Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Chris Talley Trio in Iowa!

We had a great trip to Bettendorf, IA this past weekend.  It was a little difficult for me personally, due to the fact that I got food poisoning early in the week and didn't feel so great, but that didn't stop us from an outstanding performance!

I was asked to teach a workshop before our concert, and then we were to play three 15-minute sets during the school orchestra's performance of "Fiddles & Vittles."  This was actually a remake of Hee Haw, and it was wonderful!  Kudos to the orchestra director and assistant, Rob Sweeney and Sara Tinsman.  The workshop was a little different than what I usually teach due to the fact that I had violas and cellos along with fiddles.  The students ranged in age from probably 7-8 years old to high school.  They were very attentive, had great questions and comments, and in turn learned a new fiddle tune!  It was really neat to hear a fiddle tune played together with fiddles, cellos and violas. 

The orchestra students had quite a lot of music to learn for this event.  It wasn't your normal concert.  Most of the music was memorized, except for a few solos interspersed throughout the performances.  There were cornfield jokes, skits, and all the familiar Hee Haw songs like "Where Oh Where Are You Tonight"?, "Gloom, Despair, & Agony," along with "Salute!" and "Gossip."

We were playing on a stage setup in front of the audience, and all the other students had places alongside of the stage to both the left and right.  There was also a fantastic meal just before the main performance, during which orchestra students played pretty much continually.  Here are a few pictures.

Whenever we travel longer distances like this, we try to travel together.  Not only is it more cost efficient, but it is also more fun!  Zane's van works out pretty well for us; however, my "buzz box" was a little bit more cramped.  (Emily's mom, Kabbie, joined us for this gig and did some fine camera work for us.)  To get to Zane's house, we had to travel from The Bluegrass Shack in New Athens, IL up to Edwardsville, IL.  That's a little over an hour.  This is what we had in my car:  two banjos; a double fiddle case; a mandolin; a large box of CDs; the entire PA system complete with speakers, head, cables, mics, and stands; props for the fiddle bow segment of our show; show clothes and boots, plus all our normal luggage (which was actually very slim); purses for four women; and, of course, snacks.  Now, add four people...

When we got to Zane's house, naturally we had to do the "full tour."  Zane is probably the most talented guy I know!  He is not only a first-rate musician and singer, but he is also a master wood carver.  Emily's brother, Charlie, said that we should now be known as the Chris Talley Militia.  We were just proudly displaying four Civil War era rifles that Zane made:

This was Emily's first gig with the Trio, and she did a wonderful job!  I forgot to tell her until we were on our way that she was the Official Possum Thrower now.  I'm sure this was probably the most nerve-wracking part of the gig for her.  You know how important this can be -- making sure you throw it just right -- a perfect arc over Zane and made to fall right in front of the mic.  And, of course, you have to get the timing just right.  Well, Emily was up to the challenge.  I don't believe she could have done any better!  She didn't hit the mic, didn't hit the cameras in the front row, and she had perfect timing.  It was the finishing touch on Zane's "Blue Spoon of Kentucky."  In fact, I think it was this perfect throw that got us our standing ovation at the end.

Latest Scam to Get Your Personal Information

This one is really important!  It is no longer just e-mail you have to watch out for.  According to an article I read on AOL, you may get an actual phone call from someone who ALREADY KNOWS YOUR CREDIT CARD number!  They will be telling you there is a problem with your credit card or your account (could be Paypal or E-bay as well), and they will ask for your three digit code on the back of your card, or other personal information to "verify" your account.  Simply hang up and call the number on the back of your card.  If there is a problem, they will be able to hook you up with the right person.  Here is the article for you to read:


It seems the tricks are getting slicker all the time...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pinckneyville Barn Dance

This past weekend, a number of us went to a barn dance held in Pinckneyville, IL.  The Pickin' Chicks were scheduled to play during the regular band's break -- it was a spur of the moment thing -- but we thought it would be a fun night.

Now, this was really and truly an old time barn dance.  It is apparently an annual event held at the Timpner Barn.  And let me tell you, this is no ordinary barn!  First off, here are some pictures I took with my camera phone.  Wish I had better ones, but these will have to do:

I don't know how much you know about barns, but this barn has no trusses.  Each of those long, curved roof supports is actually a veneer of four pieces of wood put together.  From the second story loft, which is where we were, to the top of the barn is probably 30 feet.  Normally, the barn loft is filled with hay, but once a year, when the hay is gone, Bill Timpner hosts a huge barn dance.  No drinking and no smoking.  All family oriented.  Everyone brings food to share and there is plenty of water and soda.

