2013 Highlights

2013 was an amazing year! I played concerts & events throughout Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, & South Carolina. I was honored to share the stage with Brian Henke, Muriel Anderson, David LaMotte, BJ Leiderman, River Guerguerian, Chris Rosser, Sarah Moor, Max Dyer, James Kylen, Eric Congdon, Stephen Humphries, Heidi Haas-Smith, Kyle Paxton, Sarah Morgan, and many others.

In March, I released by newest album “Honest: Songs of Hope” with Erin Rogers. This album is very close to my heart and is focused on hope and healing through music. Check out www.honestdulcimer.com.

Two major music videos were released, Andrah & Invocation.

I provided studio session work for David LaMotte, Anthony DeLallo, and donated a session on a collaborate recording to raise money for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This project also featured tracks donated by Bruno Mars and Rob Thomas [of Matchbox 20].

The biggest highlight of 2013 was the move to Asheville, NC in June. I also spend much of my time in the nearby city of Black Mountain. This is now home, and I am finding so much peace and a warm heart. Thank you, Asheville/Black Mountain for embracing me into your community.

While there are dozens of people I’d like to thank (you know who you are!) I will specifically thank one person who has profoundly impacted my 2013—Jerry Read Smith. First of all, I am now the proud owner of the Jerry Read Smith Grand Concertmaster with abalone sound hole and bridge marker inlays, Macassar ebony endrails, curly maple pinblocks, and above all an incredible tone. Thank you, Jerry, for dedicating your life to building this amazing instrument. Secondly, thank you for facilitating my move to Asheville! You were right, this is the perfect place for me to be right now. Love it!

Thank you for making 2013 an amazing year! After writing this, my heart is warm with gratitude. Thank you!

2013 Photo Highlights

Honest: Songs of Hope Review

Music, as the world well knows, is a powerful force.  With the simple strains of an instrument, made even more compelling when joined by others, the force of music is enough to conjure up mighty emotions within even the mightiest of men.  The swelling of strings may evoke thoughts and memories of love while another arrangement will cause the blood to rise as in a blockbuster movie soundtrack, inciting us to action.  Even other attempts will cause us to remember, while others we delve into to forget.  And through it all, perhaps the most telling of music’s great devices, is the fact that, through a song, music can help us to give us a voice when we’ve no voice left to give.

Joshua Messick and Erin Rogers are two walking testimonies to this sheer power of music. Messick took to music at an early age, taking up the hammer dulcimer at the age of nine and taking lessons over a number of years.  Gifted with the ability to play by ear, Messick is drawn to the emotion of music and how it relates to people. In his own words, “Music is the sound of the human spirit and for me is prayer without words.”  And Messick’s road to this album has found him needing that expression of unspoken prayer as he has shared of this album being born through a period of grief and healing. Messick is the 2003 National Hammer Dulcimer Champion.

Rogers, as well, began her musical journey at an early age, beginning with the piano at the age of five.  Yet, inspired by her father and sister’s musical leanings, and based upon some simple logistics, the artist soon found herself handed a mountain dulcimer and, through the course of lessons and practice, her skills grew until she found herself as the youngest champion ever at the National Mountain Dulcimer Contest in 2004 at the age of 17. For Rogers, school would follow her championship and music came alongside, fueling and strengthening Rogers’ journey.

And that strength became even more needed when the artist was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2007. Six months of chemotherapy followed alongside all of the expected time in hospital beds and recovering.  However, not one to be cowed by life’s setbacks, Rogers clung to her dulcimer, often playing it for simple inspiration, offering up the same sort of unspoken prayers that Messick so eloquently speaks of.

Honest: Songs of Hope is this duo’s simple offering of those unspoken prayers.  Each brings their respective dulcimer to the table and is joined by some very simple accompaniments, seeing Max Dyer provide some cello support, Uilleann pipes provided by Tim Britton, and some choice fiddle fills from Amber Rogers.  It’s simple, stark, and, as the title would lead you to believe, altogether honest.

All of the compositions, save for “Honest,” written by Messick, are essentially old hymns and the album opens up with the stunning Appalachian-feeling “What Wondrous Love Is This?,” which is full-flavored, enhanced richly by Britton’s Uilleann pipes.  It’s the sort of track that is cinematic in its delivery and feels like something out of a movie and is a promising start.  That promise continues through, although in a more Spartan way, through “Be Thou My Vision,” finding Amber Rogers’ fiddle offering contrast while Messick’s “Honest” is a pure and powerful offering, Dyer’s cello providing an emotive note accented by the hammer dulcimer’s almost keyboard-like quality this time out.

