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Marji Hazen, Folk music
Marji Hazen, a.k.a. "Granny Emm", prefers making live music to "sitting around the radio keeping quiet." She has made - and continues to make - plenty of it. Here is her story.

"I spent my Great Depression childhood in a little village where radio signals were often faint and, anyway, most people still made their own music together which was a lot more fun than sitting around the radio keeping quiet while Baby Snooks got all the attention. Except for me, my immediate family members were all avid square dancers rather than musicians, so I spent a lot of time with the neighbors, learning their songs.

Somehow I never learned the square dance calls even though the family dragged me to a square dance every Saturday night of my life until I went to college. Would have been a waste of effort anyway as in those days all the callers were men. But the music was live, usually the most recent couple generations of some grand old family band, and I heard them all so often that I could hum all the square dance tunes. I used to play them by ear on the piano too, until my piano teacher put her foot down and declared her piano off limits to all but the classics and John Thompson (the instruction series she taught from).

This was the time when the schools still used those lovely 18th and 19th Century popular songs in the music program (Twice 55 Community Song Book was one of the texts for music classes). So I was acquainted with the songs of Robert Burns, Thomas Moore, Henry C. Work, and all those Victorian Ladies. By the time I was sixteen, I was (musically) permanently stuck pre-1885. Though I had piano lessons from age six on an upright grand bought from Grandpa, I was not a very inspired pianist and the only family member who seemed to like my music was the dog. I was legally blind and could never read printed music fast enough to develop any real technique.

The neighbors played by ear, and I wanted to do that too, on some instrument that was portable please. But there was no money to buy another instrument. And my awareness of musical options was limited by the same narrow experience that got me stuck in the 19th Century. So I went to the nearest available source, the largest, most famous music store in a city ten miles away. Mr. Smart introduced me to an Autoharp. Wow! I had saved up enough money for that! The Autoharp was portable and could be used to accompany all my favorite old songs. Soon I was chording by ear which is a lot easier if you don't play anything later than, say, 1885. I tuned the Autoharp by ear too. But then I could hear better in those days. LOL Since the family was always at the square dance on Saturday night, I never heard Mother Maybelle on Grand Ole Opry and had no idea an Autoharp could DO THAT. The neighbors told me to put that harp on my lap so I wouldn't drop it. So I did.

Once I graduated high school and got my first job, I realized I could actually buy an instrument ON CREDIT. Unfortunately at that time I was still a musical wimp and my cousins led me astray into accordion playing even though I would rather have had a guitar. So my second instrument was a great big heavy white accordion that the music store owner and accordion band director demanded I choose instead of the nice little old 48 bass that I could have had for free. It could play the jazz and big band dance music my family liked. So in a couple of years, Dad and I ended up playing for dances at the VFW, me with that great beast of an instrument, and Dad with banjo and spoons. Turned out Dad had been one of over 70 Perrysville area young people that ran around together in the late 20s. When they would have a dance, a few would be the band while the rest danced. After while those few would put down the instruments and take their partners. A new set of volunteers would take up the instruments and be the band for a while. My mother was not happy with sitting with the VFW band wives all evening, not dancing, so our band playing days were short-lived.

On the side I was learning to chord on a short-neck tenor banjo somebody had given me. But because I was stuck on the really old songs and was hearing guitar music in my head, my banjo playing ended up more like plinky guitar playing. And I used open tunings like the neighbors: a different one for each key. I discovered decades later that I had somehow managed to learn or re-invent several of the traditional Hawaiian slack key tunings. By some dumb luck, my singing with the banjo was good enough that I was invited to play once on Cleveland television back in the day when they had live talent on Dorothy Fuldheim's noon program. Meanwhile I was still working days at Kresge's dime store, playing Autoharp and singing in harmony with my friend Lois evenings and weekends. Buddy the dog continued to be the only family member who hung around when we played.

At last came college, absolute musical HEAVEN. Soon as I was more or less autonomous, the accordion was stashed away forever. During college I acquired an antique Washburn guitar and a lap dulcimer to go along with the little banjo. I started writing songs (this was the 60s and who wasn't?). And I got my own radio show. Marji's Ballad Book, a weekly live folk and traditional music program, began broadcasting on the college station in 1961 and continued through 1989 on whichever commercial or PBS station was willing to host it on sustaining (free) wherever I lived. Sometimes I would sing and play. Sometimes I would have guests, singer-songwriters, folk or traditional groups, even field recordings from festivals kind souls would kidnap me to. The tapes of many of the radio programs are in the Ashland University Library Archives where anyone can go and listen to them. And a few of my songs have inspired other works: mostly sermons, some of which can be found on the web. Coffeehouses and ski lodges actually paid money for me to go and sing there. But not being allowed to drive because I couldn't see the road let alone the road signs pretty much limited my musical career to the few places I could get to by public transit, which was so much better in those days than it is now. By the time I got my BA (in English) I realized the music biz wasn't going to be an option because of the travel problem. So I took a teaching job, then became a radio advertising copywriter, moonlighted as a ghost writer, took a Master's degree and became a teacher again, and last, became a builder of instructional programs for the computer. I retired in 1991 as a CAI computer programmer with half a PhD in Instructional Design.

