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posts that are designed specifically for hammered dulcimer players

Winning at Winfield

Winning at Winfield

by Steve Eulberg

Defining what “winning” means to you is the first step!

For some people the notion of combining “competition” and “dulcimer” is oxymoronic.  They just don’t go together! 

I see music competitions as an opportunity to prepare some music to share with appreciative listeners.  (Where else can you buy such an attentive audience for $.075 a head?—$15 entry fee/200 people) 

And, the process of preparing tunes for this kind of presentation is an intensive artistic endeavor!

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Steve competing at Winfield 2000.

I’ve competed in both National Mountain and National Hammered Dulcimer and the National Fingerstyle Guitar Contests at Winfield and have been disappointed in the prize category a great many times.  True, I’ve also been blessed to return home with a trophy or plaque, some cash and a new instrument on several occasions.  I’ve also performed on Winfield’s stage and even have judged national and regional Championships.

But my definition of what wins at Winfield stems back to my disappointment at my own poor performance, my frustration of judging that didn’t favor me, and the re-defining of my expectations by the wisdom of my dulci-mentor, Esther Kreek.  She said,

“For me the point isn’t winning a prize.  I always try to play beautiful music for the people.”    

Truly, that advice completely reframed my focus and then I began to have fun with the process.  In fact, the one time I competed I thought I’d given up chasing that brass ring, only to discover in the summer some tunes and arrangements that I just couldn’t wait to share with people at Winfield (Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle and Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo, in this case.)

Observation:

The addition of a Contestant’s Tent, in which the drawing is held before each contest and beneath which most contestants tune-up and warm up, has helped to create a community feeling among the players that surely wasn’t present back when each contestant was looking for a “quiet” nook or cranny to prepare to compete (and in some cases duck out of the rain!) 

I’ve delighted in the chance to meet players whose names I’ve known and people about whom I’d never heard; and begin the treasured exchanges that can develop into collegiality and friendship.  (As Larry Conger says, “We’re not in this business to make money, but to make friends….and boy, I am rich!”)

Extra Contestual Interjections:

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2nd Set Concert at Winfield, following the National Championship 2003.

The disappointment of having two “orphaned” tunes when one does NOT advance to the second round led to the establishment of the annual Second Set Concert hosted with my camp-mates at JimJim and the FatBoys in the Pecan Grove on Friday nights for many years.  Each Mountain Dulcimer contestant was invited to share the second two tunes of the four they prepared before all in attendance are finally invited to join in a marvelous jam.

The Flash Mountain Dulcimer Brigade was a response to a lack of mountain dulcimer workshops and performers.  As General (I got my commission the old-fashioned way—by mustering my own Brigade) I put out a call for mountain dulcimer players to appear at successive posted times and locations throughout the festival grounds to play a few tunes and then melt into the crowd.  The goal of this fun was to help raise the profile of mountain dulcimers and help players recognize and find each other throughout the festival.

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Flash Mountain Dulcimer Brigade at the Cripple Creek Dulcimer Booth in the Vendors area 2010.

Back to the Contest:

The Rules which guide the judging are important to consider when choosing what to play. 

40% of the points are for arrangement in which difficulty and originality are considered.  I’ve heard some hot players dealing out a David Schnaufer arrangement, very cleanly played, who were dumbfounded to discover they didn’t advance in the contest.  On the flip side I’ve heard (and played) some original arrangements that were not played cleanly which also did not net an award.

The real temptation, when trying to warm up beneath the Contestant’s Tent, is to try and substitute what one is prepared to play after hearing the other contestants warm up.  A cloud of self-doubt can hover above one’s head like in a Peanuts cartoon.  To banish it, I have to keep repeating this refrain to myself, “Even though I don’t play like that (and I wish I did) I’m not here to play like him or her, I’m here to play like me.”

Beyond this, I have also found that some of the most important moments in the National Championship at Winfield have come off stage. 

One year, as I was tuning and warming up on my hammered dulcimer an older gentlemen who identified himself as a retired Kansas farmer came and sat beside me in the Contestant’s Tent.  When I stopped playing to look over at him, he insisted, with tears in his eyes,

“Oh, no!  Please don’t stop!  That is the most beautiful sound I have heard since my grandfather used to play his dulcimer years ago.”  

I quickly realized that I had not come to Winfield to win a prize in the contest that year—I had come to help this man connect with the memories of his grandfather’s playing of the “sweet music” that has drawn us all to the dulcimer!  For me, that was a new definition of winning that year.

That memory calls many more to mind: 

meeting the player from Edmonton, Canada who drove many, many hours to play his 5-string-course instrument in the Ukrainian style;

having someone bump into me in the dark—while I was walking in a late-night funk because, once again, I didn’t take home a trophy—having this person stop me to thank me for the beautiful music that I had played on stage that afternoon;

these and others make me realize that while I haven’t always brought home a trophy,

every year that I’ve participated in the competition

I’ve come home a winner from Winfield!  

