Friday, April 27, 2012

Yarn Crawl

I'm looking forward to a yarn crawl of 5 Milwaukee area fiber shops tomorrow - an event set up by the Bay Lakes Knitting Guild here in Green Bay. It will be a long day - we leave in a caravan at 6:30 a.m. That's pretty early to be showered and ready for the day. The best news is that I am not one of the drivers, which means I can knit on the way down and back until the sun gives out.

I couldn't have said that a few days ago. I saw the physical therapist yesterday for the last time. He cleared me to function without the hand brace and basically said I can resume all normal activities. I have begun practicing hammered dulcimer and recorder again, and I am knitting up a storm.

Projects? I have a shawlette about 80-% finished. I am designing it as I go and the only questions left are how long it should be and what bind off to use. The stitch pattern is Cat's Eye, and the yarn is 100% alpaca from a local NE Wisconsin alpaca farm, LondonDairy Alpacas. It is incredibly soft and fun to work with.

I also have a lace sock going on the Erlbacher Gearhart, and a quilt in the hoop to quilt. Too many choices. On top of that, the sun is out and I should really work outside in the garden today. Oh well, I'd rather be knitting.

My husband and I usually go out for dinner on Friday nights. We call it Date Night, and what that means is we go out to eat and then do the weekly grocery shopping. You can tell we've been married a long time, right? In order to do the shopping, I'll need to plan menus for the week. Something more to do.\
Have a great day! I'm off to get the day started.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I've Been Bad

I just couldn't keep up with the A to Z Challenge. There is just too much going on, so I'm sorry if I have disappointed anyone. I'd rather get back to life as I know it anyway.

I have been consumed with Bay Lakes Knitting Guild business, and also, I can knit again - carefully. The hand is healing quickly. The Physical Therapist says one more week of the brace, and then some mild weight training for strengthening. Without the brace I can knit again, and I have launched into two design projects with a vengence.

The first is a shawlette (they seem to be all the rage at the moment) with some oh-so-soft Alpaca from an Alpaca farm in Two Rivers. The second project is a bag that features cables. This also requires some pretty serious architectural considerations, because I want to line the bag as well.

I've been swatching for the cabled bag. At this point all I really know is that it will be red.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kincaid - Father of American Flute School

For me, the letter K elicits the immediate response – William Kincaid. He was the principle flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and taught at the Curtis Institute for the majority of his career.

Born in Minneapolis in 1911, he studied flute with Georges Barrere at the Institute of Musical Art. After a stint in the Navy, he spent the rest of his working career in Philadelphia.

Kincaid required his students to keep notes of their lessons, and when I was going to school copies of those notes floated throughout academia, from student to student and school to school. Interestingly they were all quite similar. His teaching method was organized and addressed musical phrasing with a system of numbers that referred to the order of importance of a note. At one point, the majority of flutists in American orchestras had all studied with William Kincaid.

Unfortunately, I never studied with Kincaid, but my teachers were all former Kincaid students. I was just one generation beyond his personal scope. He retired from the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1960, and I entered college in 1962.  That said, his influence on American flute playing was broad and covered the the flute world for over half a century.

Keeping in mind that recording technology was less advanced in Kincaid's day, I was delighted to discover this You Tube link;
it is Kincaid and the Philadelphia Orchestra performing Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun - a staple in every flutist's repertoire that is included on every orchestral audition today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jazz Flute

Jazz as a genre is a pretty complicated topic, and I am not qualified to expound on it. Jazz flute, on the other hand, is a topic about which I might have something interesting to say. I was just out of college when I first heard a  jazz flutist who made me rethink my entire perception of jazz in general and jazz flute in particular. 

The flutist was Hubert Laws, and his album The Rite of Spring was the recording that did it. The selections on that album included improvised versiosn of Syrinx, Amazing Grace, and other Classical works. What made me sit up and take notice was the beautiful sound he had. Up to that time, most of the jazz flutists I had heard could improvise 'til the cows came home, but they did it with a less than focused flute tone. This performer was a Juilliard graduate who had studied with Julius Baker. He had his ducks in a row. Many years later I would have the pleasure of interviewing Laws for Flute Talk magazine.

As editor of Flute Talk I met and interviewed several jazz flutists over the years. Three of them just happen to have a You Tube video together. What makes the video special is that each player represents something unique. The players are Ali Ryerson, Greg Pattillo, and Zachary Kellogg. Ryerson, as a female jazz flutist, is unique right there. There just aren’t that many female jazz flutists out there, and she is fabulous. 

Greg Pattillo represents a whole new genre of flute playing; known as the "beat boxing flutist", he developed a style of beat boxing that works on the flute. When the flute world discovered that he was around, they went wild for him. 