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” is another sparse, contemplative song that Rogers plays with ease and “I Will Arise” provides a mystical flavor to the set list, Messick’s percussive work on the hammer dulcimer setting the tone while Dyer’s cello and Roger’s mountain dulcimer fill in the holes with emotion.  “It Is Well” is a classic dulcimer track and Messick delivers it as well as anyone while “I’d Rather Have Jesus” really allows the cello to provide some nice accompaniment, keeping the track flowing.

“Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” takes things back to the mountains with its rousing waltz before Rogers offers up a sublimely simple take on “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  That same feeling continues on the duo’s take on “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” before “God Will Take Care of You” ends things out on a hopeful and resonant note.

Clearly, dulcimer tunes aren’t going to be every listener’s bread and butter but for those with ears to hear, Joshua Messick and Erin Rogers’ Honest: Songs of Hope is a beautiful album well worth the listening.  Providing stunning performances alongside heartfelt and truly honest arrangements, this is an album well worth your time.

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

Honest: Songs of Hope Released

A Note from Joshua and Erin
This album was created out of personal hardship in each of our lives. From this brokenness came the desire to communicate a real and healing message of hope. Honest is two people begging for healing from God, seeking the Truth, and learning that He is faithful no matter the circumstances. Living honest starts with admitting that we are hurting and need help. It is a continual quest for truth and transformation in our lives; the beginning of revival in our hearts. Here, we share songs of hope that helped us find God’s peace in our times of darkness. We pray that you would find encouragement in the music and be challenged to live Honest. [button link=”https://www.joshuamessick.com/product/honest-songs-of-hope”]Preview and Buy Now[/button]

The Entrance of Sound: Review by Matthew Forss

A national hammered dulcimer champion and acclaimed virtuoso, Joshua Messick knows how to create evocative musings with nothing more than the piano or harp-like sounds from an instrument native to Appalachia, but fairly prevalent in the Middle East, too. The contemporary music is instrumental throughout, which accentuates the overall theatrical sound. The inspiration behind the twelve tracks is related to Biblical events.

“Spoken Beginnings” speak with hammered dulcimer notes—not vocals. Specifically, the short song contains hammered dulcimer tones that are striking and almost piano-like. Though, the song is more of an introduction to the rest of the album, due to the sub-two minute running length. The same few lines are repeated and the hammered dulcimer echoes pure metallic tones of sparkling brilliance.

“The Entrance Of Sound” opens with an upbeat hammered dulcimer medley that incorporates various melodies with cascading and alternating crescendos. The fast-tempo is only punctuated by a few seconds of silence at a few different points in the song, which indicates another progression. The rests connote a symbolic meaning for taking a breath between lines. At any rate, the lighthearted dulcimer melody is lowered a bit near the end of the song, but the upbeat nature of the song is still inherent. The lower octave is a perfect change of pace throughout the song. The lack of vocals and additional instrumentation are not deleterious.

“The Sound Of Truth” begins with a few pensive, crystalline hammered dulcimer notes that are bright and raw, but relatively contemplative overall. The slowly-played hammered dulcimer creates an emotive melody that produces a new age ambiance ideal for pre-wedding music or any kind of relaxation. The music only picks up pace slightly mid-song, as the overall melody seems to wander into magical places of pleasant beauty.

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” opens with a few fast-played hammered dulcimer lines that each end on a sort of hammered-slide tone. The fast-played melody loses the slides, but the repetitive tones contain a few rests that seem to merge into a more solemn world of classical delight. The fast melody early on returns near the latter half of the song with a plethora of notes that resemble several pianos played at once.

“O The Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus” begins with a few flowing hammereds running most of the tonal range of the hammered dulcimer, as a kind of dreamy sequence. However, the sequence is quickly changed into single notes and a few multi-note hammereds that oscillate between slow and fast deliveries. Mid-song features a few muted, tight string sounds for a measure or two. The last part of the song features pensive playing that is fitting for an outro.

“The Sound Of Victory” opens with a moment of hammered-tapping sounds without the accompaniment of the strings. However, the hammered quickly finds the strings of the dulcimer, as an uptempo chorus of swiftly-played notes signify the fastest song on the album.

Joshua Messick’s latest release is rich with hammered dulcimer melodies, characterizations, and nuances that are inspired by Biblical events, but equally-enthralling for all who listen to its instrumental message. The hammered dulcimer is not very obtuse or too contemplative to instill confusion or boredom in the listeners. Instead, the harp-like sounds of the hammered dulcimer, which happens to resemble a Biblical musical instrument—the harp—is a perfect choice for the historical theme. The lack of vocals and additional instrumentation is not a negative, because the title of the album focuses on ‘solo’ hammered dulcimer. Moreover, the playing abilities are award-winning and boredom never arises from the mix. Fans of instrumental hammered dulcimer, folk music, Middle Eastern music, and harp sounds will find nothing wrong with this incredible release.

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

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.

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