Fond Musical Memories
What is a parlor
how is it different from Parlour Music?
HOMEMADE MUSIC VS. STAGE MUSIC
in the 1800s there
was no such thing as radio, let alone TV or iTunes. People made their
own music at home. Wealthier folk might have a piano, reed organ, or
harp in the parlor and a cabinet full of sheet music which the
daughters of the house had mastered and which might also be used by
guest performers during formal house concerts which were a staple
social event in larger homes able to offer comfortable seating for a
good number of guests. According to Wikipedia, these formal house
concerts, often quite posh and prestigious, featured mostly art
songs and classical music and sometimes "dialect" songs or emotionally
draining tearjerkers telling tales of poor souls who met very sad ends.
According to Wikiipedia, these events were the epitome of "Parlour
Music" with a "u".
Another type of Parlor
Music (without the "u" was practiced by those less
economically blessed, such as my ancestors, who lived in one or
two-room cabins. They often made their own music with homemade
instruments like mountain dulcimers that they built themselves using
pieces of scrap lumber that weren't big enough to be useful for
anything else. Rather than accumulating libraries of sheet music,
they learned songs from family members, friends, and at church or
school and kept them in memory or wrote the words down by hand in
their "ballad books" if they were able to afford writing
paper. Whatever the economic level, there was almost always music in
homes at that time.
As one of the most
popular informal pastimes, families, neighbors, and friends would get
together to play music once the work of the day was done. This
"family" music was much different from the stage or dance
music of that day or ours. In stage music and in dance bands, the
entertainers stand or sit so all are facing the audience. Their
purpose is to entertain others, usually for pay.
However, in the comfort
of home, with no thought of any gain other than the pleasure of the
moment, the musicians would sit comfortably in a circle so they could
all see each other. Also unlike stage music which encouraged only
highly skilled musicians, family music welcomed everyone who wanted
to participate, no matter what their skills. The mountain dulcimer,
with its drone strings, made it possible for the youngest child to
feel a part of the activity by strumming along without fretting any
notes at all as more skilled musicians played the melody and harmony
notes. Some might sing while playing an instrument. Others might
participate just by singing along.
A third difference
between "stage" and "homemade" music was whether
the music was "diatonic" or "chromatic".
Chromatic music often contained unexpected or non-traditional notes
and harmonies and was much easier to play if one had the sheet music.
Diatonic music rarely included an accidental sharp or flat. The
melody of a tune was confined to the eight notes of any given scale:
for instance C D E F G A B C. These songs usually harmonized on only
three chords such as C, F, and G7 or the relative minor and the chord
changes were easily heard and followed "by ear". As time passed,
chromatic music became more popular because of its potential for
variety and inventiveness. The 3rd Sunday Gathering seeks through
playing mostly diatonic music to recover the camaraderie and simplicity
of an all-inclusive music that everyone can enjoy playing without a lot
of preparation or practice.
THE MOUNTAIN DULCIMER - A
DIATONIC INSTRUMENT (MOST OF THE TIME)
mountain dulcimer tuning during the 1800s was CGG. However during the
dulcimer revival in the 1970s, the tuning was raised to DAA (and the
later alternative DAD) as it seemed to produce a more robust sound
and the chords of that key were easier to play on other fretted
instruments such as guitar. Nowadays the most expected key for
playing with mountain dulcimers is D with the basic chords being D G
and A7. With a dulcimer capo and using the DAD tuning, the Key of G
(with chords G, C, and D7) is also easily available. Nowadays some
makers will build chromatic dulcimers, but there is a question of
whether these are "real" dulcimers or just lap guitars. The advantages
of the mountain dulcimer design over other fretted instruments
(comfortable hand position, instrument lays in the lap, and sound holes
directed toward the player) appeal especially to older musicians. I
suspect the popularity of the chromatic dulcimer will grow as the
FOLK PROCESS CHANGES FROM
MEMORIZATION TO TRANSMISSION VIA WRITTEN MUSIC
difference was that stage music was usually of shorter duration to
keep the interest of a restless and critical audience. Homemade music
preserved ancient narrative ballad traditions in which story songs
might go on for many verses. Repeating the melody many times made it
easier for the newer musicians to learn a tune by ear because there
was opportunity for repeated practice each time the tune was played
by the group. With the distractions of life in the 21st Century, many
musicians have never developed the bardic tradition's amazing ability
to keep long ballads and songs with many verses in memory. So today
most parlor musicians have loose leaf "ballad books" in
which they collect both notated music and the words to songs. Since
the 1998 changes to the U.S. copyright law and subsequent strict
enforcement, dulcimer notebooks tend to include only music in the
public domain and the original compositions of the notebooks'
Except for a few
examples, today the printed or written music used while playing
obviously differs between
parlor and stage music. Most professional stage musicians are
expected to memorize all their music. The few exceptions in stage
music tradition include dance bands of the "big band"
variety and classical orchestras that give extended complex
performances for which legally printed music (or rarely these days,
an under-the-counter fake book) is essential on stage.
3RD SUNDAY IS JUST FOR FUN -- NO
Though some of our 3rd
Sunday Gathering members are or have been professional stage
performers, our parlor band is not a "performing group". We
focus on the social and recreational aspects of playing music
together. To say "we just wanna have fun" is an accurate
statement of our motivation.
