autoharp Tag

[caption id="attachment_14526" align="aligncenter" width="630"] Leah Dolgoy on the stage of the Carter Fold.[/caption] This May, the sweet-stringed sounds of Leah Dolgoy's autoharp will once again fill the Folk School campus with joy and magic. She returns to Brasstown to teach a music class focusing on the legacy of the Carter Family for continuing autoharpists. Leah is a two-term student host at the Folk School, she considers Appalachian old-time music to be her true love, and Brasstown a second home. [caption id="attachment_14531" align="alignright" width="233"]KS2A5198 Picking on the autoharp in the Music Studio[/caption] CP: When did you first hear the autoharp and what drew you to it? LD: I first heard the autoharp when a Canadian singer songwriter named Basia Bulat played it. I was actually at home with a fever, recovering from mononucleosis, and listening to a live broadcast of Basia’s concert on the CBC. I was immediately drawn to the instrument because of its unique sound. I remember listening  intently and trying to figure out what it was that she was playing. I was totally mesmerized. CP: Is the autoharp mostly a solo instrument or do you like to play with other people? LD: The autoharp can be either a solo instrument used to accompany yourself singing, or it works beautifully in an ensemble or a jam. I play it both ways but I certainly have a preference for playing with others. CP: You play autoharp in some indie folk bands, Corinna Rose and Heirloom. How do fans and show-goers respond to the autoharp?

[caption id="attachment_10249" align="aligncenter" width="475"]DSC_4288-475px Leah and Aubrey Atwater play "Red Rocking Chair" on the Music Studio Porch.[/caption]

CP: Welcome back to the Folk School. What’s it like to be back as a second-time host?

LD: It has been so incredible to be back in this community. It’s a bit like coming back to folk-craft-musical-dance wonderland. Some of the cast of characters has changed, but the heart of the matter is the same. 

[caption id="attachment_10266" align="alignright" width="215"]Karen Mueller and Leah Dolgoy Karen Mueller and Leah Dolgoy[/caption]

CP: How is the Folk School different than your regular life?

LD: I think the best way to illustrate this is by telling you about what I’ve been up to between my last host term and my return to the Folk School. I finished my last host term in August 2011 and went back to school that September. Conventional school. Graduate school in Occupational Therapy. I remember the first day I went to get my ID card. I went to a computer and used a touch screen to print out a number. And then proceeded to wait in line for hours while cranky people all around me played on their iPhones. I remember thinking to myself, “when you register at the Folk School, a work study greets you, hands you a map, tells you how to find your housing through the woods, and directs you to the room with the freshly baked cookies.” Having just finished conventional school, it is so nice to return to a Danish Folk School model of learning. 

I arrived at the Folk School for my current host term on Christmas Day. I walked into Keith House, and was just struck by the comforting familiarity of everything around me. The smell of the wood, the creaky floors, the feeling of the Jr. host room at the top of the stairs. Then Winter Dance Week started. Suddenly I was in a literal embrace with all of these dear lovely folks I hadn’t seen in two years. I would run into friends in the contra dance line. I very quickly became re-acclimatized to the rhythm of how things are around here – morning song, ringing the bell, the exact time it takes to walk from any point on campus to the dining hall and not be late.

As a host at the Folk School, sometimes really incredible opportunities come your way. Karen Mueller is an innovative, virtuosic musician and highly sought after music educator. I recently took Karen Mueller’s intermediate-advanced autoharp class and weekend beginner mountain dulcimer class back-to-back. At the end of our time together, she agreed to sit down with me and answer a few of my questions about her life, career, and relationship to the Folk School.  [caption id="attachment_9805" align="aligncenter" width="480"]DSC_0531 (1) Leah Karen Karen Mueller & Leah Dolgoy in front of the hearth in the Music Studio, Davidson Hall[/caption] LD: How did you get started playing the autoharp and the dulcimer? KM: I have played both instruments since high school. I started because there was a bluegrass festival that I discovered in my hometown of Winfield, Kansas. I wasn’t raised with bluegrass music. I knew folk, rock, pop, and classical music, but the more I was around bluegrass and old time, the more I liked it. I saw people playing these instruments really well, doing things I didn’t know you could, which piqued my curiosity. My dad and I built my first dulcimer and I taught myself to play both instruments from recordings and just by watching people whenever I could. [Karen also plays guitar, mandolin and ukulele.] [caption id="attachment_9814" align="alignright" width="228"]karen-mueller-dulcimer Karen and her dulcimer[/caption] LD: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? (laughs) I had no idea! I was really into art. I was thinking about visual arts, but I did well academically too. I didn’t see myself being a professional musician. I loved music more than anything, but I didn’t want to pursue the classical arena. I had really intense classical piano studies until I was about 15 and then I was ready to take a break. I picked up the classical guitar just as intensely. Once I picked up the strings, I really felt more in touch with that than with the piano. To pursue music at college would have required I go to the conservatory and take the classical route and I was just done with that. I didn’t see a career as a folk musician being a viable option. That career just had to gradually develop over time. When I was in college at the University of Kansas I tried to meet other musicians in the community even though I was studying all the time. I met some people that I played with regularly and we formed a band. When I graduated, I thought I would take that proverbial year off and decide whether to pursue grad school and in what discipline (I was in Art History and English, with a minor in Fine Arts and had done journalism too). So I took a year off and got a job with a jewelry maker doing really high-end gold and silver smithing and still played pretty seriously with my band from college. I also got a Celtic band going. Both bands rehearsed twice a week, and gigged on the weekends, so I learned the craft of being in a working band: the playing as well as the administrative end of it. Meanwhile I still had the security of a full time job. I was earning more with the band than I was with the full time job so I just kept going with that. When I moved to Minneapolis, I hooked up with a music school and music store to give lessons and still did temping and office work while I was building up my student base. I started touring more as a solo artist, was quickly playing in 4 bands, and then gradually I realized that I had enough students that I didn’t have to do the other stuff. I had no illusions that it was going to be easy or that it was going to happen because I said it was going to happen. It really was a day-by-day thing. I get a lot of calls now inviting me to events, so I don’t have to do the same kind of outreach anymore. And your network of contacts keeps spreading so you get more ideas of where and how to set up things over time.  LD: If you could collaborate with a musician living or dead, who would it be? I’ve covered songs by Sting, and now he is playing the lute too. That would be a trip! I would add Maybelle Carter, Eliza Gilkyson, and the Swedish band Väsen to that list too.