Winter Music News

guitars_uke_harmonicasThe picture here shows my main instruments – a Taylor acoustic guitar, a Stratocaster electric, a tenor ukulele, my diatonic harmonica case, and my new compact chord harmonica.

As winter arrives, I plan to hunker down in my studio and play a lot of music. Surprise! I do that in the spring and summer, too, if you’re keeping track.

Rack Harmonica
Lately I’ve been getting better at playing rack harmonica on jazz tunes while playing guitar simultaneously. Likewise with fiddle tunes. Never thought that’d be possible, since there’s so many notes, but apparently with practice, anything is possible!

Farmers Market
My most recent full-length solo gig was the Milford Farmers Market, where I did some looping on English country dance tunes, jazz, and contra dance tunes. Also did some singing, since I have multiple boxes of my four original CDs burning a hole in my closet. The singing I tend to forget about and accidentally downplay when I describe my musical life, but strumming and singing has kinda been my main thing for um, decades now?

I do a lot of singing with students. I’m super casual about it. “Oh yeah, hey, let’s sing.” As if it’s no big thing. But I know almost everyone’s self-conscious about it, so I hope my workmanlike attitude provides a model for folks to emulate; singing loudly in tune, singing through the nerves.

Contra Dance
This month I played my first real contra dance gig – it’s been a few years that I’ve sat in with the Monday Night band in Nelson, and the regulars, led by Perin Ellsworth-Heller, got hired for the Peterborough First Saturday Contra Dance. We had a three-piece rhythm section, myself on guitar, Matt Garland on piano, and Max Nunnemaker on bass, plus Perin on fiddle and Samuel Foucher on accordion. Worked up some modern-ish contra sets, plus a ragtime-gypsy jazz set, and we received reports later that it was mighty on the dancefloor. The soundman Peter recorded most of it, and I look forward to hearing the highlights.

Winter Walks
Went for a long walk today, with a hat and gloves, playing my harmonica. It was sunny. It felt good to be out. Dark as the photo above is, that’s just the inside of my little beaver dam. Outside, it’s crisp and lovely. I enjoy bright winter days, and plan to embrace the season in my New England home of four years.

Playing Jazz in the Springtime

tad_garrett_cropped_500Check out my jazz duo, Moonlight In New Hampshire! I’ve created a page on the website here with some audio demos, pictures, and a description of what we do.

Before we talk more about that, let’s pause to consider the present moment. Spring is here! I’m refilling the bird feeder every other day. Our strawberry plants are coming back. The hardy cactus, lying flat all winter under the snow, is raggedly returning to its feet.

My teaching schedule has been really busy, between private one-on-one lessons in Keene NH, weekly online lessons with students in Canada, France, and various US states, and my new position as music teacher for grades 5-8 at The Well School, in Peterborough NH.

My fiddle tune life has lately been limited to the Monday night contra dance in Nelson NH and the first Saturday dance in Peterborough, but the jazz side of things is flourishing.

First, I just finished participating in the spring session of the Early Jazz Ensemble at the Vermont Jazz Center, led by Anna Patton. Second, I’ve been getting out every other week or so to the same location for the weekly jazz jam. And finally, my jazz duo with Garrett Cameron is starting to really get into gear.

We call ourselves Moonlight In New Hampshire, the name being a play on the old song title “Moonlight In Vermont.” I like to say that we’re the duo that sounds like a 5-piece, because we’re both multi-instrumentalists. Garrett plays drums and sax, and I play guitar and diatonic harmonica, and I sing. You might say we sound like a sextet, actually, because I run my guitar through an octave effect for basslines, and then sample my guitar backgrounds.

Here’s my approach to jazz guitar looping – usually, the first time through the song form, I’ll sing or Garrett will play the lead on sax. During that run-through, I’ll be recording the guitar accompaniment. At the end of the first AABA, I step on the pedal again and play back the looped guitar accompaniment. At that point, I’ll overdub a walking bassline, or begin improvising on guitar or harmonica.

A note here about what Garrett does: like I said, he’ll often start on sax, then switch to drums during my solos. At that point, we’ve got a full jazz trio sound, with live drums, live soloist, and looped guitar/bass. Crazy as it sounds, Garrett will sometimes also add one-handed saxophone while continuing to play the drums with his other limbs. On other songs, to vary things up, we’ll leave out the drums and guitar loops, and Garrett plays chord tones on sax behind me during my solos. Did I mention this guy also plays Celtic music and studied composition in undergrad? Garrett Cameron is kinda badass.

For some songs, I’ll walk the bass while singing, and then add guitar chords after. Or play a fingerstyle bass+chords type of accompaniment, with pure guitar, no octave bass. I’d like to incorporate more simultaneous guitar and harmonica, sort of like a futuristic Bob Dylan, but right now I find I play better if I give each one its own turn.

