Monday, March 31, 2014

Photos of the Month - March 2014

Junk-rigged boat & the Steel Bridge
Cherry Blossoms - Waterfront Park
Duck taking flight off the Willamette River
Cherry Blossoms - Eastbank Esplanade
The Hawthorne Bridge raised
Waterfront Park as seen from the Steel Bridge

Tuesday, March 25, 2014



(From the Italian, meaning “a bunch of feathers.”)

It sounds a lot like pizzazz,
(origin unknown),
meaning flamboyance, or zest, or flair.
This last rhymes with hair.

So panache could also mean, let us say,
“something to do with hair,”

I know for a fact
that you go to a place by that name
(that has nothing to do with feathers)
when you can’t do a thing with your hair.
After each visit you return from there
full of flamboyance and zest and flair,

I love you as you are,
so I don’t know why you go there.
But if it fills you with flamboyance
 and zest and a certain flair,
I suppose it is worth the trouble you take
To have something done with your hair.

Carmen Leone
© 2009

Image is from Wiki Commons.
Portrait of a Lady: William Larkin, ca. 1610-1620. Public domain

Saturday, March 22, 2014


How about some more harp guitar for you weekend listening pleasure! It’s full on spring here in Portland: the camellias, magnolias & many of the cherries are in full bloom, & there have been some glorious days this month. In honor of that: a song named after my adopted home state.

“Oregon” is composed & performed by Stephen Bennett, one of the notable harp guitarists on the contemporary scene, but also just simple an excellent guitar player, no matter how many strings (& guitar necks) he has at his disposal. In fact, the Toronto Fingerstyle Guitar Association dubbed Bennett “the Jedi master of fingerstyle guitar.”

As is the case with many musicians who focus on instrumental performance, Bennett is not well known to the general public, & that’s a shame as he really is a marvelous performer who can wield considerable technical skills in the service of interpreting both his own compositions & covers—for instance, his 2005 release The Beatles for Acoustic Guitar or his 2012 Cool Tunes for Harp Guitar, which features versions of a diverse array of music—from Gershwin to Satie to themes from classic western films & much more! His website lists close to 30 CDs, as well as dvds, instructional books, & pdf transcriptions of close to 100 songs (including both 6-string & harp guitar transcriptions). Speaking of instructional books—if you’re looking to learn to play the harp guitar, Stephen Bennett does have material that can help you along!

Bennett explains the tuning of his sub-basses for this song in his video. Looking through his transcriptions, it appears that he G A B C D G quite often for the sub basses, & more often than not leaves the 6-string neck in standard tuning.

It’s a beautiful song—beautiful as our early spring Oregon days. Enjoy!

Image of Stephen Bennett links to its source at

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"wang wei's 'bird call valley'"

'bird call valley'

A man at ease: flowers fall.
The night is tranquil, spring mountain empty.
Moonrise startles mountain birds
sometimes heard within the valley.

Mairi Graham-Shaw, after Wang Wei
translation © 2013

Image from Wiki Commons: ink on silk, attributed to Xia Gui, 13th century "Rapids in a Mountain Valley"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

“View From Space”

What is better than space photography, astronauts & guitars? Space photography, astronauts & a harp guitar played by one of today’s top fingerstyle guitar players, Muriel Anderson!

The fact that the general public isn’t aware of Muriel Anderson is certainly not because of her guitar playing skills. A top instrumental performer, she is the first woman to win the National Fingerpicking Championship. But while her technical skills are first rate, she is not merely a skilled technician—she plays an impressive range of music reflecting broad musical tastes, & performs that music with deep musicality. Anderson’s scope is indeed impressive, ranging from old-time country to classical to pop, not to mention her beautiful original compositions. We can get a sense of this range when we discover that her early idol & mentor was Chet Atkins, but that she went on to study classical guitar with Christopher Parkening. & yes, in case you're wondering, Muriel Anderson plays 6-string guitars as well as harp models.

In addition, Anderson is the founder of the non-profit Music for Life Alliance, which brings musical instruction to kids in under-served communities; she also founded & hosts the All Star Guitar Night at the NAMM trade shows. She has issued 17 cd albums (not to mention several compilations, as well as seven dvds—both performance & instructional), including the 2013 release Nightlight Daylight. A particular favorite of mine is the 2003 New Classics for Guitar & Cello, on which she duets with cellist Julie Adams. All of her cds & dvds are available at her website (see link above) as is tab for her compositions in pdf form at a very reasonable $5.00 per song. So guitar players, if you have five bucks to spend & you want to perfect your pinch harmonics, you too can learn to play today’s selection!

Muriel Anderson has the following to say about “View From Space”:

Some years ago astronaut Susan Helms had picked up one of my Heartstrings recordings and told me that “it would be good music to watch the earth by.” It traveled with her 2.5 million miles on the space shuttle “Discovery.” With my harp guitar in my lap, I composed “View from Space” while watching the beautiful images that were taken from the space shuttle.

It’s a wonderful piece of music & a beautiful performance—enjoy!

Image of Muriel Anderson links to its source at

Friday, March 7, 2014

“Because It’s There”

If there’s any truth to the many-worlds interpretation of multiple universes, where quantum uncertainty operates on the macroscopic scale by creating new worlds at any point of uncertainty, I have no doubt that in at least one multiverse I own a harp guitar. I’ve had an off-&-on obsession with the instrument for some years now, & these days it’s mostly “on” again. So I thought I’d run a short series this month on the harp guitar. It’s not a well known instrument, but there’s some wonderful music & musicians associated with it.

You see the harp guitar in the photo above; you can hear it in the video below. But what is it? We find the following definition on

  •         A guitar, in any of its accepted forms, with any number of additional "floating" unstopped strings that can accommodate individual plucking.
  •         The modern harp guitar must have at least one unfretted string lying off the main fretboard; these unfretted strings are played as an open string.
  •         The word "harp" is a specific reference to the unstopped open strings, and is not specifically a reference to the tone, pitch range, volume, silhouette similarity, construction, floor-standing ability, nor any other alleged "harp-like" properties.

One issue with the guitar in terms of playing any sort of polyphony is the fact that in either standard tuning or even non-standard forms, you just simply run out of bass notes more quickly than you’d like. The harp guitar addresses this problem rather ingeniously by adding an unspecified number of unfretted bass strings on the second arm. These strings (usually referred to as “sub-basses”) can be tuned in a number of different ways, depending largely on what key the player is employing. The standard tuning for the guitar portion of the harp guitar is—surprise—standard guitar tuning of EADGBE, though altered tunings can be used for the guitar portion, just as they can be on your garden variety guitar.

Today’s video features a live performance of his original song “Because It’s There” by the late Michael Hedges, a
phenomenal guitar player who was certainly one of the most notable fingerstyle players of recent memory. Hedges used an altered tuning for “Because It’s There”—the 6-string guitar is tuned EADEAD, while the sub-basses are tuned G, Bb, C, A, D. The composition makes extensive use of harmonics & tapping; the latter refers to a player producing notes with only his or her left hand, as Hedges does here allowing him to simultaneously play both the guitar & the harp portions. Hedges gives the background to the song during his introduction in the video. If you’d like to hear a second version of the song, there’s an excellent cover by another phenomenal guitarist, Kaki King (with a fun introduction) here on YouTube.

Next time around I’ll write about the harp guitar’s history & have more fun music—enjoy!

Photo is from Wiki Commons. A Dyer Style 8 harp guitar, circa 1915. The image is made available by Gregg Miner under the  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.