Food for Thought

I wrote this poem after my husband, Phil Passen, told me about this experience, which happened to him while he was playing music at the Green City Market in Chicago.

*    *    *

Food for Thought

Standing under a sheltering chinkapin
the musician gigs at the organic market
each weekend, and though the venue
is dry and dusty, his music nourishes all,
particularly mothers, nannies, and children
who stomp and spin to the beat of his old-time
dance tunes: “Chicken Reel,” “Blackberry Blossom,”
and “Shove That Pig’s Foot a Little Further
into the Fire.”

Caregivers dole out dollars to the children,
who scamper up to the musician’s basket
and drop in the bills, watching them flutter
and settle. The performer goes home hot,
tired, and happy, knowing organic consumers
enjoy his music.

The musician thinks maybe more market goers,
those far from the chinkapin oak, might enjoy
his music, so one day in addition
to his thirty-pound dulcimer he hauls
his thirty-pound Bose Tower speaker system
to work. Erecting the tower he plugs
it in and plays, and it is true that he draws
a wider market audience, from
as far away as the quiche corner,
the fennel farm, and the Japanese
sweet potato grower.

More mothers, more nannies, more children:
more stomping and spinning to the beat.
But now, when caregivers slip the children
dollar bills, the children run up to the imposing
Bose monolith and deposit their offerings
before it. Even when the amused adults
approach the tower, pick up the false-idol dollars,
and drop them into the musician’s basket,
the children do not understand —
they rush to the basket, remove the dollars,
and once again offer them to the tall
black pillar from which emerges
the intoxicating beat.

At the end of the day the musician
packs up, collects his money (and the monolith’s)
and returns home hot, tired, and full of
processed knowledge —that given a choice
between the actual and the enhanced,
humans sprout a primal urge to abandon
the genuine and worship the magnified.



You can read other poems by Barbara Gregorich in Crossing the Skyway: Poems.

The Power of Story: Phil Passen’s Musical Programs

As you may recall from a previous blog, The Endless Highway, I am a roadie for my husband, Phil Passen, who is a hammered dulcimer player. As roadie, I get to sit in on his performances. This has led me to not only observe that Phil’s performances are loved by the audiences he plays for (public libraries, historical societies, high schools), but also to analyze why they are so popular.

Here are a few of Phil’s musical programs:

Music of the Civil War
Music to Commemorate the Sinking of the Titanic
Carl Sandburg’s Songbag
The Music of Thomas Hardy
Music to Commemorate the Illinois Bicentennial

There are two basic reasons for the success of these programs. The first is Phil’s playing. I won’t spend much time on this (you can hear some of his tunes, such as “Shady Grove,” on his web site), mainly because one of the reasons for a musician’s success should be his playing. Phil’s ability to play music that people enjoy is evident on his first CD, Swinging on a Gate, which has sold steadily for almost twenty years.

The other reason I won’t dwell on this is that I myself am not a musician and while I find Phil’s music very enjoyable, I simply don’t have the knowledge to analyze its component parts.

The second basic reason for Phil’s success is his ability to create and present story. As a writer, story is something I feel I do have the knowledge to analyze and talk about. On its most basic level, story is an account of people and events, meant to entertain. 


One of the ways in which stories entertain is in the way they’re constructed, so that listeners can see the cause-and-effect of events and behaviors. So that listeners can see the underlying conflicts between the story’s characters. So they can sense a foreshadowing of what is going to happen. So they can feel empathy with the people who experienced these events, perhaps caused them, perhaps fought against them.

A good story touches the human heart — it helps create empathy for others and helps us see how very much we have in common with those others.

Phil weaves story into all of his programs, but particularly into the historical ones. He researches the events he sings about and constructs that information into story form. True story, not fictional story. He puts his songs and tunes in the order that they will best tell the story. Between songs, he presents information. Audiences leave Phil’s programs saying they loved the music and the stories equally well. 

Phil does this for all of his historical presentations, but I’m going to use only one of them as an example. 

When audiences settle in to hear When That Great Ship Went Down: Music to Commemorate the Sinking of the Titanic, they first hear a spirited old-time tune, “A Man Named William Morgan,” which contains the refrain, My name is Morgan, but it ain’t J.P. I see them tapping their feet, smiling . . . and looking perplexed. Surely some of them are thinking they wandered into the wrong program.

