"It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself."  ~ Johann Sebastian Bach


Here's some stories on the various instruments we enjoy. You can go to the Listen page to view some video samples.

Celtic Harp

Celtic harp

Compared with complex symphonic concert harps with all their foot pedals, internal cables, and precision machined mechanisms, the Celtic harp (also called folk harp or lever harp) relies on a much simplified arrangement of hand-actuated levers at each string to permit the instrument to be played in different keys. Celtic harp music has been an important emblem of Irish nationalism since the 10th century. With harp music being viewed as a key component of the Irish and Scots' national identity, the British monarchy tried to eliminate harp playing beginning in the early 1500s. In the 1650s, Oliver Cromwell ordered all harps throughout Ireland to be destroyed, and Queen Elizabeth I added the royal touch of a death sentence to all harpers. It is fortunate for us that the instrument and some of the music in various forms survived.

(Irma) In late summer of 2001, Scott and I decided to visit a local music store we hadn't explored before. There, along one wall, stood a number of harps. As I looked at each one, stroking the beautiful woods, listening to the quiet tones, the store owner saw my interest and asked if I had any questions. I looked at the different colors of strings, and said, "How do you know where you are?" Of course, he was only too happy to explain! I signed up for two group classes, and had bought a harp in time to play for Christmas! I was hooked, fascinated, enchanted.

It's easy to see the large pedal harps, and be intimidated. The intimacy of playing a smaller harp was amazing. My 33-string Hidden Valley harp and I bonded over beloved Christmas carols, but it was when I learned Greensleeves that I knew I would love playing for the rest of my life.

Several years later I found myself teaching an intro to Celtic harp, focusing specifically on people who have no music background, and unable to read music. It is so rewarding to watch others fall under the spell of the magical harp.

Hammered Dulcimer

Hammered dulcimer

There is contention if the hammered dulcimer originated in Persia and was brought to Western Europe between 900 and 1200 by the Moors and the returning Crusaders, or if it came about in the 15th century when the technology of drawing wire was invented which would have resulted in stronger strings needed by such an instrument. The first recording sighting of a hammered dulcimer in America was in Massachusetts in 1717. By the 1850s, they were being produced commercially in New York.

(Scott) The first time I saw a hammered dulcimer, I didn't even know that's what we were looking at. One of Irma's college friends living out of state was visiting, and showed us a funny many-stringed instrument that she struck with sticks. I forgot all about the experience for years. When Irma started playing Celtic harp in 2001, I often played opposite her on 12-string guitar because we loved how the bright and percussive guitar contrasted with the harp's mellowness. We enjoyed listening to and playing Celtic music, and on recordings we often heard harp paired with something called a hammered dulcimer, and loved the sound - for the very same reasons I liked 12-string guitar with harp. In listening to the cassette tapes (yes, we still have hundreds of those), we had no idea what a hammered dulcimer was, trying to imagine what it must look like or how it was played to produced such beautiful sounds. In 2003, we attended a concert by Willson & McKee who were passing through Albuquerque, and Kim McKee played some tunes on her hammered dulcimer. From recordings, I already knew I loved the sound. Upon seeing it live, I just had to find out about them! Before the year's end, I had ordered a custom dulcimer from Russell Cook (Masterworks) in Oklahoma. I was so anxious to play, I bought a pair of hammers right away and had a local print shop laminate a full-scale drawing I'd made of the string layout so I could practice for the few months it took for my instrument to be built.

Mountain Dulcimer

Mountain dulcimer

The German Scheitholt that arrived in America in the early 18th century is thought to be the predecessor of the mountain dulcimer (also called Appalachian dulcimer or lap dulcimer). It is one of the very few instruments felt to have originated in America. Though there were a few examples of commercial makers prior to the late 19th century, mountain dulcimers for the most part were made by individuals supplying their families and close neighbors with instruments.

