Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The New Timer

I was just flicking through pages on YouTube, trying to find some easy AutoHarp songs to play while waiting for my manuals to arrive and I found something I was not expecting.

Bruce Springsteen playing the Autoharp and singing "The New Timer". Now I am a massive fan of Springsteen, I go through phases of compulsively listening to his music, whether it's his older stuff or his more modern acoustic work like his CD Devils & Dust.

To find him strumming accompaniment on the Autoharp as he sang this song then was really quite amazing for me.

Check it out...

Hope you enjoyed,
Ben

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Nana On The Harp

So I took around the ChromaHarp to show my grandmother today. She's a bit of a dag and I knew that it would tickle her fancy. She knew that I was going to buy it and was quite looking forward to seeing it. Knowing what I'm like with fads, she did make the slghtly acerbic comment that I can always use the harp as a wall decoration if I give up on it.

I played her my rendition (meaning a completely unrecognisable version of...) "Red River Valley" which she quite liked and I strummed out "Three Blind Mice" which supposedly is played all within the chord of C.
I can't seem to get the right rhythm though for the part where the farmer's wife is running after them with a carving knife.
Nevertheless, Nana pretended to enjoy it heartily and we gas-bagged a bit about different songs.

Being curious she had a wee hold of the Autoharp and plucked at a few strings with her nails. It was very relaxing actually lying back on the couch as she sat across the way plucking random notes and making 'waterfall' (her term) sounds by running her fingers over the strings. For some reason it made one feel happy and that is I think the whole reason that I enjoy the Autoharp - it just has a wonderful feel and life to it.

I have been commanded to learn the 'Harry Lime Theme'; at least I think that's the name she told me. Apparently, that was the tune that she used to play on the piano and should be simple enough for me to pick up...we'll see.

That was my afternoon spent - it was quite nice that someone (even if it was only my grandmother), enjoyed hearing me play and didn't ridicule the inarticulate sounds. She has suggested a metronome however, to try and teach me timing.

Catch ya,
Ben

Untouchable Girls

One of the Country Music icons in New Zealand would have to be The Topp Twins. They are a pop culture phenomenon in Kiwi-land and beloved by just about anyone. They seem to be able to cross every divide and speak to every person.

They are all round performers - singing, comedy routines, characterisation.

Anyone with an interest in NZ and our culture should really know about them, this is because they are so much a part of the New Zealand psyche. I just bought the Topp Twins Movie - Untouchable Girls - on dvd the other day. It isn't the first time that I have watched it but I still immensely enjoyed it. The biopic follows every aspect of their lives, their performances and their politics.
I described it to one friend of mine from the UK as an expression of the Kiwi love affair with The Topp Twins.

Now the reason I thought I'd mention this movie is simply to highlight one of the country music and performance inspirations that are a part of my upbringing. The Topp's, Lynda & Jools, have successfully entertained for decades around New Zealand and the world. In their country / folksy / funny way they have forged an entertainment career without ever losing their own cultural identity as New Zealanders'. I find this refreshing and really fantastic.

I highly recommend anyone who doesn't know who these two are to check them out. Have a look at their movie or their TV series. They are the epitomy of Kiwiana.

Oh and if you're in town this week (20th - 30th January 2011) you should totally check them out at The World Buskers' Festival!

See ya's,
Ben

Picks & Picks


Went for an excursion yesterday back down to the music shop to try and get some new finger picks. Unfortunately, they still haven't come in but they have taken my number so hopefully in the next week or so. It doesn't help of course that I have eerily small fingers and can't fit the bigger picks they did have available.

I did invest in a plastic thumb pick though. Everyone seems to be of the opinion that you should use metal finger picks and plastic thumb picks. I actually had a thumb pick which had been included with my ChromaHarp but I'm not a huge fan of it. It seems to be slightly too big and  I wanted something that felt slightly more secure on my thumb. I have a feeling that the thimb pick I have chosen is going to be too tight on my thumb though. I just can't win. Ho hum!

d'Aigle Autoharps in America sell the Perfect Touch Picks and these look like serious contenders as a really great looking pick. I may have to invest in a set one day. You can check them out yourself at d'Aigle's Perfect Touch Picks page.

