Categories
Music Industry Musical Instruments

Are You Sure That It’s a Shure?

I guess this has been a problem for a few years, but I only became aware of it recently. While checking out the website Wish.com, I came across something that made me to a double-take. The site was selling Shure microphones for about 20% of their cost at a music store. The famous SM58 vocal mic retails for about $100 at Sweetwater or Guitar Center. The same can be said for the SM57, and the Beta 87a goes for around $250. If you shop Amazon, you may find it for a buck or two cheaper.

However, one search on the Wish site shows that you can snag a 57 or 58 for about $20, and a Beta 87a for around $30. Depending on when you go to the site, the prices can sometimes be cheaper!

I knew there had to be a catch, but I decided to purchase a 58 anyway to see what would happen. Of course, shipping and taxes added about $10 to the cost, and it took about three weeks for the package to arrive (it was shipped from China).

I have always felt that the Shure SM58 is the best all-around microphone available. Comparing price, durability, and response, it would be the obvious choice if I were to have only one microphone. When I opened up the package of my new 58, I could tell right away that it was a fake. Just by holding it, it was a lot lighter than the true Shure 58. Putting them both on a scale, the real 58 came in at about 0.6 lb., while the fake 58 weighed in at 0.4 lb. Taking off the windscreens, the real 58 capsule has a slight cushion to it in order to sustain some shock. The fake 58 had no cushion to the capsule.

Testing it out on a small PA system, I noticed that the fake 58 did not have the same warmth from the low end frequencies as the real 58. It just seems to have a bit of distortion from that end. Its response was more like the lower-cost SM48. It did have the same sound level as the true 58, just not as warm.

In short, it seemed to be about worth the money of the purchase. It was a lot cheaper than the true 58, but it definitely is not of the same high quality. I am sure that the SM57 and Beta 87a that are available on Wish are of the same quality. Here is a video that I found that provides more information on comparing the two:

My main concern with this marketing is that I am questioning why Shure has not proceeded with large-scale legal action against the manufacturers of fake microphones. We have seen such action taken by guitar manufacturers, with results leading to mislabeled guitars not being available in the US as well as legal action being take against anyone bringing one into the country. However, a Google search on the Shure situation shows that there has only been one serious attempt at legal action, and that was in the UK about 10 years ago.

I would think that Shure would take a stronger action against the sale and distribution of these fake microphones for two big reasons:

  1. The lower cost of the fake microphones will lead to more sales, which will kill Shure’s sales.
  2. The lack of quality with the fake microphones will reflect poorly on Shure, as consumers would blame Shure for the problems, even though it had nothing to do with the manufacturing of that fake mic.

Perhaps I am out of the loop and am missing something. However, my advice to anyone interested in one of these fake Shure microphones, if you purchase one, do not expect the quality and customer service you can expect from the Shure company. You will be getting a second-class product with a first-class label on the body. If you want the best, you need to go directly into purchasing as true Shure microphone.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Coronavirus Musical Instruments Musicians

Creativity, and Ignorance

A few days ago, I was interviewing fiddler Tom Morley for an upcoming article. We got onto the topic of what he and other musicians that he knows are doing to keep the sanity during all of these pandemic lockdowns. He told me about a creative idea that his friend’s daughter thought of that consisted of purchasing a few small plastic greenhouses, pushing them together, and with one musician in each house, the band was able to perform together and hear each other while still keeping social distance.

https://99percentinvisible.org/article/hothouse-musicians-miniature-heated-greenhouses-enable-distanced-gatherings/

The more that I watch the video, the more that I am amazed at the creativity some people have shown during these strange times. Yes, music can be performed alone, but the idea of two or more musicians creating music together is part of human nature’s bonding. The Coronavirus tries so hard to dishearten people by separating us, but we as humans are smarter than that.

