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I'm looking over my repertoire and putting together lists of music that needs work in the next few days before I go to Chile. I've been focused on the upcoming 2018 recording session, so I've been writing, arranging, learning, and retaining new material; but now I need to switch gears. In South America I anticipate that I'll mainly be playing original music, with some renaissance and baroque added for flavour, but I've only got about 20 of my songs performance ready at any given time. If I can add another dozen worthy-but-forgotten pieces into the mix then life will go a lot more smoothly for me.

I'm well into crossing t's and dotting i's.
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I know it's been a hard year for a lot of people, but personally it's treated me fairly well even as I mourn for various people and events. I'd like to thank everyone who made this year so good for my music and travels; it's been a very full year for me, and I can't believe so much has happened in a mere twelve months.

I began the year in southern Ontario, Canada, recording Dulce Melos. I'm incredibly proud of how it came out, and of how ambitious I was with the complexity of its music. I continued my Baroque explorations, delved even further into sixteenth century music, and discovered some fourteenth- and fifteenth-century gems in addition to the Celtic and early medieval music which has long been my foundation.

From Canada I went to Texas, although it minimized my culture shock that I was living in Austin (unofficial motto: "Keep Austin Weird"). I had a truly splendid experience at the Sherwood Forest Medieval Faire, feeling myself absolutely at home among close friends old and new. It's a delightful show with a lot of heart and skill behind it and I relished the experience of playing there. Austin audiences were incredibly welcoming and generous, and between my colleagues and our patrons I had a magical time.

From the newness of Sherwood I returned to my stomping grounds of Gulf Wars, a large SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) event in southern Mississippi. I had a great time, as my Canadian friends mingled with those I have in New Orleans. We did have a bit of an incident, however, with a massive storm system that swept through. I had just begun a set in the tavern when the intense winds and driving rains began, and I moved my setup to the minstrels' gallery (it's an amazing place). I spent the next few hours at my dulcimer, doing my best to add a bit of calm to the atmosphere. They're calling that night "Gulfnado", and it's a story that will always be shared by those who were there.

I then headed to Italy as I do most years, where I made some discoveries pro and con. Cities that have been good to me in the past, Padua and Bologna, had recently passed anti-busking regulations, and even the nominally friendly city of Perugia gave me some problems. In response, I broadened my busking to cities where I had spent very little time in the past, and was very pleased at my welcome in Prato, Terni, Foligno, and Pistoia. Taranto, Genoa, and Pisa were delightful and reliable as they've been so often in the past, and I'm pleased to have added Foggia to the list of cities where I reliably return.

From Italy I resumed my renaissance festival circuit, picking up in St Louis. I always feel very at home there, with this being my fifteenth year there as a musician, but it was a bit of an oddity; the festival is in the process of moving from the spring to the fall, and these two weekends were "preview" weekends offering a limited version of the show free to the public. Even so, I had a really positive experience, and the weekends were a rousing success.

I then spent a month performing at SCA camping events. It's typical for me to include a few of these throughout my year, as with Gulf Wars, but we were celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Society's founding. This meant that I went from St Louis to a ten-day camping event outside Kansas City, and on to a week outside Indianapolis, with a few days visiting my parents before a long weekend at the War of the Trillium surrounded by my family of friends in Greater Toronto.

I then continued my Canadian adventures by spending July as a street performer at Byward Market in Ottawa, the nation's capital. I love Ottawa and, as is a theme in my travels, have a number of friends there. It's my favourite busking pitch in North America, as a historic neighbourhood meets a farmers market under the umbrella of a very helpful and organized management team.

I returned to the States, and to the SCA, for my annual trek to Pennsic, north of Pittsburg. My fifteenth year there, I'm starting to play for the children of people who started listening to me as children, themselves. I taught a class on neat medieval sites to visit in Italy, and I was honoured to co-teach a lesson on street performing with my old friejnd and dear colleague Jack Strauss, who calls himself Dr Henry Best in the Society. We have sharply different styles, and it was a lot of fun to see where our perspectives differed and lined up. I'm especially proud to be a part of this class because it has a history of encouraging artists to become professionals, with several alumni who have gone on to make some brilliant art.

