Greenwood Tree History

Greenwood Tree was formed when Stu Janis and Bill Cagley met in the summer of 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 being a relative beginner, at the time, he didn't want to go it alone. He invited Bill to join him, which led to weddings, coffeehouses, cafes, town festivals, folk festivals, art fairs, farmers markets, recordings and all the rest.

The name Greenwood Tree comes from an English waltz that we recorded on our Windy and Warm CD. As a historical note, the duo came up with that name while eating a chicken pizza - before such things were trendy. And the pizza was terrible!

Stu Janis

Stu Janis is a musician of skill and expressive sensibility. He has played music professionally since the early 1980s, and he is a performing member of several Twin Cities-based bands as well as a solo performer and choral accompanist. Hammered dulcimer, concertina, bowed psaltery, and handpan sing beneath his nimble fingers. From Irish jigs to oceanic ballads to soaring choral accompaniment to Jewish klezmer, Stu's music is pure enchantment!

He began playing hammered dulcimer in the early 1980s 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.

In addition to Greenwood Tree, he performs with Eisner's Klezmorim and Neptune's Keep, and he also accompanies area choirs on unique arrangements for choir and hammered dulcimer by Malcolm Dalglish, Diane Laura Rains, and others. In years past Stu has been a frontman and puppeteer with Freshwater Pearls Puppetry, and he was also the musician for the Vorpal Sword English Rapper dance group.

Some of Stu's favorite performances are with his wife, Diane Laura Rains, choral composer, the leader of Neptune's Keep, and the founder of Freshwater Pearls Puppetry.

Outside the realm of music, Stu retired from 3M in 2018 after 34 years as an industrial statistician and internal business consultant, and his claim to the title of "Best Hammered Dulcimist" in the American Society for Quality has yet to be challenged.

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Bill Cagley

Award-winning guitarist Bill Cagley is a talented and versatile musician. With guitar, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, and a clear stout-hearted voice Bill delights audiences with folk, country and old-time music, or as he likes to call it, music of all ages for all ages.

Bill is a full-time musician who bought his first guitar the day he graduated high school. He learned music in Waterloo and Iowa City, Iowa, by listening to recordings and playing with such masters as Al Murphy and Bob Black. He has been a full-time professional musician since 1987, performing at colleges and schools across the United States and many parks, including Yellowstone National Park.

In addition to recordings with Greenwood Tree, Bill has recorded two classic 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’s music fits in well with many different occasions. He is a favorite at senior centers, high rises, and care centers throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. He entertains at historic sites, bluegrass festivals, weddings, farmers’ markets, coffee houses, and family outings, among others. Some of his proudest moments are when he performs with his daughter, Sarah, as Pride of the Prairie.

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Hammered Dulcimer

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 yanqin, Cambodian khim), southern Asia (Indian santoori), eastern and central Europe (Hungarian cimabalon - the national instrument; Greek zimbale, Romanian tambal, and the Yiddish tsimbl used in Klezmer music). Ironically, while many Americans play Celtic music on the hammered dulcimer, the British Isles has only a limited dulcimer tradition.

The dulcimer was so popular in the United States at one time that it was carried in the Sears catalog. In the late 19th century, a Minneapolis 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. The Kitchen Musician website has a good hammered dulcimer history page.

Bowed Psaltery

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.