As I still look for a job, I have been trying to keep my sanity by doing some lutherie work. Actually, more repairs are being done on guitar amplifiers than on actual instruments, but it is all good, right? One thing that I have noticed in my search for repairable beginner stringed instruments is that people think that the damaged guitars, basses, mandolins and such are really buried treasures. Sure, a 1959 Fender Stratocaster that has structural and wiring concerns can still fetch over $1,000 because of its pedigree, but there is no reason that an acoustic guitar with a brand name of Magnum, Lotus, Rogue, or no name whatsoever should demand a high price.

I scan Craigslist ads as well as check eBay and other sources, and I am puzzled when I see a 30-year-old Magnum acoustic guitar that has seen better days with a price tag of $100.00! Seriously, a guitar like this did not sell for much more than that when it was new, probably has loads of nicks and scratches, even a crack or two, and the neck is most likely bowing like a hill. One thing that shows like “American Pickers” and “Antiques Roadshow” have done is get people to think that all of the junk they have in their garage is worth something. If I am going to spend 60 or 70 dollars on an acoustic guitar, I would rather go through a company like Glarry, where the guitar is new and has some type of warranty or guarantee with the manufacturer/distributor.

Advice: If you have one of these old acoustic guitars that you bought for your kid decades ago and he never took an interest, and it sat in the closet for 20 or more years, and it does NOT have the name of Martin, Gibson, or Guild on the headstock, it is most likely not worth more than 10 bucks. Go ahead and get it appraised, but there is a slim chance that it is worth something. Instead, sell it at a garage sale for a few bucks, so that either some other kid may try to play it, someone like me might be able to salvage it as playable and give to someone, or let someone else hang it on the wall.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music Coronavirus

Yes, 2020 Sucked!

Yes, 2020 was not a good year for anyone (unless you owned Amazon). I don’t want to lament on it much, so I’ll just go over a few garbage points.

The loss of so many people in the music world. With Tony Rice passing away on Christmas, that was a definite knife to the heart. I will definitely miss him, as I was hoping that by some miracle he would be able to get his strength back and play that D-28 on stage once again.

The COVID-19 pandemic screwing up the lives of so many people. I am on my ninth month of unemployment, and compensation ended last week, so I am turning in pop cans and beer bottles to supplement food costs. In the music world, especially in bluegrass, live shows took a dump. So many bluegrass musicians rely on those live shows, not only for the performance pay but for sales of merchandise. A few musicians that I know had to take on part- and full-time non-music jobs to get by. Others resorted to online concerts with tip jars, Zoom music lessons, and creative alternatives such as selling music-related gifts such as jewelry and pictures. I cannot imagine what the pandemic has done to the other music-related jobs such as studio musicians, audio engineers, and roadies. The year has been a big test for the “blue collar” music workers.

I won’t even get into how our political environment is so divisive.

My hope for 2021 is getting back some more live music (I do miss going to The Ark in Ann Arbor), I can secure a decent job, do more writing (both song and articles), and practice, practice, practice my guitar, bass, mandolin and fiddle. It is an enjoyment and therapy for me. Unfortunately, with spending hours on the computer looking for a job, taking care of my 88-year-old mother, and trying to stay healthy with no access to presecriptions, musical instrument practice falls lower on the list.

Enough griping! It’s New Year’s Eve. Be safe tonight, since the bars are closed, keep the home celebration respectable. With that, I leave you with a holiday message from the beautiful Russian ladies of Beloe Zlato! I love these girls!

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Guitar Bluegrass Music

Tony Rice RIP

I received the tragic news last night that, on Christmas day, the world lost one of the greatest acoustic guitarists that the industry has ever known. Tony Rice was 69 years old, influenced thousands of artists, and truly defined the role of bluegrass guitar in bluegrass music.

There were others who played the guitar as a lead instrument before Tony. Bill Napier and George Shuffler performed crosspicking on guitar with The Stanley Brothers. Doc Watson gave acoustic lead guitar notice. Clarence White placed lead guitar into a bluegrass band setting. Dan Crary highlighted the bluegrass lead guitarist persona. However, it was Tony Rice that not only defined the role, he gave it an image, and that image was badass cool!