(Irma) I've often teased, especially when visiting areas of the country teeming with dulcimer players, that Albuquerque is far from being the dulcimer capitol of the world. While the Southwest has small pockets of players, there are very few festivals. I missed the experience of growing up in Arkansas, but my older siblings lived on the farm in an area where my family goes back generations. For whatever reasons, my family's music traditions included fiddles, guitars, mandolins, but not dulcimers. My sister was given a mountain dulcimer one year. It ended up as a wall decoration. Sound familiar? Because I had only a few experiences hearing the mountain dulcimer, in my ignorance, I didn't view it as a "serious" musical instrument. Fall of 2005, Scott bought me a quality mountain dulcimer for our anniversary. The following month we made it out to Oklahoma for our first dulcimer festival (Russell Cook's last Sawdust Festival). This was my first experience seeing nationally acclaimed mountain dulcimer players, and I was greatly impressed by the demonstrated skills, and the beauty and versatility of the instrument. I was hooked! Here in Albuquerque, I viewed one of my friends, Michael Carlson, as the Pied Piper of mountain dulcimer in New Mexico. He encouraged so many people, young and old, to start playing, and was a passionate promoter of the instrument. He was teaching a mountain dulcimer group class when he had a recurrence of cancer. Knowing my teaching experience and love for music, he asked me if I would finish the class for him. (What a baptism by fire, being an inexperienced dulcimer player myself at the time.) Michael passed away before I completed his class.

Thus began my journey falling in love with the mountain dulcimer. I have envied those of you in areas where teachers abound, where there is such a rich tradition of dulcimer music. Since we don't have a lot of advanced instructors locally, we started driving to festivals: Steve Eulberg's Colorado festival in February, the Mountain View, Arkansas Dulcimer Jamboree in April, and Dana Hamilton's Glen Rose, Texas festival in May. In September 2011 we made it to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, for our first time which was absolutely amazing. Dulcimer festivals have been a wonderful experience for us, and never fail to inspire me to try new styles and techniques in my own arranging. A few of us here in New Mexico also came up with an idea for bringing some of the best dulcimer performers and teachers to us: the New Mexico Dulcimer Festival!

Bowed Psaltery

Bowed psaltery

(Scott) While psalteries have been around since Biblical times, the triangular layout of modern instruments only goes back to the 1940s in Germany where they were used as simple instruments to teach music to school children. If you hang around the dulcimer community for very long, you'll eventually see a bowed psaltery. As they use similar hardware and building techniques as hammered dulcimers, there are a number of instrument builders who make both. The ethereal sound is lovely in small doses, but as we say, it can also make small children cry and pets run away. We've acquired a lot of our instruments as gifts for various occasions. One year for Christmas, Irma gave me a bowed psaltery so it could come and live with us. If you want to see Winter Harp's amazing one-of-a-kind bass bowed psaltery, click here.

Tongue Drum

Tongue drum

(Scott) We've scheduled the music stage at the annual Weems Artfest in Albuquerque where you can see all sorts of paintings, sculptures, photography, clothing items, even custom furniture. Several years ago we were walking around to see what there was to see, when we heard the most beautiful musical sounds coming from the far end of the extensive art space, easily carrying above the den of hundreds of gabbing art lovers. It sounded like a marimba, yet different. We followed our ears to find Michael and Joah Thiele's hardwood drum display booth, and looked with amazement to see these wooden instruments, some no bigger than a small shoe box. They also make remarkable bass register instruments built into coffee tables, and have done multiple station instruments built into dining tables. We couldn't believe how wondrously the notes carried, and how well tuned the instruments were. We discussed their drums with them at length, and between the four of us, probably played every instrument they had on display. Over the next many months, the beautiful sounds kept gnawing at us. We researched that many cultures had drums like this, often called slit drums (because you saw slits out of a wood plank to form the sounding tongues). We'd previously seen hollowed out logs and such using the same principle, but never with such pitch precision. We identified numerous tongue drum builders in the US, with the Theile's work most highly regarded. We placed an order with them inside of a year for a 12-note model, Caribbean tuning, in the key of D (using a standard 440 Megahertz tuning standard). They normally make this size of drum in the key of C, but to be played in ensemble with our other folk instruments, the sharped key of D gives us more options. From being able to try out lots of their instruments from our first meeting, we selected African Padauk for the soundboard and Santos Mahogany for the sound box. Joah told us the mahogany came from the floor boards of an old torn down building. After a year of playing ours where the instrument could settle in, we sent it back to Joah where he did a touch up to the tuning which remains spot on today. Every time we've seen the Thiele's since, they show us more examples of their art, all sorts of new and intriguing tuning schemes, different woods, shapes and sizes. If we were rich and famous, we'd have no problem finding a bunch of these to bring home. Irma usually plays it with four mallets (two each hand) so she can get harmony notes.



