Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't Fret!

Becky (She's in the band) asked if there were any 12 step groups for people who acquire too many instruments -- I think she meant me, but she may have to hold an intervention, because I'm still in denial. I mean if you don't count the accordion -- which I'd actually been eye-ing for two years. Or the cabasa and the castanets and finger cymbals and the slapstick -- because percussion instruments are really just nicknacks, then I only bought an acoustic bass with my income tax refund, which is way better then last year.

And if there was a 12 step program, Becky would NOT be a very good sponsor because she is baby hungry for a ukulele. She's been ogling my tenor ukulele (Ohana made of Koa wood). She likes the deeper sound of my low G-string. And I know it sounded geeky when I told her, "Tenors ship with a high G, but if you swap the nylon G string for the wound C string you can tune it to a low G."

That makes me sound cool, like I'm so good I can mod out an instrument. I was stewing about how I am NOT so good that I mod out my instruments -- when I realized that swapping the strings might help the sound of my banjo ukulele, which is just a little high for my tastes.

I think sometimes I forget that instruments are machines designed to produce sound and tweaking the machine to produce a different sound is totally acceptable.

From Joe filing down reeds to get exactly the resistance he wants for the sound on his clarinet, to Sam redesigning a travel guitar to be a travel bass, to Bobo insisting we get a toy banjolele to hold a tune, to Sam and Joe collaborating to make a washtub bass -- my kids have amazed me with what we can do if I swallow my inhibitions.

I thought I'd share some old timey videos on the blog today to illustrate old timey mods. In this first video, check out the harp guitar (right next to FDR).

And in this one, check out the bass banjo. (Proof that he's not the only nutjob with a bass banjo can be seen here.)

As a post script, I am really liking the word "fret." Becky (I mean Jenna) reminded me that in our classical ensemble, "The Southwest Fretted Philharmonic," we have one instrument -- the glockenspiel -- that doesn't have fretts. Which is ok, because Tessa (who plays it) "frets" all the time. I love that pun. I was thinking, maybe we should come up with an old lady band name that replaces "ettes" with fretts. Like instead of Barettes, we could be the Bar Fretts. Which would only work if we were singing in bars...So if anyone has any better ideas, let me know in the comments.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hello Again

It's been a few weeks since my last blog, but that is not to say nothing musical has happened in my life lately. Quite a bit has actually. Some of it has just given me pause to think.

First, let me mention I got a pair of real-live organ shoes. The are "maryjanes" and so are very stylish. I used them today for the first time. I know it would have been better to practice with them before I played in front of people, but I couldn't get access to an organ yesterday and i really wanted to know what they were like. I am going to have to use an outdated metaphor because I can think of no other. But playing with organ shoes was like having played on a manual typewriter all my life and then switching to an IBM Selectric. I may have played faster than I should have. Toe-heel has never been so easy and sliding from bass note to bass note was as smooth as velvet.

Second, I got a new accordion. It turns out that accordions sound much nicer when they are in tune. I am surprised at how easy the placement of the 48 bass buttons is coming to me. At first I thought they were way too close and I would never be able to keep my big fat phalanges from striking more than one at a time. But my finger tips can actually figure it out. It would probably be easier to find my dimpled "C" if my left hand wasn't calloused from ukulele and guitar playing. I won't be playing any ornate solos anytime soon, but I can keep up with my folk needs.

Third, Sam got cited for disorderly conduct for playing the guitar on the college campus. This has really taken me some time to think through. As it was told to Sam, disorderly conduct is doing anything that is not socially acceptable. I understand that there is a time and place for everything and perhaps this wasn't the time or place, but I am wondering if some people believe that music should only be allowed in the music hall or on the radio.

The day before his citation, the college newspaper did an article on Sam and his friend Dusty singing on campus. you can find the link here. And you can find the editorial regarding his citation here.

Bobo, whose primary instrument is the trumpet has recently taken up the piano so she can help accompany in Young Women's. The girls are learning the song "Today While the Sun Shines" for the girl's camp singing tree. Bobo is planning to bring her ukulele to accompany them in July. In the meantime, the girls need to learn the song. (It is a bit of a surprise to me that the girls and their leaders are unfamiliar with this tune.) To help Bobo and her friends out, I created a simplified version of the hymn. (Of course I looked for it on line first. And since I couldn't find it, I have posted it here, so the next person who needs it can find it.)

Today While the Sun Shines

I have also been busy arranging a Bach Minuet for the Bach Festival, because the instruments in my ensemble are out of the ordinary. This year it is not going to be all ukuleles. We've got three ukuleles, two guitars, two acoustic basses, a charrango and a glockenspiel. I am posting the arrangement as simply as I can. Because of the preference of my musicians I have had to create separate lead sheets of tablature and notation. Also, the lead ukulele is tabbed for a tenor uke with a low G.

Bach Menuet SWFP

So if you are not in the St George area, you are welcome to use these as you will. If you are in the St George Area, please don't steal our thunder. However, if you would like to join the Southwest Fretted Philharmonic at the upcoming Bach Festival, give us a shout. We'd love to have you join us.

Now, for an outro. Here is Sam (with his brother Mace) singing at a house show last fall. :)