Unlike those before him, who were reproducing fiddle or mandolin lines on acoustic guitar, Tony was creating guitar lines that stood out on their own. There was a lot of pop, rock, and jazz influence in his bluegrass picking, which knocked a lot of traditionalists on their butts, whether they liked it or not. And while he performed in many different bands, one could tell from the first three or four notes that it was a Tony Rice lead.

There are plenty of albums that one could listen to in order to truly understand Toney’s playing. His signature work is definitely Manzanita, which showcases his guitar in a slightly progressive bluegrass setting. To hear what he was initially trying to get across with guitar as a true bluegrass workhorse, secure a copy of the debut self-titled album by J.D. Crowe and the New South on Rounder Records, affectionately known in the bluegrass fold by its issue number, “0044.” In his later years, he did two fantastic guitar-centric bluegrass albums with Peter Rowan as the Rowan & Rice Quartet. He also joined up with a number of other bluegrass stars to record a bunch of albums under the moniker The Bluegrass Album Band. Of course, anything under his own band The Tony Rice Unit should be considered.

While many bluegrassers cite his duet album Skaggs & Rice (with Ricky Skaggs) as his best work with bluegrass guitar and Monroe Brothers style of singing, I prefer the two albums he recorded with Norman Blake. Blake & Rice has some of the best textbook examples of bluegrass guitar lead work, and Blake & Rice 2 should be grabbed if only for the three songs that include Doc Watson performing to create bluegrass guitar powerhouse.

He was also a fantastic soulful baritone singer in the bluegrass vein. His work with Bluegrass Alliance and The New South atone to this. He was an avid fan of Gordon Lightfoot, and recorded many of the folksinger’s songs, either solo or with his family band The Rice Brothers. In 1994 he was diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia, which put an end to his singing. In an interview I did with him in the early 2000’s, he talked about it, and said that if he were forced to lose one of his two talents, he would rather it be his voice. At his induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2013, he lamented on this, and provided a promising result to therapy on his vocal work.

(watch at around 11:30)

He continued to play guitar with Rowan, as well as with Alison Krauss & Union Station and other bands that paid tribute to his work. In 2014, he developed lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) which made guitar playing painful. He decided to go into retirement until he could come back and perform as he used to. Unfortunately, that did not come about. However, we are blessed to have so many recordings of his amazing six-string work, and his sound and style will live on through so many young guitarists that were influenced by Tony, whether they realize it or not. You can definitely hear his work in the performing of Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Josh Williams, Chris Eldridge, and so many others. One of my favorite photographs of him is when he is in a room with Bill Monroe and he has Monroe play on the famous Clarence White Martin D-28.

If you have any doubts, get on YouTube and search out Tony Rice videos. You will not be disappointed.

Tony, I am truly glad that I got to meet you and speak with you on a few occasions regarding bluegrass guitar and music. You are now with the Angel Band. Take it easy on them with your licks.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music Christmas

Christmas in Luegra Land

Christmas 2020. What a lousy year. Unemployed since April, job prospects suck, and bluegrass shows were practically nonexistent!

Thank God that some of my favorite artists were able to do some performances over the internet. Many thanks to Hawktail, Mile Twelve, April Verch, and my web buddy in Missouri, Jerry Rosa from Rosa String Works! They kept my sanity in place. Festivals were a bust, as well as music conferences, although some were held virtually. Appreciated, but not the same as seeing old friends and networking with new ones face-to-face. Here is Jerry Rosa and his friends doing a bluegrass Christmas jam.

My wish for Christmas (along with world peace, a job, and life back to normal) is to be a better fiddle player, good enough to jam with some people and not sound like a schlep. I try to practice every day, but the last week has been difficult due to getting things taken care of for my mom for the holidays. One thing that I have found myself doing is more research on the history of the violin and fiddle music during the 19th century in America. Interesting stuff that I hope to share in a future blog.

I also need to get back into doing more songwriting. That requires inspiration, and with the pandemic, I haven’t gotten much of that. I need to look harder.

