Mountain Dulcimer Duets Workshop, Huntingdon, Tennessee

Today my procrastination promptly took me to flipping through my photos and files of workshops I have attended….and THAT took me to really reminiscing about some of my favorite teachers and tutors in my marvelous Mountain Dulcimer World!  And…now…that has led to my being here blogging to you…wellllllllll…what else could I do?!

I’m thinking of Linda Brockinton and Larry Conger right now.  For the past couple of years, Larry and Linda have been team teaching a mountain dulcimer duets workshop in Huntingdon, Tennessee, at the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center.  It’s a beautiful thing….to see and hear these two fun people teaching together.  When their musical worlds happened to collide on a front porch near the Ozark Folk Center in Mt. View, Arkansas, and they became fast friends many moons ago, our Delta Dulcimer World changed, to say the least.  
As I’m blogging I’m reflecting on last year’s Mountain Dulcimer Duets Workshop at the Dixie, and I’d like to share my insights and memories with all who care to read on…and on.  
Last year in August, 2007, I found myself to be itchy to be “on the move.”  I went from musical inquisitivity, to musical journeying, to musical journaling!  My intentions were to take pictures and notes about music as often and as thoroughly as I could to, perhaps, submit my stories to newspapers or magazines.  I boldly and quite publicly talked up my intention/dream to write for the beautiful, revitalized, Dulcimer Players News!  Wellllll….it has been a year since my hyped-up claim and unfollowedthrough aim….and the only place I have been brave enough to share my whirling words and pieces of mind has been…here, in my own little webbed-up world.
Last year’s goals were serious!  I took my laptop computer to the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center, and I parked myself in the back of the class, leaving my dulcimers safely tucked away in their double-D case on the floor next to me.  Larry, Linda, and Larry’s wife, Elaine, had arranged for the Mountain Dulcimer Duets Workshop to be conducted entirely on the big, professional, performance stage of the Dixie.  So, if you have looked at the picture gallery already, you will see what I saw from the back of the class.  I saw lots of backs-of-heads, tuning pegs, and bridges of dulcimers just in front of me.  In front of that I saw the teaming teachers….Larry Conger and Linda Brockinton…who were introduced by Elaine (a beautiful and talented musician/teacher who works for the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center, btw, teaching Kindermusic).
From my staged viewpoint, I clicked away on the keys of my laptop, typing random snippets of what I heard the teachers teaching.  At times, while listening to the instruction that was SO good that it completely disempowered my job of helping the helped….I found myself daydreamin’, in due course, of course.  I wound up writing down my personal review of this workshop package provided to mostly senior citizens seriously seeking serenity through music….PEACE, that is….the absence of stress and anxiety….Ahhhhhh the wisdom of my wise elders….I’m always in awe of it.
[You know I love you when you get this far in my blogging and you’re, amazingly, still with me!]
So, here goes….some of the blogging below will be exact extracts from my keyboarding-recording from nearly back stage at the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center in Huntingdon, Tennessee, during the Dulcimer Duets Workshop taught by Linda Brockinton and Larry Conger [the bits in italics have been copied and pasted exactly as written last August….simply to save time now as I blog!]:

Larry announces the “crowds”  as they arrive. I feel like I’m watching the red carpet of the academy awards!!  Larry and I have been friends since his first week-long mountain dulcimer week at The Swannanoa Gathering in 2000, and I have learned that Larry has an endearing way of addressing his friends in the dulcimer world.  He refers to groups of players as a “crowd” or a “bunch,” and I have observed that he does this only after he has become an intricate part of that crowd or bunch!  

Linda Brockinton

Hugs received from old friends.  Nice reunion time.

Larry is wearing his trademark button-down pressed shirt which intrigued me when I first realized that he had a different mountain dulcimer playing style than I had heard before.

Chairs on the stage.
colored lights above
imagining the filled balcony
Elaine organized registration folders
The Dixie Carter Performing>>>>
Linda Brockinton “We will We will Rock You!” waving arms above head back and forth
Elaine welcomes…doubled in size leads a whoohooo!
some have stickers on their nametag smiley face and a note….they were here last year…Leela  canceled last year because she attended David Schnaufer’s funeral.  Last year a dulcimer was alone under a solo spotlight during the concert. This year there will be a DVD slide show in his honor.  

