Desire for Departure review by Matthew Warnock

The Hammer Dulcimer is often associated with down-home folk music, the type played around the table in a log cabin up in the hills of Colorado or Tennessee.  Its folksy nature has allowed it to become a mainstay in the traditional music of America, ingrained as deep as the harmonica, acoustic guitar and mandolin.  While the Hammer Dulcimer is usually partnered in our collective conscious with simple, folk-based melodies and harmony, when this stringed-percussion instrument is placed in the hand of a master performer its simplistic character is transformed into an instrument of seemingly endless possibilities, an instrument that more closely resembles a harp or piano than anything else.

Composer, arranger and performer Joshua Messick is one such virtuoso on the instrument, and his album Desire for Departure is a masterful collection of 14 songs that showcase the harmonic, melodic and tonal possibilities of the Hammer Dulcimer.  Take the song “Flames of Joy” for instance.  Here, Messick’s arpeggiated harmonic progression, countered with a reverb-tinged melody line, come together to sound more like a piano or harpsichord.  What is truly captivating about his performance, on this song and the rest of the album, is how big Messick can make the Hammer Dulcimer sound.  “Innocent Lament” is a great example of the wide range of timbres that Messick is able to coax out of his instrument.  Accompanied by a native American sounding drum beat, as well as a Middle-Eastern inspired background phrase, Messick is able to carefully accent specific notes in the Dulcimer line that sound as if he is playing with two hands on a piano, rather than with mallets on a Dulcimer.

It is moments like this where Messick’s musicality shines through.  Many virtuosos make their reputation by simply playing faster or more complex than their peers, but players such as Messick define their virtuosity through the subtle ways in which they manipulate the sound of their instrument.  Messick is a composer and arranger of the highest caliber, skills that only accentuate his mastery of the Hammer Dulcimer, not take away from his playing in any way.  Few people can write or play at the level that this Kansas resident does, and even fewer can do both during their musical careers.

While some people might shy away from buying an album of instrumental Hammer Dulcimer music because of their preconceived notions or previous experience with the instrument, Desire for Departure is not your typical folk-country Dulcimer album.  Messick’s music is well-written, carefully arranged and performed at a world-class level, everything one would ask for in any album, regardless of the instrument or genre classification.  Interestingly, the album has been classified by iTunes as being “Religious.”  While it is true that Messick is a person of faith and his faith influences his music and compositions, this shouldn’t deter people who are not interested in Religious music from checking out this album.  Regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, or thoughts on Religious music, the songs on this record transcend any kind of categorization or genre.  They are just good songs written from the heart.

Review by Matthew Warnock

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

The Entrance of Sound Interview

The following was an interview by DPN.

What do you hope to accomplish with this recording?

Music is a far-reaching, powerful method of communication with sufficiency that strengthens and heals the soul. It is fitting when words are inadequate. If words could say it all, why would music ever be written?

The Entrance of Sound, is focused on musically caring for those who are enduring pain and suffering. It is an original suite, and includes with a few hymns as part of the suite.

Where do you get your ideas?

My musical vocabulary is added to by life experiences. As a beginner, my creativity was limited by my lack of understanding of the basics–theory, chord structure, and melodies. But, once the musical foundation was understood, my creativity was released to be expressed.

My ideas come from being aware of my surroundings: the melody of the birds singing, the instrumentation of leaves rustling in the air, and the percussion of the crackling fire.

I recently took one of the most beautiful walks of my life. It was a foggy, mysterious evening set around a frozen lake. The ground was covered with snow, and there was a waterfall which still flowed. Absolute silence was in the air, except for what nature itself permitted.

As I was walking, I was thinking how I could describe the setting with music. There was mystery, peace, the sounds of geese flying, and the rhythmic timing of feet thumping on the sidewalk. All of these things could easily be captured into music by composing the impression that it left me or by imitating the sounds of nature on the hammered dulcimer.

I also get ideas from the innovation of other musicians. I listen to all types of music, as there is so much to be learned and absorbed.

What do you do to fill in the holes that inevitably present themselves?