I’ve begun playing some of our jazz standard repertoire in my solo gigs, and am looking forward to sharing the jazz duo sound of Moonlight In New Hampshire with audiences around New England. Enjoy the late spring and we’ll see you out there this summer. Cheers!

Tad’s Year in Review – 2014

100_1533_smallerHappy New Year! Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last year…

January – I played two gigs, one at the Blue Rock Restaurant in Shelburne Falls, MA, and one at Jesse’s, in Hanover NH. At the Blue Rock, I usually play strictly instrumental guitar music, but last January I was encouraged to sing, to great response. Not a big surprise, since playing and singing’s my usual format, but it was new to do it there, since they had asked me early on just to play instrumental music. At Jesse’s, I always sing. Two fun gigs, both within an hour of home.

February – Even closer to home, I played banjo ukulele and guitar for a contra dance at Stonewall Farm, along with Samuel Foucher on accordion, with calling by the great Nils Fredland. Stonewall Farm is about ten minutes from my home in downtown Keene, and it actually took longer to pack and unload gear than it did to travel to the gig :) Later that month, I played guitar instrumentals at The Waterhouse in Peterborough NH for their Sunday brunch music series. It’s a beautiful location, with big windows overlooking the river, which in February was partially frozen. I’m told otters have been spotted there by diners.

March – No gigs in March, but I did travel to North Carolina to attend a four-day harmonica workshop with Howard Levy. We played jazz and blues, worked on playing odd time signatures, broke down some really complex licks into breathing patterns, looked at various world musics, and hung out. Early mornings, late nights. Since she lives in the area, I got to visit my mom briefly in between workshop days!

April – I played guitar at a wedding in Walpole, NH at a beautiful apple orchard. Rain was imminent all afternoon, but it cleared up in time for the ceremony. The next day, I was back at The Waterhouse in Peterborough for brunch. No ice this time.

May – I attended a memorial for Bob McQuillen, pianist, composer, and treasure of the New England contra dance music world. Later that day it was an honor to take the stage with many of Bob’s musical friends and students in Peterborough afterward to play for a giant contra crowd in his memory. Also in May, my students gave their annual performance at Fritz, in Keene. Everybody played really well, families took over the room. Lots of applause, and a big finale song with maybe fifteen musicians playing together. At the end of the month, I flew to Indianapolis for the second year in a row, to attend the Harmonica Collective, another four-day harmonica intensive, featuring Jason Ricci, Winslow Yerxa, and James Conway, among others. Conway, in particular, has been a real inspiration to me to learn tongue blocking, since it allows for incredibly fast and clean playing on complex fiddle tunes on harmonica.

June – Played at the Walpole Farmers Market for the second time, and made another trip to The Waterhouse in Peterborough. At the end of the month, I feel I got to attend another great harmonica event by proxy – at my suggestion, one of my own harmonica students, who lives in Canada, attended a workshop in the Toronto area hosted by Carlos Del Junco and Adam Gussow, two of the biggest names in blues harp. Though I didn’t get to participate, I was happy for my student, because I know how inspiring and broadening it can be to meet and learn from great teachers and connect with other fellow harmonica-obssessed friends.

July – No gigs in July. According to my notes, I got my teeth cleaned and considered attending a music festival in Massachussetts (but didn’t go).

August – I played at Blue Rock in Shelburne Falls MA again, and this time it was all vocal, all night. In an intense three-week period, I went on a family vacation with my partner’s family, then went to my cousin’s wedding in Florida, then attended an amazing long weekend workshop in Bellows Fall VT on rhythm and improvisation with Eugene Friesen, Glen Velez, and the singer Loire. Five or six cellists, a couple singers, and me on guitar, vocals, harmonica.

September – no gigs.

October – Blue Rock in Shelburne Falls, again. Also, a pumpkin-carving Halloween party at a business in Keene, prior to the pumpkin festival. Yes, I attended the festival the night of the rioting, but noticed nothing because all the obnoxiousness and destruction took place withing a couple blocks of the Keene State campus, and the festival was apparently isolated from it. One thing I remember, though – I was trying and trying to call a friend to meet up, and my calls wouldn’t go through. I know now that this was probably because of all the cell usage in the area that night – both because folks were reporting crazy behavior, and because others were spreading the word and inviting in more partiers via social media.

November – in November I started attending a weekly class on early jazz at the Vermont Jazz Center, playing diatonic harmonica. The class was perfectly timed for me, since all year, I’d been collecting and exploring recordings of Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bichet, and others. The class lasted a couple months, and it was humbling and inspiring. Thanks to my bandmates for enduring my pitch wobbles, and for welcoming me as a fellow horn player.