While I was at Begg's buying my Thumb Pick the guy who always serves me had found something. A number of ChromaHarp strings that had remained in their original package at the back of a drawer since goodness knows when. He couldn't even give me a price for them but still, it's a positive step in case I need to replace any strings. Unfortunately it did not look as though the individual packets contained any Lower Octave strings and so I might be wiser to simply invest in a fully new set of ChromaHarp strings from overseas. The problem with living on an island outback of nowhere - still, I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Take care till next time,
Ben

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Some Helpful Aids...

Yay...payday...now I might be able to invest in some proper finger-picks. Assuming that the Music Shop has managed to get a new supply in.

I have also purchased a couple of AutoHarp books that should be winging their way to me any day now. Hopefully, they'll be able to offer me some direction in my AutoHarp education.

The first is The Autoharp Owner's Manual, which judging by the internet chatter, everyone agrees is a must-have for any AutoHarpist. It contains a collection of articles from the "Autoharp Quarterly" covering a plethora of topics and even going so far as to take you through the process of building your own AutoHarp.

I can't see myself building my own instrument but it should give me a more in-depth idea of how the instrument is put together and how all of the different parts work together in harmony. I am a sucker for information and learning how something works. The more information I can devour about a given subject the better I feel.

The second book that I have invested in is Mel Bay's Complete Method for Autoharp or Chromaharp by Meg Peterson. It has some good write-ups and appears to be an in-depth and comprehensive look at the instrument and how it is successfully played.
I took a peek at a preview on GoogleBooks which was where I got the chords and suggestions for playing "Red River Valley" that I so hashed on my first try (see previous post - My First Practice...).
Still, the book was easy to follow and the information looked to be laid out clearly and easily. Also, the version of the manual that I have purchased comes with a CD with an actual AutoHarpist demonstrating at full-tempo and this should provide a good baseline with which to measure and judge how I am playing and allow me to adapt accordingly.

While on the surface the first few pages of the book appear slightly simplistic I think it's actually going to take quite a bit of repetition to actually absorb and comprehend the information presented.

Anyway, the two books are on their way to me as we speak so I look forward to getting them soon.

Cheers,
Ben

Friday, 21 January 2011

My First Practice...

Yesterday I made my first attempt to actually play something on my ChromaHarp. What a disaster. I will assume that it was simply a case of me needing to practice...practice...practice! I am sincerely hoping it is not a case of the ChromaHarp being so over-the-hill that it won't play anything nicely without a severe makeover.

I chose a song that I believed would be relatively painless. I passed over a few others that were supposedly simpler but because I was unfamiliar with the tune I didn't want to attempt it. I settled on "Red River Valley" which was going to use three chords and a simple strum, alternating between the lower and higher octaves.

I figured out the number of strums required, tried to keep time reasonably and seemed to be able to switch between the chord bars alright - even if there was the occasional bit of panicky fumbling at times.

The result was a mish-mash that essentially sounded like noise! Although once or twice I did hear a few seconds of tune that actually sounded like the song.

I don't know if it was simply the way I was strumming, or whether I was being just too clinical about it. Possibly I needed to pick up or slow down the tempo. Finding a comfortable rhythm would be a good idea.

Essentially, I just think I need to really keep trying and do my best to understand what I'm actually trying to accomplish by strumming all of these different strings rather than just sawing away at it.

I did spend some time after the cursed event looking at my chord bars and working out which strings actually sound in each chord so that I can attempt to cut out some of the dead string sounds in the fervent hope that it might allow the actual song to come through.

I will persevere and I will achieve. I am determined.

I did actually record a couple of clips of myself playing the song in the hope that I could either pinpoint my mistakes or even better, find out that it was actually sounding okay. I achieved neither of these objectives and mean to delete all trace of those recordings. I did think about posting one on here just so that you could see what I mean but it would just be too awful to contemplate.

