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posts that are designed specifically for mountain 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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Shop Visit: Blue Lion Dulcimers

Shop Visit:  Blue Lion Dulcimers

by Steve Eulberg

A few years back my spouse, Connie, and I had a warm and welcoming visit with Janita and Bob Baker of Blue Lion Instruments in Santa Margarita, California.

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Watching people work through their rhythms and share their craft is a treasure and joy (for me: especially when there is a sawdust smell!)

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A hallmark of these beautiful mountain dulcimers is the inlay that Janita creates for the fretboards, at the request of the new owners of the instruments.  (Picture above)

But these hand-crafted instruments are also beautiful in tone and in well-earned reputation.  The “secrets” of how this happens are actually not secret to anyone who builds wooden instruments.  Patience, attention to detail, good materials, thoughtful design.

I am excited to share this video here:

 

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Frank Proffitt

Frank Proffitt

by Steve Eulberg

In Pete Seeger‘s television series, Rainbow Quest, Episode 26, he hosted folklorist Frank Warner.  At about 26:27 they begin discussing Frank Proffitt, including some film of him playing his banjo at the Newport Folk Festival (begins at 40:09)

Frank is most well-known for preserving the song Tom Dooley,

Earlier in their conversation, Pete relates an exchange of letters between Howie Mitchell and Frank Proffitt about dulcimer building.  (38:27-38)

(Note:  Howie Mitchell’s Hammered Dulcimers:  How I Build them, was one of the references that I consulted before and during the building of my first two hammered dulcimers.)

 
 

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Berkeley Dulcimer Orchestra

Berkeley Dulcimer Orchestra

by Steve Eulberg

The Berkeley Dulcimer Orchestra (brainchild of Deborah J. Hamouris), has been working since January to prepare and share some brand new compositions and arrangements.

Here is a video of them premiering my new composition San Mateo Bridge.  (This bridge is the one that I cross twice to attend and conduct the rehearsals once or twice a month.)

The performance is at the Back Room, a delightful, comfortable seating venue in Berkeley, in the first block north of University.  The event was the Faculty Concert for the 6th Annual Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering.

Enjoy this performance!

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2018 in mountain dulcimer

 

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Classic Rock Licks! New Lesson Series

Classic Rock Licks! New Lesson Series

Coming June 1, we are excited to announce a new mountain dulcimer series:

Classic Rock Licks on the Classic Mountain Dulcimer, taught by Steve Eulberg.

Using a standard mountain dulcimer, exploring famous licks and riffs from Classic Rock music, Steve finds and demonstrates the ones that need no extra frets, the ones that require a 6+ or a 1+ fret, and those that sound terrific with some string bending.

Subscribe and you’ll have access to all of these lessons.  There are 15 to begin with, with more in the filming queue.

If you are already a subscriber, tune in on June 1st when they go live!

 

 

 

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