(Irma) I'm a frustrated drummer. As a young teen, someone once told me that "good girls" didn't play the drums. I was too young to follow up on that theory at the time, but the love of percussion has always stayed with me. Tambourines, wood blocks, even a fly swatter on cardboard (another band story - you had to have been there) - I enjoyed my forays into creative timing. It was at the shop that I found my harp that I also found the bodhran (Irish frame drum). Intriguing. I studied music videos, watched different styles, listened to rhythms, even took a workshop. What fun! It's so dry in the New Mexico desert, I have to moisten the goat skin drum head before I play so it will loosen for a good, deep sound. I tell my audiences I'm watering my goat. Nothing gets the toe tapping and blood pumping like the bodhran, except, perhaps, bagpipes. But that's for another day!

Recorders and Whistles

Whistles and recorders
(Left) Soprano Recorder, (Right) D Tin Whistle

(Scott) Recorders were played a lot in medieval times through the baroque era, but fell out of interest in the 18th century when modern orchestral woodwinds took over. They were revived in the 20th century, both when early music reenactors started playing them, and as an "easy" instrument to teach school children about music. We've got a friend, Dale Taylor, who ran the national office of the American Recorder Society in the late 1970s. Dale has built museum quality reproductions of renaissance and baroque woodwinds including recorders, traverse, cornetti, bassoons, shawms, rackets and clarinets (and more things most folks have never heard of), restores original early instruments, and is recognized internationally as an author and performer. I tell you what, if you ever get to hear him play recorder, "easy instrument" would be the last thing to ever cross your mind.

One year for my birthday while in high school, my oldest brother gave me a pretty poor quality wooden alto recorder. I must have driven my family crazy with all the squeaks it took for me to learn how to play it. Within a year, I had bought a good quality plastic alto, and played a lot of folk and classical music on it, even jazz. There was a wonderful little music store here in Albuquerque years ago, run by John Truitt. He was an early music enthusiast, and founded Musica Antigua de Albuquerque. I was able to get a good soprano recorder from him early in our marriage. Just a few years ago, Irma bought me a tiny sopranino recorder that I'm having an absolute blast playing. It takes hardly any air, almost plays itself, and has such a sweet high tone.

whistles and recorders
(Left to Right) Sopranino, Soprano, and Alto Recorders,
D Low Whistle, A Whistle, and some C, D, and Eb Whistles

One anniversary, Irma bought me a set of tin whistles (also called penny whistles or Irish whistles). We'd been playing Celtic music for a number of years, and Irma liked the haunting sound of the whistle compared to my spry recorders. My whistle collection has grown, and I like playing them along with Irma on harp, mountain dulcimer, or piano. One Christmas, Irma also bought me a cheap mail order practice chanter. This is the musical instrument part of a set of bagpipes that plays the melody. I wasn't convinced what we got was an actual musical instrument, and all I was able to accomplish with it was make dying duck sounds. I didn't have any more luck when I tried out a good modern phenolic practice chanter that the local pipe bands were recommending. Because it was yet again different fingering from my recorders and tin whistles, and I've heard stories of maintenance nightmares from folks who play various small pipes, I've put off pursuing such for the time being.

Concertina and Melodica

Concertina and melodica
(Left) Melodica, (Right) Concertina

(Scott) My interest in accordions and other free reed instruments started back in junior high school with a gift from my mom. She has always loved finding weird things at garage sales, and one day she presented me with a busted up Hohner piano accordion in the original dilapidated case. With the typical enthusiasm and skill deficit of youth, I repaired it, and sometimes would pull it out for school friends to amaze them that I could actually play. Irma got tired of us lugging the ugly thing around early in our marriage, and sold it at a garage sale for $5.00. At least 20 years later, we were shocked to learn that mom hadn't bought it at a garage sale. It was my great great grandmothers! Irma remarked that this would have been nice to know, and it just made for a better story.