I'll keep you in the loop about how it all goes,
Ben

Thursday, 20 January 2011

A Few Pictures...

As promised I have uploaded a couple of pics of my new ChromaHarp and also of myself. They look hideous as I am useless at setting up photos and also I take horrible photos, both as the camera person and also as the person in front of the camera.
Still, if you're kind enough to read this blog then you might be interested in who's actually writing it, even if the pics are horribly staged.

Here is my new baby...
And now for something infinitely more cringe-worthy, myself, pretending to know how to actually hold an Autoharp...
And no, my hair doesn't always look like that - sometimes it's worse!

Seriously, these were the best of the photos. There were more, but they'll never be seen again...aaah, the power of the delete button.

And just to end with, another beautiful picture of the ChromaHarp, only slightly marred by my own presence (sans head...which improves everything greatly).
Take care,
Ben


Battle Hymn Of The Republic

Ever since watching Ken Burns' "The Civil War" I have loved hearing 'The Battle Hymn Of The Republic' which they play so evocatively on the documentary. There are a number of Autoharp versions available on YouTube. Here's one...


And for anyone who's considering watching Ken Burns' "The Civil War", I sincerely recommend it.

The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns
It's a fantastic multi-part documentary , although definitely spread it over several viewings. If you can get through it all in one go then you're a legend.

Ben

That Norwegian Guy (or two)...

Flicking through YouTube a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a few clips from a Norwegian guy playing the Autoharp. Actually I found two channels but I 'think' that the two people are actually the same person. They both uploaded around the same time, they're both the same age, they both play the same music and they're both Norwegian. The only reason I have a 1/2% doubt about them being the same person is only because the video quality isn't the greatest.
This is where I first heard The Wildwood Flower and absolutely loved it. I couldn't tell you whether the guy was playing it correctly or if it sounds anything like how it is meant to but it really struck a chord with me. I really enjoyed all of these guys' clips, both on the Autoharp and the Guitar.
Here's a couple of clips, one from each of the channel's / people. I'm sure you'll enjoy them...



And now here's The Storms Are On The Ocean...I seem to prefer this Channel over the previous one even though they are the same person and many of the songs are replayed under both names...


To check out the full playlists and listen to some more tunes please visit the individual channels....
Taterarne and Taterarneutenski
And if anyone knows where this guy is at then pass along my regards. He hasn't been onto YouTube in three years so I doubt I'd get any response passing on my compliments on there but I certainly enjoyed hearing him play. I am a great believer in letting people know when you've enjoyed their work.

Until next time...take care,
Ben

PS. I really don't know why I keep thinking maybe they're different  people. At least one of the clips has the same embossed red wallpaper in the background.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Quickly checking in...re. tuning

Just wanted to let y'all know that my second attempt at tuning went much quicker and more painlessly last night. I wish that I could say that the instrument actually stayed in tune but alas not 100%, still it did stay closely in tune with only the slightest uncertainty showing on the AutoTuner when I went through the notes again at the end. Much better than the first attempt where everything went completely out of tune five minutes after I'd tuned it. If I keep up a daily tune it will, I hope, eventually remain nicely tuned - at least for the whole day (aaah...if wishes were horses).

I don't know if anyone else finds this but there was something peculiar that I noticed. When I strummed a string sometimes another string of the same note would also start vibrating all of its own accord. Am I going insane? I could well be.
It was especially noticeable with several of my G notes, where my Bass G string would suddenly come to life, and I was left wondering why when I was holding down the string I had plucked I could still hear a vibration/note coming from the instrument???

Is it me? Do other Autoharps / instruments do this? As mentioned previously I am musically illiterate so there may well be a rational explanation for this or it could be something completely wacky.

Thoughts???
Ben

That's Country

My latest interest in the Autoharp has gone hand in hand with the resurgence of interest in another favourite of mine...country music. I've always greatly enjoyed Country Music and have looked forward to hearing it played but I am not one to very often go out and actively find music for myself. If I stumble across a song on the television or radio that I really love then I might go out and get that but I'm not very good at simply buying music just to see what it's like. As such, my music library is pitifully understocked and until recently did not include any country music even though I know that I enjoy it and would listen to it if I had it without fail.