The deepest holes for this project were the limits I set on myself—solo, the same hammered dulcimer for all tracks, and no overdubbing. I wanted more unity with mood, tone, and message in this release. Musically, I wanted themes to exist throughout the recording and similar chord changes to commonly appear. Obviously, this is a framework which could easily create a lifeless recording. The deepest hole which needed to be filled could easily be summed up in one word: variety.

My primary method to create variety was chord development. Chords change the feel of a song, dramatically. In fact, I developed chord progressions before composing the melody and deciding the rhythm. The songs needed depth and cerebral stimulation to accomplish my message, and quality chords seemed to be the most fitting remedy.

In my previous recordings, I’ve relied on dramatic mood, tone, and instrumentation changes to give the recording variety.  This project is solo and cannot rely on other instrumentation to complete it. There must be tension, release, melody, percussion, and embellishments–all happening on one instrument.

With this in mind, the playing approach to each track must be diversified or the CD would quickly become dull.

How do you diversify your skills?

Once you’ve been playing for a while, you’ll develop a style which is uniquely you. This is one of your greatest strengths. But, it can easily become a hindrance since it’s easy to approach every song the same way using the same licks, chords, and rhythms.

To overcome this, I record videos of myself playing and study exactly what I do. Then, I think of different ways to play things. It is amazing how many different opportunities are out there if you just stop and think of alternative methods.

Additionally, to spice things up, I’ve used alternate tunings, non-typical timing signatures, and unique keys to the hammered dulcimer. When playing in these different fashions, I find much diversity.

I also listen to other hammered dulcimists. There is, however, a big trap which is easy to fall into–copying. Instead of copying, I want to learn what it is they do, and why they do it. I can learn those methods to apply to my skill set and uniquely execute them.

Briefly summarize the process you use for creating a recording.

I tend to capture a recording emotionally before logically. I feel it before I create it. It may take a few months or a few years to come up with the ideas of a project.

Once I start processing my ideas, I compose the tunes, practice them, and analyze them. Then, it’s just a matter of going into the studio prepared and getting a perfect take.  I typically record 2-3 tracks a session to be as fresh as possible and get the best take I can. Each tracks needs to sound exactly as it should. I take my time and don’t get in a big rush. Once I am satisfied, it is released.

The Value of Encouragement

If it was not for the encouragement that I received from family, friends, and musicians, I would have quit the hammered dulcimer many years ago. The encouraging comments from those who recognized my talent was enough to keep me from quitting.

Additionally, I didn’t get the 1st place trophy at Winfield in one attempt. It took three failures before I had one success. And, I almost didn’t compete in 2003, but the encouragement of those around me was the inspiration that I needed to give it one more shot.

But my playing pursuits have not ended with a trophy, and I feel like my playing still has a long way to improve. But the encouragement that I received early on was enough to give me the confidence to continue for a lifetime.

Be a person who gives encouragement. The value of encouragement may prove to be priceless.

Being in Tune to Yourself

How well in tune are you to your yourself? Many of you are saying, “I thought it was dulcimer was supposed to be in tune to my Korg!” Well, you’re right. But, that’s not the motive of this accumulation of 888 English words. Allow me to begin…

You’re lost and driving your car down the road when your cell phone rings. You quickly rummage to find your phone with the intent of answering it, not because you want to talk, but because you want to turn off that annoying ring tone that you paid $1.99 for.

After nearly driving your vehicle into a group of trees, a friend (who isn’t very musical) says to you, “Turn your radio on! They’re playing that dulmier thing you do!” You think “Finally! The dulcimer has made it onto my biggest, local music station!”

Amidst the frustration of being on the wrong road, you tune into the station to realize that it wasn’t a dulcimer. It was a mandolin in the middle of a country song talking about the memories had with a pair of boots and pickup truck.

There are three really big points in this story.

1) Don’t pay $1.99 for a ring tone which you’ll end up hating
2) Know where you’re going
3) Know who to listen to

Alright, so where does this whole tuning thing fit in? In order for things to be in tune, there must be a standard by which you tune to. In this particular case, I will mostly discuss the subjective standard–yourself. You must learn to be in tune to what your personal tastes and goals are with your dulcimer.

One of the beauties of human beings is that we’re not all alike. We’re different. We have different strengths, weaknesses, preferences, methods, etc. All of these play an enormous factor into your relationship with your instrument.