After he finishes that number, Phil tells them about the vast financial empire ruled by J.P Morgan — an empire that included steel mills, railroad lines, banks, and shipping lines. Including the White Star Line, which owned the Titanic.

From J.P Morgan (who did not perish on the Titanic because he let his luxury suite go empty while he stayed in France with a mistress), Phil goes to the first and second class passengers, who would have listened and danced to the Irving Berlin tune, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” When Phil plays this, I can see not only that the audience enjoys it, but that listeners are getting into the feel of the 1910s era.

From the first and second class passengers Phil goes to  “Shores of Amerikay,” a traditional Irish tune that was sung at the time and that represented the dreams of thousands of Irish who were emigrating to the US in hope of a better life. These third-class passengers were blocked from mingling with either second or (perish the thought!) first class passengers by steel gates and doors, which prevented their access to the upper decks. 

Titanic Flyer

The majority of Titanic deaths were working class people — the crew and third-class passengers. Only 706 lives were saved when the Titanic sank: 1,517 were lost. Of those 1,517, crew members totaled 685 dead and third-class passengers 556 dead.

After establishing the foundations of the story, Phil goes on to play more music performed on the ship, including “An Der Schonen Blauen Donau,” by Johann Strauss. He also sings songs about the ship, including Huddie Ledbetter’s 1912 composition “The Titanic,” which mentions the story that World Champion boxer Jack Johnson was not permitted passage on the ship because he was black. 

By the time the program is finished the audience is immersed in the story of these ill-fated people whose loss of life was totally preventable had not human vanity (the belief that the Titanic was unsinkable) interfered. The story of the Titanic is one of history’s great ironies, and the audience appreciates that. The unsinkable ship sank because of the hubris of those in charge, and lives were lost because the White Star line considered it more important to give first-class passengers a view that did not include lifeboats than it was to provide lifeboats for all aboard.

The program truly lives up to its title: it commemorates the fateful incident and the people who died and those who lived. Both the music and the story grip the hearts of those who hear them.

As one who works hard at creating story, it is a real pleasure for me to sit back and enjoy a story created by someone else’s research and construction. 


For more information on Phil Passen’s programs, contact him here. For help on how to construct a mystery story (and other stories as well,) read Barbara Gregorich’s Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

The Endless Highway: My Life as a Roadie

Perhaps we all have an avocation as well as a vocation. My father, for example, was a steelworker but also a carpenter. My mother was a bartender, then a homemaker, but always a crocheter. I’m a writer. But I’m also a roadie, and have been for more than twenty years. That’s because my husband, Phil Passen, is a musician. In order to be with him and help him out, I am his roadie.



I drive our car to Phil’s gigs. I help load the car as much as he’ll allow: he tends to think that only he knows the right way to load both the sound equipment and the hammered dulcimer, but he grudgingly allows me to push the equipment-laden cart to the performance area, and to push it back to the car when his gig is done.

He relies on me to provide a sound check. Because I hear the dulcimer all day long, I’m attuned to what it sounds like, and it’s my job to listen carefully after the dulcimer is connected to an amplifier, to make certain that the sustain isn’t too great, the bass notes aren’t muddy, the treble notes aren’t tinny. And so on.

Further, it’s my job to listen to the vocal mike to make sure it’s at the proper level for Phil’s speaking and for his singing, and to make certain the vocals and the dulcimer are in a good balance. Sometimes early comers to the performance get in on the act by suggesting more or less volume, but they never offer opinions on balance, treble, or bass. Which is just as well.

As a roadie I also work the CD table. I set it up, display the CDs, answer questions about them, sell them, collect the money, record the sale, and so on. Plus, I answer questions that people ask me. (Some of them approach Phil after the gig and ask him; others come directly to the CD table and ask me.) Questions such as: How long has he been playing? Who built his dulcimer? Did he take lessons? Which CD should they buy?

I love my life as a roadie not only because I love Phil, but also because I know that when I drive he can relax and rehearse before the performance, and decompress after the performance. Plus, it’s a great deal of fun to see and hear Phil in concert and to see how people react to him and his music.

But my life as a roadie has had . . . Dark. Moments.

One of these consisted of a 153-mile drive to Madison, Wisconsin, during which time Phil took along an autoharp to see whether he liked playing it and whether he liked singing while playing it. The song he chose to learn on was “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.”