Zachary Kellogg is 11 years old in this video. That alone makes him unique. That he could hold his own with Ryerson and Pattillo says a lot about his talent. 

At one time or another, I interviewed each of these players. The video you are about to see was shot in a hotel lobby at a National Flute Association convention, and I experienced their artistry live. I was sitting next to the person who shot the video. (Ryerson is performing on an alto flute, which explains the extra length and the curve on the end of her flute.)

To hear examples of beat boxing go to In this video Pattillo improvises on the Super Mario theme. Enjoy! At the very least I think these takes will bring a smile to your face.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Irish Music

I absolutely love Irish music. There is just something about it that cuts straight to my soul. When we moved to Green Bay I discovered a Irish music jam session that meets once a month in a used book store, and I have been a faithful attendee at that session ever since. I even purchased a whistle so that I could participate, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wouldn’t you like to know a little bit about music of Ireland?

Irish drum called a Bodrhan
Irish traditional music includes drinking songs, reels, hornpipes, jigs, walttzes, and many more types of tunes. The tunes are usually binary, i.e. in two parts, each part of which generally repeats. Instruments used to play these tunes included the harp, fiddle, whistle, button accordian, and uilleann pipes ( a type of bag pipe). The "rhythm section" is often the Bodhran, a drum like percussion instrument that is played with a wooden clapper.

Luckily for us, the Irish brought their music with them during the great migration of the Irish to this country, and their music was so powerful that it had a huge influence on our own folk music, particularly in the Appalachians.
There are thousands of examples of Irish music on You Tube. I picked out 3 that I like. If you are interested I suggest that you just poke around in You Tube and discover what you like for yourself. The first,, is Morrison’s Jig. This version is an electronic one, but I could hear it on acoustic instruments. The next,, offers a good example of whistle playing, in this instance by Joe McKenna. Finally offers more than one tune all featuring the fiddle.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hammered Dulcimer

The hammered dulcimer, which comes in various sizes, has strings that are attached to a wooden base that is in a trapezoidal shape. The strings are struck with hammers that come in varying shapes and sizes as well. Because the strings are struck, hammered dulcimers are a member of the percussion family.

Hammered Dulcimer by Rick Thum
Interestingly, the hammered dulcimer can be found around the world under different names. In Hungary it is called a cimbalom, Germany a Hackbrett, China a yangqin, Italy a salterio, Iraq a santur. etc. A full list of names can be found on Wikipedia.

It is usually strung in pairs of strings, although there are dulcimers with 3 strings on every pitch. There are 2 bridges, a base and a treble bridge. Confusing to former pianists (like me) the base strings are to the right and the treble strings are to the left as you sit at the instrument. This is the opposite of a piano.

I first encountered a hammered dulcimer at a Renaissance Faire in northern Illinois, and fell in love with it. The following Christmas, my husband surprised me with one as a Christmas gift. I played around with it and basically taught myself to play the way most folk instruments are learned. However, once I retired I had the time to dedicate myself to learning to play it well. Last summer I played hammered dulcimer at the Door County Renaissance Faire, taking development on the instrument full circle.

While the HD has been used in traditional classical settings from time to time, today you find the instrument more in folk situations. Here are some links to follow and some excellent players to listen to: Notice that Ken Kolodner is getting a muted sound on his instrument. This is because he is using a pedal damping system operated by his left foot. The next link is Rick Thum performing Pleasure House Rag: . Finally, listen to Bill Robinson play 12th Street Rag.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The G String

Now stop that!    I know what you are thinking. A G string is much more than a piece of underwear. To start with, remember the post from last Sunday about chromesthesia? Well, to me G is yellow. That’s right. We can start with mellow, yellow, as in G – G Major.

Next, the violin’s lowest sounding string is G. (Violin strings are tuned E, A, D, G from top to bottom, i.e. highest to lowest.) In fact, there is a very famous piece by Bach that has come to be known as the Air on the G String. Wikipedia says it better than I can: 

The original orchestral suite was written by Bach for his patron Prince Leopold of Anhalt some time between the years 1717 and 1723. The title comes from violinist August Wilhelmj's late 19th century arrangement of the piece for violin and piano. By transposing the key of the piece from its original D major to C major and transposing the melody down an octave, Wilhelmj was able to play the piece on only one string of his violin, the G string.”

To hear this remarkable piece, follow this link: . Over the centuries various arrangements of this piece have been performed – for chorus, the original orchestral version, Here is a version for cello and piano at a very different tempo. .  Interesting, eh? There is even a rock version which isn’t my favorite, but it is certainly a different interpretation.