Larry’s music is on the right. Linda’s is on the left in the folders.  Teachers have the music in the same order as in their folders.  Highlighters in the folder…didn’t work under the florescent lights or just didn’t work..replacements were found quickly….

Review of concert ticket purchases…anybody didn’t get tickets to concert?  

restaurant review…pre order for lunch tomorrow.
restroom back stage is available for quick break
bottled water at the Dixie concession stand available.
Reference a dry county…but Elaine was willing to take orders and return with the desired beverage from Paris which is a wet county.

introduce carla for helping if they don’t understand.
Elaine will check back for needs…concessions down stairs checking for requests for coffee for during the day.
without further ado or adon’t Linda and larry

oh wait..pause…door prizes on table behind teachers…don’t have to buy tickets..just door prizes.  Everyone is eligible…  

[Okay, seriously…that’s what I wrote as the events were unfolding and words were spilling onto the stage.  It’s an affliction I have had ever since working with Sheperd D. Tate, Esq, in Memphis, Tennessee during the 80’s and 90’s.  It’s a dictation thing.  A thing I don’t know what to do with now….except for record by way of fired-up-fingers what is happening in front of me or around me or behind me….or wherever.  If I can hear and understand it, I can write or type it in my own words, nearly at the same time.  If it needs to be written word-for-word all legalled-up-like….I can do that, too;…but, only at the speed of the speaker….my thinking of thoughts that equal the speed of my typing sometimes makes my writing faster…and sometimes slower…. but, then….the reader is at the mercy of the direction of MY thoughts…..SO…if a reader needs to get from POINT A to POINT B at the end of an article in a hurry (without going to C, D, E, & F along the way)….it’s probably best if I type from dictation or notes, so I don’t have to (or, don’t get to!) opine along the way!  Okay?]
As you can read above, the folks featured at the Dixie have endeared themselves to many.  I liked being the historian for this event (aka, fly on the wall), because that allowed me to step outside the action and watch what I have enjoyed being a part of for so many years.  It was like watching a warm and wonderful-life-kinda-movie.  I appreciate Larry and Linda for letting me have the backseat on the stage.
The first tune taught caused the following from the teachers:

Larry points out not a lot of chording going on…why?  faster, simplicity…keeping it simple is a always a good thing…doesn’t need to be too ornamental.

anchor ring finger
 1e and a 2e  
when I come onboard with a one in the third measure of the second line…the one stays’s my anchor I use my thumb for everything else….
Larry: the general rule of thumb…if you don’t have an open string somehwere something should be down on the fretboard…there may be an exception to that rule  

And from me:

1 and 2 and instructors feet tapping…symphony of simple dulcimer melody strings ringing out nearly on beat…this is an experienced tab reading group!    

And continuing (Some of these comments are word-for-word what the instructors said, but….most are my quick interpretation/rewording of their words….so I could get the gist right.  If something doesn’t make sense….I’m sure it’s this blogger’s fault and not the fault of either instructor!  At times when I wanted to write exactly what the teachers taught, I tried to preface the comments with the teacher’s name, or I actually used quotes or I used a parenthetical to give credit where credit is overdue.)

Linda:  Let’s start back at the 553…I was just taking these two fingers…..then move the whole thang…use my three as an anchor here…move this whole thang up and move down again…Larry points out that the finger on the 1 is being held down.

Might be a stretch (larry says) Linda demonstartes fingers bouncing high off of the fretboard and how easy it is to get lost…

Larry says he has always wondered why some players play in a choppy style…and he found out it was because they were not anchoring a finger and they knew another note was coming up and they were lifting their hand off of the fretboard to prepare for the next note, they are lifting their finger off too soon, not letting the note ring out.

Linda says she is trying to teach students to avoid 10 years of the wrong kind of practice…by teaching how to avoid mistakes she made.    She says she played seven years before someone told her (Larry says it was him!) that she could leave fingers down on strings that were not being played…to better anchor her hand and for smoother playing.

