The Street Musician's Guide to Breaking Even:
by David McKnight
Thursday, January 24, 2013
"Tag That Bluegrass Tune!"- Tuesday, October 15, 2013
This is the first post in our long-delayed online publishing project, "The Street Musician's Guide to Breaking Even." The writer has had to deal with shifting expectations of the order of presentation, so our solution is to write these entries in a more random manner without "fretting" over chronology and leaving until later the ultimate decision on how to sequence these notes in a more thoroughly edited "Final Edition."
Sounds more "scientific" than "artistic?" That's probably due to the fact that I play music with a lot of singers, songwriters and musicians who were trained in science--biology, chemistry, physics and the like--in their college years. So we can consider this "a harmonic unity" in that the great physicist Albert Einstein was himself a thorough-going violinist who assiduously pursued string quartet sessions with his friend and colleague.
So let us begin, tipping our hats to a sort of "reverse order," by paying tribute to one of the favorite features of bluegrass song, and this would be the "tag" at the end of the song. Such a tag is a little bit of an emphatic conclusion which often is termed either "a single tag" or "a double tag." You will recognize these tags quite easily as a player or a listener as they signal to everyone within earshot: this bluegrass song is over but we are going to put a nice musical ribbon on it in the form of a flashy ascending or descending "tag line" or two just for extra emphasis and enjoyment.
Indeed, after many years of playing "street sets," I experienced something just a couple of weeks ago that had never happened in all these years of playing. A women came up with an unusual request:
"Could you play a tag?"
Now I knew she didn't mean, would you like to play a game of tag with me and my friends? She just wanted to hear a bluegrass tag without the actual song being performed. I had to think about it for a moment, then imagined I had just completed a rendition of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" in the key of G, so then it was a simple task to launch into a nice resonant "double tag" leading from the G on the E string down to a final "double stop" with the notes B and G being played respectively on the G and D strings.
Still, I must say that playing just the tag and not the song preceding it is akin to going on a shopping trip to a clothing store and emerging with just a hat or cap and no new shirt, slacks, socks or shoes! But I suppose there are really times when all you really want to do is "cap off" a good afternoon outing.
So now I can tell all my friends that I have been "tagged as a bluegrass musician," a label I can proudly wear even when switching over to country, blues or jazz tunes or even a violin sonata by Beethoven or Brahms.
And let us add, when you're out there "playing the street," as we say, if you happen to pick out a bluegrass song to play on the guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin or fiddle, there's nothing like an accentuated "tag line" to close out the tune with some extra cheers from the crowd, and who knows, maybe an extra tip or to in the old case. Sometimes that one extra tip can help you "break even" for the day and maybe even make enough extra for a cup of coffee and some ice cream!
See you at the next "street stop" in our gleeful musical tour. We will return to the subject of ice cream as I will tell you how I came to compose a little piece which I have dubbed "The Ice Cream Minuet."
--David Proctor McKnight
Col. #1: Street Music Can Be a Hobby or a Serious Artistic Pursuit - Thursday Jan 24, 2013
Little did I ever expect that "playing the street" would one day become more than a hobby or entertaining sidelight for this former orchestra violin-viola player, but after the first of three political campaigns in North Carolina, I found that the doors to my former occupation were barely ajar if not closed altogether, so despite many great adventures playing fiddle in bands, I found that the one way I could keep my occupational interests active while continuing in the pursuit of music was to make "street music" a regular part of my month-to-month life.
In this journal, I would like to share some of the joys and bewildering surprises which have come my way "playing the street" at various locales across this land of ours and why now, in the later years of life, "street sets" have become an indispensable facet of one player's effort to "make a joyful noise" musically and otherwise.
Though this column will pertain mainly to playing the violin, viola, mandolin and guitar, with some singing here and there, it is hoped that some of the discoveries on this particular trail of the musical journey will be of interest to anyone whoever picked up a flute, clarinet, sax, cello, banjo or violin and wondered: what if I just played a few tunes down on the corner around from my favorite hangout?