Now, one thing you have to understand about Phil is that he is determined. Some would say compulsive. But no, he denies compulsive and prefers determined. And he likes to get things right. So, in order to learn the autoharp and the song, he kept playing and singing the first two lines.

Over and over. And over. And over.

Go tell Aunt Rhody / Go tell Aunt Rhody / Go tell Aunt Rhody / The old gray goose is dead.

I’m a person who admires simplicity. But there is such a thing as Too. Simple. As in Go tell Aunt Rhody three times over. (And over and over: you get it.) 

PP, Springfield


After maybe 90 miles, Phil felt confident enough to advance to the second verse. It’s a good thing, too, because I was ready to kill the old gray goose and anybody who insisted on singing about her — in a closed vehicle from which there was no escape.

Still, the drive-to-Madison experience was nothing compared to the drive-to-Memphis experience. We’re talking 533 miles. We’re talking Phil learning to sing the John McCutcheon song, “Christmas in the Trenches.” We’re talking the first line over and over.

My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.

Around mile 75 I had heard this first line enough. More than enough!

But Musician hadn’t. Apparently the first line was his way into the song: the notes, the tempo, the story, the attitude. Everything. And he wasn’t going to advance until he had mastered this line.

Roadie, Mile 150: This is sounding good. What about the next line?
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.

Roadie, Mile 225: Time to stop and walk about a bit. [Pulls into an oasis.]
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.

Roadie, Mile 340: Seriously, Phil, can you stop singing that line over and over?
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
Roadie: [Huge sigh of relief.]

Roadie, Mile 400: Considers asking Musician to drive the car, which he would willingly do. But realizes Musician would not only drive, he would sing while driving. Roadie decides that is worse than current situation. In current situation, she could always open the passenger door and push Musician out. She could not do that if he were driving.

Roadie, Mile 435: [Gnashes teeth. Pounds steering wheel. Considers driving car into the Mississippi River.]
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.

Musician, Mile 473: [Stops playing. Stops singing. Packs autoharp into its case.] Well, that’s enough for now.
Roadie: [To herself. “That’s enough for one lifetime.”]

Despite these Very. Dark. Moments., Roadie and Musician have survived. Musician now sings a wonderful version of the entire “Christmas in the Trenches.” Roadie feels tension drain away as soon as musician continues to the third line. And beyond.  Which, so far, has been at every performance. 


Barbara Gregorich includes humor in her folk-music-based mystery novel, Sound Proof — in which not a single character sings a line over and over.

Baroque Music and Multiple Endings

Multiple-ending stories are a kind of fiction in which the reader decides which plot path to pursue. The concept for the first wave of interactive fiction books, Choose Your Own Adventure children’s books, which were hugely popular during the 1980s and 1990s, was developed by Edward Packard in 1976.

The Choose Your Own Adventure stories had plots that branched out in several different directions. Think of a branching-plot novel as one in which the reader climbs up the main trunk of a tree, then chooses a branch to follow. And from that branch, another branch. And so on. In order for a branching story to move forward, the reader has to make choices very soon after the story starts. Each decision leads to further decisions, and this continues until the chain of decisions leads to an ending (or sometimes not!). In some of the books, 40 different endings were possible, and the ways to reach those endings varied. In other words, if on page four the reader chooses Option C, that doesn’t mean that Option C will always lead to Ending #15. Depending on the choices after C, a reader could end up with a different ending. Ending #24, say.

The Choose Your Own Adventure books were so popular that at least twenty other similar series were published. (Nothing inspires imitation like success.)

In a tree, branches do not double back on themselves and end up where they began. In a book or a game (as computer gaming, role-playing with action and consequences), though, readers/players may end up back where they started. This isn’t ideal, and it isn’t common — but it is possible, depending on the fiendishness of the branching-plot constructor.

Back in the early 1980s, I was asked to write a series of computer stories with branching story lines. These were for first- and second-graders learning English as a Second Language. At that time there were no books or articles I could find that explained how to write branching stories, so in order to understand what I needed to do, I read seven or eight Choose Your Own Adventure books.


