Here’s a slow and dreamy waltz for a Saturday Night dance. The song is quite repetitious and monotone, with some subtle harmony notes; it is sort of mesmerizing. The tune changes keys in the middle of the song to an almost completely different melody; waking you up. I can see the waltz being played at a hot and steamy Saturday night jam and dance. The song comes from the Kitchen Musicians®, a folk group headed by Sara Johnson, who collected it from Michigan fiddlers. Years ago at a workshop during the week-long “Dulcimer Players Workshop” at Appalachian State College, we were given a tune to arrange for the mountain dulcimer. “Saturday Night Waltz” was quite a challenge because it was played in the Key of G changing in the middle of the song to the Key of C — not easy for a rookie dulcimer player. I set the tune aside for years but never forgot about it. With more experience, I recently got the tune out again decided to give another try at arranging it. I really like my results and managed to arrange it for a dulcimer tuned to DAD in both the Keys of G and C and also the Keys D and G.
Years ago, I attended the “Annual Dulcimer Week Players Workshop” at Appalachian State College in Boone, North Carolina. It was a wonderful week and an eye-opening experience to mingle with hundreds of other dulcimer players. The week was full of workshops, concerts by talented musicians and lots of vendors selling dulcimers, books and accessories. It was a good introduction to many styles of playing the dulcimer, especially with my limited exposure to dulcimers as I hailed from Louisiana. There were not too many dulcimer players in our part of the world
In one workshop, we were given the task of making an arrangement and writing out the tablature to a song. I picked “Saturday Night Waltz” — it was a random choice as I had never before heard of the tune. The tune was written in the Key of G and changed keys in the middle of the song. I just couldn’t figure out exactly how to arrange the tune. I set the song aside for many years. With more experience in playing and arranging for the mountain dulcimer and with more dulcimers having a 1-1/2 fret, I decided to give another try.
About “Saturday Night Waltz”
I wanted to learn a little more about the origins of the waltz, as I love the historical connections to the music that we dulcimer players make. And so I contacted Sara Johnson of “The Kitchen Musician®” who included it in a book of waltzes. The book was originally published in 1991 and revised in 2003. Sara Johnson is a hammered dulcimer player who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Here is what Sara says, “‘Saturday Night Waltz’ was popular at jamborees of the Original Michigan Fiddlers’ Associations, and I learned from Bob Fleck, who got it from Arthur Kole now of Long Lake Michigan. I have since heard it played by a German band at Oktoberfest in Cincinnati, Ohio. In Kerr’s Fourth Collection of Merry Melodies, 3411, German Waltz, definitely seems to be a related waltz. Or perhaps Saturday Night is a version garbled a bit in the ‘folk process.'”
About Kitchen Musicians®
The Kitchen Musician® is headed up by Sara Johnson who named her group and books, “Kitchen Musician” because most “great jams” seem to congregate in the kitchen. She has written a very comprehensive and playable series of tune books for dulcimers. I inherited several of the books from my father. These books are a delightful collection of tunes — fitting for mainly for hammered dulcimers but easily adapted for mountain dulcimers.
This is what Sarah Johnson says about her books: “I began writing Kitchen Musician® books over 20 years ago, and have now written 17 Kitchen Musician® music books for hammer dulcimer and other instruments, co-authored a beginning dulcimer book, a dulcimer exercise book and a book of Scottish tunes for fiddle, a large collection of Scottish Fiddle Tunes, a new version of Robert Bremner’s Scottish dance collection (originally published in 1769), a collection of 18th Century Songs, and recorded four CD’s.” And Sara commented that she never runs out of ideas for another tune book!
Playing “Saturday Night Waltz” on Mountain Dulcimer
With a little experimentation, “Saturday Night Waltz” turned out to be easier to arrange and to play on the mountain dulcimer than I had expected. The tune does change keys in the middle of the song, making for a bit of a challenge for a dulcimer player. I tuned my dulcimer to DAD tuning. You do need a 1-1/2 fret to play the B Part (second half of the tune) in the Key of C. This arrangement has many notes at higher frets; you need a dulcimer with a nice resonance at these high frets.
I managed to devise an arrangement for both the Keys of G and C and also another arrangement for the Keys of D and G. You can change back and forth between both these two arrangements as everything is in DAD tuning.
Here are several tips for playing this tune. This is a very repetitious and simple melody. The melody repeats over and over. To give a little “life” to the tune, I added harmony notes. These subtle harmony notes provide just the right amount of interest to keep your attention peaked, especially at chord changes.
To play harmony notes, your dulcimer must be tuned carefully and correctly. An out-of-tune dulcimer really distracts from the arrangement. I strongly recommend using a tuner to get the strings in tune. And inexpensive one, such as the Snark tuner shown above, works great and costs under $20.00. It clamps to a flat peg head of the dulcimer and it is quite easy to change the battery.
The player needs to emphasize the down beat of each measure in Part A by strumming forcedly across all the strings. Then pick (or fingerpick) the next notes at a softer tone. Also, pick the “pick-up” notes. This contrast in sound helps define the tune as a dancer might step across the room. A bass accompaniment would sound great here.
The second part of the tune changes keys. It also changes moods. Play this part with a smoother style, perhaps a little slower. Although there are no instructions, I’d play this tune AABBA — ending on the “A” part.
Here’s an example of having the mountain dulcimer tuned one way — to DAD or the Key of D and playing the song in entirely different keys. With this type of playing, there are “no drones.” You must play the harmony notes and keep these frets held down in order for the arrangement to sound good. But with practice, this style really broadens what can be played on the dulcimer. It is great to branch out from playing “jam” tunes which, to my ears, quickly become muddled in all the drones. Give this tune a chance.
And thanks to those week-long workshops at Appalachian State College, which really broadened my definition of the mountain dulcimer. Such memories.
Here are Jpeg images of the tune and PDF files.