From the top: (Linda) Where are we starting (Larry)…..the group plays again….instructors are tapping feet and the black stage floor is percussive…The beginners in the back are following well…

Larry points out repeat sign…go back to the beginning…skip the first ending and play the second ending the second time.

Listening and counting is most important in ensemble playing…It should sound like one isntrument.

An ensemble sounds like one instrument…if someone is heard above the rest, then there is a solo with backup…not an ensemble.

Linda and Larry demonstrated the “don’t” way to play the Dixie Duet.  Twangin’ hard with the pick on her dulcimer, the “don’t” performance was unpleasant…Linda said if you have two phrases that are the same…change the way you play the phrases…change the volume for example…that’s why you can hear somebody play the piano and say “oh that’s really pretty” but then you hear the next person play it and you say “well that’s nice.”  Play with feeling to make the music special…

Larry and Linda demonstrated their way of using dynamics of volume and timing to enhance the sound of the music and let the beauty of the mountain dulcimer’s uniquely sweet voice ring out.

Larry:  Trying to give ideas for combining different voices of dulcimers to make a beautiful ensemble performance…a baritone with the ginger or a baritone tune to G and a standard DAD tuned dulcimer with a cap at the third fret making it have a higher voice and the same tuning as the baritone turned to G.

Linda and Larry demonstrated two dulcimers played together with picks and without…with the pick the combo sounded like a harpsichord

demo leaving heal of palm down on the fretboard near the bridge….and make the stirngs sound percussive for a different sound altogether.

a little too fast and it sounded like I was in an echo chamber with one side of the class coming in just behind the lead…Larry stops the class and gets everyone restarted to play at a slower tempo to keep the melody sounding somewhat like the written tab.

Larry pointed out earlier and Linda agreed that this tune
is not being taught in a way that the participants will walk away performance ready….it is being demonstrated during this workshop and the participant should be able to take the tune home and practice, implementing the information learned from the oral instruction and the teacher demonstration…Being able to sight-read the tab is a skill some workshop participants have developed well, and others are still struggling with, but the intention of a workshop is to provide guidance as to what the tune should sound like after being practiced and polished outside of class.

One of the absolute best things about Larry’s and Linda’s team teaching is the fun that they have together.  Their gentle joking and laughter is in good taste and is contagious among the workshop participants.  After Larry, the Tenn Dulci Man, leads Linda right into a joke about Arkansans….

Linda bows her head and shakes it…one of the participants answers the question “somebody’s gonna lose a trailer.”  It’s all in fun..and everyone laughs….someone says they have heard that’s an Alabama joke…then someone else says Tennessee…

Before things get out of hand, Larry skillfully guides the focus of the class back to a demo performance of Sing Hosannas…Then he demonstrates the 6/8 time in measure 18…while Linda plays the accompanying measures for the duet.  Watching their hands is as mezmerizing as the meldoy is sweet…I could easily become hypnotized ….Larry asks liinda what she is doing, and she answers “trying to get my pick outta the whole!”  Larry turns his back and walks away laughing…the class is enjoying the fun between the two.  It is obvious their personalities compliment each other in that special way that forms community in a classroom.  

As time is nearing for the end of the first night of this duets workshop, Larry plays through the measures the participants are going to be playing during the guided practice.  He calls attention to the second half of measure 32…the 2 is in the middle, and points out that on measure 33 the 3 is in the middle…two different chords.  He says this may be elementary to some…that there are some “A” chords in this tune.  The 1-0-1 is an A chord he says and he tells the class to play that with the ring on the melody string and the middle finger on the bass sting so the index finger and the thumb are available to play the upcoming notes.

The workshop went into a few minutes of overtime as Larry asked the “1’s” if they wanted to try it again…everyone was engaged and seemed to be quickly learning how to tackle this tune, and it looked like the participants would be wiling to follow Larry and Linda into the midnight hour as they learned this duet.    