December – at the beginning of the month, the early jazz ensemble gave its debut performance at the VT Jazz Center’s open house, and an encore a couple weeks later. I played harmonica, and secretly began practicing jazz guitar at home again, which I’ve continued in the new year :)

Ongoing Activities – I should mention that while these notes represent my solo “Tad Dreis” performance highlights from 2014, I continue to play every Monday night at the Nelson town hall with a volunteer contra dance band, and to lead jams in Keene when the Monday dance moved there over the summer, and in Peterborough before the monthly first Saturday dance there.

Teaching – And of course, I teach private lessons every week, in my home studio in Keene, and online with students in Canada, France and various US states. Playing and singing with my students has been a big part of how I’ve stayed sharp, music-wise, since I stopped touring long-distance five years ago. A new development in my teaching world has been my recent hiring as Upper School music teacher at The Well School in Peterborough NH, where I lead music classes for 5th – 8th grade, using rock band instrumentation – voice, guitar, bass, piano, drums – plus ukuleles.

Looking Ahead – I plan on playing more jazz this spring, with the Early Jazz ensemble, and in a duo with my drummer friend Garrett. I’ve acquired a sampler pedal and an octave shifter and it’s been pretty neat to be the bass player AND the guitarist AND the harmonica player in a jazz duo setting. I’m also teaching at the Dance Flurry in Saratoga Springs NY in February, which is a huge deal in the traditional music world. Offering classes on blues and fiddle tunes on harmonica at the festival, and hopefully getting some dancing in to some great live bands, plus visiting with area friends. If you’ve read this far, thanks for your interest in what I’m up to, and I wish you a wonderful 2015!

Community Music Jams


It’s my first post of 2014! If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to besides teaching music lessons, the image here and the documentary link below should give you some idea.

I dance and play contra dance tunes nearly every Monday in Nelson, New Hampshire with various musicians from our local traditional music scene, including members of the band Trip To Nelson, two of whose members, Matt and Perrin, are pictured above. We were playing “Wizard’s Walk,” which you can hear snippets of in Mary Wesley’s short documentary, “Mondays in Nelson”.

I also get out to the Harlow’s jam in Peterborough, NH many Tuesdays, and to the Brattleboro VT jam at the Stone Church every other Sunday. Oh, and also the jam at Del Rossi’s on Wednesdays in Dublin, NH. And I lead a beginners slow jam for contra dance music at the Peterborough Town House every 1st Saturday at 6:30 before the monthly dance.

In the beginning, I mainly played rhythm guitar, but I’ve gradually been getting tunes up to speed on my harmonica and also on my new baby, a banjo-ukulele tuned up like a mandolin. A banjolele in mando tuning, 5ths, like a fiddle. Works great. Easy on the fingers, plenty loud, light to carry around. I’ll share more info about the banjolele later.

Anyhow, Spring is starting to sprout, snow is finally melting, mud is starting to squish. I have some solo guitar instrumental gigs coming up on the Shows page, and you can always find me at the jams. See you!

News Story & Student CD

In The News
Quick autumn news blurb – I’m featured in a story from The Mason Ledger-Transcript on their local music series this summer – read it here.

Student CD
Also, I helped produce a CD for one of my students this summer. Read about it and listen to all the songs at this link here.

Ukulele in Nashua, NH

(reposted from
What a day in Greeley Park! After my onstage solo uke set, I taught classes on chords, strumming, and fingerpicking. Student demographics varied wildly, from little kids to seniors, from total beginners to members of the bands who’d played earlier during the ukulele festival.

I knew it would be impossible in that situation to give everybody exactly what they need (can you ever do that, anyway?), but I tried to make sure everyone got SOMETHING they could use in each workshop, whether they were picking up the ukulele for the first time, or already could play, sing, and jam comfortably.

Big thanks to my fellow teacher Amy Conley for bringing her tent and basket of loaner ukes (and for taking these pictures!), and to Michael and Ben Chung for doing the dreaming and legwork necessary to make this festival happen.

For more info on my ukulele teaching, please visit

Music on the Mason Green

The sun was setting in Mason, New Hampshire. Bears had been spotted in town the week before, and I was hoping one might stop by my gig. For my set, I played originals mostly from The Reluctant Hook, plus a couple from Solitaire For Two and Play To Remember, augmented by a ukulele cover of “Here Comes the Sun” and a harmonica rendition of the Irish reel “Star of Munster.”

After I left the stage, Mason local Jerry Wile played his own bluegrass-inspired originals and guitar instrumentals. Steve Tamulonis, the organizer of the Music On the Mason Green series, had inquired earlier whether we might perform a song together, and while we didn’t play anything during the official show, we did get to run through a couple of fiddle tunes together just before my set, standing on the edge of the stage.