I'm running out of creative ways to say "and then I went someplace else".

So off to the New York Renaissance Faire rode I! It's a truly beautiful show set in a former botanical garden, where I'm surrounded by (you guessed it) good friends, delightedly playing for New Yorkers who live in the live entertainment capital of the world and know how to be a phenomenal audience.

Sadly, the New York Faire overlaps with the new autumn dates of the St Louis Renaissance Festival, but I was able to return for the last two weekends of its season. As I mentioned, the preview weekends had gone off very well, and the full show was an even bigger deal.

After two weekends off, which I spent being a social butterfly in southern Ontario again, I headed south to Louisiana. This was my fourteenth year at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival, after a very difficult year for them. The site flooded in March, under 8 feet of water, and after they had cleaned it up did so again in September. I was deeply impressed at how many people pitched in their labour to make things work, and how well management pulled off the event after two such disasters. Thankfully the weather had gotten the water out of its system, because we only had one wet festival day the entire season for a remarkably good run.

In short, it's been a very good festival season for me. Outside of my live performances, however, I also got a lot more into Internet video this year. I launched a Patreon campaign and I'm very pleased both at its generous reception and with how much fun I'm having. I've been intending to take more video, and this has been a brilliant motivation to keep coming up with new variations. Many thanks to all of my patrons! And many thanks to everyone who has offered me encouragement, feedback, applause, and their business. Without you there could never be me, and I'm deeply thankful.
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I'm going to a New Year's Eve party and I just read the invitation; it's a wake for a brutal year, and we'll be bringing sentiments to burn and wishes for the new year. It's a fairly standard Yule ritual, and not my first rodeo. But like everything else, as I approach my fortieth birthday, it carries a lot of memories.


I had just finished my first season at the Ohio Renaissance Festival and I was informally engaged to my girlfriend of two years (no ring, but she had asked and I said, "yes"). I was on top of the world, and when it came my turn to express my thoughts on the passing year and wishes for the next I stood tall.

"It's been a year of music and love, and I hope for even more to come!"

It was a sentiment to remind me to be careful what I wished for. My relationship ended in early April, but I booked my first full summer/fall season of renaissance festival work and was very much on my toes with launching my career. This meant that I was fresh meat on the circuit, and I call that period my "summer of love".

A dear old friend still makes fun of me for breathlessly calling every week to exclaim, "there's this girl!" as I repeatedly fell head over heels at a dizzying rate. I look back on that time with fondness and I'm on good terms with several of the ladies involved, but while I'm glad to have lived it I would never want to repeat it.

What a wild ride it was, and now I'm a lot more careful with my wishes. I'll let you know what I come up with.
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Having experienced my first Renaissance Festival at Baycrafters (see Origin Story Part I), I went off to college. I was dating a girl in Dayton, Suzzi Bibby, while going to school in Columbus, and I accumulated a lot of miles between the cities. It was she who introduced me to the Ohio Renaissance Festival.

We went as patrons, and soon were going in costume. We would treat the admission fee as a cover charge and spend all day in the pub, watching band after band. Soon we were playing together the music we were hearing, with my experiments on mountain dulcimer (no relation to my now-primary instrument, the hammered dulcimer) being accompanied by her playing on recorder and bodhrán (an Irish frame drum).

We called ourselves the Tweedford Minstrels, since our music straddled English, Scottish, and Irish traditions just as a fictitious ford on the River Tweed would straddle the countries of England and Scotland. Our first and only performance was at the Ohio State University Medieval and Renaissance Faire in May of 1997.