I am not much for the partying and gift-giving with Christmas. I prefer to spend quality time on my own (which upsets the rest of my family). I like to spend time at midnight mass at my church, an old Polish-American Roman Catholic parish where they sing Polish carols (koledy) that echos throughout the building. It is amazing to hear, even if you don’t understand Polish.

I’ll keep this short, so stay safe, and let’s hope for a better 2021. In the meantime, here is the beautiful and talented Sierra Hull, along with the amazing musicians Michael Cleveland and Billy Strings, performing “Santa’s Train.”

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Consumer Electronics News

Olson Electronics / Greg Gutfeld

After last week’s nostalgic rant about Radio Shack (https://luegra.design.blog/2020/12/11/i-miss-radio-shack/), I got to thinking a bit more about my younger days in building my own electronics projects for my bass guitar and stereo.

Then I remembered Olson Electronics. They were more of a surplus store than RS, and seemed to only be marketing in the Michigan/Ohio area. But man, that was a cool store! There was only one in my area, and I was at it every chance that I got.

When I mean surplus, I am talking about radios, stereos, car electronics, alarm systems, speakers, and CB radios that were usually reconditioned or purchased from a wholesale place. My first stereo was from there, a AM/FM/8-track receiver with no cabinet. I got it really cheap and built my own cabinet. I remember the cool small VU meters that would move to the beat of the music and though that I was the coolest guy out! I also must have gotten a dozen replacement speakers for either my stereo cabinets or my bass guitar cab.

The place was much more disorganized than RS, but it was a lot more fun because you were always hoping to score a bargain. They didn’t have a catalog like RS, but instead sent out monthly flyers like RS that showed what was on sale or what was available on clearance at selected stores.

Olson went out of business long ago, and I really miss that place. Going there was weird in a cool way. It had its regular stock of CB radio equipment and alarm systems, but then there were the boxes of surplus stuff and a few shelves of used, reconditioned, or discontinued radios and amplifiers that would be in the back of the store. I felt like Mike and Frank on “American Pickers” sometimes, just digging through the boxes hoping to find that unique part that I could make a fuzz pedal for a guitar.

There is a lot from that period of my life (1980-1990-ish) that I miss regarding electronics. There were a number of magazines like Popular Electronics that would have decent articles on DIY projects, although most seemed to be for ham radio and early home computer fanatics. They would also put out supplements once each year that may have 100 or so schematics of simple projects that you could build in an hour or so. Then there were the other lesser-known electronics surplus houses that you would request a catalog and see if they had any old guitar parts like cheap pickups or knobs that you could use.

There are a few electronics surplus places still around on the internet, and I do occasionally order parts from them. However, as a kid, being in contact with these places was like being in another world, one that people around you didn’t understand. You could buy strange and hard-to-find parts and create something that had your personal stamp on it. Yes, these days it’s cheaper to buy the effects pedals made in China than it is to build one. But lost is the education, the personal reward, and the satisfaction that one would have in building it on your own.

To get an idea of how cool it was back then, someone posted a video on YouTube showing an old Olson Electronics catalog and its contents. I had forgotten how much stuff they sold! Enjoy.

If you don’t know who Greg Gutfeld is, you definitely need to check him out. He’s a commentator on the Fox News Network, but his style is completely his own. He’s sarcastic, resentful, mean, funny, and extremely intelligent. Listening to him is like listening to one of the regulars at your local dive that isn’t afraid to give out his opinion on something, especially political, but does it in a smart and hilarious way.

I liked him since I first watched him on an old show called “Red Eye.” Now he has his own show on Satruday evenings as well as serves as a regular commentator on the Fox discussion show “The Five.” Besides his views and attitude, I like him for his taste in music. It runs totally in line with mine. He is into the bands that I have always loved from my days doing punk, new wave, and alt-country/Americana. When other hosts use filler music from today’s pop artists, Gutfeld defies the norm and uses songs from The Clash, The Ramones, X, Iggy Pop, and The Melvins.