And I had not taken either one of my dulcimers out of my double-D case, but at this point I knew why I was where I was doing what I was doing.  It had to be done.  The world, I knew, needed to know what I know….that these two wonderful world-class musicians were fine teachers teaching senior citizens who wanted to be taught something new.  I’m not yet through….I’ve got more to report….keep reading!  There was a day two!

2nd day  

Larry:  yesterday when I arrived, Linda was coming in at the same time…and you all were arriving, too.  [Playing Danny Boy]  We are just putting our parts of the duet together.

A participant asked about the best way to fingerpick.  Linda demonstrated how she can achieve a loud volume from her dulcimer, even while finger picking, if she lifted the back of the instrument off of her lap (from across her legs) and reset it so that it leaned against her stomach with the side of the soundboard resting on her legs.  As she demonstrated her powerful finger picking style, she asked the participants about the volume, whether it was loud enough to hear throughout the class.  The listeners agreed that the volume was as great as volume from a flat picked dulcimer that was resting parallel with the floor across the legs of a player. Linda’s tilt of the dulcimer included a downward angle that caused the bridge-end of the dulcimer to be higher (above her hip) than the tuning peg-end of the dulcimer which was lower than her left leg.  This position, she demonstrates is comfortable and natural and allows her to control the amount of pressure she applies to the strings to produce the desired volume as she plays.  She demonstrated the difficulty of adding pressure on the outward-picked strings when the dulcimer is resting flat across her legs.

Larry  continues with instruction on the current tune on which the class is focusing.  He gives direct instruction related to timing in difficult measures.  Linda offers suggestions for fingerings, and reminds of the “anchoring” trick.  Larry suggests highlighting the written tab — even using multi-colored highlighters — to give an alert for upcoming difficulties in the tab.

This morning’s session included a coffee break!

Through further guided instruction, Larry explains that musicians refer to something called a “split bar” where a chord changes in the middle of a measure, and he points out where the split bar in the tab will be found.

Linda announces the upcoming chords and timing “B chord 2, 3 ,4, and A chord G B…” Larry counts 1e and a 2e…and most of the class plays along.  Both instructors seem to have insight and keen observation skills as to when students’ zone of proximal development has been surpassed…and they stop, modify the instruction, and adjust the demonstration technique and/or speed of instruction to meet the needs of students.  

One player in the back of the workshop has her dulcimer on an instrument stand and she stands as she plays the mountain dulcimer.  The two instructors have the same set up, and their instruments are tilted in a such a way that makes the frets and fingering easily visible to the students on stage.

The entire workshop is conducted on stage at the Dixie Performing Arts

Lee Warren, the director of the Dixie, comes in with a photographer and says she has never in her life seen a dulcimer orchestra.  The photographer was at The Dixie to photograph something else and Ms. Ward was so excited about the new orchestra that she wanted to show it off.

Judy Noles, First Bank, the unofficial official photographer for The Dixie takes pictures from all angles on the stage.
Larry announces lunch time — 2 hours on your own.  Lunch orders that were pre-ordered have been sent to the restaurant and all the lunches have been prepared “to go” and the restaurant is happy for people to eat their meals there at the restaurant, or Elaine adds that we are welcome to bring lunch back to the break room at the Dixie.

After lunch everyone seems eagerly settling into their seats, warming up for the next workshop, either reviewing what has been learned in the earlier workshop, or looking ahead to the tab to be taught next.  The workshop registration packet had a complete set of tab, in the order of planned instruction, in a pocket folder with Larry’s arrangements on one side and Linda’s on the other.  No time was lost in searching for the next piece of tab to be reviewed for learning tips. This workshop is professionally conducted, and it is beautifully, humorously, and skillfully articulated in what I have come to appreciate is a combined Conger/Brockinton instruction style…unique to this duet, whether they are performing or teaching.  