We had broken up the previous January, and the band outlived the relationship only briefly. I was branching out into new music and we weren't getting together to rehearse as often now that we were dating other people more local to us. I had taken up the cittern, a ten-string instrument that had more volume, more flexibility, and more of a renaissance image. And so I went solo.

In 1998 I played a madrigal dinner, and my hosts Mac and Cheri Corbeil insisted that I audition for the Ohio Renaissance Festival. I didn't feel myself to be ready, but I played the Ohio State Medieval Faire again on my own and gathered the courage to audition for ORF that summer.

To my amazement I got the gig.

Everything else I've done followed from that moment. I discovered that my love of performing went deeper than I had imagined, and I learned that there were people who made a living by traveling the country and bringing joy to their audiences. I investigated the Renaissance Festival circuit and began plotting a future, even as I commuted to North Carolina to fulfill an internship with IBM. A stark choice lay before me, and I was strongly considering Option B.

I have never regretted treading the path less taken.
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After a few weeks of research and the examples of several dear friends, I'm putting together a Patreon crowdfunding campaign. I'm shooting video this week and hope to take it live next week. Thank you all so much for all of your support over the years, and for keeping independant art alive!

The rush

Apr. 18th, 2016 04:22 pm
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I just rolled into Pescara, where I played a few sets eight years ago but haven't done much since. I stopped by for a layover in recent years, though, and decided it deserves a second shot so I'm walking the streets with two days off before I play again, seeing potential everywhere.

It's an exhilarating feeling, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to Italy and, more broadly, a reason I'm an entrepreneurial musician. Seeing potential and bringing it to life make my heart pound as I seize whatever opportunities pass my way.

It may be great and it may be crap, but this part here is what I live for.
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I've dallied elsewhere many times but I always come back to the joy I take in the sixteenth century.

The biggest competitor, by far, is high medieval architecture, roughly 1000-1200, but it's a fascination that was shared by many in the sixteenth century. I've read (I'm a bad academic, forgetting a source) that many characteristics of renaissance architecture are borrowed as much from Romanesque as from Roman, as a locally-flavoured, artistically-political choice to emphasize local Tuscan tradition over International Gothic.

Baroque music and sculpture are also high on my list, but many of my favourite aspects can also be found in sixteenth century antecedents. The basso continuo that distinguishes baroque music makes its appearance in the sixteenth century, and layers of polyphonic arrangement are not as universal as they're often perceived. And, while baroque sculpture has an energy and movement that its forebears do not, the realism and humanity of sixteenth century sculpture bring stone to life almost as vividly.

The sixteenth century is part of the Early Modern period in academic discourse, bridging the gap between medieval and modern, and that's precisely why I love it. It retains enough of earlier time periods to feel exotically interesting, while close enough to our modern sensibilities to be approachable. As a performing artist this is key, since my goal is to bring historical music to modern audiences and approachability helps. There is enough that is familiar in sixteenth century art to make a spice out of that which is foreign.
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It's official: my newest album, Dulce Melos, will be released 20 May! I named it for the Medieval Latin phrase for "sweet sound" that was later anglicized to "dulcimer"

The basic concept of the album was that it would be majority historical, focusing on but not limited to 15-17 century music. The other parts would be original and Irish music, with one track by Turlough O'Carolan straddling the divide. More specifically, I wanted to make the album roughly equal parts renaissance, baroque, original, and Irish, and I came pretty close. The final track list is:

Douce Dame Jolie (G. de Machaut, 1300 - 1377)
The Faerie Round (A. Holborne, 1545 - 1602)
The Rights of Man (traditional)
Augury (V. Conaway)
Fantasie 34 & 35 (F. Canova da Milano, 1497 - 1543)
Planxty Burke (T. O'Carolan, 1670 - 1738)
Le Souvenir (R. Morton, 1430 - c. 1479)
Corrente Terza (A. Piccinini, 1566 - 1638)
Cooley's Reel (traditional)
Volte VII & VIII (M. Galilei, 1575 - 1631)
Kyrie (anonymous, Faenza Codex)
Danza All'Improvviso (V. Conaway)
Toccata per spinettina sola (G. Frescobaldi, 1583 - 1643)
Falla con Misuras a.k.a. La Spagna (G. Ebreo da Pesaro, c. 1420 - c. 1484)
Replica Variata Della Corrente Terza (A. Piccinini, 1566 - 1638)
Foxhunter's Jig (traditional)
Allemonde in Em (J.S. Bach, 1685 - 1750)
Epiphany (V. Conaway)