I subscribe to his weblog, called The Gutter, and love the fact that he reviews albums that he loves, whether they came out yesterday or 40 years ago. This particular one made my week, as it is of a compilation album of Detroit bands from the1960s and 70s. I had a cassette of this album, and I miss it dearly.

https://gg.locals.com/upost/287366/greg-s-review-michigan-rocks

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Consumer Electronics

I Miss Radio Shack

I was recording some background vocals to a demo a few days ago, and it hit me: I miss Radio Shack!

I was using a small-diaphragm condenser microphone sold by RS. I actually have three of these buggers, and they have never let me down. Rather than a phantom power supply, they run on a 1.5-volt AA battery, which when I bought them about 20-25 years ago was a life saver, considering that I couldn’t afford a studio condenser mic and elaborate mixing board with built-in phantom power supply.

RS was the perfect store for a guy like me, a musician who liked to tinker with electronics. It had tons of electronic components, including integrated circuits to build early non-spring reverb units. I remember that IC chip was expensive, around 50 bucks, and if you zapped it with static electricity, then you killed it. I built one, and while it was a bit noisy, it sufficed instead of purchasing a music store model for five times the price (it also marketed a reverb unit that was meant for connecting into your stereo system, but with adapters, worked with a guitar amp as well) I also built headphone amps and distortion effects from the RS parts, and I learned a lot about musical instrument electronics back then.

Besides components, RS sold guitar and mic cables, mic stands, mixers, small PA systems, amplifier tubes and microphones. I am not even going to go into the radios, stereo systems, computers, and alarm systems that were available. As for microphones, RS’s higher-end mics were actually made by Shure, so you got a good quality dynamic mic that was comparable to the SM48 but cost a lot less. Just before the company’s downfall, it did sell actual Shure mics on its shelves. They also had books on electronics, either general instruction and theory or how-to booklets to build simple circuits.

RS was my second home. I knew a bunch of the sales people by first names. I even dated a sales girl (unfortunately, that was 18 of the worst months of my life, but I digress). The print catalog was a pseudo-bible, and I remember having a card to get a free battery every month. There was a store about two miles away from my boyhood home, and another three stores within a short drive. Today, the closest store (and that is just an authorized outlet store) is over 30 miles away.

Times changed, and RS did not change with them. Probably half of the people that I knew growing up had a Tandy computer as their first PC (including me), but the company never bothered to pursue expanding on that product sales. The same with televisions, radios, and other consumer electronic equipment. Best Buy beat them to it, and RS basically became a cell phone store and not much else.

Today, I do a lot less electronics tinkering. I can make some simple repairs and part replacements to electric guitars and amplifiers, but technology has overwhelmed me. To secure the parts to build a decent distortion pedal for a guitar from electronics outlets will cost you two- to three-times more than buying a mass-produced one from Guitar Center or Sweetwater. The educational experience of building something like that does not exist with today’s young musicians. Even those that are choosing to use vintage equipment shy away from learning something about the circuitry.

RS was a great resource for me, it was the right place at the right time. Perhaps I should have forced myself to delve deeper into the technology, but I looked at it more as a hobby than as a career. That was probably the situation for thousands of others like me. And that was what may have put some of the nails into Radio Shack’s coffin.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

The Hillbilly Thomists: More Bluegrass-Meets-Catholicism

Remember a few months back when I told you about the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word from Birmingham, Alabama that did a video of them performing the bluegrass standard “I’ll Fly Away”? If not, here’s a link: https://luegra.design.blog/2020/08/07/nuns-performing-bluegrass-and-diversity/.

Anyway, I bring them up again as they were the source for my latest bluegrass discovery. Through their website (https://www.sisterservants.org/) I learned about the Hillbilly Thomists. Taking their name from a comment made by author Flannery O’Connor, the group of Dominican friars, priests and brothers study intensely the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. However, some of them are also move by the lyrics of many folk and bluegrass gospel songs. Under the guidance of Father Thomas Joseph White, the rotating group of brethren perform on traditional folk and bluegrass instruments (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle), as well as other traditional and ethnic instruments such as drums, piano, bodhran and accordion.

