About Greenwood Tree
Greenwood Tree was formed when Stu Janis and Bill Cagley met in 1985 at the Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis at an event called "Contra Corners." Musicians and callers who were less established could try their hands at playing and calling. Later that year Stu had the opportunity to perform at a Minneapolis restaurant and he invited Bill to join him.
Bill Cagley is a full-time musician who bought his first guitar the day he graduated high school. Bill learned music in Waterloo and Iowa City, Iowa, by listening to recordings and playing with such masters as Al Murphy and Bob Black. He became a full-time musician in 1987.
Outside of Greenwood Tree Bill has recorded two collections of old-time fiddle tunes with fiddler Tom Schaefer, banjo player, Bob Black, and bassist Sandy Njoes. He also appeared on Greg Brown's recording Down in There. Bill is a regular solo performer operating with the motto, "Music of all ages for all ages." He entertains at historic sites, senior centers, and family outings, among others. Some of his proudest moments are when he performs with his daughter, Sarah, as Pride of the Prairie.
Stu Janis began playing hammered dulcimer in 1983 in Wilmington, North Carolina, having grown up with piano and flute lessons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While mostly self-taught on the dulcimer, he has benefited from friends, workshops, and other musicians. Click here to see the story of how Stu got his start on the dulcimer.
Stu also performs with Eisner's Klezmorim and Neptune's Keep, the world's only band with fish musicians, and he frequently accompanies area choirs on Malcolm Dalglish's unique arrangements for choir and hammered dulcimer. Stu has been a frontman and puppeteer with Freshwater Pearls Puppetry, and was also the musician for the Vorpal Sword English Rapper dance group for many years.
Outside the realm of music, Stu is an industrial statistician and internal business consultant at 3M, and his claim to the title of "Best Hammered Dulcimist" in the American Society for Quality has yet to be challenged.
For more information, visit www.stujanis.com.
Nobody is certain where the hammered dulcimer originated. Some think it was developed over 2,000 years ago in ancient Persia. Others think its origins are more recent - perhaps in central Europe in the Middle Ages. Regardless of its beginnings, the hammered dulcimer is found all over the northern hemisphere. It is still played in modern Iran, where it is known as the Santur. It's found in the far east (Chinese yangqin, and Cambodian khim), southern Asia (Indian santoori), eastern Europe, and central Europe (Hungarian cimabalon - the national instrument; Greek zimbale). Ironically, while many Americans play Celtic music on the hammered dulcimer, the British Isles does not have much of a dulcimer tradition.
The dulcimer was so popular in the United States at one time that it was carried in the Sears catalog. In the Minneapolis in the late 19th century, a man named James McKenzie had four patents on "piano-harps." These hammered dulcimers look like tables with tops that open and reveal the dulcimer beneath it. Henry Ford had a dulcimer player in his dance band in the early 1900s.
From a musicological perspective, the hammered dulcimer is the predecessor of the piano. Think about what happens when you press a piano key. Inside the piano, a hammer strikes a string. A dulcimist holds the hammers instead of activating them with keys. The hammered dulcimer is unrelated to the mountain dulcimer, although people often play the similar music on them. EverythingDulcimer.com is a good resource for more information about the instrument. The Kitchen Musician website also has a good hammered dulcimer history page.
Plucked psalteries, which are actually shaped somewhat like hammered dulcimers, have been around for a long time. However, the concept of a bowed psaltery is much newer. It was invented in the early 20th century by a German music teacher who wanted his students to practice their bowing techniques.
Unlike a violin, where musicians change notes by moving their fingers along one of the four strings, a bowed psaltery has a separate string for each note. The strings on the right side of the instrument (from the player's perspective) are the equivalent of the white piano keys, and the strings on the left match the piano's black keys.
Other, older instruments exist that resemble the bowed psaltery. The Marxochime company created pianolins, uke-o-lins, and a number of other instruments that have bowed strings on one side. The National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota has more information about the Marxochime company and instruments.
Q: How did you choose the name Greenwood Tree?
A: Naming bands (and CDs) is never an easy task. After debating and deliberating for many weeks, we finally came up with the name Greenwood Tree. It's an English waltz that we recorded on our Windy and Warm CD. As a historical note, we made the decision while eating a chicken pizza - before such things were trendy. And the pizza was terrible!
Q: What brought Stu and Bill together to form Greenwood Tree?
A: Bill and Stu first got together in mid-1985 at the Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis. Tapestry would occasionally sponsor "Contra Corners," where less-established musicians and callers could try their hands at playing and calling. Greenwood Tree was born September 29 of the same year when Stu had the opportunity to play at the now-defunct Lorelei restaurant in the Riverplace shopping center. A relative beginner at the time, he didn't want to go it alone, and invited Bill to join him. That led to wedding jobs, coffeehouses, cafes, folk festivals, recordings and all the rest.
Q: What are some of your more unusual venues?
A: The most unusual has to be the wedding we played in Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, Wisconsin. The whole thing was supposed to be in the dark, with guests holding candles. However, they consented to a little backlighting so Stu could see his dulcimer. The reception was held in Elmwood, Wisconsin, which claims to be the UFO capital of the world. There are two parking spaces outside the town hall with signs saying they are reserved for UFOs.
Q: Are you full-time musicians?
A: Bill is a full-time musician. In addition to his work with Greenwood Tree, he is a well-established solo performer with the theme, "Music of all ages, for all ages." He entertains for seniors, families, and kids at a wide variety of venues, including historic sites, senior centers, coffeeshops, and schools. Bill also teaches guitar at the Homestead Pickin' Parlor and performs with his daughter, Sarah, as Pride of the Prairie.
Stu has a full-time job at 3M as an industrial statistician and internal business consultant. His other musical activities include performing with Neptune's Keep and Eisner's Klezmorim, and teaching at the Homestead Pickin' Parlor.