I've listened to it a lot over the past two days; I'm pleased at how it's turned out and excited to share it with the world!
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I wrapped up recording three weeks ago, and I've been spending a lot of time thinking and researching on what I might like to do for the next one. I've spent a couple afternoons in university music libraries and reviewed what worked best and came naturally on the last album, and I've already got a pretty good idea of what will be on the next.

It's still very much a tentative track listing, but the outlines are clearly visible and the specifics are coming into focus. I've even got two potential titles, medieval phrases that turned up in my research today. I had not expected this to happen so quickly, especially when I'm still rehearsing some of the recently-recorded pieces for live performance, but I'm excited to have a plan going forward.
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I can hardly believe it's been 10 years.

2006 was a big year for me. I went to Europe for the first time, on vacation, in January. That summer I went back, performing with the Aerial Angels, during which time I did a few solo street sets and set up my future as a busker.

The year before I had released Distractions from the Muse, the earliest album to exhibit my mature style. My previous efforts were my attempts to find my voice but, while I've continued to improve, DftM was the first to really sound uniquely like me. There's a reason it's my earliest work available on iTunes: I will always be grateful that my first, tentative, efforts never hit the Internet.

I became a professional musician in 1998 and went full-time in 2002, but 2005-2007 is the stretch that made me the performer I am today and 2006 is when the pieces really fell into place.

I can hardly believe it's been 10 years.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Alternately, using the same term, this is the part of my job that most feels like work.

I set up the dulcimer three days ago, rehearsing in the space that I will use to record. It also gave me the ability to judge how well the dulcimer would stay in tune in that spot, which is very important when each take has to match the tuning of the last, for editing, and of the next, for overdubbing. I've been rehearsing to the metronome, in preparation for studio work, and it's been about two years acquiring, learning, rehearsing, and performing the material.

Those are the fun parts.

Recording is distinctly less fun, at least for me. I know musicians who find it a delightful experience, much more so than performance or touring, and I think they are crazy.

This morning began very well, and I whipped off two tracks within 40 minutes. Of course, I started with the easiest music in order to work out the bugs, which is convenient because it turns out the microphone inputs were not recording to tape for those tracks.

That was frustrating.

Also, after several days of consistent tuning on the part of the dulcimer, today it didn't like that part of the room and was consistently going flat. In hindsight, perhaps it's better that those first half dozen takes (between the two songs) didn't make it.

I took a break, ate some eggs, and came back to the task. It was night and day, with things going very smoothly and, I'm pretty sure, doing one of my original songs in a single take (although I recorded a second one just to be sure). I also improvised a solution to a long-standing problem involving sensitive microphones and a loud metronome-click track that may solve an issue I've been fudging for over a decade.

There were still speed bumps, and I discovered that I need to rehearse a 15th century tune with the recording setup rather than a straight metronome before coming back to it, but I'm satisfied with the day's progress. Having spent three hours in the studio, I drove down the hill to my gym, spent 45 minutes on the treadmill to clear my head, came home and showered, and now I'm going to have a little lunch before listening to the day's efforts and making notes for editing.

