Raechel's Teardrop - DAY 1

My niece Raechel is staying over for a week working on her school holiday project. She (who will hereafter appear in maroon)  is 13 and has such a good ear and talent with sound that consequently, since picking up my dulcimer she can already play it. It is the ultimate instant gratification instrument for a new player. No wrong notes to be dealing with, no dissonance - just lovely sweet thirds and fifths - and you can play all pop songs ever written on its modal intervals.

So, last weekend, I said to her - Raechel, your challenge, if you choose to accept, is to make your own dulcimer from scratch.

This will be a special instrument invested with all the hours of the work of her own two hands. Now she is finding out there is more to making music than just strumming a few strings. She is making her own teardrop dulcimer. We trawled the web for designs and the teardrop is the one that resonated. We copied the neck of mine onto butchers paper and tooled around with the shape till it lined up with the one in her head.

This first stage of the wood work we've subbed out to Geoffrey - tool meister and wood genius. It's important to get the fingerboard set nice and square on the sound board and fixed into the headstock -which is beyond Raechel's and my carpentry skills, so once the glue is dry, and the sides are on, she will take over the sanding and further fiddling.

Meanwhile, she's busy researching images and paint testing. Raechel's original plan was to paint the front of the dulcimer, but has changed that plan to just minimal collaged decoration on the front, and a more ambitious painting on the back. Still not sure if she'll paint directly onto the wood, or work up her painting on paper and then glue that to the back. Regardless, there's a large amount of research and paint testing and just plain design to be done yet.

A lovely theme has developed out of watching the dulcimer take shape. From this angle it looks like a face, with its two sound holes for eyes and the long nose of the fretboard. It seemed to need a mouth, and the mouth seemed to need to be singing 'ooooh', but we couldn't find an image we wanted until Raechel found an image of a flower and thought maybe that could stand instead of the obviousness of a mouth. In looking for more flowers, an image of a bee leaped out and we decided it was much more symbolic of sound to have a bee stand for the mouth. Dulcimers drone, like the honey humming of bees. But not just any bee - it is an Australian native, the Blue Banded bee, the most important pollinator in my garden.
 Now, the design project has taken a whole new slant and we're off into the magic of sacred geometry and figuring hexagons out of the flower of life and relating all that back to our pretty little bee. Sacred geometry is the fascinating study of relationship and especially interesting in conceptualising how music works. I have a series of little Wooden Books, (she already has The Golden Section) and while here, she's reading Harmonograph: a visual guide to the mathematics of music. Here for example is an image of a perfect fifth:
 She is a visual learner. To see the forms that music sculpts in time represented in such beautiful patterns helps in getting to the bottom of how sound works.

It is just delicious to listen to the sound of her in the front room - the tinkle of first a paintbrush against glass, then the twangling of strings as she picks notes out of the ether as she figures out how the instrument works. She is writing a song that will be  the first song she will play on her new instrument. I can hear it becoming. She is also figuring out her own notation for it. I'm eager to see if I can decode it.

13 is a beautiful age - still childlike in wonderment, receptive to any kind of beauty and still capable of unselfconscious play. This is what school should be like. Education should be interest and talent centred. She is apparently given to dreaming at school - going off with the fairies when she is supposed to be doing assignment work in class. Here, that dreaminess is directed towards the overall goal of the major project. There is so much involved in imagining something this complex and bringing it out of nowhere into being, that staring out the window is a positive. Not once has she lost concentration because everything is being gathered into the task - bird song, Goeff's and my music, snatches of interesting stuff I have to show her on line, the practicalities of working wood, manipulating colour and designing for a specific purpose, incidental mathematics and geometry, space and time. Dreaming is demanding, thought consuming work, and it is the only way to make something happen - thought. And thinking takes time. Here, she is learning to think, to dig into her the imagination and how to synthesise that thought into action.

It is a great pleasure to be able to teach a mind like Raechel's.

So, how's it going so far Raechel?

Well I'm having a great time learning about music, sound, agriculture, health and well, the whole universe. But I have to admit I'm really sleepy thanks to the stupid peewee at war with himself, ramming into the window every five minutes and you're right with the dreaming and going off with the fairies because many things are changing around me and my imagination is a good way to see them differently. But I have to admit, when you're at school, it's hard to listen to the teacher as well as concentrate on work. 

Another thing we have been doing is cooking and I love to cook but what whatever you're doing it is easy to get off-task. Take me writing this blog entry for example - all I want to do is go play with the baby quails. However, their box smells like Big Mac. So far I have made three pots of coffee and it's really hard to drink with only one sugar.

This is because I am a health nazi. One sugar is one too many!

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