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Classical Folk
Miller-Rowe Consort's Hammer Dulcimer, Classical Guitar Arrangements

by Daniel Elton Harmon

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[revised March 2003]

The proliferation of hammer dulcimer music in America during the last quarter century has presented the instrument in combination with nearly every other device known to folk music. One of the most "natural" blends, assuming they're arranged with the proper delicacy and thought, can be hammer dulcimer with classical guitar (despite the obvious discrepancy in tone between hammered steel strings and softly plucked nylon).

For a tasteful example, listen to the Miller-Rowe Consort of upstate South Carolina. David Rowe (hammer dulcimer) and Michael Miller (classical guitar) began performing together at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, in December 1991 after years of musical development on their own. Since then, they've come to be much in demand in several states—at weddings and other formal galas, as you might imagine, as well as festivals and camps. Their reputation blossomed in 1994, when they were heard on "CBS This Morning."

"It's an unusual mix," acknowledges David, an ARP pastor and one-time elementary school music teacher. "But the different timbre, with the nylon strings, mixes well. One of the things that's helped us develop our sound is Mike specifically being a classical guitarist. Of course, we're both classically trained."

Their unique overall sound is built on classical, folk and Celtic elements, with a touch of plain country music on occasion. David played guitar and bass and sang professionally with pop and folk groups before taking his music degree at Winthrop University, where he studied classical guitar. He later became fascinated by the possibilities for hammer dulcimer arrangements and switched to it as his main instrument.

Michael, who has a master's degree in music from the University of Georgia, began studying classical guitar at age 12. He's studied under the likes of Christopher Parkening, Jose Tomas and Christopher Berg. In addition to performing throughout the Southeast, he teaches guitar at Presbyterian College and privately. Music—teaching and performing combined—is his full-time occupation. He's the booking agent for the duo.

The duo usually perform a tune in live presentations for a year or longer before committing it to a recording, says David, the duo's primary composer and arranger. "What we like to do is get a tune up and live with it for awhile, and let it settle down and change as it will before we record it."

But time constraints often alter the plan. "Appalachian Sky was the first thing Mike and I did together," David recalls. "On one of the tunes, `Sleepers Awake,' he finished the transcription the night before we recorded it, and hadn't even worked out fingering. That was a bear."

Much of their original music is reflective and personal. For example, "Ten Years Waiting" by Michael—which became one of their album titles—is a tribute to the long wait he and his wife endured before being blessed with children. "Turnip Greens" makes an off-the-wall instrumental statement. (They'll do a vocal rendition of it if you absolutely must hear. . . .) And they draw heavily from traditional hymnody.

In 1996, their recordings were selected to appear in the PBS Wireless Audio Catalog. "That was exciting for us," David acknowledges. "In practical terms, it's a retail outlet; they sell from the catalog. From our standpoint, it helps the credibility a lot. We're on the page with Pete Seeger and Simon & Garfunkel. It's kinda cool."

The duo have appeared regularly at Kings Mountain National Military Park in upstate South Carolina for many years. "Those folks on staff are great over there," David says, "and it feels very much like our 'home' venue. We’ve also done several performances the week after Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg [Virginia] for several years. This past Christmas our second-day shows were sold out, and we received a standing ovation, which was exciting and humbling."

They sell their CDs and tapes for $15 and $10 each, respectively, postpaid. To order and obtain booking information, write to Miller-Rowe Music, P.O. Box 111, Pauline, SC 29374; (864) 585-5774, (888) 645-7693. For more information, visit their Web site at www.miller-rowe.com.