Welcome to my process.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I've been struggling to write this post for two months. I bought my first dulcimer at the end of October, 2000, and I feel I should mark my crystal milestone in some way. In the end, however, all I can really say is that I never imagined where it would take my career, or how proficient I'd eventually become. I'm eager to see what the next fifteen years bring, and I'm deeply thankful I've come this far.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
For the past four years I've been exploring chamber music* from roughly 1530-1630, but right now I'm diving headfirst into the fifteenth century. Sonically it echoes rhythms and melodies of earlier music while foreshadowing the harmonies of my beloved baroque. Historically it lies in the convenient overlap between the academic Middle Ages (500-1500) and the popular conception of the Renaissance** (1400-1600). In both regards, it's fun and intriguing stuff!

* an anachronistic but convenient way to describe quiet instrumental music for soloists or small ensembles
** academics are skeptical that such a period can be said to have existed but it's been a handy marketing concept since the 19C
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I always had a weakness for VH1 Behind the Music: almost all bands have similar beginnings, and I've always been fascinated to see myself in the early lives of legends. I'm happy with my career and have no desire for fame, but it's a thrill to see my story reflected in the origins of bands that I love; I've found this also extends to music written about the music business.

The best of the lot is Creeque Alley, also arguably the best thing ever done by The Mamas and the Papas (my father and I agree on this point, a rare occasion when it comes to culture). I can see my friends and I in its lyrics, and I want to let you know what I hear in this song.

"John and Mitchy were gettin' kind of itchy / Just to leave the folk music behind"

Almost every band hits this point eventually, whether it's a folk band who wants to expand or a cover band that wants to write original music.

"Zol and Denny workin' for a penny / Tryin' to get a fish on the line"

I'm very fortunate in my career that I've moved beyond this point, but I remember well the days of making 50 cold calls to try and get a "maybe".

"In a coffee house Sebastian sat / And after every number they'd pass the hat"

This is a bit of an inside reference to anyone who hasn't performed for tips. Frequent hat passing will maximize giving, but at the expense of audience goodwill. People will give more but resent you for it, and is usually a sign that you're hurting for money.

"Zolly said 'Denny, you know there aren't many / Who can sing a song the way that you do, let's go south' / Denny said 'Zolly, golly, don't you think that I wish / I could play guitar like you'"

This is common in show business, and is one reason performers are famously insecure. We wouldn't be on stage if we didn't seek external validation, and it's easy to get intimidated by the strengths of our friends and colleagues.

"When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps"

This is everywhere: show business is a very incestuous little dating pool. People tend to crush on people they work with, in general, and there's even a word for it: "showmance"

"Make up, break up, everything is shake up
Guess it had to be that way"

I've lived this: when a bandmate calls and says "we have to talk" it's just as scary and portentous as when a lover says it.

"Broke, busted, disgusted, agents can't be trusted"

There's an entire genre of breakup songs written about agents, from Queen's Death On Two Legs to Sara Bareilles' Love Song.

"Duffy's good vibrations and our imaginations
Can't go on indefinitely
And California dreamin' is becomin' a reality"

And there's always a point near the end of a project when it seems simultaneously that there's nothing more to give at the same time that it's surreal to have made it to the final push.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Today I'm going to do my first street performing since the weekend. Normally I do a lot more of it in Minneapolis, but right now my time is better spent researching and rehearsing new music since I go into the studio in December. Happily, I've made wonderful progress, with a finalized track listing and only five or six pieces left to learn. It also helps that I left the easiest music for last.

So that's what I'm up to: visiting friends, playing a bit to keep some cash flowing, and getting all my ducks in a row to complete the two-year process that recording entails.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Nothing makes me feel more stupid than learning new music: I'm clumsy, hesitant, and incompetent. Every time I rehearse a new piece I wonder why I don't just coast on the 110+ I already know, upon which I could probably build the next 20 years of my career.

And then I remember the deal I made with myself in 2011: I can allow myself to appreciate my career arc and schedule as long as I challenge myself creatively. When everything is stagnant I get bored and burn out and, as painful as this process is, there's no better way of keeping myself in love with my job.

Besides, once I learn the piece I feel like a god. At least until I start the next...
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Where do I get my music? It's a common question, and I thought I'd expand on an answer I recently gave by email.