Okay, I could swear on a stack of tab…this is truly documentation of my experience at the Dixie last year.  I would find it hard to believe that I could write this many words while workshop instruction is going on…but….my friend Larry Conger could attest….it’s probably the first time I have ever set still in one of his workshops without getting up and walking around the room.  My mind drifts and the words in my head whirl up at full speed all the time.  Having this alleged personal journal business to attend to kept me fairly focused….okay it kept me obsessed with writing…but I promise I was scanning the room from time-to-time looking to see if anyone was seeking help….and NO ONE….needed me….and the workshop was two full days….and…that’s right…I had hours…to sit and type and write…
Wanna keep reading?  Well…that’s good, because I’m gonna keep blogging…just a bit more:

As the first tune of the afternoon is reviewed and the first sight-read play is attempted, the workshop participants begin singing along with the sweet droning dulcimers, filling the pre-concert-silence of The Dixie’s quaint auditorium, with lyrics:  “all I have to do is dre eeeeeeee-eeeeam, dream, dream, dream….,” and I actually feel like I am living a personal dream, because the numbers of participants in workshops like this one is growing each year, and I reflect that in my Googled up search alert messages the number of “dulcimer alerts” has grown from 1 or 2 every-now-and-then to a long list almost daily…..”only trouble is….. gee whiz!…”  for some reason [which makes me now wonder if I am a banana-brained, bottle-blonde who doesn’t know whether to be motivated to play beautiful, yet somehow adorably mesmerizing, music of the mountain dulcimer or travel around the world waking up people to America’s sweetest music, because] I have this 2.4 GH.z, fruit-embellished laptop on top of my lap and under my fingers, rather than my American, Magowan-made-in-Memphis, mountain dulcimer, and I am typing up this workshop review rather than strummin’ along with the new and long-time friends in my sweet music world.

D to Bm to Em to A, I hear Larry say, and then another series of chord progressions, saying every two measures the chord progression is doubling up and then repeating itself…he refers to “Elvira” and I am at a loss as to what he is teaching at the moment, because I have stepped up on my banana box to write about the increased interest in Americana, community, music, and harmony.

Larry mentions that imitation is almost unavoidable when you have listened to a song the same way for 40 years or so…Linda points out that chord progressions are fun finger exercises.  She recommends opening up a chord book and just working on chord progressions…she says we [note that I have now nearly submitted myself to the instruction I am gleaning above my fruit-flavored lap-top screen, and might be compelled to turn this thing off and join-up with The Dixie’s dream, dream, dreaming dulcimer duets crowd/bunch/covey/flock/yet-to-be-Conger-labeled group] would learn where chords are on our fret boards that way.  As Linda demonstrates, her gentle descending chord progressions, I want to type with my eyes closed, and do some more dreaming.  MMMMMMmmmmmmMMMMM the music sounds goooooood and makes me feeeeeeeeeeel fiiiiiine.   I’m awakened from my drifting state with Larry’s chiming in that there “are no black-and-white rules” to this phrase of the music…….I really like the sound of that……because if there are no black and white rules…..that leaves lots of room for GRAY….I love the gray areas of music, because that’s where players like me live…….in the world of non-black-and-white music……and that’s where I am happy.  

At the end of the afternoon workshop, one of the participants asked Larry and Linda to play through the tunes for recording purposes, and the teachers were happy to do so, as the digital recorders were brought out.  

Larry announced the meeting time for the evening concert.

In the early afternoon session, the participants removed everything from their seats they had occupied for the earlier workshops, and Larry, Elaine, and Linda arranged the white folding chairs on the black stage floor behind the red curtain, symphony-performance style, in preparation for the orchestra practice.     

That’s all folks….well…that’s about the end of my report filed away last year.  I am very sorry that I never did get around to editing it and submitting it to Dulcimer Players News or The National Enquirer or the Washington Post or something great like that….but….I’m thankful that my computer did not crash and that I found this info just in time to share and hopefully inspire a few folks to head over to Huntingdon, Tennessee, for the August 23-24, Mountain Dulcimer Duets Workshop at the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center!  

As always…I greatly appreciate your stamina in staying with me as I blondly blog where others might not.
Fond of friends and frets, I remain
Verily truly yours,
note: edited 8/27/08 [spelling correction only] by Carla
note: edited 11/20/08 [phrase correction in 8th paragraph, correction indicated by yellow text in italics]

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