One particular DVD/CD was responsible for rekindling my interest and sending me out looking for some Country music to add to my collection. That was the That's Country set that is currently on sale all around New Zealand (you can see it at Marbecks and all over the place ).


That's Country was a New Zealand Country Music television show during the 70's and 80's. It was filmed before a live audience in the Christchurch Town Hall and was hugely popular throughout New Zealand and the world. I believe it played in Nashville on televison and the show is considered one of, if not THE best country music show produced.
The format featured a range of changing faces from the world of Country, both local and international stars performed on the show. I, personally, cannot remember watching it as a child but all of my family who I talk to can remember watching and enjoying it. This compilation features 22 performances from the show and the DVD includes an introduction and conclusion by Ray Columbus, the show's host.
I put it on one late afternoon after work to check it out and loved it. It was great fun to watch and listen and I've continued to listen to many of the tracks several times since then.

My favourite numbers from the DVD/CD would have to be:
  • 2. Original Cast Recording - Try A Little Kindness
  • 3. Suzanne Prentice - It's a Heartache
  • 6. The Topp Twins - Dolly Parton
  • 10. Original Cast Recording - Rockabilly Medley (Then He Kissed Me)
  • 12. Maria Dallas - Tumblin' Down
  • 14. Patsy Riggir - Coal Miner's Daughter
  • 15. Brendan Dugan - Smokey Mountain Rain
If you get a chance then I would highly recommend checking it out.

Cheers till next time,
Ben

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

It's First Tune...sort of...

Yesterday, after receiving my new Chromaharp, I took it out of its box, and after admiring it and lightly strumming the strings in an entirely random pattern decided to get right in and tune it. So I grabbed my handy Belcat Chromatic Tuner, set it up on my desk and got to work.
One of the first things I had to do was to figure out how to hold my Chromaharp comfortably...this is still a work in progress.  I had also read that it was a good idea to alternate which strings you tune rather than going in a straight progrssion from Lower Octave to Higher. My sieve-like memory being what it is, I couldn't remember the pattern of strings to tune. I made the decision to work from the outside to the centre, alternating from side to side.

I plucked the first string, supposedly an F, and the tuner showed up a C. That's alright however, I was well aware that the instrument would need a good tune-up as it hadn't been used in some time. I quickly learned how very fine each adjustment needs to be unless you want to make a massive difference. Here was me winding like my life depended on it and massively over-shooting my mark.
I did get better as the evening progressed and became slightly more adept at making the ever-so-slight adjustments  needed to bring each string into perfect harmony. I quickly discovered that the strings were not in as good a condition as I had hoped. One especially has been replaced by a completely different type of instrument wire. It sounded fine but I am definitely going to need to replace the string set at some point. Something else to mail-order from America I imagine.

I also came to the realisation that this instrument is going to teach me good posture, whether I want it or not. Just tuning the harp became almost back-breaking. I can only attribute this to sitting and holding the harp in the wrong position.

The biggest disappointment was when I got to the end of the strings to tune and on the off chance I plucked one of my 'tuned' strings at random. The poor thing was no longer in tune. It wasn't off the mark by much but it was off. I can only assume that because the Chromaharp has not been tuned or played in some time that the strings have 'hardened' and may take some time to re-settle. I  can see that I am going to have to tune and re-tune the instrument constantly until the strings 'warm up' again.

I was very impressed with my AutoTuner during the whole process I must admit. It did a fantastic job and it's display was easy to read and clearly showed how I needed to tune it. The Chromaharp as well was a breeze to adjust with the Tuning Wrench but as previously mentioned very touchy. On several occasions I had to apply only the tiniest amount of pressure to align the tuning but it was a very fine line between getting it right and wildly overshooting the mark.

I'm just about to head off and tune it again...hopefully this time it will stay in tune for longer than twenty minutes (one can hope)...take care,
Ben

I've Bought One!!!

I've bought it!