The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript ran a profile of our show and the music series which includes additional pictures.

Thanks to Steve and the town of Mason for putting this event together, and to Jerry for playing “Red Haired Boy” and “Flowers of Edinburgh” with me. Bears: rain check for next time?

August is for Festivals

NH Ukulele Picnic
Saturday Aug 24

In honor of the first annual New Hampshire Ukulele Picnic, I’ve made a ukulele video of my song “Driving To Georgetown.” You can watch it here. The festival is Saturday August 24 at Greeley Park in Nashua NH from noon to 4pm. I’ll be performing and also teaching uke workshops.

Music on the Mason Green
Thursday Aug 8

Is it a festival if it’s just two performers? Close enough. Music on the Mason Green is an outdoor event on, you guessed it, the green in historic Mason, New Hampshire, childhood home of Uncle Sam. I believe a gazebo has been specially constructed for our use. Mason local Jerry Wile will also be performing, and if you come early, there’s a community dinner at 5:30, then music at 7pm.

FolkSoul Festival, Greenfield NH
Sunday Aug 18

Rumor has it that I may join Trip To Nelson for their set at Greenfield’s FolkSoul Festival on Sunday August 18 at 4pm. Music runs all day, tons of bands, from 11am-7pm.

Depot Square, Peterborough, NH
Friday Aug 23

I’m closing out Pboro’s summertime music series at Depot Square on Friday August 23, from 6:00-7:30pm. Last week I sat in on Richard Backes’ Celtic session at the same location and it was a beautiful evening to play music outdoors by the river. Fingers crossed for a repeat for my solo date. The rain location is nearby in Twelve Pine.

Walpole Farmers Market
Friday August 30

My first New England farmers market! Back in North Carolina, I played regularly at farmers markets in Pittsboro, Hillsborough, Holly Springs, and elsewhere, so I’m looking forward to heading up to Walpole NH this month to play music among the local greens, tomatoes and squashes.

Keene Music Festival
Saturday Aug 31

A gig that’s truly close to home. Played here last year and I’m returning to the gazebo in Ashuelot River Park on Saturday August 31 for the Art in the Park portion of the annual, all-day Keene Music Festival. My set starts at 10:30am.

Want directions and more details? It’s all listed on my Shows page.

Live at The Living Room

On June 15, I drove about an hour along New Hampshire back roads to play at The Living Room, a church coffeehouse in Mason, NH. There were graduations in the area that day, so turnout was light in the rec room, but it was still a listening room, and I’m lucky to get to play in that kind of setting, where I’m up on a stage, with a light on me and the audience sits in a darkened room and listens carefully. I’m also way into rooms where we’re equally lit, even without a microphone, as long as folks are listening, but lighting and sound do give things a showbiz-y touch and turn everything you do onstage into a kind of theater. I think my set was probably pretty gentle. Not a bad thing, but I’m curious about violating the “don’t shout in a library!” rule. Watch out, quiet audiences, things might get edgy next time. Thanks to Steve and Mike for putting this series together, and thanks to Michelle for the photo.

So, This One Time, At Harmonica Camp…

At the end of April 2013 I flew to Indianapolis for a multi-day event organized by Jason Ricci and Winslow Yerxa called “Harmonica Collective.”

It was a blast. After an opening night jam at a local blues bar, we had three days of classes on improv, theory, breathing, tongue blocking, amplification, mic technique, and how to tweak harmonicas for better playability.

At the end, we closed out back at the blues bar with a staff concert, during which I was called up to perform with two of my teachers, Paul Davies and James Conway.

Paul and I played an improvised waltz as a duo, then James brought out his bagpipe-tuned harp for a solo piece, and we finished with an uptempo trio take on the Harvest Home Hornpipe.

I’m still processing all the class material, one-to-one conversations, and jam experiences. It was nice to meet so many people with their own harmonica obsessions.

I came away from Harmonica Collective with a renewed focus on tongue blocking, especially corner switching for fiddle tunes with big leaps.

Also, I quickly realized that most of the players there had played a lot more blues jams than me. I spend a lot of time woodshedding fiddle tunes and taking melodies through all 12 positions. It might be time to take a step back and just groove in cross harp awhile.

Thanks to all the Expert Guides: Jason Ricci, Winslow Yerxa, Richard Sleigh, RJ Mischo, Michael Peloquin, James Conway, and Guest Stars Paul Davies and Buzz Krantz.

Also, special thanks to the Saigon Restaurant for their delicious noodle bowls and friendly home-style service. Three meals in four days! Next time, I may even order an avocado shake of my own instead of just sipping everybody else’s.