JS Bach
Every year the National Flute Association holds a convention that is attended by anywhere from 2500 to 4000 flutists from around the world. The Closing Ceremonies of the august body is the playing of Bach’s Air on a G String by everyone in attendance. It is an awesome sound to hear that many flutists all playing together.

Many musicians have a close emotional reaction to this composition. The Chicago Symphony has a long-standing tradition of playing the Air whenever a member of the orchestra dies. It is always a very emotional beginning to that night’s concert. 

Many years ago the orchestra was loading onto a plane to fly to Europe for a month-long tour. The piped-in music was playing the Air on a G string, and at least one member of the orchestra got off the plane and refused to fly. That’s how powerful the association was that the musician had about that particular piece of music.

Friday, April 6, 2012

French horn

Indianapolis Horn Section
The French horn is dear to my heart, because my son holds the Assistant Principal Horn position in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. When he was in high school he would play along with recordings of Mahler and Tchaikovsky symphonies; that is what greeted me as I arrived home from work. 
The French horn is a member of the brass family, but sometimes also finds a home in the woodwind family when it is included in a woodwind quintet. The tubing of a French horn is an incredible 12 feet long if it were uncoiled, but and all coiled up so that the player can handle it more easily. (Actually, that isn’t a record; a tuba has 16 feet of tubing.)

The modern French horn is a descendent of the hunting horn, which was used to communicate with other hunters from the back of a horse. In the 19th century valves were added to the hunting horn, which made it easier for players to play in all keys. Horns are either single horns (3 valves) or double horns (4 valves). Orchestral horns are all of the double horn variety, pitched in F or in B flat.

Folks outside the music world may not be aware that there are various horn playing styles. In regards to sound, some horn sections are considered to have a dark sound, i.e. the New York Philharmonic. And others are said to have a bright souns, as in the Chicago Symphony horn section. It is customary for some players to use a bit of vibrato, while others find vibrato quite distasteful.

Wherever you find them, horn players like to congregate into large horn ensembles. There are many examples of this on You Tube. The London Horn Sound is a great example of this phenomenon and the result is amazing. You don’t want to miss this rendition of the Roman Carnival Overture. Likewise, you might also enjoy Tico Tico:

If you would like to meet my son, go to this URL, where he introduces Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5. Then click on this to hear the horn solo that Rick has just told you about. (The conductor is Leonard Bernstein and the orchestra is the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The English horn is not from England

The English horn is related to the oboe and has a larger bore and is longer. Unlike the oboe, it is a transposing instrument, sounding a fifth lower than where the music is written.Why it is called an English horn is a mystery. It’s origin has nothing to do with England. It is also sometimes called a cor anglais, a French name, but it has nothing to do with France either. Made of wood, the English horn uses the same fingering system as the oboe, so it is often what musicians refer to as a “double”, meaning that oboists also “double”, i.e. play the English horn as well. 

It has been a standard member of the symphony orchestra since the Romantic composers began including it in their musical compositions. While there are instances of its use in the mid 1700s, it really came into its own in the 1800s. 

Hector Berlioz included the English horn in Symphony Fantastique, which was written in 1830. One of the most famous English horn solos is the “Going Home” theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

If you have some extra time, check out this performance of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnola, , a remarkable rendition by the DePaul Symphony Orchestra. The English horn solo happens at about 6:57.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

America's Own – the Dulcimer

The dulcimer, also known as the Appalachian dulcimer, lap dulcimer and mountain dulcimer, is a fretted lap-held instrument of the zither family, that may have descended from the German Schelitholt, a zither that was mounted on a sound box with strings that did not extend beyond the box. The dulcimer first appeared amongst the people of the Southern Appalachians in the late 18th century. To my knowledge it is the only musical instrument to have originated here in the United States.
The dulcimer was a folk instrument for personal enjoyment (it is pretty quiet) until the 1950-60s, when Jean Ritchie, an American folk singer and dulcimer player, was discovered and signed by Elektra records. The folk music genre took off at about the same time, and soon dulcimer clubs were springing up around the country.

The dulcimer has 3 strings, one of which is a drone, meaning that it’s pitch does not change. There are various tunings for these 3 strings, but it is safe to say the D-A-D is probably the most traditional. The dulcimer is then strummed, much as a guitar might be, while the player sings.

Here are some examples of dulcimers you can hear on You Tube: in the hands of Stephen Seifert, one of the most noted dulcimer players today, the dulcimer’s 3 strings seem to have no limit. Whiskey Before Breakfast is a standard fiddle tune played by folk and old-time music enthusiasts. 