Rather, I've bought one!
...My first!
...My very own Autoharp!
Now, I await the derision of the International Autoharp Community.
It wasn't the best buy (in terms of what I should have started with) and I have gone into the situation fully aware that it is only a temporary starting point. I will have to upgrade my purchase in the near future, but I just knew that if I didn't get an instrument that I could do something with now, then I might have lost interest and given up on the idea. I am a fickle creature.

I would have been over the moon to be able to have ordered a genuine Autoharp from Oscar Schmidt or a true American Luthier-made instrument. Without a few hard months of saving I'm not going to be able to get one of those for a while though. Not with exchange rates, shipping fees, a mortgage to pay and a house to renovate.
With all of this in mind I've had to set my sights somewhat lower and of course overshadowing everything is the fact that new Autoharps / Chorded Zithers are not available to buy in New Zealand.
So it is that my first instrument is a hand-me-down, bought off the web. It is also decidedly not American. I would have liked a genuine American instrument but I could not find any trace of an American Autoharp for sale in my part of the country. Only one type actually appears to be widely available (second-hand) in New Zealand. That is the Japanese Tokai Gakki Chromaharp. I have a sneaking suspicion that at one time these instruments may have been taught in schools and as such bulk numbers of them have found their way out into New Zealand homes, now hidden under dust sheets at the back of a garage or two.

There were a few Tokai Gakki's to choose from on TradeMe but eventually I bid on one that looked in clean and reasonable condition, came with a tuning wrench (which most of them didn't) and the seller assured me that the harp showed no sign of warping or cracking. The felts were also reported to be in good condition.

Apart from several Tokai Gakki Chromaharps available there was also the choice of an 'old black box'. That is, an antique Autoharp with six chords and beautiful decoration, but no doubt wholly unsuitable as a learner instrument and possibly only good as a piece of bric-a-brac without substantial restoration.
The other option, for which I was sorely tempted, was a Korean, twenty-one chord, nearly new Samick Chromaharp. In this instance, the bidding went well above a hundred dollars (it's now holding around the $250 mark I believe). I reasoned with myself that whatever I purchased I would want to upgrade to a new Autoharp sooner rather than later and as such it didn't make much sense to throw money after something that is only a temporary stopgap.

So here I am, my new-old 15 chord Tokai Gakki Chromaharp arrived well packaged yesterday. I was so pleased to take it out and hold it. It certainly has some weight to it. I'm hoping that as a beginner instrument for learning the basics it will do nicely.

I'm weighing up my options in regards to which Autoharp I will eventually replace it with. My current thought is an Oscar Schmidt OS73C Reissue, possibly customised by d'Aigle - at least to start with since an Oscar Schmidt (customised or not) is still a slightly more cost effective option than a custom made harp to begin with.

Anyway, I digress...I will leave the rest for future posts. Including posting some pics of my new acquisition.

Till next time...take care,
Ben

Monday, 17 January 2011

Buying an AutoTuner (...a Chromatic one...must remember the chromatic)

In my fervent belief that I will soon be the owner of an Autoharp I went out and bought an Electronic AutoTuner the other day. I'd been lookling at tuning demonstrations on YouTube and reading a couple of articles on it. Now, I am quite musically illiterate and haven't approached musical instruments for many years. As such I am also very much unaware of all of the tools that are available to musicians. I had nightmares about how I was meant to tune this instrument, especially with my tin ear. (I assumed I would be paying to have it done at a music store)

And then I came across the words AutoTuner!!!

Could there be such a thing? Did it really exist? Was it actually affordable (especially in New Zealand where nothing else is ever close to the price available internationally)?

So I went on a hunt...Or rather I took a walk down to Begg's Music Centre on my lunch break. A guy in there actually took an interest and asked what I was looking for and before I knew it he was showing me a couple of examples of Chromatic Tuners (I didn't really know much about these pieces of equipment but I did know to ask for a chromatic model). The salesguy recommended the Belcat BC-850 as their most popular tuner and at $34.00 it wasn't about to break the bank (YAY!).
So that's the one I bought. 'Cause I'm a sucker for buying based on someone else's recommendation rather than my own common sense.


