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Friday, August 20, 2010

OF AUTOHARPS AND HAMMER DULCIMERS


john and kathy hollandsworth




This evening's entertainment at the Front Porch Gallery, Woodlawn, Virginia, was John and Kathy Hollandsworth. John is an autoharp player and maker. He is evidently one of a handful of autoharp makers in the country. His workshop is in Christiansburg, Virginia. Kathy plays bass and hammer dulcimer. John's autoharp has a very similar sound to Kathy's hammer dulcimer, only difference is she plays note by note, he plays picking and strumming. Their music has a happy feeling about it, uplifting. Both instruments have a kind of heavenly sound, the string music angels play. John and Kathy, themselves, seemed light spirited to me. It made me wonder if they got it from playing those instruments, or if they already had it and were drawn to the sounds of autoharp and hammer dulcimer. I suspect the latter, these light spirited instruments resonated with them in such a way they possibly felt the instruments.




Kathy has a way of singing a song without emoting, along the line of Sara Carter's style of singing, plain, no flourishes, no emotionalism, sings the words and, like Sara, lets the words tell their story. The emotions are in the words and don't need emoting. Kathy honors a song like that, sings the words with the same precision she strikes the dulcimer notes. The music had a cherubic sound to it. When Kathy was playing hammer dulcimer, most often John accompanied her with guitar. Possibly he played guitar when she played something in a key he didn't have on the autoharp. They know how to make it work. It seemed in a yin/yang way the bass balanced the airy sound of the autoharp with the earthen sound of the bass. Likewise guitar accompanying hammer dulcimer, an anchor to the ground to keep it from floating off into the clouds. They played a good collection of traditional songs starting with Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss. They played Angel Gabriel, White Rose Waltz, Otto Wood, the story of a Wilkes County bandit, a long list of songs, ending with The Ship That Never Returned.




Nine in the audience, plus Scott and Willard who sat with us tonight leaving the floor to John and Kathy. All were happy with the music. I sat in the back using the telephoto lens to close the distance. I feel less obtrusive sitting in the back. Sitting in the front I feel like a distraction to all the people behind me. I saw a whole lot of foot tapping going on and people looking really happy like I was feeling. We who go there exclaim every week when we talk how good the music is, for so little and so small and intimate a place. It's all first person friendly.




John's workshop where he makes the autoharps is in Christiansburg, Virginia. BLUE RIDGE AUTOHARPS is the name of the place, 700 Tower Road. He has a website, http://www.bluerdigeautoharps.com/. I'm putting videos of some of the show tonight on YouTube over the next couple days. 2 went up tonight, and 3 maybe tomorrow. It will be 5 altogether by John and Kathy. If you'd like to see some of the videos go to YouTube and write in the search box hobblealong1. It will bring up everything I've uploaded there, the most recent first. What I'm putting up of them will be at the top of the list, the first ones you come to.




Toward the end I asked John if he could briefly demonstrate Sara Carter's style of playing the autoharp. He played the strings above the chord mechanism, and she played the strings below. That explains their very different sounds. He said the chord mechanism in her time was up higher toward the middle of the strings, giving her more room in the lower part to work the strings. On the autoharps Hollandsworth plays, the chord mechanism is lower on the strings leaving a good length of strings above for him to strum and pluck. That's where he gets the sound that's so heavenly. He held the autoharp upright and said Sara Carter had it on her lap or on a stool or table. Next time I see the video of Sara and Maybelle playing in their advanced years, I'll note more closely Sara's approach to the autoharp now that I have something to go by.

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