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Receiving the 2nd Place Trophy from National Champion Erin Mae. 2006

(This article was composed in response to a request by Butch Ross for a piece he wrote for Dulcimer Player’s News some years ago.)

 

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DulcimerCrossing at Summer Festivals

DulcimerCrossing at Summer Festivals

by Steve Eulberg

You can find DulcimerCrossing Faculty teaching at several Dulcimer Festivals this summer!

Erin Mae Lewis (Mountain) will be teaching at Kentucky Music Week (June 24-29) in Bardstown, Kentucky and at Camp Kiya (July 22-26) in Tehachapi, California.

Don Pedi & Steve Eulberg (Mountain) will be teaching at Dulcimer U (July 22-27) at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Don Pedi (Mountain) will be teaching at the Swannanoa Old-Time Week (July 15-21) Swannanoa, North Carolina, and the Homer Ledford Dulcimer Festival (Aug 31-Sept 1) Winchester, Kentucky.

Neal Hellman & Deborah Hamouris (Mountain) will be teaching at Redwood Dulcimer Day (Aug 19) in Scotts Valley (Santa Cruz), California.

Matthew Dickerson (Hammered) will be teaching at Kentucky Music Week (June 24-29) in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Matthew and Bill Robinson (Hammered) will be teaching at the Evart FunFest (July 19-22) in Evart, Michigan.

Larry & Elaine Conger,(Mountain) are the Directors of Dulcimer U (July 22-27) at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Linda Thomas (Hammered) will be teaching at the Ozark Heritage Festival (July 17-21) Mountain View, Arkansas.

Robert Force (Mountain)  is hosting the 44th Kindred Gathering (Aug 3-5) in Port Ludlow, Washington.

Aubrey Atwater (Mountain) will be teaching at the Dutchland Dulcimer Gathering (July 13-14) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Vi Wickam (Fiddle) will be teaching workshops at the National Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest & Festival (June 18-22) in Weiser, Idaho and the El Sistema Fiddle Camp (July 23-27) in Denver, Colorado.

Steve Eulberg (Hammered) will be teaching at Dulcimer U Hammered Dulcimer Weekend (July 27-30) at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

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Top 10 Tips for Jam Sessions

Top 10 Tips for Jam Sessions

by Linda Ratcliff

Relax and enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll
realize they were the big things. – Kurt Vonnegut

Top Ten Tips for Jam Sessions

i.e. Jam Etiquette

Going to jam sessions can be intimidating. And yet, they can also be the most fun and rewarding music experiences of your dulcimer life. So how can you move past your fears and inhibitions, and just have a great time?

  1. First of all, tell yourself it’s ok to make mistakes. This is not a performance. You’re just there to socialize with other friends who enjoy playing acoustic instruments. Don’t worry about ruining the tune for others with a mistake. Most of the time, no one will notice you’ve messed up, unless you stop playing.
  2. Be sure your instrument is “in tune”. If you’ve taken your instrument from the house to the car, and then into the jammin’ hall, it will probably be out of tune due to temperature changes. Don’t forget to bring along your electronic tuner.

3. It’s okay to play the parts you know and skip the parts you don’t know yet. Or, if you are a total newbie, keep an eye on the tabs and just play the first note of every measure.

4. If you don’t know a tune, try to play backup chords instead. Most jammin’ tunes only have 3 chords. If you know how to play the D, G, and A chords on your dulcimer, and you can hear chord changes, you’ll still be in business.

5. Don’t try to be the loudest instrument in the “band.” Listen to others, and focus on blending in, rather than standing out.

6. Do your best to keep in time with the other musicians. If you lose your place in a tune, just hang back and wait until they get to a place where you can jump back in.

7. Practice, and be prepared. Have a few songs in mind that are simple and everyone knows. That way, when it’s your turn to call a tune, you’ll be ready.

8. Don’t be a diva. Jamming isn’t about showing off. If you’re a more advanced player, when it’s your turn to lead, keep it simple. Don’t play it like a solo with pauses, tempo changes, or extra embellishments that would throw others off. 

9. The person who starts a tune is also responsible for ending it. There are many ways to signal to the other musicians that you’re ready for the tune to end. You can raise one foot in the air as you get towards the end, or you can call out something like “one more time,” “last time,” or “going out.”

10. Finally, after a jam session, it’s a good idea to start preparing for your next one. Write down the names of tunes everyone seemed to know but you. Then you’ll know what to practice before the next time.


Matthew Dickerson jamming out a tune with the Squirrel’s Nest!

One more point I’d like to add is that you should ask before video taping or taking photos at a jam session. With the current obsession with social media, we all seem to think everyone is fair game for a photo shoot. But you might inadvertently make others feel uncomfortable or self-conscious.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,
Linda

 

See also:  Steve’s Jam Session Strategy

 

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Live Event Tomorrow Night!