Shady Grove is another traditional old-time music tune, played here by Gretchenman: If you look closely at the video you can see that her dulcimer has more than 3 strings. 

Finally, you can hear Jean Ritchie performing on this video:

As with all instruments, performers/musicians have taken the original instrument, developed their techniques on it, and finally surpassed the original intent of the instrument, taking it into new genres and encompassing new musical styles. What started out as an accompaniment instrument, as heard with Jean Ritchie, now stands alone as a solo instrument as heard with Seifert.

Tomorrow - English Horn.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


A member of the violin family, the cello has four strings that are tuned in perfect fifths. It is a descendent of the viola da gamba, which looked a bit like today’s cello and was held between the knees.

Generally the cello plays in the bass clef, but not also so. It is a magnificent instrument, the sound of which can bring you to tears. If you would like to hear a cello try these links: , , and .

The first link is Zara Nelsova, the magnificent cellist who introduced me to the cello in the summer of 1962 at the Aspen Music Festival. She performed Dvorak's Cello Concerto, and I will never forget the power that she got out of the instrument. All of that was well before the digital age, so there a precious few videos of her, but I did found two or three.

The second link is Yo-Yo Ma playing Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile. The sound he pulls from the cello is pure velvet. Have a listen.
The third link above is Mstislav Rostropovich performing Bach’s Cello Suite #4. I include it here because he is a wonderful cellist, and I had a personal encounter with him decades ago. When I was in college at Oberlin (1963-1964) he came to the school for the weekly Convocation in Finney Chapel.  I heard him play and fell in love with the cello immediately.

Three years later in Minneapolis, Rostropovich came to solo with the Minneapolis Symphony. (pre Minnesota Orchestra). The program included Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, and something else I can no longer remember. During the work that I have forgotten, I was backstage waiting to play the Stravinsky, and he was waiting to perform the Tchaikovsky. He saw me and motioned me into his dressing room. His English was very poor then, but he had an interpreter, who came in and translated for us. I told Rostropovich that I had heard him play at Oberlin, and he reached out and held my hand while we continued to chat. I will never forget those few minutes, and as I remember, I didn’t wash that hand for at least a week.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Musical Terminology, as in B-flat Major

Musicians have slang terminology for all kinds of things: they refer to jobs as “gigs”, call their instruments “axes”, and consider the extra woodwinds, i.e. piccolo, E-flat clarinet, English horn, and contrabassoon as “toys”. The term I want to focus on today is “B-flat Major” – not the key, but the term, which means average, normal, commonplace.

Most music students begin learning to play in bands, and bands spend an inordinate amount of time in B-flat, largely because most of the band instruments are B-flat instruments: clarinets, trumpets, tenor saxophones, coronets, euphonium, and trombones to name just a few. For ease of learning, pieces for bands are written in B-flat, F, and sometimes E-flat to accommodate these instruments. It is entirely possible for a flutist, for example, to leave high school without ever having played in sharp keys.
Over the years musicians have started referring to generic circumstances as “B-flat Major”. I did that in a knitting class I was teaching once, and the students looked at me as if I had taken leave of my senses. Only one knew what I meant. She had gone to music school.

I read about 20 blogs from the Blogging from A to Z challenge yesterday, most of theme posted by writers. Many were excellent. I would say in comparison, my writing is extremely B-flat Major.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A-Major is Green –

and C Major is red, G major is yellow, B major is brown, E major blue, D major is a light brown. These are my personal associations; other people’s colors will certainly vary. These associations are known as chromesthesia  – the association of color and sound. It is a form of synesthesia - a neurological condition in which stimulation from one sense leads to involuntary experience in a secondary sense. Basically, chromesthesia is pitch/color association.

Today is the beginning of the Blogging A to Z challenge, and the theme of this blog for the month of April will focus on music and its instruments, as well as other interesting phenomenon. The challenge is to blog a letter of the alphabet every day to the end of the month. (There are three Sundays off.) 

A Major is so green to me that the letter A could not be anything else. I always thought it would be interesting to find a composer who could write a score for me in color rather than in black and white notes. Even in college I found the phenomenon interesting and looked for someone to work with, but to no avail.

The list of noted composers who had chromesthesia includes Scriabin, Messiaen, Mozart, Sibelius, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Gyorgy Ligeti. Wikipedia reports that Mozart referred to the key of D Major as “a warm orangey sound...while B-flat minor was blackish.” Mozart found A major a rainbow of colors.

I can’t say that having chromesthesia has been beneficial or useful in any particular way. Rather, it is an oddity that I enjoy, that fascinates me, and that I share with some pretty notable musicians.