Friday, July 23, 2010

Kitchen Musician

Loomis Street Irregulars

I just spent a couple of hours poking around through CDs and on line, looking for a version of "The Home Ruler" that's slow enough for me to hear and learn from--I can play well enough, at least some of the time, but I can't for the life of me figure out sheet music. (And for those of you who can, spare me the instructive lecture; I spent a year trying to learn and my neurons just don't fire correctly.)

I play only by ear, and I only play tunes I actually like--this explains why I know only one polka. I learned "Maggie in the Woods" early on in my dulcimer career and found it deficient and glib. Polkas, for me, are like squid: Once was enough. And I think I was attracted to the hammered dulcimer, at least in part, because it's basically impossible to play "Proud Mary" on it, although now that I've said that I'm sure someone has tried and probably posted a video on You Tube.

I was thinking, as I piddled around, about the pleasure that comes of  having absolutely no musical ambition. I don't even like to perform because it makes me nervous, and being nervous isn't what music is for. Once a week, five of us gather and play--my friends Art, Tracy, Carol, and Michael, plus yours truly--and in a weird way this has become an anchor, or maybe the pivot, that the rest of my life revolves around. Sometimes we will play a potluck or a community gathering, like in this photo, and Art and Michael just did a very nice guitar duet CD, but in general, as a group, we have no ambition.

For me, music is the opposite of writing--I've never seen the point of diaries or other private scribbling, except perhaps as practice for work written for other people to read. But music is different; it seems to exist in its own right. It's enough to just play, and it doesn't seem to matter (or at least not to me), that no one else is listening. Because it's this internal, self-sustaining quality that keeps me interested, and what motivates me when I spend two hours looking for a version of "Home Ruler" that I can pick up by ear.

In my travels around the music sites on the web, I've found and bookmaked a place called the Kitchen Musician, and there I can listen to midi files all afternoon--"Crabs in the Skillet" and "Lost Farm Waltz" and "Pigeon on a Gate," this last tune being, as far as I can tell, made up of spare parts from every other reel ever written. Or perhaps, conversely, it's the first reel ever written, and it has spread its parts out over all subsequent ones. Sadly, they didn't have "Home Ruler," but that's okay--I found a version on a CD by Susan Sherlock that will probably do.

I'm about to go learn this tune, but before I do that, I want to say that I just now decided that I really do have a place in traditional music, despite my many shortcomings, right down to the purpose-built hammers I need because my grip is so sketchy. Because even though I actually play in what is supposed to be, in my house, the dining room, I think I'm really a kitchen musician. The room is just a technicality.

1 comment:

  1. for many tunes. Copy and paste the ABC format of a tune into the converter at Play or download and play the Midi file.

    Email sent.

    Home Ruler is a cool little tune, kinda jumpy.