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Home  >  Family and Community  >  Family Collections  >  Kerr
'Walking to China' - Family Music at the Saturday Market
By Jim Kerr

Is that concrete in my veins? I can't get up. I am just too tired. Bed. That's the place for me. What is with all this sunshine? Too bad it's not raining. It is the perfect day to play the Saturday Market. My wife, Denise Martin, is up already. Amanda, my teenage daughter, wants to sleep late. I remind her that her band, The Emeralds, is scheduled to play on Market stage today. So we are all up. Denise packs her hammered dulcimer, sunscreen, and a few light snacks and a water bottle. Amanda packs her fiddle. I pack my guitar and CDs that we want to sell. Then, with the power of modern mechanization and a couple of cups of coffee, the whole family is driving to the chaos of the Anchorage Saturday Market to play traditional acoustic music.

Denise plays hammered dulcimer at the Anchorage Saturday Market.
The free market in all its glory has a place for our family. After helping me set out our CDs and tapes on folding campstools, Amanda decides to explore the Saturday Market. The sound of the hammered dulcimer and guitar ring out through the din. Families and assorted small groups of people stop and listen. Many people have never seen a dulcimer like this before. They often think of dulcimers as being lap instruments with four strings. I remember the first time I heard a hammered dulcimer. It was at the Pike Street Market in Seattle in 1978. At first I thought it was a mandolin. No. It was different. I realized there was too much sustain in the notes. Then as I got closer to the sound and actually saw this big trapezoidal shaped instrument with over 60 strings I was amazed. I loved the sound. It reminded me of an inside out piano. You could actually see the strings and they were being hit with delicate wooden mallets. I bought Denise a dulcimer so I could learn how to play it. I still haven't figured it out.

We start out with a few newer pieces since there aren't a lot of folks around. We save our most popular pieces for the bigger crowds. We decide to start with Trinidad music -- Briehad Del Zulu. I close my eyes. I imagine I'm in this hot open-air Trinidad festival and people are dancing in wild syncopation to our rhythms. We once asked a steel drum player from Trinidad if he had ever heard this tune and he was totally puzzled by it. At the time I was surprised that he had never heard it. Then he played some tunes for us -- nothing but modern pop tunes from America. When you think about this situation it makes perfect sense. He is just like us. He looks for music that carries him to another land. Music is a great vehicle for transporting us out of our own countries without having to hassle with the airlines.

Next we play a tune that I wrote on the fiddle. Amanda named it "Walking to China." She said that is what it reminded her of. Every time I play this tune I think of Amanda walking across the Pacific Ocean to China. The only reason we play the tune is because Denise adapted it to the hammered dulcimer. She makes it sound great. When I compose tunes I sometimes write too much into them. Denise will listen to my measures and pick out the ones she likes the best.She listens for the ones that sound right and are built to last. Once she has found them she takes them with her and forgets the rest. Sometimes she won't pick any notes at all out of a tune. Those tunes are forgotten. The world is a better place because of this process.

Playing guitar with Denise is so natural. She drives in the melody lane while I take to the chord and bass lanes. We both ride the rhythm -- and on this tune we are riding fast.

--spring 2002

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