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DISCOGRAPHY

Appalachian Days (2002)

Rocky Top; Ashokan Farewell; Keep on the Sunny Side; Dueling Banjos; John Henry; Shenandoah; Old Joe Clark/Old Dan Tucker; Amazing Grace; Simple Gifts; Wabash Cannonball/Orange Blossom Special; Arkansas Traveler/Cripple Creek/Turkey in the Straw; The Riddle Song; Appalachian Days

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Mostly Baroque (music for weddings, 2001)

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; Air on the G String; Air (Water Music); Hornpipe (Water Music); Trumpet Tune; The Prince of Denmark’s March; Rondeau; Psalm 19; Canon in D; Bridal Chorus; The Lord’s Prayer; Wedding March; Ode to Joy (theme from Ninth Symphony)

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Come & Rejoice! (Christmas music, 1998)

Good Christian Men, Rejoice/Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella; Joy to the World; O Come O Come Emmanuel; Angels We Have Heard on High/Angels From the Realms of Glory; Good King Wenceslaus; O Come All Ye Faithful; Come Thou Long Expected Jesus; O Come Little Children; Stille, Stille; Carol of the Beasts; Once in Royal David’s City/The First Noel/Infant Holy, Infant Lowly; O Little Town of Bethlehem/It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; We Three Kings

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Abide With Me (David Rowe, hammer dulcimer, 1998)

Abide With Me; Holy, Holy, Holy; Simple Gifts; Sweet Hour of Prayer; Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; Savior Like a Shepherd; Amazing Grace; Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing; O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee; Alone on Calvary; Jesus, Lover of My Soul

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Ten Years Waiting (originals, 1996)

Ten Years Waiting; After the Rain; Between the Changes; It’s Just Because of You; No Time Like Now; For Angela; Wonder Why; Heading Home

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Early American Collection (1994)

Soldier's Joy; The Ash Grove; Froggie Went A'Courtin'; The Wind That Shakes the Barley; Rights of Conscience; Fisher's Hornpipe; Banish Misfortune; Cunningham's Raid; Violet's Lament; The First of April/Green Holm Jig; Packington's Pound; The Water Is Wide; Berry's Hornpipe; The Old Spinning Wheel

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String Breeze (David Rowe, hammer dulcimer, 1994)

String Breeze; A Stroll in the Country; Waterfall; Turnaround; Rhyme Nor Reason; Face to the Wind; The Course Ahead; In Darkness; Even There; Threshold/Behind & Before

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What Child Is This? (1993)

Ding Dong! Merrily on High; What Child Is This?/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mild; I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In; As Lately We Watched O'er Our Flocks/The Holly & the Ivy; O Holy Night; Canon in D (Pachelbel); Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming; Of the Father's Love Begotten; Coventry Carol; Patapan; Away in a Manger/Cradle Song; Silent Night

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Appalachian Sky (1992)

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring; Italian Dance/Kemp's Jig; How Firm a Foundation/My Jesus I Love Thee; What a Friend We Have in Jesus; Trumpet Tune; Sleepers Awake; Appalachian Sky; Wildwood Flower; My Grandfather's Clock; Trillium; Irish Washerwoman; Road to Lisdoonvarna; Rebekah's Song; Gettin' on Back; Homestead

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A Dulcimer Christmas (David Rowe, hammer dulcimer, 1992)

The First Noel; While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks; Hosanna in Excelsis; I Saw Three Ships; Go Tell It on the Mountain; Joy to the World; O Sanctissima; Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus; Here We Come A'Caroling; O Come All Ye Faithful

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Rock Creek Dairy Road (David Rowe, hammer dulcimer, 1991)

Rock Creek Dairy Road; I Know That My Redeemer Lives; God Be Merciful/When I Survey the Wondrous Cross; All Ye that Fear God's Holy Name; The Irish Washerwoman; The Riddle Song; Turnip Greens; I Will Pour Out My Spirit; Fanfare for the King/O Worship the King; Blest Be the Tie That Binds; The Spinning Wheel; Leaning on the Everlasting Arms; Lead On, O King Eternal; Old Joe Clark; John Henry; Be Thou My Vision; Star Gazer; O Sacred Head Now Wounded; Rock Creek Dairy Road (Reprise)

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