there - some awkward and unusual ones too, in all - indicative of life, we'd been through it all there.

There was a tinge of sadness as we dined last night, though I still got up to limbo and shared a dance with Jae, receiving two flower leis and a kiss on the cheek from Lipoa. I made a phone call to friends Katie and Tina to let them know it was Kaleo's final night and, after giving him a hug and promising to keep in touch, we headed back out to the park to hit our short list of things we wanted to do before heading home. My friends informed me that they were able to come out and that the Tambu Lounge was packed, giving Kaleo a standing ovation at the conclusion of his set.

I dropped him an e-mail today inquiring about a letter-writing campaign. Enough names on a petition could show Disney brass that they are toeing the bottom line and making bad choices in the name of so-called good business. An Ohana without Kaleo or Lipoa is an Ohana with piped-in music that becomes just another buffet in the history of the Disney parks. Kaleo and Lipoa bring authenticity to the Polynesian resort, along with warmth, humor, grace and first-rate talent. Few visitors to Ohana can say they've not been touched by either of these top-flight and down-to-earth personalities. What is Disney thinking?

I'll tell you what they're NOT thinking, and that's "straight." As we left the parks, we passed by Disney's Wide World of Sports, the huge, garish monument to Michael Eisner's sports infatuation that gets used far less than you would imagine (just like the huge IRL racing oval in the Magic Kingdom parking lot that is home basically for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.) There was nothing going on there this late at night, yet most, if not all, of the high-watt stadium lamps were blazing away at the darkness, attracting flurries of Osceola County flying insects and casting an un-earthly glow against the Saturday evening sky.

Why, if they turned off those useless lamps when the park was empty, with the money they saved, they could afford to keep Kaleo on where he would happily continue to do what he's been doing at Disney for the past 18 1/2 years; making music and smiles a regular part of the Polynesian Resort experience. If everyone who has ever had occasion to meet Kaleo at the luau or in the resort lobby, or at Ohana or in the Tambu Lounge, if they all sent a polite letter to Disney requesting that Kaleo be reinstated, I'll bet they would need to create a new post office box simply to handle the demand. If nothing else, Disney needs to know what it truly is that we admire about Ohana; not just the food and the fun, but the people at the heart of it all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Music Streaming

There's over 15 hours of holiday tunes on my Christmas playlist and it's cycling pretty much continuously on the laptop. The tracks are pretty varied, from your basic standards to really "out there" pieces. The first link below will key you into the live music stream, which I may manipulate and break into live depending on listener ship. The second link is a list of what tunes have been played recently, just to give you an idea of the range going on here. - Listen! - Playlist

Tracks include tunes from my latest album "Christmas Each Day" and involve everyone from Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sting, U2, The Darkness, Slade, Disney Theme Park Tracks, Dolly Parton, Josh Groban, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Brian Setzer, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Wham!, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Adam Sandler and you won't believe who else. It's work-safe and full of fun - so pull it up and let it rip! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rainy Day Sun

The Session

And if anyone catches the subject line reference, I'm very stoked. : )

It's one of those blatting, drippy days where the rain doesn't stop but it doesn't really ever start either.  That's not rain out there.  That's heavy mist.  Not enough to keep you from venturing outdoors, but not dry enough to warrant it for extended periods of time either.  Simply put; it's an indoor kind of day.

I've got a stack of work to complete anyway, including some video production and admin, you know - shuffling virtual paper kind of stuff.  Still, this is the quiet season and I've actually been looking forward to it for the sole purpose of doing some long-awaited woodshedding.  This is the concept of basically going out into the woodshed with your instrument and doing nothing but playing, practicing, perfecting and picking apart what it is that you do in order to make it better.  It's a continuous process, this music thing, just like life - you keep growing and changing and discovering new things about old things and strange things about things you thought you knew well.

The link at the beginning of this post is for a website called "The Session" and it is serving as a nice replacement for the Wild Dismay site that disappeared when I wasn't looking (and I'm sure many other people as well.)  It's a nice collection of Irish jigs, reels and other dance tunes with sheet music and ABC files, which can be easily copied and imported into TablEdit for manipulation.  At Unicoi, I picked up some great books, among them a collection of O'Carolan harp tunes by Shelley Stevens and Soodlum's Irish Ballad Book, which has got 158 popular "pub" tunes with simple melodies, chords and lyrics.  As I do some performing in Irish pubs (with some gigs coming up later this month and next at O'Doherty's in St. Cloud), I've been trying to bone up on my authentic repertoire and that's been my main focus this winter.  "Whiskey In The Jar" and "The Galway Shawl" are high on my list of sung tunes while "The Maid Behind The Bar", "Swallowtail Jig" and "The Glasgow Reel" are among the instrumental fiddle pieces that I've madly been sawing, rather plucking, away at.