Bill is one of the nicest men I have ever met.  He is in his 80's, but you would never know it!  He taught us how to do the Virginia Reel and also one particular square dance.  There were probably 5 or 6 squares, and after he taught us, the band played and he called the square dancing.  I think one of the things that really made it fun was that it was all ages, and I think most of us had no clue what we were doing!!!  With Bill's help, though, we got it.

Notice the wall to our left in the photo above.  That is actually part of the old gymnasium floor from the local high school.  It says "PANTHERS" on it.  Bill has anyone that played basketball there sign it.

I had a special treat regarding the band that night.  Two of my former students were playing in the band!  They are sisters Amanda and Gloria from Nashville.  Beautiful harmonies and beautiful twin fiddles!  The girls aren't actually members of the band, but were just filling in for the evening.  The music was fantastic!  Amanda invited me up to play a few songs, as well. 

The Pickin' Chicks did a wonderful job filling in during the band's break.  They played about 10 songs in all.  I was so proud!  Bill even pulled a vintage sign off his barn to give to the girls.  Thank you, Bill!!!  Take a look at the girls with their sign below:

Here's a video of The Pickin' Chicks playing Country Roads:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Case Against Your Case

Want to know an easy way to increase your practice time on your instrument?  Don't keep it in its case!  Sound crazy?  Dangerous?  Too easy?  Well, it's true.

Not only does laziness have no bounds, but it has no age limit as well.  It is hard to believe that the act of simply having to remove an instrument from its case or gigbag would hold back one's practice, but it most certainly can.  The main reason is that it is just not as accessible.   Then you've got preparation time to consider -- getting the bow out and attaching the shoulder rest, locating picks and straps and capos...

Now maybe you are only thinking about long practice times.  I'm actually talking more about impromptu practice.  Like the kind where you might take 2 or 3 minutes while you wait for someone else to get ready to leave, or maybe during the commercial time of the news or your favorite television program.  Let's say that during a week's time, you had two impromptu sessions on five separate days.  That would total out to be around 25 minutes of practice time!  This type of practice does not replace your normal practice, but imagine what an extra 25 minutes of practice a week could do for you?

How do you do this safely?  A stand is the most recommended way to accomplish this.  There are stands that sit on the ground and also stands that allow you to hang your instrument on a wall.  If you have animals or children that might get into your instruments, then a wall hanger might be safer.  Also, make sure that your instrument is not sitting in a place that is getting direct sunlight or close to a heating or cooling vent.

If you got 25 extra minutes of practice a week, you would have over 20 HOURS of extra practice in the course of a year.  Pretty amazing, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

E-mail Tracking

I think most people do not know this information, and it is important enough that everyone should.  I get these kinds of e-mails ALL THE TIME and I don't participate in them for a very good reason.  Please read on.

If you get an e-mail and you are not sure if it is correct information, visit http://www.snopes.com/ and/or http://www.truthorfiction.com/ for determining whether information received via email is just that: true/false or fact/fiction. Both are excellent sites.

1) Any time you see an e-mail that says "forward this on to 10 (or however many) of your friends,"  or "you'll get bad luck" or "you'll get good luck" or "you'll see something funny on your screen after you send it" or whatever --- it almost always has an e-mail tracker program attached that tracks the cookies and e-mails of those folks you forward to. The host sender (originator of the e-mail) is getting a copy each time it gets forwarded and then is able to get lists of active email addresses to use in SPAM emails or sell to other spammers. Even when you get e-mails that demand you send the e-mail on if you're not ashamed of God/Jesus --- that is e-mail tracking, and they are playing on your conscience. These people don't care how they get your e-mail addresses -- just as long as they get them.

E-mails that talk about a missing child or a child with an incurable disease "how would you feel if that was your child" --- e-mail tracking. Ignore them and don't participate!

2) Almost all e-mails that ask you to add your name and forward on to others are similar to that mass letter years ago that asked people to send business cards to the little kid in Florida who wanted to break the Guinness Book of Records for the most cards. All it was, and all any of this type of e-mail is, is a way to get names and tracking information for telemarketers and spammers -- to validate active e-mail accounts for their own profitable purposes.

3) E-mail petitions are NOT acceptable to Congress or any other organization - i.e., social security, etc. To be acceptable, petitions must have a signed signature and full address of the person signing the petition, so this is a waste of time and you are just helping the e-mail trackers.