Live Event Tomorrow Night!

by Steve Eulberg

Matthew Dickerson, our newest Hammered Dulcimer instructor at DulcimerCrossing.com, will be LIVE on Monday, June 4th on Concert Window for a free concert for Subscribers (Join Now!).

8 pm EDT; 7 pm CDT; 6 pm MDT; 5 pm PDT.

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You can tune in here.

Watch Matthew’s amazing performance of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire at the Original Dulcimer Player’s annual Evart FunFest here:

 

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New Hammered Dulcimer Teacher

New Hammered Dulcimer Teacher

by Steve Eulberg

We are pleased to welcome 2012 National Hammered Dulcimer Champion, Matthew Dickerson, to our roster of instructors at DulcimerCrossing.

Matthew introduces himself here:

Matthew joins our faculty of 15 respected and gifted instructors of mountain and hammered dulcimer and fiddle.

We are filming and editing his lessons and they will be available for all subscribers on dulcimercrossing.com.

Subscribe and you’ll have unlimited access to all of his lessons, and those of all of our instructors!

 

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Make a Goal

Make a Goal

by Linda Ratcliff

Goals in writing are dreams with deadlines.
– Unknown

Make a Goal List in Your Journal … Every Week

My husband and I recently moved in with my daughter and her family about 4 weeks ago (there are now 7 of us at the dinner table), and she donated her formal dining room for me to set up as my music room.  I LOVE it.  I have all my instruments set up within easy reach.   And as soon as everyone is out of the house, I usually pick up my hammers and practice for a while.

 

But I just noticed something today about the way I have been practicing lately. I am simply playing whatever comes to my mind, rather than selecting tunes with a particular goal or result in mind.

I know better. When I took piano lessons, I had a spiral steno pad (how many of you remember those?).  My goals (aka assignments) were written down for the week, for the month, for the end-of-the-year recital.  I knew what I needed to practice for the next lesson, for the next month, and when I needed to have a piece ready to play in public.  
 

The Bible says, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it” (Habakkuk 2:2).  So I have turned over a new leaf.  I pulled out a new journal, and dedicated it to my music practice time. I drew lines horizontally across the page, dividing it into these five sections.

  • Warm-up Exercises:  Even though I am an experienced player, I need to consistently review the hammering drills in our Hammering Skills section, so I don’t get rusty.
  • Old-Time Jammin’ Tunes:  I find I like old-time hymns the best, and tend to play something like “It Is Well With My Soul,” or “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” when I have a moment to practice. But I have neglected to practice the old-time jammin’ tunes like “Old Joe Clark” and “Golden Slippers” regularly.  I scheduled 2 of those for review this week. 
  • Something New: I noticed I haven’t challenged myself with a new genre lately. So I decided to work on expanding my Celtic tunes repertoire. This week, I assigned myself Caledonian Club and Dorsett’s 4-Hand Reel.
  • Free Exploration: This is something we don’t do often enough.  This is how you will expand your musical vocabulary and see greater potential with your instrument.  Take something familiar and try new rhythms, new chord progressions, or add new embellishments to the melody.
  • A Good ‘Ole Favorite:  To close your practice, you should randomly play something you really enjoy.  Have fun with your instrument, and end your practice time on a positive note.

A good work-out like this would take me an hour, because I entered TWO things in my journal for each category. I think I might have been overly optimistic. I don’t usually have an hour, and you probably don’t either.  Next week I may just give myself just one assignment per category and see how that goes. 

 
As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.
 

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New Lessons for MD & HD Players

New Lessons for MD & HD Players

by Linda Ratcliff

I am still learning.
– Michelangelo at age 87

New Lessons for MD & HD Players

We have two new lessons at Dulcimer Crossing to offer our hammered dulcimer and mountain dulcimer players.

Peek-A-Boo Waltz for HD, taught by Steve Eulberg

The Peek-A-Boo Waltz is a tune that traveled with the pioneers taking the westward trails going through Kansas City toward the new world. In this video, Steve demonstrates the embellished version of the melody. 

Peek-A-Boo Waltz

Asika Thali for MD, taught by Neal Hellman
Asika Thali is a song of freedom from South Africa, taught by Neal Hellman. Neal likes to play this tune on a dulcimer with 4 equi-distant strings tuned to D-A-dd, but it can also be played on a dulcimer with 3 strings in the D-A-d tuning.

Neal Hellman
BUT … is it time to learn something new???

New or old?

This is what many of us wonder about.  You’ve been working hard on a new tune, and you’re fairly far along with it. But it’s not perfect yet.  You still get hung up on Part B, the second line. You’re tired of working on it, but you hate to move on until you’ve mastered it.So how do you know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em? Well, I believe that even if you feel completely confident with a piece, it doesn’t mean you should just set it aside. As soon as you’ve mastered a good part of a tune, feel free to go ahead and start another. You’ll still be practicing the old one because, when you practice, you always dedicate some time to warm-up, some time to reviewing old tunes, and some time to practicing new tunes.  It’s a balancing act, and I know you can do it.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,
Linda