Now, on to elaborating my three really big points…

1. Don’t pay $1.99 for a ring tone which you’ll end up hating

One of the most important things of being a musician is to find the instrument(s) that you’re happy with. Plenty of quality articles have been written about choosing the right dulcimer, so that is not the overall motive of this article. There are black and white rights and wrongs with choosing dulcimers. But, much of choosing the right dulcimer is being in tune to what your personal preferences are. This can take time! I’ve owned many instruments. Some, I decided I liked. Others, I didn’t. To summarize, if you’re not happy with the instrument that you’ve purchased, odds are that you’ll end up seeking to “turn it off” rather than to play it.

2. Know where you’re going

It is crucial to make an intentional effort to know where you’re going. This includes your motives, habits, and development progress. Too often, I’ve seen musicians who found themselves at a dead end because little attention was given to where they were headed as a musician.

Something that I ask all my students is, “How good do you want to get and why?”
These two questions answer a lot of questions and are extremely revealing to being in tune to your personal goals and motives. If you’re honest with yourself, you may discover that some are healthy and others are not!

Once your goals are set, write your plan. This can include how often to take lessons, when, what, and how often to practice, attending festivals, your budget, distance learning, etc. The glue is steadfastness. Never quit and never procrastinate. Stay with your goal and one day you’ll be satisfied with the results.

The next step is to reward yourself with milestones. Stair-step your milestones. Example: if I were to have a goal of running 10 miles non-stop, I would personally set milestone markers at 2 mile intervals. My first goal would be to run 2 miles, then 4, then 6, etc. If I set my sights on the 10 miles to begin with, the road would seem too long, unattainable, and I might quit. However, if I set milestone markers, I know exactly where I’m at, that I am making progress, and also have satisfaction of achieving personal milestones.

This ties into music as well. You may have a long-term goal of playing in a successful band. But in order to get there, set different milestones along the way. It could start as simple as playing a scale 2x in a row without mistakes, followed by knowing how to play a scale in 3rds, learning the chromatic scale, completing your first arrangement or compositions, etc.

I’m not saying that everybody has to be the next Yo-Yo Ma, but what I am saying is that you need to be in tune to your motives and development progress or else you may find your days as a musician coming to screeching halt.

3. Know who to listen to

We should only listen to those who know what they’re talking about. If possible, find a quality teacher who has credentials. If that isn’t possible, look into taking Internet lessons or attending festivals to learn from teachers who know what they’re talking about. Also, listen to quality music by established players. This doesn’t just have to be dulcimer music. It could be any type of music. But the key is that if you listen to those who are accomplished, you will make yourself better. Input=Output.

Desire for Departure DPN Review

Joshua Messick, now 23 years old, has played hammered dulcimer for more than half his life. He took second place in the Texas State Competition when he was 10. Josh, helped along the way with lessons from Peggy Carter, went on to win the Winfield National Championship in 2003.

Joshua’s latest project features quite a few new compositions that reflect his maturity as a man and a musician. Everything about this recording reaches for the epic. Even the liner notes display the intertwined nature of Joshua’s passion for his faith and music itself.

He partners with keyboardist/producer Randy Wills and makes bold and effective use of unusual time signatures, sweeping synth pads, and triggered percussion. You can also here a bit of Rich Mullins inspired rhythmic passion.

Joshua calls his project “mostly interpretive” and self-classifies it as “New-Acoustical Eclectic World (NEW).” He says his goals were for the project to be “fresh and excting, but also pleasant and comprehendible. Also, I wanted to make a professional grade recording that would have appeal, even if the listener didn’t know what the hammer dulcimer was.”

To my ears, he’s achieved his goal. The hammered dulcimer on Desire for Departure was recorded and mixed in a way that presents it as powerful and piano-like. After listening to this recording several times now, I’m impressed with the way the CD flows. It is inspirational in a way that seems suitable for listening to while either exercising or relaxing. This is a great CD suitable for anyone who enjoys great music.

CD Special- 3/$39.99, 4/$50, 5/$55, 6/$60 Shop Dismiss

  1. Over the Rainbow Joshua Messick Buy 4:21
  2. Flames of Joy Joshua Messick Buy
  3. Woodland Dance Joshua Messick Buy 4:28
  4. Honest Joshua Messick Buy