4) Bill Gates is not going to send you a check for forwarding an e-mail to so many people.  Neither is any other business.  You're not going to get coupons or rewards of any kind for forwarding these types of e-mail.  These e-mails entice with "what do you have to lose"?  YOUR PRIVACY!

You can do your friends and family members a GREAT favor by not forwarding these kinds of e-mails to them. You will be providing a service to your friends, and you will be rewarded by not getting thousands of spam e-mails in the future!

Do yourself a favor and STOP adding your name to those types of listings regardless of how inviting they might sound or how guilty they make you feel! It’s all about getting e-mail addresses and nothing more. You may think you are supporting a GREAT cause, but you are NOT! Instead, you will be getting tons of junk mail later and very possibly a virus attached! Plus, we are helping the spammers get rich! Let's not make it easy for them!

Use BCC (blind carbon copy) when sending e-mails to groups of people, unless you absolutely want the others recipients to know to whom you are also sending.  Most e-mail programs have a BCC spot to type the e-mail addresses into.  When using AOL, just put the names in parenthesis in the CC field.

I hope this will help you!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What is Success?

What does it mean to be successful musically? 

Does it mean speed?  I don't think so.  Is fast always better?  Probably not.  Is it exciting?  Yes, probably so.  What is speed without feeling?  Just a bunch of notes. 

Is it perfection?  One of my flute teachers once told me after I had practiced very diligently on a difficult passage, "Well, you played all the notes."  I thought I had done really great because I had spent a lot of time making sure every note was played exactly correctly.  In the end, I was more robotic than anything.

This makes me think of banjo midi files.  Have you ever heard one before?  It is basically computerized banjo playing.  It sounds like a keyboard playing banjo notes.  There are no accents and it is absolutely perfect in rhythm and pitch.  And it's horrible...

Does fast playing really move you?  Sometimes.  Think "Rawhide" or "Orange Blossom Special."  These are great fast tunes.  They don't sound the same at all if they are played slow.  How about "Duelin' Banjos"?  It utilizes different speeds, and that really makes it a fun song.  You are being led up to the fast finish, but even the slow part is fun.

Is it fame?  I don't think so.  I know lots and lots of really great musicians who aren't famous.  Some become famous after they've passed on.  Think about Stephen Foster.  He is one of American's great folk song writers.  He wrote My Old Kentucky Home, Camptown Races, Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, and more.  Did you know he died in his 20's, a pennyless alcoholic?

What about Elvis Presley?  Was he successful?  In one way, yes.  Would you want to live his life?  Probably not.  His music was great, but at what expense?  Follow that with Michael Jackson...

What about fortune?  Does that make you successful?  In the Bible, Solomon had it all and realized it was nothing at all.  I think we can all name wealthy people that have tons of scandals that follow them.  Somehow, that's not my idea of success either.

I think success is in all the little things we do in life.  It is in all the small accomplishments we make every day.  Maybe even things that others don't notice.

As a teacher, success is seeing a student get something that they couldn't get before.  It's seeing all the small improvements that maybe only me and the student know about.  It's about Nick raising his hands after countless beginning jam sessions when he finally played a kick-off correctly.  It's about Larry using some of his fill-in licks to make fake breaks on-the-spot.  It's about  Bill keeping rhythm for a break.  And Barb and Mallory using guitar runs they have learned in the songs they play.  It's not about a perfect break.  It's about going on.  Never giving up.  Striving to be the best you can be.

There's no need to compare yourself to others.  If you are worse than everyone else you compare yourself to, you'll end up feeling bad.  If you think you are better than everyone you compare yourself to, you'll be all puffed up with pride.  It's about setting reasonable goals for yourself and then figuring out how to achieve them, or modify them if necessary.  It's about being confident and comfortable with who and where you are, but also knowing that you are striving for more.

Perfection is boring.  Give me something to look forward to!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday's Instructional Jam

This was the Monday instructional jam for the beginners.  It was an exceptionally good session, too!  We learned something new tonight.  We talked about chords and improvising over them.  Everyone in the jam got to try it individually, and then we played a song together in which everyone got to try out the new skill.  We are on our way to faking it!

We have been continuing our work on Blackberry Blossom as well.  Everyone knows the break now, which is actually the easy part of this song since it has about a million chords that change on every beat in Part A.  We are a large enough group that after giving everyone a break, the chords start sinking in.