Armed with an understanding of how these books worked, I spread many 3×5 notecards out on my dining room table. What I wrote on one notecard would serve as one computer-screen worth of text. I also had pens in different colors of ink, plus a paper tablet and blank paper. Knowing that classical music, particularly Baroque, affects brain waves and analytical abilities, I put several Bach CDs on. Then I began work on the first of many stories (I think the work-for-hire assignment consisted of twelve branching stories).

The Baroque music did stimulate my brain. The first thing I did was create the first two computer frames of the story. On my diagram, these are frames A and B. The story is about Crandall, a hermit crab, outgrowing his shell and looking for a new home.


Then I considered various ways Crandall’s search could end, and I wrote four endings. These have squares around them on the diagram. They are R, 0, M, and Y.

Next, I put the diagram aside and began writing individual “frames” (parts of the story) for the results of the C choice. That branched further into a choice between F and G. The F choice ended the story at R. The G choice, however, led to another branch, a choice between J and K.

The J choice eventually led to a choice between O and P. O ended the story. But P did not — P actually took the story all the way back to the second step of the D choice. If you study the diagram, you can see that some of the choices lead to unexpected results. That was fun.

Here’s what my notecards looked like. Each notecard is one computer frame’s worth of story.


I remember that it took me two eight-hour sessions to develop the first of these branching stories. It was indeed a lot of fun, but also a lot of very hard work. In some ways, this branching-story assignment was the most complex writing assignment I’ve ever had. I had to be able to think of different plot possibilities. Instead of choosing one possibility over the others and following the story to its cause-and-effect conclusion, I had to juggle the plot possibilities and keep each and every one alive. And make certain that each led to a cause-and-effect ending.

And these were very small stories for first- and second-graders. Imagine all the possibilities that a game creator must juggle!


Barbara Gregorich suggests you listen to Baroque music while reading her Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

Scrape, Rattle, and Roll



“You can learn to play the bones,” announced my husband (Phil Passen) one day. Phil was learning to play the hammered dulcimer and was being a tad compulsive about it, practicing all day long, buying three dulcimers and dozens of hammers.

I am not compulsive. As a writer, I am orderly and even-keeled. In addition, I was steered away from music in grade school, when teachers asked me to merely mouth words without actually singing them.

This didn’t stop Phil, who handed me a pair of bones.

Bones built by Rick Fogel

Bones built by Rick Fogel

Long ago, bones were real bone. Today most are made from wood. The fact that the bones Phil gave me included a two-page instruction sheet was a touch intimidating. I could barely figure out how to hold the bones, let alone tap them, and the thought of pickup notes and triplets was beyond reckoning. After I read up on the bones (research, you know), I learned not only that they’re among the oldest percussion instruments known to humans, but also that they’re among the most difficult to play.

The bones were not for me.

But perhaps some other percussion instrument was. Hanging with Phil, I found myself frequenting vendor booths and music stores, examining percussive doodads: reed rattles, plastic eggs, sticks with bottle caps attached, heavy wooden cylinders, grooved wooden fish — percussion so provocative that strangers pick the items up and try them out.

My writer’s curiosity was aroused. What were all these noisemakers? 
Where did they come from, and what were they called? I dove into reference books to learn how these fascinating things fit into the big picture of musical instruments.

Here’s what I learned.

One method of classifying musical instruments divides percussion into two categories: membranophones such as drums, whose sound comes from the vibration of a membrane (the skin); and idiophones such as bones and shakers, whose sound comes from the vibration of the material itself. Idio as in self, phone as in sound. Self-sound.

Nobody calls them idiophones. At least nobody I’ve encountered. They’re called noisemakers, sound makers, or contraptions. But whatever they’re called, idiophones are fascinating . . . and eminently classifiable. Musicologists recognize five classes of idiophones, according to playing technique.

HIT IT — Cymbals, Gongs, Xylophones, Castanets. This group is the largest of the five. So large, in fact, that it’s sometimes divided into subclasses, according to whether one or both of the struck objects produce sound.


Dancer playing finger cymbals

Concussion When two objects are struck together and both produce sound, you have a concussion idiophone, as in castanets, claves, cymbals, and bones. While waiting for Phil to finish a music lesson one day, I spied a pair of claves in the music store. Claves are simply two cylinders of hard, sonorous wood, such as rosewood. They’re the things children are given to beat together in kindergarten, where they’re called rhythm sticks.

