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I fell in love with Irish fiddle tunes back in 1973 when I had a college professor who played these & Old Time fiddle tunes in a folk music class I took. Guy Carawan (the professor), who was also a popular folk singer of the 1950’s & 60’s, was also one of the first musicians to help revive the hammered dulcimer from obscurity as far back as 1972. He was also the first person I encountered to play the mountain dulcimer, which also tugged at my heart strings in a big way.
Following the end of this class at Pitzer College--“American Folklife & Folkmusic Studies”--I signed up for Carawan’s Appalachia External Studies program the next semester. I was there for 6 months, & focused on interviewing mountain & hammered dulcimer players & makers, as well as other traditional craftspeople as well as documenting their creations. While exploring the traditional Appalachian folk culture in southwest Virginia & eastern Kentucky, I also started to make a traditional mountain dulcimer (with the help of a local woodworker). Upon returning to my home in California, I completed the instrument, bumped into some amazing players of both mountain & hammered dulcimers in the Santa Cruz , CA area, & soaked up or figured out every aspect of playing these instruments that I could.
Since then, I’ve learned lots of Irish fiddle tunes, and have taught & performed them in numerous lessons, classes, workshops, week-long college classes, festivals & concerts since 1978. I also got bitten by the O‘Carolan tune bug in the late 1970’s, & have learned 30 or 40 of these over the past 40 years. For several years, I led a Sunday afternoon Irish session at O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub in downtown San Jose, CA. Below is a video of a set there (Cooley’s Reel & The Banshee) that I like to play. (Note: my wonderful fiddling wife, Lee Anne, is seen playing to my left. The seating arrangements are a bit odd, due to the really bright sunlight flooding into the pub & blinding some of us):
Along with Irish music, I’ve also learned a few Galician, Breton, and other Celtic realm folk dance tunes. Plus I fell in love with traditional French folk dance music--along with Parisian “bal musettes” (cafe music)--& so have also been teaching & performing these. Below is a video of my French tune pal Jena & I playing my favorite bal musette, “Petit Bal de la Marine”:
I also played in “Peak Nouveau,” a San Francisco Bay Area contra dance band for about 7 years. In this, we played a variety of music--including Old Time, Irish, French, Finnish & Swedish--to add variety to the usual contra tune repertoire that dancers usually hear. Below is a link to a video of Peak Nouveau playing a contradance in Palo Alto, CA. The first tune--“Shoo Fly”--I play on mountain dulcimer. At 3:12 the camera catches me playing the 2nd tune of the set--“Kitchen Girl”--on the hammered dulcimer.
These days I’m partially retired but continue to teach the music & instruments I love. In a few days, I’ll be teaching an intermediate-advanced hammered dulcimer workshop on “Happily Hammering Irish Fiddle Tunes” at this year’s virtual Redwood Dulcimer Day festival on Aug 14 & 15.
Looking forward to enjoying getting to know the session.org & meeting folks with similar musical interests!