We had a new banjo player in the group tonight as well.  Welcome to the group, Jim!  You did wonderfully tonight, and we look forward to having you join us again.

Tomorrow is our open public jam session.  If you are looking for something to do, come join us!  The jam starts at 7:30 and is open to anyone -- even listeners.  It is all acoustic and beginner friendly.  We pass the mic around the circle, so everyone gets a chance to sing or play if they want one.

I Offended Someone Today

Yes, it's true.  I told a customer that he did not have a genuine Stradivarius violin.  I tried to be nice.  I tried to explain how it can still be old, can still sound good, can still be valuable, etc.  All to no avail.  He had his mind made up before he came into the shop.  I wasn't trying to buy it from him.  He just wanted his bow rehaired.  I must admit I felt bad for him, but short of telling him his delusion was true, what else is there? 

So how would one know if they had a geniune Stradivarius?  If you are wondering, you don't!  They are all accounted for and well documented.  But the label says "Antonius Stradivarius" and doesn't say "Copy of"!  That's all fine and dandy, you just have a copy of one anyway.  Violins are made in many different patterns, just like pants.  Pants come in carpenter style, jeans, capris, baggy, tight, flare bottom, button fly, parachute, etc.  Violins come in patterns that are named after the maker:  Stradivarius ("strad"), Maggini, Stainer, Amati, etc.  Each of these patterns has certain things that make it stand out from the rest.  Maggini pattern has two lines of purfling around the top and back, and many times an extra turn in the scroll.  Strad copies are generally flatter.  Stainer and Amati copies are arched more ("puffy").  There's more to it than that, but hopefully you get the idea.  Original labels are not meant to deceive.  They are there to honor the maker after which the violin was made.

That's another problem in and of itself.  The ORIGINAL labels are not meant to deceive; however, labels are the least reliable way to find out what kind of violin you have.  You can go on Ebay or even the International Violin Company and purchase old looking labels.  You can actually buy old original labels that someone has removed from old violins.  (Now there's a way to make your violin look older or more valuable!)  Any good violin shop will know the difference, though.  We don't look at the labels.  We look at the varnish, the scroll, the shape of the violin, the purfling (or lack thereof), the length of the neck and length of the body, and many other little things.

I tried to tell the man that we have hundreds of Strad copies.  In fact, we have more than 100 hanging on the wall in the main showroom right now. 

I've never even seen an original Stradivarius...unless you count the one that came in today...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Practice Sessions: The Chris Talley Trio

Practices have been going very well.  We've spent about five hours every week working on our harmonies and arrangements.  It's been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun!  I thought you might like to hear some short clips of a few things we've worked on so far.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mike's 5th Banjo!

Mike came into the shop last week to show me the 5th banjo he has made.  He does such nice work!

Instructional Banjo: I Saw the Light

I've had several requests and also a YouTube plea for this song on banjo.  Soooo, here it is:

For the Ladies...

With new band member, Emily, in The Chris Talley Trio, it was time to get a few new outfits.  What fun!  I've been able to find western shirts for some pretty good prices, even if it meant cutting off the sleeves for summer shirts.  However, skirts have been a different story.  There is not much to choose from, and they are pretty expensive for what they are.  I decided that I would just make the three of us skirts (Zane didn't want one...).

I went to Walmart over the weekend and looked through some pattern books.  I am thankful that my husband, Earl, enjoys western wear and was actually interested in helping me pick out a pattern and some material.  For a very easy skirt pattern that anyone, and I mean ANYONE can sew, try Simplicity 4220.  It has two pattern pieces.  You actually cut out four of one piece and two of the other, but don't let that scare you.  I went to work and was able to cut out and sew three of these skirts in about 2-3 hours, including ironing time.  I used a drawstring instead of elastic around the waist, but you can do whatever you want.  Here is what the completed skirt looks like:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Students at The Bluegrass Shack

Kabbie sent me a few pictures she took a couple of weeks ago while they were here with their family.  I was working on a banjo for Emily to give to her friend.  Later on, Kabbie took a picture with Dennis and me along with some of her family.

It's About Time You Met Dennis!

As things have gotten busier around here, I really needed a hand getting all the repair work done.  That's much easier said than done!  Repairing instruments takes a lot of skill.  It is very detailed work, and some of what you do ends up being monotonous, but still has to be done well.  When you are working on someone else's instruments, the quality just HAS to be there! 

Dennis has been helping us out in the shop for close to a year now.  I am very grateful for his help and Dennis does a wonderful job.

