The Singing Tree Duo at the Sarasota Music Club

Having heard the Singing Tree duo before, I was already expecting a very skilled and artistic performance; I was not disappointed. Ray Belanger on hammered dulcimer and Lloyd Goldstein on double bass are each masters of the technical aspects of their instruments. Fortunately, along with the great musical heart they possess individually, they share a sensitivity to each other's efforts. Like two people in a good marriage, they can finish each others' sentences.

In a program of 10 songs, they travelled the North American continent from Canada down to Chile, and hopped across the Atlantic to touch base in Ireland and Germany. The German sampling was the only piece that was not a folk song – Goldstein took one the best-known movements from the Bach Suite in G for solo cello and wrote an obbligato melody for the hammered dulcimer, much in the manner of Gounod writing a melody over the Bach finger exercise from the first book of pieces for the Well-Tempered Clavier, thus turning it into the well-loved Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” Goldstein's effort was hampered by the dulcimer's innate inability to sustain a long, smooth tone as a violin or flute might, but still worked pretty well.

The dulcimer of the Bible was almost certainly plucked. Dulcimers may also be played with a small bow. The hammers used on a hammered dulcimer are made of very hard and lightweight wood, usually with a leather-covered face, and are slightly longer than a pencil. The dulcimer itself is larger and more resonant than the plucked or bowed variety, making a louder, richer sound;  however, all dulcimers are rather soft, so Belanger amplifies his just a tad, to provide better balance with Goldstein's standard orchestral bass. He does it so tastefully that you are hardly aware that it is not fully acoustic, yet the two instruments fill the room with sound.

Ray Belanger used finger plucking, hand damping, mechanical muting, and varied points-of-contact to provide a wide array of timbres on his dulcimer. Lloyd Goldstein was equally adventuresome with pizzicato and different smooth and percussive bowing techniques, all while maintaining impressive intonation, even in the extreme pitch ranges of his bass. For someone like me, who is interested in the mechanics of producing the sounds, the Duo fascinated with their seamless incorporation of the various tone-production methods. For someone who just wants to relax and relish the music, Singing Tree provided more than an hour of pure bliss, enhanced by Ray's informative and slyly self-deprecating introductions. 

These excellent Music Club programs once a month just may be one of Sarasota's best-kept secrets!

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