A lot of accordion was played in 1940s cowboy music, and we had a tune in our cowboy band that we wanted that sound on. Irma bought me a low end melodica. This is a late 1950's invention for the non-affluent, essentially the right hand side of a piano accordion that you play via blowing into a tube without the bellows or left hand chord/bass buttons. It get's some really fun reactions from audiences! Over time, it's gotten more and more out of tune, and I really wanted something with the free reed sound where I could play and sing at the same time. I can't tolerate the weight of a suspended accordion anymore, so I started researching what other instruments might work. I read about concertinas with increasing interest. They were real common in the middle to late 1800s, started to fall from popularity around World War I, then began being played again during the 1960s/1970s folk revival. I mentioned above our inadvertent selling of my great great grandmother's accordion. One day I told mom I was researching concertinas, and she told me she remembered my great Aunt Elizabeth saying my great great grandmother also played them. That cinched it, in memory of her lost accordion, I had to start playing concertina.

There are two primary kinds of concertinas, English and Anglo (also called Anglo German). English concertinas were the more refined and expensive instruments in history, and played the same note whether you pulled or pushed the bellows. Anglo concertinas were played more in social music, and is the kind still played most in Ireland. Besides getting a different note when you push or pull the bellows with the same button depressed, there are buttons on both sides, and melodies cross from one side to the other. This was the kind I wanted to play. I encountered a problem in that there are only a handful of concertina builders throughout the world. New instruments are really expensive with waiting lists measured in years. One-hundred-plus year old used ones (even ones that were junk in their day) are hard to find and cost gobs to recondition. Handmade concertina reeds substantially add to the cost of new and reconditioned instruments. To try to get a new generation of players going, in the late 1990's a few builders started making hybrid instruments with concertina designs and mechanisms, but using relatively inexpensive mass-produced accordion reeds. This brought the price down a lot, but still too much for a secondary instrument for us. So the search was on to find a used hybrid concertina in good shape. Through hours and hours of internet reading, I found The Button Box in Sunderland, Massachusetts, where Richard Morse's staff were building hybrids. They were wonderful to work with, and within a few months of my initial contact, they got hold of a used hybrid they built in 2000 in the keys and fingering I wanted. It had lived in several places around the country, and they reconditioned it to good-as-new shape for me. It took a long while to get up to speed with it as I personally didn't know anyone who played Anglo concertina. I've since met a great elderly woman in Arizona (friend of a music friend in Colorado) that plays, and we got to play together for an afternoon in 2011 when they were passing through Albuquerque.


(Left) Irma on marimbula, (Right) Two rows of wood tongues

At a point in time, our original upright bass player in our cowboy band, Wing & a Prayer, left to do other things. We had to go about 6 months without a bass on the bottom end which really left the music lacking. I don't know if you live in a place where acoustic bass players grow on trees, but here in New Mexico, they're so rare we know some bass players that are in 3 or 4 different bands at the same time. In the timeframe we were looking for another bass player, we had gone up to Fort Collins, Colorado, to the dulcimer festival there. We walked into a large room where a bunch of folks were jamming, heard the nice bottom end of a bass thumping away, and scanned the crowd to locate the player. There wasn't a bass to be seen! What we did see was a funky tongue drum thing that looked like a mbira on steroids (Irma calls it her alien pod). We couldn't believe that in the ensemble setting, it really did sound like an upright bass. Hmmm, don't need a semi to cart it around, and no learning curve for a fretless instrument. We came home from that trip thinking there might be hope yet for our band getting another "bass" player. Thus began our research into bass boxes, often called rumba boxes. We found that they are usually square in shape (like a suitcase), with metal tines, and you sit on them to play. Scads of cultures have things like this. Normally, they only have a single row of tines, giving you barely enough notes to get by. Irma loved the two-row chromatic instrument we'd seen in Colorado because you could add walking bass lines to the standard boom chuck, and play in any key. We ultimately contacted Michael C. Allen of Cloud Nine Musical Instruments in Ohio, and purchased one of his 13-note models (he calls them marimbulas, and has a nice write up about them on his site). Possibly unique to his instruments, he uses wood tongues (ash, like baseball bats) rather than metal tines. He makes 7-, 9-, and 13-note versions, and also builds hammered dulcimers. While he says folks normally play it like a regular rumba box with it standing on the ground vertically (he can even install an ajustable bass foot peg), we did like we saw in Colorado and set it on a hammered dulcimer stand so we could face the audience and sing at the same time. It's very easy to get started with. We've taken folks that have never played any kind of bass before and had them going at it in a few minutes. Like any instrument, with some time investiments, one can get pretty good with it. It gets a full-time workout in our band where Irma's brother-in-law normally plays it, and we use it for a few of our tunes in our duet.