Now looking back, I admit, I really should have chosen the other tuner he had shown me; this was a 'clip' model that would have attached to the tuning pins. The model that I chose has a microphone input instead, so not a really good option if I ever decide to tune my autoharp in a loud area. Still, it was easy to use and has a large display so for first time tuning I think that it will do the trick. I do know that I will have to invest in one of the clip variety as well, but I'm just putting that out of my mind for the time being.

As an aside, while I was in the store I also had a look at some thumb and finger picks. Only one variety of acrylic thumb pick and I could either choose metal or acrylic finger picks. Now I had read that it's recommended that you should use a plastic thumb pick and metal finger picks. Alas my fingers appear to be eerily small and they didn't have any metal finger picks that would fit me as they'd just sold out of the smallest size and I would have to wait a week or two as the ordering guy was on holiday. It didn't even look as though they kept many anyway, I suppose they mustn't be a big seller in little old Christchurch. Still I'll wait - I went to another store, The ROCKSHOP and all that they could offer was an acrylic option.

The very helpful staff member at Begg's did make apparent how few 'alternative' instruments enter the shop because near the end of our converstaion I happened to ask if they stocked a Tuning Wrench (as I thought I might need to source one if it isn't included with my autoharp). The guy immediately went to a drawer and got out a winder for a guitar. Through our whole conversation he'd taken it for granted that I wanted the tuner, the picks and the wrench for a guitar. At least he didn't give me a blank stare when I corrected his mistake and mentioned the Autoharp.
I can say that it was a genuine mistake though. He'd demonstrated the Chromatic Tuner to me using a guitar and judging by the large number of guitars and ukeleles that make up many of the music stores around the city, it is a fair assumption that most people are playing them.

So now, I have my tuner, I've got my eye on the picks, now all I need is the instrument itself - aaah...priorities!

Till next time...take care,
Ben

PS. Here's one YouTube clip of an Autoharpist taking you through how to tune your instrument. It's a really good overview so enjoy... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3e0F2THjEHo

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Playing Dylan

YouTube is a virtual Autoharp Concert I have decided. As I wait to purchase my own Autoharp I have been getting inspired and entranced by watching performers on YouTube strut their stuff. Some I love, some not so much, but whichever way I feel I thank each and every one of them for putting themselves out there and publishing their performances on the site. It has been a pleasure to watch many of the clips posted and I keep finding more and more.
I am hoping that I will be brave enough to record a few of my own performances and put them on YouTube over the coming months so that you can see my progress and I can add to the Autoharp community on the web with a bit of myself.

I am a Bob Dylan fan, I just love his music and have spent chunks of my life listening to his performances in my over-obsessive way. Knowing this, I wanted to share with you a clip from YouTube of a wonderful performance on the Autoharp of The Times They Are A Changin'.
I ran across this clip and it just really seemed to grab at me so enjoy...


What did I tell ya? Was it as good for you as it was for me?

Ben

GUP2MDXB3T95

Nails On A Blackboard

Just briefly...me and singing....

Short Answer: I Don't because I Can't

As mentioned at the top of this blog I am a musically challenged and potentially tone deaf person. My singing voice is too tragic even for Singstar and I know it. I would like to think it is simply a result of not having to sing much up until this point and is a fault that I will be able to rectify with practice, practice, practice.
I would definitely like to be able to sing and am hoping that I might develop a singing voice at some point in the future. It would certainly be nice when I do learn the Autoharp to be able to sing along to it, at least for the odd song.

I am in a desperate situation however, and apart from God Defend New Zealand (the national anthem) and drunken renditions of Ten Guitars I'm almost afraid to sing. I do not believe that when I do attempt to sing that my voice stays anywhere near in-key and I believe that my voice also quavers, no matter what I seem to do to try and hold it steady.
It got to the point where I was walking through Whitcoulls (bookstore) the other day and I was drawn to the bright yellow and black cover of the cringe-worthy "Dummies Guide to Singing". I'm still half debating whether or not I might need to invest in it...how tragic!

