4/13: Bowed Psaltery

The bowed psaltery had her first music gig today. My volunteer organization invited her to come entertain at the registration table for our annual meeting.

First, the flyers. Flyers are good because when people ask “What’cha got there?” it’s nice to give them something they can take home and read. Here’s a condensed version of mine.

Thank you for asking!
This is a Bowed Psaltery, from “Psalter,” or Book of Psalms. (In some Bibles you can still find the musical directions for instruments such as the psaltery.) This model was made by Master Works in Oklahoma; for a demo and tips on holding the bow, see You Tube, “Master Works Mahogany Bowed Psaltery.” This one sold new for $250.

I gave up the Irish whistle because of arthritis, and looked for years for another instrument to play. This has no fingering or frets, and so is ideal for someone without full use of their fingers. The right side strings are equal to the white keys on the piano; the left side strings have all the sharps and flats, your black piano keys. It’s about as simple playing a blender. I didn’t need a teacher to learn this; in fact, schools should start children with psaltery before handing them a violin! The only drawback is that tuning all the little pins takes a while; always wear glasses or goggles in case a string snaps. And stringing them is tricky too; I brought mine back to the music store and they taught me how.
$250 isn’t much for an attractive simple instrument with a calm gentle sound. The psaltery deserves more of a name, especially for those of us with dexterity issues who thought that our music making days were over.

For one week before the event I’d worked on a set list of songs. Then in the set list I added navigation notes: “No sharps or flats needed.” Or “One A# at the ‘Gloria’ part.” But after writing the list and the notes over and over, last night it was woefully clear that

1. even with the notes I was getting fumbled and making mistakes,
2. even with the same songs I still had to keep remembering the various tricks to each song each time,
3. the set list might not be long enough to cover the full hour, and
4. the people who invited me had no idea that I’d never played a gig before.

Last night I threw away the set list and in the dark on the balcony played one song. Then by listening to that one song it was possible to catch little echoes and reminders of other songs with interlapping melodic lines right in the same key. So if you start with one Russian Orthodox or Gregorian chant, then soon that flows into other chants, into Celtic whistle airs, into folk music, into very pretty flourishes used in rock music. Soon an hour passed and there was the solution: start with something clear and grounded and traditional, send that out and see what tunes call back. So that was the answer.

They had a nice chair set up near the registration table. I brought flyers to hand out and then settled down to play. A couple of mistakes dropped in, but even the mistakes darted off the path to new ideas. Then people stopped by to ask about the instrument and to tell me their own music stories, and then sharing their stories became part of their whole experience of the event. It was a good day.

Our local hospital has a neighborhood house for children. Kids (and their families) can stay there when the children come to the hospital for intensive medical treatment. Maybe they’d like to have someone sit outside on the bench and play there too. Hm…

About maryangelis

Hello Readers! (= Здравствуйте, Читатели!) The writer lives in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and the English and Russian languages, working in an archive by day and writing at night. Her walk in the world is normally one human being and one small detail after another. Then she goes home and types about it all until the soup is done.
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