At this point in my career I've come across enough music that I already have a solid foundation: for example, I know that lute pieces often convert well to the dulcimer and wikipedia has a list of composers whom I look up in a library. It helps that, at this point, I can often spot at a glance what pieces will translate well*, through various characteristics on the page. Every city I visit involves a trip to the local university library, and I almost always come across a new gem. And there's a massive book series of transcribed notation from the fifties on 14C polyphonic music, common to almost every conservatory, which I mine rather a lot.

For my current project I pulled two pieces straight out of music history textbooks. And I know that Edmund Bunting collected and arranged a lot of celtic music in the early 19C, combining traditional tunes with classical arrangements, so I went to his books for my next round of Irish music. Normally I get my celtic repertoire from fiddle music books and websites, which are plentiful, but I wanted a more formal style to match all the baroque repertoire on the next cd. I've been trying to stretch myself by using complicated historical arrangements as a way to tweak my style, which has started feeling stale and in need of different influences.

And, of course, I can't discount the input of my friends: several of them have published books of music, and others who have found treasures they've kindly shared with me.

*At a glance I look for lots of eight notes, with minimal half and whole notes, because of the lack of sustain on the dulcimer. The lute also has this problem, which is one reason its repertoire works so well (another being the similar range of the two instruments).
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
My favorite part of this job is all the planning that goes into it. I'm a big-picture thinker, which means I loved the first half of my engineering education and was bored silly by the second. One of my favorite parts of entrepreneurship is the ability, and the necessity, to plan strategically.

I'll be recording in December, and as I plan the track list I'm thinking about how it will fit into the rest of my catalogue. I didn't have any celtic music on my most recent CD, for example, so I'll be sure to include some on the next. I also want a mix of sounds so that an album of solo instrumental music doesn't get repetitive, and a good way to do that is to include music from every century between 1300 and now (1200 if I work up another Cantigas de Santa Maria set).

As a musician I also have the opportunity to plan future tours. I have a pretty good grip on my plans and hopes for 2015 and I'm already looking ahead to next spring: I have more plans for Europe, but do I want to go back to Mardi Gras first? And what can I do to fill January?

I'm not very good at living in the moment, I confess, but I'm playing to my strengths. The adventures continue!
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I really enjoy taking as a performance persona what one friend called "Professor Vince". One of my life goals is to make history accessible, and I use storytelling to make up for our educational system's over reliance on easily tested dates and names. Similarly, my dulcimer playing isn't to duplicate period practice (although that's a fun sideline I sometimes indulge), but to use the awesomeness of the instrument to open doors to period music and as a starting point to discuss medieval history (from the crusades to cultural migration pattern through changing tastes in music throught the renaissance, baroque, and classical periods).

I've been very lucky that what feeds my body also feeds my soul.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Yesterday I went to an SCA event and I had a wonderful time among people I didn't know very well, with three exceptions, but who were very kind to me. I came home inspired and desiring to do more in the SCA, until I looked at the calendar and realized I'm already doing everything my schedule allows.

I brought Isabella, my smallest dulcimer, because I wasn't performing to work, but socially, and her range fits the 16th century dulcimer while having the additional benefit of being incredibly portable. The larger dulcimers work better professionally, because they have a bigger sound and the range to show off my technique, but I've been having a lot of fun working within renaissance period constraints.

One song that I'm thrilled worked on Isabella, with only slight adjustment, is Vincenzo Galilei's Saltarello; it's a favorite piece among classical guitarists and was one of the first tunes I adapted from lute to dulcimer. Vincenzo Galilei was an influential composer but eclipsed by his son Galileo: an inventor of opera loses out when his son helps to invent science. (Have a listen:

It was a very good day, although I left a little early because I was getting worn down socially. It was my first public performance with Isabella and I'm happy to report the experiment was successful. She'll be coming to more SCA events!
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