My lack of vocal talent is certainly not new and I have known about it for many years. Back in the day, when I was around eight or thereabouts the principal/choir mistress of the school that I went to was taking our class unexpectedly one day and volunteers were asked to audition for the school choir. Now as I was well aware that my voice was not of any discernible quality I chose not to participate in the auditions. That was not good enough however and as everyone was filing out after class I was singled out by the principal to stay behind...sure enough she wanted me to give singing a go. I am sure she had the best of intentions, knowing that I was a shy person she was no doubt doing her utmost to get me to participate in school activities (something that I was never keen on at any point during my education - get in / get out, such was my motto) or perhaps she was just trying to fill the choir rota??? Who would know.
So there I stood, with the principal playing the piano beside me, and I lifted my juvenile voice up and sang in my most impressive manner. I truly did my best to perform well, I was not trying to purposefully blow it. I sang my song, and it came to an end, and the principal looked at me, and...I did not get accepted into the choir.

Can you feel my eight year old heart break as I trudged out of that classroom?

Till next time,
Ben

PS. Hence why I need the book!!!

More on The Wildwood Flower (...and Emmylou Harris)

After my last post I had to follow it up with a quick story about my obsession with The Wildwood Flower. I'm not quite to the point of telling you where I first heard and fell in love with it. Suffice to say it is a song that struck a deep chord in me and even though I only heard it for the first time recently I really feel that the tune speaks to me. I am really looking forward to playing it on the autoharp...although certainly not singing it as my voice is like nails on a blackboard!

Anyway, back to the story, I have become so obsessed by the song that the very words "Wildwood Flower" seem to jump out and entice me wherever I happen upon them. I happened upon them the other day in fact...I was wandering through Marbecks (New Zealand CD & DVD Store), flicking through the Country section that was pitifully small and padded out with "ask the staff if you can't find it" signs everywhere. It was in that back corner of the store, jammed between World and Christian compilations that I spied Emmylou Harris' CD All I Intended To Be. Now although I haven't really gone out of my way to listen to her music in the past, I have always taken notice of the name. The reason that I recognise the name is from that seminal rock movie "The Last Waltz".
"The Finest of all Rock Movies!" - Newsweek
Emmylou Harris with The Band had sung one track on the movie - Evangeline - and I have watched that movie and that track many many times.

Continuing on, I saw this CD in Marbecks and something made me pick it up and have a look at it. What do you think I saw?

  • Track 6 - How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower

That was me done for, I had to have it! And so I bought it!
I have listened to it so many times over the last few days, it's a beautiful song and I just love it. Now something I should mention about my listening habits - when I like a song I listen to that song - ad nauseum. Not the CD...not a selection of songs...not once and then leave it for an hour or two...I will repeat a song over and over and over until the repeat button on my remote is worn down to a nub and the laser in the CD player has irreparably burned the song from the disc's surface.

But I definitely recommend the song and the CD. It's a beautiful selection of songs to listen to and while away some quiet time.

If you're in New Zealand then check it out here from Marbecks.

And because I'm obsessed with all that is YouTube, here's a clip of the song so that you can judge for yourselves...


Till laters,
Ben

Reese Witherspoon and her Wildwood Flower

I was flicking my way through a few websites the other day and came across one that mentioned that in "Walk The Line" Reese Witherspoon had played the Autoharp. Now I had seen this movie and yet I had absolutely no recollection of the scene that they were talking about. What makes it even worse was that I would have watched the movie after having seen "A Mighty Wind" and as such I really should have been on the look out for any sign of the Autoharp.
I've included below two clips of the performance that I found on YouTube so that you can enjoy it with me. The first clip shows the performance itself showing Reese playing the Autoharp as June Carter, I was chuffed to find out that the song she sings is The Wildwood Flower...


The next clip is the full song but sadly does not include the beautiful images of the Autoharp being played. I'm including it on the grounds that any excuse to listen to The Wildwood Flower is a good enough excuse. I have fallen in love with this song completely and utterly, more about the how's and why's later...for now here is The Wildwood Flower...


