Well, here’s my blog!
November 12, 2020
I can think of no better way to avoid the, ahem, current unreality than to listen to some beautiful music. This week’s installment of the Britt Festival’s Bridge Series features Enid Bennion playing and talking about her Swedish nyckelharpa.
While we wait to learn the fate of the Free World, here is the latest Britt Bridge video, featuring Kevin Carr and a big cartload of French bagpipes.
October 23, 2020
For the second Britt Bridge Series video, I took a brief look at how the ukulele got to Hawaii, and then how it took over the world. Stay tuned for Kevin Carr playing and talking about the many French bagpipes in his collection.
October 17, 2020
The Britt Festival asked me to do some more short videos introducing different folk instruments. Here is the first, a brief history of the Appalachian Dulcimer.
August 7, 2020
Here’s something fun. I recently did a short introduction to the Vielle a Roue (Hurdy Gurdy) for the Britt Festival’s “Britt Kids” series. Take a look:
July 19, 2020
Well, golly here we are. Still. It is good to play music with your friends.
Here is a link to the wonderful Lark Camp Cabaret. And what is that, you ask? Well, it was a live-streamed concert featuring a plethora of Lark Camp instructors that aired last night. It is still available on Lark’s YouTube channel, so head on over and watch. And while you are there, make a donation.
What will you see? Hawaiian slack key guitar, plus Swedish Nyckelharpa, French tunes on bagpipe and accordion, some great Irish music from a couple different acts, mandolin wizard Radim Zenkl playing the biggest flute you have ever seen and Maestro Omar Moktari performing a traditional Berber song.
Yep, your basic Lark experience.
April 12th 2020
Music for Homemade Musical Instruments
From the 1980s through the turn of the century, I spent a great deal of time working in elementary schools. Sometimes I was hired directly by the school, but more often I contracted with either a regional or state art council program. Although I did my share of urban schools, the bulk of my time was in tiny rural communities in Oregon, Alaska and Washington. And when I say rural, I mean that some places were only accessible by boat or float plane!
My classes consisted of helping the kids build musical instruments out of, well, trash, really. For the youngest, we’d make simple percussion instruments like shakers and friction drums. The instruments got more complicated as the kids moved up in grade: bull-roarers, bleach bottle banjos, and Appalachian dulcimers made from scrap wood with a tin can for a resonator!
The point wasn’t just to make noise, the kids — and teachers — learned to play together. At the end of the residency, all the kids gave a performance for the community. For many children this was their first and only experience of playing music. I gotta say it was pretty dang satisfying.
A residency I did in Northern California was filmed by Lark in the Morning and distributed as an instructional video. Sadly, I no longer have a copy.
At some point I decided to record the songs I used in the schools. At the very least I’d be able to give copies to the school’s library.
I overdubbed all of the parts on my trusty 8-track tape machine. As the project grew — or I got more ambitious — I added a couple hokum blues songs that I knew the kids liked. (Yes, I cleaned up the lyrics.) I also cheated a bit and played some guitar and electric bass. My friend Emy Phelps added some much-needed harmony parts.
So now I had a gen-u-wine kid’s album. I made a pile of cassettes under the descriptive title I used for my classes — “Boom Thumpity Twang Twang!” — and shopped them around to various labels. The silence was deafening, as they say.
So I basically forgot about the whole thing until a school teacher friend suggested I do a book instead. I wrote the folks at Mel Bay, who agreed and published “You Can Teach Yourself to Make Music With Home Made Instruments” in 1995. The book could be ordered with a CD and so my little recording project was saved from total oblivion.
Thanks to Bandcamp, you can now hear the album for the first time.
Free Music, Y’all
April 6th, 2020 Update: All of my recordings made between 1980 and 1996 are now on Bandcamp.
April 2nd, 2020
I was hoping to get this done yesterday for April Fish, but hey. I’m using this enforced stay at home time to get some of my back catalog of recordings up on Bandcamp. You can stream them for free, and download them at greatly reduced prices (like, free, in a couple cases). Why? Because I like you.
So set the wayback machine for 1980 and take a listen to “The Rights of Man,” my very first LP.
Stay tuned, more to come. Oh, and stay home, dagnabbit!
November 13, 2019
In honor of this momentous date — well actually just cuz I felt like it — I’ve uploaded my 2009 recording “Uke-A-Rama” to Bandcamp. So head on over there and give it a listen. Free for nuthin’ like we used to say. I guarantee it’ll put a smile on your face. And boy howdy, do we need smiles these dark November days.
August 29, 2019
OK, so I’ve pretty much stopped updating this blog. Why? Well, to tell the truth I just haven’t thought about it much. It isn’t that I haven’t been busy. But frankly I’ve been overwhelmed with simply trying to keep up with, ummmm, events. And I doubt I’m the only one. Ahem.
Musically, I am still nutso about the vielle a roue, or hurdy gurdy. Last June had the amazing good fortune to study with Patrick Bouffard at the wonderful Chants de Vielle in Quebec. I followed that with another Lark Camp, where I pretty much lived at French Camp. I am fortunate to have friends locally who share my interest in getting together for wine, cheese and French Trad music every couple of weeks. Oh, and I have a stunning new guitar-shaped vielle from J.C. Boudet, shown here next to my 1970’s era Kerboeuf. Banjo Bear approves.
In other news, Mighty Mel Bay has picked up three of my previously self-published books. Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Learn to Play Slack Key Style Ukulele, and Hawaiian and and Polynesian Music for Appalachian Dulcimer represent many years of studying and sharing Hawaiian music & I am stoked to have these newly revised editions available. Follow this link to learn more.
OK, that’s it for now.
October 9, 2018
In preparation for a move to smaller quarters soon, I am selling some of the wonderful musical instruments I’ve acquired over my, ummm, 50 year so-called career. Check back often, as I will be posting new pages as I get the time.
Coming soon: Banjos–tenor, five string & six string–more guitars, basses, a dulcimer or two, and a wonderful 100 year old Gibson mandolin. All dear friends, all in need of new homes. Yes, I will probably kick myself for letting some of these puppies go.
While I’m on the subject: I will also be selling my collection of vintage music and songbooks, as well as a sizable collection of rare Hawaiiana. So stay tuned.
No word yet on what do do about the shabby old arm chair…
August 11, 2018
Fiddling While Rome Burns, Yet Again
OK, so I haven’t exactly been timely in my posts lately. Chock that up to maintaining an insane writing & recording schedule over the winter & spring. In the end I delivered five manuscripts to Mel Bay. I completely reworked “Learn to Play Slack Key Ukulele,” Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar,” & “Hawaiian & Polynesian Music for Appalachian Dulcimer;” correcting errors and recording additional tracks so that all of the examples and songs taught now have corresponding audio.
And, in my abundant spare time, I wrote two new books: “The Complete Collection of Old Time Fiddle Tunes for Appalachian Dulcimer” –who comes up with these titles? — and “Mastering Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar.” I’m particularly proud of these two books–they represent many, many years of thinking about, performing and teaching these great musical styles.
What of the summer? Well, first was a quick trip to France to look at old churches, sample absinthe, and attend a most amazing music and dance festival: Le Son Continu.
And then it was off to Lark Camp, where musical mayhem is always a possibility. Here is mandolin wizard Radim Zenkl & yours truly competing to see who can create the loudest drone. Believe it or not, the session got stranger a little later, when the drummers and belly dancers showed up.
I love folk music!