If you live around here and visit us, I'm sure you've already met Dennis.  If not, here is your chance!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

More Updates!

I spent some time tonight (or should I say early this morning -- it's 12:41 a.m.) updating The Chris Talley Trio website again.  I finally have all the pages completed.  There is now a Video link with a couple of excerpts from Saturday's practice here at The Bluegrass Shack.  You will also notice there are photos on the Pictures link.  I want to say thanks to Earl for taking the pictures, and to Kabbie for her assistance as well.  The link is http://www.chris-talley.com/.

Help for Banjo Players!

No, it's not counselling!!!  I'm talking about Monday's instructional jam.  We had a very good session with our more advanced of the two Monday night groups.  I thought I'd post about what we did so that everyone would have something to think about and remember to practice.

One of the best ways to go from backup to lead picking on a banjo is to incorporate the G Lick right before your lead break starts (if you are playing a song that is out of the "G" position).  The best place to put it is right after the final D chord, if that applies.  For instance, let's say you are playing I'll Fly Away.  The chords for the last line of the song are:  G G D D G G G G.  You would play the through the D chords, then instead of returning to the G chords, you would play a G lick followed by several forward rolls.  This takes you right into your lead break with no holes.  So you would have:  G G D D (G Lick) (two forward rolls). 

We also talked about incorporating licks from other songs into your "fake" breaks.  Your fake breaks are any time you are playing a song you've either not played before or you haven't had a chance to work out yet.  If you know the backup chords to the songs that you currently play lead on, you will know what licks work with what chords.  For instance, the slides in Cripple Creek that are on the 3rd string from the 2nd to the 3rd fret, all happen over a G chord (or G chord position if you are capoed to the 2nd fret).  This means that any time you are taking a break and there is a G chord being played, you can play that particular slide there and it will work.  If you think about the end of Foggy Mountain Breakdown where the hammer-ons occur on the 2nd string, you would be playing a D chord at that time going into a G chord.  Same thing with Old Joe Clark.  That means that either one of these ending licks (right before the G lick) would work over a G or a D chord.

Now, I realize that if you weren't in attendance at our instructional jam, this might be too much to understand without seeing and hearing it.  I am mainly hoping that those in attendance will be able to review what I've written here and put it to good use in practicing.  And if it helps you and you weren't here, good for you!  I would love that even more!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chris Talley Trio Website Updated!

Hello Everyone!  Just wanted to let you know that I did some updating to the Trio's website over the weekend.  We have a new band picture up that includes our newest member, Emily, and I finished the Biographies page.  Everyone has new pictures, and I'll be adding more (hopefully this week!).  The website is http://www.chris-talley.com/.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter!

We would like to wish everyone a very happy and blessed Easter!

Saturday's Business

The warmer weather and the long weekend off from work and school for many made this Saturday quite busy for us here at The Bluegrass Shack!  I'd say the business was just about perfect, as it was steady all day long. 

In addition to having a "regular" work day around here, it was also band practice for The Chris Talley Trio.  It has been so much fun rehearsing for this year's gigs.  Emily has been working hard with the trio, rehearsing with us for many hours every week.  We have been busy learning Emily's songs as well!  Today, we went through our set list for our gig in Iowa later this month.  We've been rehearsing informally and also with the mic, recording our mic sessions so we can listen to the mix.  We also took new band pictures, which will appear on the trio's website soon.  (I had to submit one photo with a floating "Emily head" because we didn't have a new picture yet!)  We can't wait for you to hear our new sound!  Check out http://www.chris-talley.com/ for updates to our 2010 Schedule.  I will be adding to it as our contracts for 2010 come in.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Veneered Fiddle / Violin Fingerboard

There are lots of old fiddles that have veneered fingerboards.  You can tell them by looking for the line where the top veneer meets the side veneer.  They also simply don't look like ebony or rosewood!  Apparently, at some point in time, this was cheaper to manufacture than it was to have a solid fingerboard.  Seems hard to imagine when you consider the work that would go into doing this well. 

We had a fiddle come in last week that has a veneered fingerboard, but the top veneer actually peeled completely off.  Most of the time, the veneer is intact and it never peels.  What happens is that the veneer gets worn and the entire fingerboard gets replaced.  I thought it would be neat to post some pictures of what it actually looks like under the veneer.  You can also see how thin the veneered layer is.  If you want to see full-size pictures, just click on the picture and it will enlarge.