The claves were inexpensive enough that I bought a pair. (Most idiophones cost $1-15, with expensive ones checking in at around $50.) When I tried to play the claves, I realized what a mistake I had made. They didn’t feel right, they didn’t sound right, and — its not easy to make music by beating two sticks together. You have to know how to beat them together.

Which is why I ordered a book on claves. Yes, there are such things. But the book was far too advanced for me, dealing with eighth and sixteenth notes and polymeters. I put the claves aside for later.

Again, Phil encouraged me to learn the bones. He even bought me an audiocassette with accompanying booklet. I actually began to hold the bones correctly and click them together. Then he bought me a videotape on the subject and I learned a bit more.

The truth is, I enjoyed the sounds of sonorous objects struck together. I had bones, I had claves. Why not branch out into cymbals? Not big cymbals, of course. Small ones. Finger cymbals. I ordered two pair, one for each hand. I joked to our friends that I would become the Midwest champion finger cymbalist in about, oh . . . three weeks.


Finger cymbals are even more difficult to master than claves. After I bought a book and audiotape on finger cymbals (research, you know), I learned that I had been striking them together incorrectly. So now I’m practicing cymbals the right way. It will be a while before I enter any finger cymbal contests.

Spoons, available in your kitchen, are also hit-it idiophones. You play them by holding two spoons in the same hand, convex ends touching loosely, then bouncing them up and down on your knee, causing them to strike one another and produce sound. After I wore the gloss off our kitchen spoons, Phil bought me a metal pair just for playing. Spoons, like bones, are played in blues, Celtic, folk, Quebecois, Cajun, and other kinds of music.

Agogo Bell

Agogo Bell

Percussion This is the name given to the second subclass of hit-it objects. Here a sonorous object such as a bell is struck by a non-sonorous object such as the tongue, or clapper. If it’s cowbells we’re talking about, the bell is struck with a small wooden dowel. The xylophone falls into this category of idiophones, as does the gong.

So do the gankoqui and agogo bells. Forming the backbone of African music, the gankoqui are two attached bells (no clappers) struck with a dowel of soft wood. In Latin music similar bells are called agogo. My agogo bell is wooden, its two cylinders attached to a crossbar which is attached to a handle. I strike the “bells” with a mallet. Wooden agogo bells have the additional feature of being cut with grooves, so they can be scraped as well as struck (not at the same time).

I haven’t bought a gong, nor do I crave a xylophone, nor do Tibetan bells interest me, although I see them featured in many catalogs and websites. There’s something, though, that draws me to the cowbell. The only reason I haven’t purchased one yet is that, unlike Phil, I’m not compulsive.

PLUCK IT — Jaw Harp and Mbira The two most common examples of plucked idiophones are the jaw harp and the mbira. The jaw harp, consisting of a single tongue of wood or metal fastened to a U-shaped frame, is played throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. You place the frame between your lips, then pluck the tongue — the jaw harp’s, not your own. By changing the shape of your lips, you change the pitch of the jaw harp.

The mbira I built from a kit

The mbira I built from a kit

Traveling under a number of names such as kalimba, marimbula, sanza, and thumb piano, the mbira is an African instrument consisting of a box of wood or a gourd onto which are fastened eight to twelve metal tongues. A player plucks the tongues, each of which is tuned to a particular pitch. At one music festival I took a class in mbira-making and built my own from a kit.

As the mbira illustrates, idiophones can be of definite or indefinite pitch. Because of my grade-school experiences, I shy away from instruments with definite pitch, so there is only one jaw harp and one mbira in the cabinet in which I store my idiophones. At first I needed only a small drawer for that initial set of bones. But then the egg shakers and claves and cymbals and other idiophones began to take up space. To say nothing of the various instruction booklets and audio and video tapes and DVDs. I still have a bit of room in the cabinet to display a music box — which is, yes, an example of a plucked idiophone.

RUB IT — Glass Harmonica, Musical Saw I stay away from rubbed idiophones, too: not only because they have a definite pitch, but because they’re, well . . . kinky. Take the glass harmonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. In size and appearance it looks like a piano, not a harmonica. Running the length of its cabinet are dozens of glass bowls on their sides, nestled into one another. When the player pumps a treadle, a spindle rotates the bowls. The player then wets her fingers, or dips them in chalk (depending on preference and level of kinkiness) and touches them to the rims of the revolving glass bowls, producing tones of different pitch.


