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Working Hands

Here’s a little gospely number I wrote in the shower the other day.  Seems like something that could’ve come out of the Unitarian hymn book, and no surprise there.  This song has some of my favorite things in it– playing the piano, lots of fifth intervals, and invented words (“feelya”, “walkya”, “growya”, and “giveya”).  I’m not that crazy about the quality of the recording… Still on a search for a good digital recorder, I suppose.  This one makes the piano sound muffled, my voice sound unreasonably clear, and is overall too quiet or something.  It could just be that I need a good microphone.

Anyway, all technological critiques aside, I’m pretty happy with the song… It sounds to me like a conversation between a person (ok, me) and the universe.  Just some happy thoughts passed back and forth, you know, a little small talk, me and the universe.

“Working Hands” recorded at 524 East 18th St., Chattanooga, June 8, 2009:

Working Hands, by Christie Burns


Tune for Rebecca

The Colorado Dulcimer Fest was asking its performers to donate something to the door prize prize pool, and I didn’t want to be like everyone else and just put in a CD.  So I made up a little certificate instead, which entitled the winner to an original tune, composed by me, in the winner’s honor.  I’ll call this the “O’Carolan tactic”… or in other words, self-assigned homework.  I was lucky that the winner of the certificate was actually a hammered dulcimer player herself, and a pretty cool gal at that.  It has been an honor for me to compose in honor of her, even if it has taken me two months to write the tune.  I’ll be seeing Rebecca, the winner, soon.  It’ll be up to her to title the tune.

I’m my own worst videographer, so nevermind the headlessness in this clip.  Just enjoy the music, and focus on the hammers, because that’s what it’s all about anyway.  Oh, and by the way, those are Paul Haslem hammers I’m using, and he’s about to make a new batch of them to send to America.  Contact me if you’re interested in buying a pair!

Colorado Dulcimer Fest: Allison Lotterhos

Last weekend at the Colorado Dulcimer Festival, there were all of the wonderful elements that make up a dulcimer festival: concerts, workshops, jamming in the lobby, meals and social time with the world’s friendliest strangers. There was much comparing of notes over different makes of instruments, different takes on tunes. There were people on the hammered dulcimer side of the fence peeking up over the fence into the mountain dulcimer yard with an “ooh,” “aah,” and “wow!” [Leave it to Erin Rogers and Aaron O’Rourke to make us all want to take one of those three-stringed suckers home with us.]
But for me, one of the most surprising and inspiring parts of the weekend happened while I was backstage judging the Colorado State Hammered Dulcimer Contest. Of course I heard many lovely things, fine arrangements and great playing. When I heard Allison Lotterhos play (without seeing her), I thought the player was a guy. I may be way out of line saying something like this, but what I was hearing was this rapid, mathematically-perfect, technical precision in her playing that I’ve mostly heard from guys who come to the dulcimer from the percussion world. Numbers, intervals, patterns, rhythms that move and change like hummingbirds… I was pleased to see our champion was a girl–and a rather young one at that. I think Allison had stumbled upon her first dulcimer festival, and the weekend was made all the better for it. She and I swapped CDs (oh, I so got the better end of that deal) and now I’m sitting here in Chattanooga listening to her compositions. As I listen, I’m wanting to take back what I just typed about the math and the numbers. That’s all there, certainly, but what comes out in her playing more than anything else is her direct heart-to-dulcimer connection. This level of focus, imagination, and listening/responding to one’s own music as it’s being created– these are all elements that comprise the playing of my most favorite musicians.
Allison, I don’t know if you’re reading this post, but I’d like to say thanks for making this CD and sharing it. Thanks for showing up at the festival and making it extra special for me (and I’m sure many others). Keep it up with the composing, performing, and recording; you set a great example to follow.

Allison Lotterhos at the Colorado Dulcimer Festival, 2009:

Mountain Music Folk School

This is an exciting day!  I am announcing the opening of the Mountain Music Folk School, co-founded by myself, Matt Evans, and Steve Daugherty.  And in the spirit of all things nifty and new, I’ve changed the look of my own blog–And yes, I will continue to post clips from my musical adventures on this blog, but keep an eye on the Mountain Music Folk School blog as well, because there’s going to be a lot of activity there!  All of the teachers are blog contributors, so there will be a variety of stories, videos, and photos coming soon.

There’s a great video there now of Casey, Matt, and myself playing “Cockeyed Hen”, an original by Casey Phillips.


Tunes tunes tunes!! This weekend I was paid a visit by the fabulous Helen Gubbins, a very dear close friend of mine from my Cork days. She primarily plays accordion, but whipped out a fantastic tune on my piano, which promptly became my favorite tune…

…Or at least it was my favorite tune for an hour or two before I got to the session at the Tremont Tavern and heard this new tune by Casey Phillips. Casey is a rock solid player and all-around terrific guy, and he knows approximately 3,424,502 tunes– and as if that’s not enough, he’s writing more! This one in particular completely won me over. I’ll be working on this one for the next few days.

Cockeyed Hen, by Casey Phillips, performed on tenor guitar at the Tremont Tavern, July 27, 2008:

Mothers Day Composition, for my mom, of course.

This past Sunday, Butch and I were playing our first of many Sundays out at the aquarium. He’d gotten up for a bathroom break, so I was left there alone to improvise on my dulcimer. A small meditation on my mother, and Mothers Day in general, is what came out. When Butch came back, he added in all kinds of ambient loops with the guitar, real spacey rhythmless stuff, and it sounded great. I should’ve been recording then, but I wasn’t. Instead, I’ve recreated my part here in the living room this morning on the brand new Masterworks 16/15c I’m selling.

It’s called, “My Mother Is Beautiful,” recorded on 18th Street in Chattanooga, May 13, 2008:

The Lovely Lisa Ferguson

I’m glad this blog is about all kinds of music I encounter on a daily/weekly basis, so I’m free to post a clip of someone else playing the hammered dulcimer. Lisa Ferguson and I got lucky with two last-minute gigs this weekend. The first one, Saturday night, was at CreateHere on Main Street. Then we went to Ken Pritchard’s new building (formerly the OCI warehouse on Main St) and playing for an open house he was having there. We spent two hours playing out on the sidewalk to try to attract some passers by, and then rewarded ourselves by going inside to a big open wooden room, all frosty-lit with big walls o’ windows…

I asked Lisa to play her newly composed tune for me, because I felt myself just falling more and more in love with it (and today, still falling). I recorded it with my iPod, which I still haven’t quite figured out, so the sound is a bit rough. The levels were too low, so I boosted them a bit for the sake of this blog, but it all ends up a bit noisy, sounding like it was recorded on a cassette recorder. The other noise you hear in there is me and Adelle dancing behind Lisa, loving every second of the music. When we finished dancing, I sat down at my dulcimer and joined in with a few notes towards the end of her piece.

The piece is still a work-in-progress for Lisa, but she said I could post it anyway. This is currently the most beautiful piece of music in my world.

Thanks to Philip Luckey for the photo!