(Irma) I can't remember a time when singing and playing the guitar wasn't a part of my life. Mom taught me and my two sisters to play guitar, and we'd learn the popular songs by ear, listening to the radio or record player. Early on, my hands were too small to fit around the neck of the guitar, so Mom would tune it to an open-G, and I'd use a wooden pencil to chord it like a dobro. In fifth grade, my home room teacher had a class that met after school, and I would stay and play along. By that time I didn't need Mom to retune the guitar, and had my own favorite songs to learn. When I'd get 'stuck' trying to figure out the chords, Mom would bluntly tell me to listen and work to find just the right one. She wouldn't tell me, she'd make me find it for myself!

I would listen to Judy Collins and dream of growing up to sound just like her. Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, I fell in love with ballads, and enjoyed playing and singing stories that would capture the imagination. Just like reading a good book.

My first guitar student was my best friend in sixth grade. She wanted to play guitar with me, and her parents bought her this huge 12-string. She had to work so hard to press down those strings with her young hand. But she learned quickly, and we shared many hours of music together. Little did I know that forty years later I would still be teaching people to play and sing with their guitars! And did I mention, Scott got me a pink electric guitar at a point in time!

(Scott) My two oldest brothers graduated high school in the 1960s, and listened to lots of the Beatles, Santana, other guitar-based groups. I remember when one of them bought a junkie used electric guitar, put a fantastic candy emerald green paint job on it with about a thousand coats of clear, and made a lot of noise playing it through my dad's stereo console (a huge piece of furniture stereo aficionado's would build to house early high fidelity equipment). This fad passed, and they grew up and left home. My closest brother had an acoustic guitar that he never did much with, and one day in 10th grade one of my good friends asked me if I wanted to learn to play. I was doing lots of vocal and keyboard music at the time, so I thought "why not?". I think she showed me perhaps 3 or 4 chords, and I was lit on fire. I bought my first guitar (a cruddy used 1969 Harmony H82 Rebel semi-hollow body electric) for $60 at a pawn shop, and my dad sprung $100 for a low end Univox amp. I would spend hours every day practicing just a single chord change, or doing lead rifts over and over and over. With a good group of friends, we'd play at school assemblies, and I also played a lot at church. The summer before college, I found a job doing architectural drafting (and I could do that at midnight), so I had an all-electric band named Sweetlife, and was playing guitar perhaps 8 hours a day. When I met Irma in college, she was leading a principally acoustic folk group that I started to perform with on electric guitar. Within a year, I was bit by the 12-string bug, and put a significant amount of effort into 12-string acoustic guitar for about 20 years until a severe wrist injury (non-music related) put that out of the running for the most part. We've always had a steel 6-string guitar around, and I still do a significant amount of playing on that. In my early 40s, I got the bug to be playing electric guitar more (still playing my junky Harmony), and somehow developed a fetish for vintage Gibson SG solid body guitars. I spent countless hours researching every model ever made, and trying to find a good example to purchase. In this timeframe, we had all our guitar work done by a wonderful luthier and performer, Dennis "Dill" Dillon. He challenged me on why I wanted to limit myself to the sounds you could get out of a SG, and started trying to convince me that I needed a dual voice guitar (humbucker electric guitar pickups with single coil capability, and piezo bridge acoustic pickups). It was nearing my birthday (planned event for a guitar purchase), and he sent me home one day with his silver leaf flamed maple Godin guitar that was one of his personal instruments, just to "see" what I thought. He knew beforehand what the outcome would be. The guitar never returned to his store, and after 27 years of playing my cruddy Harmony, I bought a "grown up" electric guitar! We actually went through a stage where I played a lot of electric guitar (mellow jazz settings) with Irma on harp. Besides electric, 6-string and 12-string, there are a few tunes that I like to play nylon string guitar on.