3SG IS NOT JUST FOR MOUNTAIN
These days many of us
play more than one instrument. Because of the characteristics of the
mountain dulcimer, which we all enjoy, diatonic music comprises most
of our collective repertoire even though chromatic instruments are
now a part of our musical mix and we do include music in other keys
than D. Instruments that combine well with mountain dulcimers include
folk harp, guitar, mandolin, Autoharp, harmonica, tin whistle, wooden
flutes and recorders, spoons, limberjack, standup bass or washtub
bass, musical saw, concertina and other traditional Celtic
instruments, kitchen band type rhythm instruments, etc. Due to the
inventiveness of parlor band musicians, the list of instruments
compatible with mountain dulcimers continues to expand.
Unlike bluegrass music
which features various instruments showing off their fancy licks
individually under the direction of a leader during a song, parlor
music encourages all to blend, each musician careful not to overcome
the collective sound throughout the song. Parlor music emphasizes
cooperation, inclusiveness, and acceptance of all skill levels;
though once in a while a particularly unusual instrument such as
musical saw or an ability to get a specially lovely tone from some
instrument will induce the group to back off and give that musician a
chance to shine.
Are music lessons
necessary? In today's world, yes! 3SG does not offer lessons, but free
instruction and sheet music can be found on line. It is necessary to be
independently to keep one's instrument in tune with concert pitch by
using an electronic tuner and to interpret simple notation and chord
names when written or printed music is provided. Printed music is
usually in the form of a "lead sheet" with the melody
notated and with the correct chords above the notes, first verse
below the notes, and subsequent verses as poetry under the score.
Some groups (but not 3SG) provide dulcimer tablature which usually
requires much more
sophisticated skills from dulcimer players. Members are expected to
have the skills to read tablature and to play in several tunings.
These groups are usually formed by a particular teacher and lessons
are given at a separate time.
Our group's "official"
dulcimer tuning is the traditional tuning DAA in which "do"
(as in "do re mi" is the third fret of the string nearest
the player. This tuning provides the most available notes on the
first string and lends itself to "one finger" single string
melody playing. It's the easiest tuning, but not the best tuning for
chording. That is DAD, but there is no reason why DAA and DAD players
cannot play together, so a preference for the DAD tuning should not
discourage anyone from playing with our group. DAD players will have
to do their own translation of the music to their tuning because we
do not provide DAD versions. However, we wil post a chart to help those
who might not know how to modify DAA music to DAD tuning.
collection of music. Copies are available for use during meetings only.
A take-home copy is a flat $30.00 and contains all our music. No
borrowing or trading is permitted. Rarely is
more than the occasional single sheet of printed music shared for
free any more due to the rising cost of printing. Some parlor music
groups post their repertoires on line, especially if the music is in
the public domain, so new users can print out their own copies. 3SG is
in the process of following that practice.
A parlor band group is as
much a social occasion as a music session. The day may also include a
shared meal or pot luck, meeting at varying venues such as a
park in the summer or somebody's back yard. Wherever we are, the
instruments end up being a center of the day's activity and harmony
Though you may never have heard of us, some of us have been
music together for more than thirty years. Some of us began playing
together as members of the Mansfield Dulcimer Club in the early 1980s.
Marji moved to Columbus
in 1985, she gathered some friends at her apartment once a
week to play music. At first they called themselves Friends In D (a
play on words since they played only tunes in the key of D), then
Leland Trace when some members decided to try a few stage music gigs.
After some shaking out, the performing group, renamed Marji
Parlor Band played a couple or three years at the Ohio State Fair, also
years at Nickleby's Bookstore Cafe, and at other venues in the Capitol
City, made a tape, and even were invited to Mansfield to play at the
Richland County Fair and to Delphos for the Canal Festival. Pictures of
those good times may come to the top
of the pile one of these days and get posted on this web site. Right
now, though, the only handy shots are from Ashland days.
Marji moved back to Ashland in the mid-90s and, with the
of her partner in music, Gail Reed, immediately re-organized The Third
Sunday Gathering which she and Gail had fostered all through their
Columbus days together, first in Galena and then in Sunbury. For
several years in the mid-90s, The Third Sunday Gathering met at Park
St. Brethren Church in Ashland. People drove in from as far away as the
Ohio River and Lake Erie to play with 3SG and we truly had some fine
Once all the local members were retired, the group decided to begin
meeting on Tuesday afternoons at the Ashland County Council on Aging
where comfort and convenience in the form of no stairs and doors that
opened automatically were always available to us. The Tuesday
afternoon group disbanded sometime in 2008 as members dropped out due
to age and illness. We truly miss those who have passed as well as
our faraway friends who are now too frail to drive all that distance to
play music with us. They will always have a special place in our
On Sunday, September 15th, 2013 five members of
Hazen's Parlor Band plus some friends met in Ashland for an
approximately 20 year reunion as the last time we played
together in Columbus was just after Christmas of 1993. After
having such a good time playing music together once more, we
agreed to try
reviving the 3rd Sunday Gathering which is now scheduled to meet
(weather permitting long-distance travel) through 2014 in the community
room at the Essex House in Ashland. For information, e-mail Marji Hazen
or contact her via Facebook.