AT LAST! I could be a full time musician. Still couldn't travel on my own though, so competing with the musicians who could was impossible. But I was living in the state capitol then and venues on buslines were plentiful, especially for somebody like me who knew a lot of public domain music and could play it anywhere, no ASCAP license required. For several years, I rode the Columbus busses, harp or dulcimer case and all. Needless to say, a lot of people noticed me. Would you like to hear the story about how my harp got kidnapped from the restroom stall where I'd parked it at a Chieftains concert and taken to the after-concert party forcing me to follow it and have the most memorable musical night of my very life? or how I was invited to provide the live music for a Garrison Keillor book signing at Nickleby's Bookstore Cafe where the Great Author actually touched the keys of my Celestaphone? He didn't give me a free book in exchange for the privilege though. I had to buy one just like everybody else.

During my years as an employee, I had managed to work playing music into some of my jobs. It was easy while teaching junior high school. The kids were really up for having a session after lunch a couple times a week. And when we managed a bus tour to the Folk Music Society in Columbus, then to Bluffton College, and last to the folk festival at Bowling Green, the kids had memories to last a lifetime. And I needed a good rest. Anything that kept some of the kids busy between lunch and the next class was all right with the supervisory staff. The group played together for two years. Later some of those kids went on to be professional musicians or music teachers or work in musical instrument factories.

When I couldn't work music into the job, I moonlighted, playing music wherever anybody would give me something toward expenses. Now and then I even volunteered. My fondest volunteer memory is of playing with the Marion Square Dulcimers And Singers, a hobby group that met at the Marion Square Senior Recreation Center in South Columbus. What a grand bunch of folks they were! We were invited to perform in the city schools as a reward for the children who got good grades. We also were invited to play at a big flower festival in Franklin Park. That's where this photo was taken.

I really really enjoyed the mountain dulcimer revival, all those weekends when dulcimer players and their friends towed their little silver houses out to the State Park, settled in for the weekend to make a big cauldron of Stone Soup and circle their lawn chairs around a shared fire to play and sing together for hours and hours.

The high school choir at the 1986 Ashley Apple Butter Festival sang some Rogers & Hamerstein songs as free entertainment. This picture isn't of them. It's our band, then called Leland Trace, playing there the same day. When ASCAP presented the Ashley Apple Butter Festival with a bill for royalties that was more than the profit the folks in Ashley made from selling the apple butter that year, I saw it was time to help out by creating the Public Domain Information Project to help charitable and non-profit groups find music that didn't require royalties. For a number of years I published a list of songs I knew to be in the public domain, presented public domain music workshops at music festivals, and helped set up public domain venues for small businesses that couldn't afford the escalating price of a music license, even helped create the PD list for a computer music program that later was used by Casio. Now everytime I look at one of those light-up keyboards with the built-in music that you can step forward with one key, I have to smile. But when the copyright laws were profoundly changed in November of 1998, I decided enough was enough. I wanted to play more music and do much less research. So the project, its web site, and collection of antique music books was passed on to a younger, more energetic person. Lynn has grown the project to be what I envisioned and more. It's still alive and well at http://www.pdinfo.com/

In 1983 I found an affordable handmade folk harp at a dulcimer festival and, against all rules and traditions of harping, over the next three years taught myself to play it by ear well enough to be wallpaper music a couple of times a month at Nickleby's and also to play it with Friends In D. That same year I had organized the first version of Friends In D, a group of amateur musicians who played a number of different instruments, but who embraced and accommodated the limitations of the mountain dulcimer. This group also known for a time as Leland Trace, and on our album, Marji Hazen's Parlour Band, varied in size over the years from three or four to as many as 18 musicians playing acoustic instruments that wouldn't "cover up" the dulcimer sound: mandolin, guitar, Autoharp, folk harp, harmonica, pennywhistle, spoons, bass kalimba, even a fiddle (with gut strings and mute), one cautiously included banjo (played very softly), and more. Though it was a constant battle to discourage FID from devoting time and effort to cover tunes and the copyrighted folk stuff old hippies cannot help but love, we managed to limit our performance repertoire to public domain music (including music I remembered from childhood and arranged for folk band with dulcimers). Because all that could be played without an ASCAP license, our group appeared at many venues around Columbus, Ohio. Our favorite venue was Nickleby's Bookstore Cafe, but the Camp Chase Civil War Re-enactment came in a close second.

Yes, ASCAP kept a close eye on us for quite a while. But eventually they realized we really were respecting copyrights and playing nothing but PD and our own original copyrighted music. Eventually some of their people even started helping us out by warning us when scofflaws infringed at PD venues where we liked to play.

Mid-nineties I realized it was time to say goodbye to big city life. So I moved back to my home town and accepted senior citizenship. Wasn't long before the Third Sunday Gathering followed me to Ashland and we were meeting monthly, with as many as 25 musicians driving in from all over the state to play the old music together. We gave a couple concerts like this one at the grand old Hayesville Opera House, but mostly we just enjoyed three or four hours of sharing music that third Sunday afternoon of each month for fun.

It seems like only yesterday, but must be nearly ten years ago, we realized that everyone who attended the Third Sunday Gathering was retired now and able to join us on a weekday rather than take up a weekend afternoon. So we moved the 3rd Sunday Gathering from Sunday to Tuesday, changed the location to the Ashland County Council on Aging where there were no steps and the doors were equipped with automatic openers, and resurrected that first and still most evocative name, Friends in D, assuring that in this group lap dulcimers would never be overwhelmed. Friends In D did a few unforgettable gigs, but mostly just enjoyed playing together every week, for a time thinking about music instead of the rheumatiz and other elder plagues. Here are some pictures from that time.