(Irma) When I was in high school, my dad sold enough at work to win a certain number of points toward a prize he could choose from a company catalog. He let Mom choose the prize. She decided upon a huge banjo that was so heavy we could barely hold it. Mom and I taught ourselves a few chords, and bought a strap so we could stand when playing. Wow. My neck would get sore and my left arm would fall asleep! While I played it occasionally through the years, I never really took to it due to the weight. Then, several years ago Scott bought me a lightweight Deering without the resonator. Yee-haw! Finally I could enjoy playing the banjo without causing pain and numbness to various body parts! I took a few lessons in claw hammer style, that didn't really take. I then took a single lesson from one of Scott's work friends who plays Scruggs style, and that got me going. Steve Martin, I am not. While I found I didn't have a million hours to perfect my playing, I did learn a few rolls, numerous chords, and Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Enough to have a blast adding a bit of seasoning to our music repertoire.

Mandolin and Octave Mandolin

Irma on mandolin
Irma (1977)

(Irma) Mandolin was another one of the instruments that we had at home when I was growing up. My folks back in Arkansas played, along with guitars and fiddles. We had a lovely inlaid flat-back and a pear-back that we bought in Germany. I learned enough chords to play in all the most popular keys. The great thing about the mandolin: it was small, and my hands just fit! My sisters and I would pick out a few tunes, but mostly we played chords when we were singing. With the climate change from Germany to New Mexico, they eventually dried up and became unplayable, so we've bought others to have around. I listen to people like Chris Thiele, and marvel that human hands can actually move that fast.

Scott on mandolin
Scott (1978)

(Scott) Growing up, I wasn't really exposed to bluegrass instruments or music, never thought about mandolin. My dad's father was a professional string band musician in Missouri who reportedly played anything and everything with strings, and my dad had a specific distaste for that style of music. Not for any aesthetic reasons, but because his bed was the living room couch, and when the band was over to practice, he couldn't go to bed when he wanted. He was a radio operator in World War II on Navy PBY Catalina and PBM Mariner flying boats, and my mom was an Army nurse. Their music was primarily big band, jazz, so mandolin just wasn't in my childhood experiences. In college, my roommate who was in Irma's band with me had a mandolin, and I had a few tunes I would play on it from time to time. Irma also had one from Germany that we'd play occasionally. As we got more and more into Celtic music, I developed a great appreciation for some of the fantastic bazouki playing by folks like Andy Irvine. Because the long neck of a bouzouki exceeds the reach of my small hands, I ended up getting an octave mandolin instead. I keep it tuned to GDAE, just like a regular mando.

Piano and Keyboard

Irma (1990)

(Irma) When Dad retired, we settled in a small town in south central New Mexico, Socorro. It's a college town, with the bulk of the population having something to do with New Mexico Tech. When I was in junior high school, one of the college students was going home back east for the summer, and needed to store her piano. My family offered to have it at our house. The piano was an old, blonde upright, a little worse for wear. But that instrument opened up a whole new world of music for me. Up to that point, I knew very little about music theory, reading music, scales, or anything other than playing and singing by ear. I started noodling around with it, figured out how to play guitar chords on the piano, and began to plink out melodies. The first song I learned to play with two hands (ooooooo!) was Nadia's Theme. Not because of the Olympic gymnast, but because it was the theme song to The Young and the Restless, a soap that I had started watching with Mom. I can't believe I'm actually admitting to having ever watched a soap. Nevertheless, the song was beautiful, and I had found yet another instrument to accompany my singing. Unlike the guitar, I found I could play in keys such as F, Bb, and Eb with ease. For the first time, I was playing with written music, as long as it had guitar chords! From that point, I was able to learn to decipher printed music: keys, time signatures, treble and bass clef. The mystery of music theory had begun to unravel.

When Scott came to New Mexico Tech, he wanted to bring his electric piano, but didn't have room in the dorm. As he was playing in my band, once again I offered to have it at our house. I didn't give it back to him until we were married. In the years since, I've played a lot of piano leading congregational singing, and do some duet or ensemble numbers with me on piano or keyboard.