The latter of those tunes is also known by the title "Tam Lin" and I first heard it performed by Mary Z. Cox at the Suwannee Dulcimer Retreat in January of this year.  I instantly fell in love with its persuasive and haunting cadences and set about trying to locate instances of it on YouTube with perhaps some sheet music or tablature lying about.  I finally did manage to find that on "The Sessions" website and there are quite a few instances of the tune on YouTube as well.

These lads, and Mary, play the tune in the key of F - which can be sort of managed on a dulcimer with a 1+ fret in DAD tuning - but I found myself transposing the tune into the key of G in order to play it more comfortably. Thankfully, it became clear that the fingerings I'm using in DAD tuning, when rendered in CGC tuning, will deliver the tune purely in the key of F, which appears to be the best key for it. Certain tunes, I'll have to admit, just do sound better in certain keys than others - and some folks can get downright religious about it. I made the mistake of suggesting at a jam that we play "Hangman's Reel" in the key of D while Rick Thum was around. He protested, but we went ahead and played it. Turns out, "Hangman's Reel", well known to be a key of A tune, is one of Rick's favorite tunes and he said, "you ruined a good 'A' tune." I don't know - to my ear, tunes like "Hangman's Reel", "Arkansas Traveler", "Turkey In The Straw" all sound fine in any key whereas tunes like "Tam Lin", "Soldier's Joy", "Road To Lisdoonvarna" just sound right in their respective keys (F, D and E.) Some would argue that "Soldier's Joy" is actually a G tune. Heh. Not if you're a dulcimer player.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Christmas Each Day" on Dulcimer Radio

Online Folk Radio Station - Live365 Internet Radio - Dulcimer Radio

Happy to say that I've made the Christmas playlist that's spinning this month on Dulcimer Radio, formerly known as Sweetwater Radio. Lots of great artists, but I'll let Cindy tell you about that herself:

It's up and ready, four hours of great Christmas/ holiday/Hanukkah music on
Dulcimer Radio!

The only sad thing about putting together such a lovely program of music -
you just can't use as much as you'd like. Due to governmental regulations,
I can only use two tracks from one album, or three tracks from two or more.
So, I've picked out some really interesting tracks..but leave many very
lovely and worthy tracks behind.

So, here is the list of Christmas/Holiday dulcimer recordings that I'm
pulling from. It's early in the season, so you can contact the artists if
you choose, do your holiday shopping, and enjoy the entire album. (Please
go to: www.myspace. com/dulcimerradi o for a list of contact information on
all the artists!)

Back Porch Friends: Christmas Jam

Butch Ross: The Dulcimer Christmas Card

Doug Thomson: Crackin' Choir

Esther Kreek and Charlie Pinzino: Christmas Joy

Evening Rose: Christmas Rose (new)

Jane Chevalier: Dulcimer Noel

Janita and Robert Baker: Hot Rod Sleigh!

Katie LaRaye Waldren: Cold Frosty Morning

Linda G Thomas: An Old English Christmas

Maggie Sansone: Sounds of the Season

Marcille Wallis: In Quiet Joy, Christmas with the Celts

Marcy Prochaska: What Child Is This?

Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer: Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer Play
Music for Christmas

Ned Spurlock: O Holy Night

Peggy Carter and Beverly Allison: A Touch of Christmas Around the World

Steve Scneider and Dave Neiman: The Door to Christmas

Susan Vinson Sherlock: Under the Winter Moon

Steve Eulberg: 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime

Dave Haas and Bob Webb : Starry, Starry Night

Erich Overhultz: 7th Floor Christmas

Helicon: A Winter Solstice

Linda Brockinton: An Old Fashioned Christmas

Russell Cook: White Christmas

Other artitsts on this playlist: Brittany Bay, Don Pedi, David Schnaufer &
Stephen Seifert, Davie Moran & Hoe Morgan, Dan Evans, Circle of Friends,
Country Strings, Guy George, Hidid Muller, Hills of Kentucky Dulcimer, Jan
Hammond, Jeff Hames, Jim, Jim and the Fatboys, Joe Collins & Mike McGee,

John Blosser, Larkin Bryant and Friends, Metamora, Summerfield.

I'm planning to leave this playlist up all of December..but if I find time,
I 'may' go in and switch some things..just for some Ho-Ho's.

From me, and the North Harris County Dulcimer Society, we wish you all a
wonderful, warm and very musical Christmas / holiday / Hanukkah season!


(and remember, with every note, an angel gets his/her wings!!! )