Day 40: Interstate Tour 2018
The first full day of Common Ground On The Hill kicked off with my new standard breakfast of home fries and three scrambled eggs, dashed with jalapeño ketchup and hot sauce. Spice makes life, peppers are good for ya. I bought an industrial-grade french-fry cutter before I left home and now I'm putting everything through it. Everything except for sweet potatoes. I use a chainsaw for those.
After taking my CDs to the festival store, I went up to Hill Hall, where two of my classes are, and practiced some Celtic tunes using a metronome while I waited for first period to end. 7 Modes For 7 Dulcimers is what I'm teaching this morning, a deep study of the so-called "modern modes" featuring tunes written in each one. It wasn't too long ago that merely reading the words Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian would make my teeth explode and crack open my skull. Now, I'm teaching this stuff and trying to avoid any 'splodey stuff with my students. It's easy to empathize with them when it wasn't too long ago that I was pretty much in their position.
and what position is that?
Why, it's the position of Just This Side Of Understanding, otherwise known as One Step Ahead. When it comes to the stuff you know, there's always someone who knows both less and more than you. The question you gotta ask yourself is, "what brought me to this particular position at this particular time, and do I like it?" If the answer is yes, then keep on keepin' on. If the answer is no, then you either formulate a plan to swing the needle over to "yes" or do nothing and just wallow in the disappointment.
Learning is an exciting, and humbling, ongoing adventure.
So, I've got a great group in that first class and we've kicked off the week with an overview of the seven modes with some discussion about the chromatic versus the diatonic scale before kicking things off with a closer look at the Ionian mode. My choice for exploratory piece? The Korean folk song "Arirang." With the skill range pretty wide in this group, there was some focus on playing the slightly tricky rhythms that are part of the melody. Though the subject has to do with the modes, I use every opportunity to teach other elements of music theory and drop them like little pop-up balloons during class. We had a good time, lots of smiles, lots to work on for the next day. (Homework assignment: "Over The Rainbow".)
The food at McDaniel College was, last time, odious, resulting in nausea and the discovery of human hair on not one, but two occasions. Apparently, it was sort of a known thing, yet most people here don't have their kitchens with them, so they're kind of a captive audience. I just noped out and ended up either making something or driving somewhere. This year, after a tentative pass at the salad bar, I re-upped on my noping out, especially after one of the folks I know warned against the eggs on the breakfast buffet. Yeah, I came stocked to cook for the week.
But it was a quick-bite lunch today as I set up four cameras on the grass near the McDaniel Parking Lot Campground and shot back-to-back episodes of Dulcimerica for this coming Friday and the following Friday. That'll be episodes 398 and 399 on the run-up to the 400th installment of the series, now going on 11 years running. I'm planning something cool for that episode and it has to do with whatever it is that I'm planning for my finale at the ODPC Funfest concert on Friday night. My big dilemma is, how do I follow up the finales of my last three sets?:
That's three ascending levels of excitement, from trio to full band to veritable orchestra. Where do I from there? To go any bigger, I'd have to simply recruit the audience and then you've hit the grandstand ceiling as far as leaving room for anything more. Or, you can swing back in the opposite direction and take it back to a minimalist place, but even that seems contrived. I do have a plan and I'm not letting on as to what it is. Suffice it to say, though, that I'm working on it this week. I need to get a lot of work done this week. It's like running to stand still.
My fourth period class, The Amazing Dulcimer Band, is an ensemble workshop where songs are split up into parts and arranged like an orchestra. They have me set up in Little Baker Chapel, which is a gorgeous little church with a high domed ceiling, stained glass windows and a gothic pipe organ. It would've been an awesome space in which to get some recordings of the "orchestra", but only one person showed up.
There are a lot of instruments and artistic disciplines being taught here and mountain dulcimer is one of the lesser-known attractions here. Most of the students are beginner-level with very few who are at an intermediate to advanced level of skill. This concept might've seemed a little intimidating for the others, but this one lady, who was also in my modes class, has a fearless spirit (and also some experience with guitar and playing by ear, so I told her she's definitely not a beginner) and exclaimed, "oh no, well I you don't have to teach the class just for me."
"Nah," I responded. "We don't have to stick with the curriculum, so this is a win for you, because now you've got me as your private tutor for the rest of the week." The look on her face was priceless. After evaluating where she was with the instrument, I laid out a lesson plan and then we got down to working scales with a goal of learning all of the notes in the first octave in DAD tuning. She's ready to jump into it and I'm going to enjoy being her jumpmaster!
My fifth period class, and last of the day, is going to be easy-going fun. It's an Old-Time Jam with David and Annette Lindsey and Slim Harrison. There are as many instructors as there are students, actually we're outnumbered by one, but that makes nine happy pickers of different skill levels, just playing what we know and learning what we don't. Looking forward to learning some new tunes this week, like "Josie Girl", which two young sisters taught to us. It's so great to see the kids in on the action.
I returned to Imua for dinner, edited Friday's Dulcimerica and got it uploaded/scheduled, did a little admin and then dove deeply into chord theory, working on material for my new workshop The Mountain Dulcimer Expansion Project, which promises "this mind-blowing new workshop will delve into chord theory; how to build all chords with three chord shapes, inversions, 'color' chords and chord stacking with multiple instruments. You'll hear things that you've never heard before on a mountain dulcimer!"
It's true! I've cooked up some exercises that are like the soundtrack to a THX trailer. Super-easy to play so that you can sit back and listen to the colors. I wouldn't have offered up a workshop like this some years back because many of my students didn't seem interested in going there. Nowadays, they're pretty hot and hungry for anything that will expand their horizons on the music front, so we're all in the same boat together.
I went to sleep with DMaj9 chords in my head and I dreamed technicolor dreams.