Glass Harmonica, photo by Vince Flango

No, I’m not making this up: the glass harmonica really exists, Franklin really invented it, and the instrument was so popular during the late 18th century that Mozart, Beethoven, and Martini composed for it. Around 1830 the glass harmonica fell into disuse — possibly replaced by the rotisserie.

The glass harmonica is ludicrous but harmless. The musical saw, on the other hand, is not. The musical saw is simply a handsaw that the player, for whatever perverse reasons, holds with the non-dominant hand, placing the blunt front end between his/her legs with saw teeth facing inward, where they can do the most damage. Bending the saw in and out via pressure on the handle, the player rubs it with a bow (violin or cello type) or strikes it with a soft mallet, producing tones of definite pitch. The tones of the musical saw are haunting and somewhat ethereal, as if ghosts of maimed players were hovering in the air.

SCRAPE IT — Washboard and Guiro A scraped idiophone sounds like the condition I would be in after attempting to play the musical saw. However, what is meant to be scraped is the instrument, not the player. A washboard is a prime example of a scraped idiophone, and jug band music is a popular haven for thimble-clad players and their washboards. Actually, I’ve always loved the sound of the washboard — far better than I liked using it to scrub socks, for example. At a recent folk festival I saw one of the old-fashioned wooden-edged washboards for $10. The only reason I didn’t purchase it was because I secretly coveted the deluxe model: stainless steel, no wooden sides. The top of the deluxe version is curved so you can drape it over your shoulders and move around while playing. Or washing socks.



Around the world the most popular scraped idiophone is probably the guiro, which originated as a hollow gourd notched in concentric circles. To play the guiro you rub a stick back and forth across the notches. Highly popular in Latin American music, guiros are used more and more in folk music. In a moment of weakness I bought a fish-shaped red-and-green guiro. I have no idea what possessed me to purchase this: I’m not compulsive in any way.

RATTLE IT — Egg Shakers, Maracas, Woven Rattles, Sistrums In addition to the ubiquitous egg-shaped shakers, maracas are a well-known example of rattle-it idiophones. The percussion world is populated with a host of other rattled things. For $6 I purchased a lovely reed-woven rattle filled with stones, and for $5 I purchased a double rattle: two painted wooden cylinders attached by a curved handle. The woven rattle has a soft sound, suggesting rustling as well as rattling. The sound of the wooden one is more assertive.

The sistrum is a type of rattle that’s been around for 5,000 years, used by the ancient Egyptians. Generally speaking, a sistrum consists of a handle with a U-shaped frame projecting from it (think of the shape of a slingshot). A crossbar of wire is wrapped around the top of the two prongs, and things that rattle are strung from the wire. Usually these things are metal, cut in circles or in strips. Some players make their own sistrums by splitting willow branches halfway down, threading wire across the top and stringing it with flattened beer bottle caps with holes pierced through them. Instead of making my own sistrum, I bought an African one for $12. A bargain, really, because nickel silver ones sell for $125 or more — which, no matter how you listen, is a lot of money for the rattle.

Various shakers

Various shakers

In music there’s room for a wide variety of crazy percussion instruments: instruments that have been used for thousands of years. Instruments that even a klutz like me can learn to play. Almost any music store, from rock to jazz to folk, will have on display a basket of plastic egg-shaped rattling instruments.

In my wanderings through music stores, I purchased a white egg-shaped rattle. Then a black one. Then another black one, so I had a pair. Then a green one. Then pink. Then I investigated wooden rattles. And then I became enamored of the Remo fruit rattles, shaped like oranges, pears, apples, potatoes, bananas, plums. All to improve my sense of sound recognition, of course, there being subtle differences between all the colors and materials.

In a corner of our living room, next to where Phil keeps his hammered dulcimers, his hammers, his music stands, his scores of books and videos, is a huge wicker basket filled with my idiophones . . . and a shelf filled with my audios and videos and DVDs and books . . . and another spilling over with instruments I can’t squeeze into the large basket.

All this is research, of course. I refuse to be compulsive about it.


Barbara Gregorich’s love of idiophones spilled over into her mystery Sound Proof, in which the suspects play jaw harps, bones, washboards, musical saws and other suspicious and dangerous contraptions.