(Scott) I grew up with 3 older brothers. As was the custom in those days, we had a family piano that was essentially a big piece of furniture to dust. (My mom's mother was a concert pianist, but it didn't rub off on her.) Back then, mom said when the other boys sat down at the piano and messed around, it just sounded like noise, but (ta da!) when I sat down, it sounded like music. (Later in life, one of my brothers tried out electric guitar and started playing piano by ear, and another brother has played some nice blues harmonica and guitar.) Because mom had a friend that was an organ teacher and not piano, they bought me a Thomas Color-Glo organ (novel feature for beginners where the keys could be lit up from underneath, revealing note names and chord patters), and I started lessons when I was four years old. For the first few years, I was so small that to play the pedal board, I had to wrap my right leg around the front stool leg to keep from falling off the bench and stretch my left leg down to reach the pedals. I played a lot. Sometimes mom would ask if I wanted to stop and go outside and play with my friends (did that a lot anyways), and I didn't understand - I was having fun! When I got into junior high school, I started playing high brow pipe organ in churches. Anywhere I went then, they had pianos but not organs. About the time I began getting into jazz, I started playing piano in addition to organ. In high school, I played a Fender Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 electronic piano in stage band, and my dad bought me a used 1960s Wurlitzer electric piano (model 140B - Karen and Richard Carpenter toured with one of these) that I used in bands. College was so intense (engineering) that I was able to keep up lots of guitar and singing, but piano fell by the wayside after one semester of stage band. I had dreamed for years about owning a synthesizer (now, we just call them keyboards), and approaching a decade of marriage, we finally bought a Korg DW-8000 synth that used the analog voice paradigm. We went through our electronic stage or midi stage of music, where we played a lot of synth and electric guitar. I also wrote numerous computer programs to communicate with the synth. Every once and a while I'll sit down at a keyboard and play just to show someone that I can, but it will be some future time I suspect when I get bit by that bug and start to play again for real.


Irma and Gretchen on dual fiddles

(Irma) Two of my uncles were fiddle builders, so it has always had a certain allure for me. Frankly, the reason it took so long for me to get to the fiddle was because I had so many other instruments that I loved to play. Then I met Gretchen Van Houten. Gretchen is one of those people who have only to walk into a room and an ordinary rehearsal becomes a party. Long past the point that she has to prove anything to anyone (1992 National Fiddle Champion), she calmly slouched into a chair, and proceeded to blow me away. She didn't need music, she didn't even need to know the song. Gretchen's playing blew a breath of fresh air, not only into the tunes, but into my heart. She'd play along for a while, then all of a sudden, she'd lean forward, get this tiny little smile on her face, then promptly leave us all in the dust. Just because she could. And it was thrilling for us mere mortals. Watching her play inspired me to dig into my roots and tap that fiddle blood in my family. I can never thank her enough for her patience. While still a beginner, every now and then, when I'm sawing along on Bonaparte's Retreat or Faded Love, I can close my eyes and feel like I'm truly a 'real live' fiddler. You should hear my rendition of Boil Them Cabbage Down. Stunning. So it's a work in progress, but the love of playing is already there, just waiting for my hands and schedule to catch up.

Some Other Things that We Play

There are a few other instruments that we don't play out with too often, and every year that passes, there are more things we want to play.


(Scott) The majority of music we're playing these days is entirely acoustic. We either amplify instruments with microphones or internal acoustic pickups. Every once and a while, we get to have an ensemble with horns (trumpet, trombone) or other setup where I get to play electric bass. I've never gotten into the 5-or-more string basses. I play a 4-string Fender Aerodyne Jazz Bass. I hate the gloss black finish as I have to wipe fingerprints off it anytime I want to play out. I picked it because it had the jazz bass/precision bass pickups I wanted, plus the body is made of basswood rather than alder so it's 30 percent lighter than a standard jazz bass.

(Irma) One summer Apple Mountain Music was offering an ukulele workshop for beginners. I had never been even slightly interested in the instrument before, but thought it might be a fun workshop to take. Something completely new and different; a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. I got to class, and was confronted with a lanky character in a Hawaiian shirt, braids, with a dazzling smile and an infectious laugh. Me and my borrowed Uke bonded over tunes and laughter; so much so, that I bought the instrument on my way out the door. I had never had so much fun! Michael Ve'Seart is an outstanding performer and teacher, and made the class a wonderful experience for all who attended. While it may not be part of our regular repertoire, I foresee an arrangement of "Tequila" in our future!