In advance, I offer thanks to our Cleaver Smith Swenson & McKnight bandmate, singer-songwriter Joseph Swenson, who also plays guitar, bass, organ and piano and serves as chief engineer for our CSSM recording projects, for assisting in bringing my journal to you from North Carolina by way of California. If I had a voice like Joe, I would probably be given a first-class ticket from my favorite street venues to the finest recording studios in the music industry from New York and Nashville to Austin and Los Angeles.
So if you care to browse these columns, you will be treated to musical excursions from Paris to San Francisco, from Boston to Austin and even from Raleigh to Durham here in North Carolina. Here's hoping you will "tune up" for the journeys to come.
--David Proctor McKnight
Learning Violin Making and Instrument Repair:
by Joe Swenson
May 6, 2012
Swenson a' Livremour violin nearly finished !
After 6 months of work, my first violin is almost finished. I got to play it for a week and realized I had not brough it to its full potential. Was missing lots of lower frequencies - sounding kind if thin. I assumed that was due to the fact in my plate tuning I only paid attention to the tomnes and not the overall plat thickness and total mass of the top plate.
I decided to take off the top plate again and finish scraping the plate down to its "proper" thickness of about 2.5 mm. Doing that reduces the mass of the top plate from 74 gm down to 66 gm right in the middle of the recommended 61 to 71 gm range. I also cvleaned up the inside of the violin from extra glue from gluing the back. One of the traits of good vilin making is a well built instrument with attention to detail, even in areas you can't see once the violin is assembled. So I also scraped the corner blocks to even up their inside face.
I also did not measure the fianl thickness of the violin plate now that it is scraped fairly well. One of the templates I found recommended the thickness to start at 2.6 mm and gradually increase to 2.9 mm on the edge. I ended up with about 2.4 to 2.6 mm overall. A couple spots were even thinner 1.5 mm in the depression near the top of the C-bout on each side.
The next step is to seal the wood with a "ground" coat of Vernice Bianca - inside and out.
A recipe for “Vernice Bianca” from Sacconi
The following is taken directly from American Lutherie #10 in 1987 when interviewing Jack Batts.
It is also in The Big Red Book vol 1 from Guild of American Luthiers.
25g of gum arabic,
1/2 teaspoon of honey,
1/4 teaspoon of rock candy,
about 100cc of water,
albumen from one egg white.
- Crush the rock candy.
- Warm the water but do not boil.
- Slowly add the gum arabic, stirring constantly until dissolved.
- Add honey and rock candy.
- Strain the mixture through a fine cloth (handkerchief or sheeting) and let cool.
While the mixture is cooling,
- whip an egg white into a meringue and turn the bowl on edge.
- Allow the mixture to settle out and remove the liquid that separates.
(This is the albumin) - Add the albumin to the cooled mixture and stir well.
Use this Vernice Bianca immediately and discard the rest.
Sacconi advocated that after potassium silicate had been put on very sparingly,
you should cover it completely with the vernice bianca before varnishing.
October 23, 2011
New Mixies going up... for June 2011 "Tell Me" CD Recording Session!
Cleaver Smith Swenson and McKnight (CSSM) are once again getting material together for a new CD project. Tentatively called "Tell Me" after Robert Smith and Bill Cleaver's latest collaborative efforts. A spritely list of songs have been recorded: Robert Smith's and Bill Cleaver's "Tell Me" (title song), "The Fast One" (J.D. Souther), "The Nearness of You" (Hoagy Charmichael), "Sometimes" (Jonathan Edwards), "When You Get Back to Town" (David Mcknigh), "Mecklenburg Waltz" (David McKinght), LIvely Cello Tune (Jill Soha), Blue Ridge Morning (David McKnight & Bill Cleaver), "Tennessee Trot" (David McKnight), and "Miner's Holiday" (David McKnight) are on the current list of tunes for this upcoming CD. Check out the current mixes on the "Works in Progress" page.