Seeing them on stage, you would think that you were to be serenaded by an age-old Gregorian chant. However, they pick up their stringed instruments and kick into a religious folk standard such as “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” or “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” While it may look strange to the eye at first notice, it becomes apparent that these men of Catholic conviction also know how to jam!

YouTube is filled with videos of the Hillbilly Thomists, whether it be live performances or professionally created music videos. What comes across is that they are religious, but they are also human. They like to have fun. They crack jokes, become self-deprecating about their musical skills, and also love to play secular music (one of the many YT vids shows them jamming to “Whiskey In The Jar”). Take away their robes and dress them in suits and ties, and you would think that they were another great-sounding bluegrass band.

However, it is their conviction to the Lord that makes them special. Jesus and his disciples also loved to laugh, sing, and dance. I do believe that God is looking down on the Hillbilly Thomists and smiling, probably even tapping his foot. Catholicism has always gotten a bad rap when it comes to music. The images of friars walking slowly and chanting in Latin seems to many like a depressing drone. Yet if one really takes a step back, the drone can be enlightening, with fluctuations of tones that the heart reacts to.

The Hillbilly Thomists take this a few steps further. They know that music makes people feel better generally. Moreover, the messages that come across in the standard bluegrass gospel songs are ones of hope, not fear. They also show to others that even priests and brothers can have human fun without insulting God. Theirs is a life of devotion to God and Christ, and that devotion can include singing praises in a popular style of music such as bluegrass and folk.

I urge you to check out a few of the Hillbilly Thomists’ videos and, if moved, purchase the album they releases a few years ago (https://www.dominicanajournal.org/music/the-hillbilly-thomists/). It may help you, as Lucinda Williams says, “Get right with God.”

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass Is In The Ear Of The Beholder

I hope that all of the readers are having a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving. I’m putting this blog out a bit early because I’m just sitting around lazily on this holiday. I had AMAZING pie from my friend Nik Sanches who owns Rock City Eatery in midtown Detroit. These pies are works of art. The chocolate pumpkin was pure Heaven. If you are in the Detroit area and want a pie for Christmas that will take you over the top, contact Rock City Eatery at the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rockcityeatery/.

OK, now down to business.

There will always be the continuing argument about “what is bluegrass.” Many will tell you that it isn’t bluegrass unless it has a banjo and upright bass. I will be the first to debate that, as I feel that bluegrass music is not a physical structure, but a structure of the heart and soul. Bluegrass is more about the feeling that it gives the listener, whether it be the lone guitar and vocals of Doc Watson, or a full-blown Flatt & Scruggs type ensemble.

This leads me to my feeling of what is “not” bluegrass, despite the physical structure. For the past dozen years or so, CMH Records out of California (https://www.cmhrecords.com/) has put out a Pickin’ On series of recordings that cover various pop, rock, and country artists and put them in what it feels is a bluegrass format. At this time, CMH has 73 albums offered with this series, and a true bluegrass fans will definitely scratch their heads as to why the record company would waste the time and energy with most of the titles.

The series started with typical choices to cover, such as the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. However, it soon became what seemed to be an obsession. Albums covering Metallica (which became its second biggest seller), Creed (really?), John Mayer (you are kidding?), and Taylor Swift (Jeez, there’s even a volume 2!) have popped up. WTF?!?!? A bluegrass tribute to Swift? Who buys this stuff, let alone listens to it? I never heard any of these cuts when I had Bluegrass Junction on SiriusXM, nor on any of the bluegrass programs that I catch on the radio. In all honesty, it sounds more like a bluegrass ensemble (yes, banjo and upright bass) trying to be hip by showing off that they know all of these tunes.

