Adventures in Rhythm & Folk

I remember when I first started playing the autoharp. my first real gig was at a Renaissance festival. Andrew and I were picking songs that we would play. then we worked up arrangements.

frog kissin'” was one of those early songs. i learned it from a Christian musician named Ed Kilbourne. it was poppy and upbeat. it had a great rhythm. but we were gonna play at Ren faires. poppy didn't make much sense to me. i changed the time signature to 3/4 and voila. it was a new favorite that sounded OLD.

johnny jump up” was another like that. I learned it from christy moore, who also played it in 3/4 time. i loved our arrangement back then. a lot of faire bands and rennies were singing it. nearly all sounded like pop music with cheerful harmonies and melodies. it made me want to puke. i depised those arrangements. i felt so haughty that our version wasn't like that.

but in 2008, the brobdingnagian bards broke up. we went our separate ways. we each took some “bards” songs with us as we relaunched our careers. “johnny jump up” was one of mine.

i always loved our version, but it didn't catch on. at faires especially, i ran into problems. actually, that was a problem throughout the bards career at Renaissance festivals. audiences were small. people wouldn't stay in their seats.

because of that, i felt i need to make some changes. i needed a way to reach modern audiences, not just rennies, but actual patrons. i picked up a whole bunch of songs i played with the bards. i started experimenting. i think “johnny jump up” was one of my early successes. it was one of my first steps into “RHYTHM & FOLK”.


Adventures in Rhythm & Folk

i'm thinking about this as my next CD title. i have a whole bunch of songs that i've been writing and playing. i am toying with a LOT of different album titles. this one came to me tonite. since i can't sleep and my mind is torturing me on vacation, i figured i'd test the waters with a blog.

quick note: i say next cd, but i actually have two planned–this one and my steampunk album, dragons vs. pirates

i have several songs i've written over the past few months and years that haven't made it to albums yet. the primary theme i get is ‘adventure'.

my friend nancy flynn actually inspired that idea. she wrote my recent ‘christmas in the shire' and ‘the smial or the tree‘. she talked about adventures and it struck me how much adventure has been a part of my life. be it my celtic invasion vacations, traveling with my family, dungeons & dragons, or my childhood imagination. i've had a lot of adventures.

when i'm at home, sitting at my computer desk, recording a podcast or whatnot, sometimes, i feel like my life is boring. i spend a lot of time in my office at home, typing away on my laptop.

but then…

i'm off on another glamorous adventure. sometimes it's from birmingham to texas and massachusetts, sometimes, it's in the golden field next to kenzie's grandma's house. prince eric has to search the brush to find the magic unicorn and puff the dog. adventures are there. it's reflected in my music.

in rhythm. and in folk.

Rhythm & Folk

rhythm & folk is how i started describing my music last year. i was trying to come up with something that captured what i was doing with the atuoharp. i also wanted something contemporary.

you gotta understand, for me, marketing has been the most important part of my music career. i don't know where i'd be if i didn't learn to promote myself. and i'm still only mediocre at it.

i feel like i have an uphill challenge. i love the autoharp. but i need, and my listeners need something different and unique. that's why i started working rhythm into my music. i needed something that appealed to modern audiences… something that you and others could relate to. but i also wanted something that captured my musical past.

i am not a jazz musician, or a bluesy one. my childhood music consisted of 45s of my mom's. the records were all from the late 50s. elvis presley was my king. he was balladeer and had rhythm. i needed something like that for my music. i found it.

but the challenges of playing music with an autoharp? i had a female musician at Sherwood Forest Faire approach me three years ago and say, ‘you really need to learn to play another instrument'. the audacity!

i LOVE the autoharp. and i'm doing something with it that no one in the world is doing. i'm creating something unique. and i still have a LOT to learn, to be truly great at it.

yes, it's true. i'm not good at reading music. i learned to play by ear. i can't do scales on the autoharp. in song circles, guitarists are the first to pick up their guitars and playing ‘american pie'. i can't easily play along. in irish sessions, by the time i figure out a tune, they're usually moving on to the next. but what i do is unique and no other autoharper does it.

at the california autoharp gathering, i talked to one of the guest autoharpers. he primarily played guitar. i was agast at his disrespect for an instrument that got him hired as a guest. it wasn't that he actually dissed it or anything, but he was too blind to the potential. i lost all respect for him because he was talented, yes, but closed-minded. he of any autoharper there prolly could've learned to do what i do. but he didn't respect the instrument. it still annoys me.

anyway, i'm losing my focus, which means i must be getting close to clearing my head enough to sleep. it's gonna be a rough day tomorrow,.

adventures in rhythm & folk. it's just a test. it's part of my marketing to see if that title attracts any attention. does it resonate with you? let me know.

oh as a side, i am working on a new free compilation which i think will be called ‘irish smiles‘. i want to spread a lot more happiness and fun in 2015. i'll tell you more about it later.


2 comments on “Adventures in Rhythm & Folk

  1. “Irish Smiles” sounds like a good title.

    I also like “Adventures in Rhythm and Folk.” Not only is there a deceptive-cadence aspect to it — most of us, I’m convinced, expect the phrase to be “Rhythm and Blues” and will be attracted when it turns out to be something different — but there’s also the suggestion of something new to discover, which both the phrase-switch and the word “adventure” strengthen.

    (Plus, “folk and rhythm” could be misunderstood as someone profanely muttering under his breath. You know how it goes…)

    Ah, the autoharp. I was privileged to be able to play one in summer camp, all those decades ago, but never realized how much one could do with the instrument besides rhythm. Not, that is, until Randy van Warmer’s single “Just When I Needed You Most,” wherein an autoharp actually did a melodic interlude. The next revelation after that was “Reavers, Malcolm, Reavers,” where you used the autoharp as the linchpin of the ensemble. (That gorgeous piece alone makes me want to get a copy of “Sci-Fi Drinking Songs.”) And in a recent podcast, you played a song in which you did a fast melodic riff — it tested the instrument’s specs, I could tell; those buttons must’ve been flying — and it was most impressive. Yes, the instrument deserves respect.

    Hmmm … wonder if it can do rockabilly?

  2. Postscript: Responding to your questions on/about the “Celtic Geek” podcast: it’s been enjoyable, primarily as a “here’s what’s going on in Marc’s mind these days” rather than a newscast about the Celtic music world or Geekage. So I approach it on that basis, and I’m glad to hear it will continue under whatever new title you choose.

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