Till next time...take care,
Ben

My First Attempt...chuckling addendum

I wrote my last post very hastily this morning, and it still took me too long to put together. Anyway, I forgot to add one last anecdote regarding my trip out looking for autoharps, so just quickly as a final touch I thought that I would add the following...

When I entered the first music shop I found (and I believe the first music shop that I had ever been in my entire life), I searched in vain for some sign of an autoharp. Now generally I hate to approach the staff in a shop - I'm very much of the mentality that "If I can't find it then it doesn't exist". Nevertheless, in this instance I did ball up my courage and approach a staff member to ask whether or not they had any Autoharps...
The look I got back was one of complete incomprehension. The poor girl did not have any idea in the world what I was talking about or what an autoharp was.
I felt very sorry for her, even though technically I had only the most meagre grasp of what the instrument was myself. Still, her reaction did not bode well for my search.

Aaah the delusions of fools like me.

Catchya,
Ben

My First Attempt...

This is just a quick post about the first time that I tried to obtain an Autoharp.
I had been intrigued by seeing the instrument in "A Mighty Wind" and the idea of the Autoharp slowly percolated away in my brain. I didn't have any real intention of getting one but the concept of the instrument just seemed to ring out to me.
One day, this seemingly inconsequential image of the Autoharp, suddenly flared in my mind and I became hell-bent on seeing if you could actually purchase an Autoharp in New Zealand (please remember that I had almost no knowledge of the Autoharp at this time apart from what it should look like - I didn't even know if any company throughout the world still made them).
Over the course of several lunch breaks I then proceeded to hurriedly visit or phone most of the music shops that I could find in the central city of Christchurch. Mine was not an exhaustive search but in every case the answer was the same..."We had them a couple of years ago...but we can't get them now...try TradeMe and buy second hand"!

At the time one or two salespeople also mentioned the brand of Autoharp they were able to get a couple of years ago. If you'd asked me yesterday I would have said that the brand was Panasonic but I just googled Panasonic Autoharp and could not find anything that seemed to fit the bill, so obviously my mind has twisted what they had told me. After a bit of indepth soul-searching I have decided that what they probably had told me was that they had been stocking the Suzuki Autoharp - which from a quick google search is not truly an Autoharp at all but appears to be an electronic "version" that is compared to the Autoharp at times. I believe it's actual name is a Suzuki Omnichord.

The image above shows said Suzuki Omnichord, so even if the music shops that I visited had still stocked them it would not have been of any use to me. In fact it could have just confused me more...especially if they had kept referring to it as an Autoharp.

So that brief excursion to find an Autoharp ended in disappointment. At the time I was living in a flat without an internet connection and as such I didn't go online to search TradeMe or do any further research. It just was not the right time yet.

That time is NOW!!!

Until next time...take care,
Ben

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Where It All Began

Hello there,

As part of these first few posts, I thought that I would share a few of the inspirations and gentle prods that have pushed me towards acquiring and learning how to play the Autoharp.
This was an instrument that several years ago, I did not even know existed, and now it has become an obsession. Getting to the point where I really decided that I wanted one has been a torturously slow process and my head has been turned by many other potential "fads" up until now.
Anyway, back to my story...

The first time that I ever saw an Autoharp was when I watched the fantastic movie "A Mighty Wind", and saw the incomparable Catherine O'Hara playing the Autoharp in the guise of the folk musician Mickey Crabbe.
Here is a short snippet that I found on YouTube from the movie showing one of Mickey's performances as part of the loveable folk duo, Mitch & Mickey........


I was intrigued by this unusual instrument for the simple fact that I had never seen it before.
It was some time later that I learnt from watching the Special Features segment on my "A Mighty Wind" DVD that this instrument was even called an Autoharp (I also found out that Catherine O'Hara had learnt how to play and did actually play the Autoharp in the movie, rather than just mimicking along).

That is where I first learned about the existence of such a thing as the Autoharp. I had no real concept of what it was or even how it was played except for the fact that I liked the look of it.

More next time...take care,
Ben