I’ve punished myself by listening to some of these tracks. About 10% could qualify as palpable bluegrass tunes. The remainder literally sound like bad experiments, or at best, acoustic interpretations of pop songs BUT NOT BLUEGRASS. The following is an example that led to this rant. A few weeks ago, I was on YouTube when this video came up as a recommendation:

A cover of the A-Ha pop hit “Take On Me.” Uh, OK. So it has the same instrumentation as one would find with a bluegrass ensemble. However, where is the theme that most bluegrass songs have (lonesome feeling, mother, coal mines, farming)? Where is either the 2/4 clogging tempo or the 3/4 country waltz? And if you are going to tell me that falsetto at the end of the chorus is the “high lonesome” sound, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell you. Seriously, if a bluegrass band were to perform this to a traditional bluegrass audience, the best that they would get is stares, if not heckles. On the flip side, most jamgrass audiences would consider it a joke (I could be wrong, but try me).

In short, if one is going to put up the argument of “it ain’t bluegrass unless it has a banjo,” then one can easily offer up that “just because it has a banjo doesn’t automatically make it bluegrass.”

Chew on it and comment.

RIP Hal Ketchum.

Categories
Bluegrass Music Coronavirus Musicians

Enjoying Music Visually

With the COVID thing going on, most musicians and bands have had to cancel live performances. To make up for the lost income, the more industrious performers are either doing virtual concerts, stepping up to online teaching, or being creative on sellable swag.

So most of you know that I am a contributing writer for Fiddler. In my years of writing for the magazine, as well as my involvement with the bluegrass music scene, I have become friends with a lot of bluegrass fiddlers.

Two fiddlers that stand out in my friendship are Brittany Haas of Hawktail, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes of Mile Twelve. Both are amazingly talented, as well as absolute sweethearts. They can call me any time if there is something that I can do for them, and are always there if I need a quick quote for an article. Something both of them have done (apart from each other) that I absolutely applaud can prove to be a great gift for the holidays.

Fans can only purchase so many CDs and T-shirts to keep bands afloat. A few months back, Hawktail made available 12-by-18-inch prints showing musical notation of songs from the albums Unless and Formations. Printed on parchment style paper, it looks as if it was taken from sheet music printed over a hundred years ago.

As for Bronwyn, she has recently released her solo album Fiddler’s Pastime. One of the more clever items available on her website is a handwritten page of musical notation from one of the songs on the album. Viewing it, you actually see what Bronwyn sees, hears, and thinks as the pen meets the paper.

Why do I bring up these two visual items up? Because they are awesome to say the least! Frame them, and you have a fantastic gift for someone into either or both artists. If you cannot find a fan, them get them for yourself!

Hanging a painting of a portrait or landscape on your wall is so typical. As I am a music aficionado, what hangs on my walls is mostly music-related, such as concert photographs and posters. Now, I will include framed music notation. There are a number of reasons why putting this on your wall is a plus. Here are just a few:

  • It is a lot more eye-catching than the typical painting.
  • As you look at it, you tend to create the shown melody in your head.
  • If you are not so competent on a musical instrument, you can at least follow what is written when you listen to the song.
  • You are getting inside the performers’ heads.

While some people do frame and hang old piano music, it is usually done as more of a historic representation, or perhaps enjoyment of the cover illustration. That type of printed music was meant to be read and performed, not framed. However, in the case of Hawktail and Bronwyn (and perhaps any other musician/band doing the same thing that I am not aware of), the music has already been presented in a listenable format. Now, these artists want to show you what the music looks like, perhaps even why they took it in a certain direction.

The most heartwarming thing about these printed notations to me is that the artists wanted the listener to be a part of their process and outcome. It makes the music more encompassing, just like reading liner notes of an album WHILE you are listening to it. There is so much more to soak in from the music as you look at the notation. I hope that others appreciate these personal connections like I do.

For more information on the music notations:
Hawktail – https://hawktail.bandcamp.com/merch/sheet-music-print

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes – https://www.bronwynkeithhynes.com/shop

Chew on it and comment.