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Monday, 26 November 2007
Entertaining at Home this Holiday Season
Now Playing: Let's Get it Started in Here!
Entertaining at Home this Holiday Season:

Let's Get it Started in Here!

Many people are sticking closer to home during the holidays this year. We also see more people investing in pool tables, home movie theatres and stereo sound systems for good reason. Creeping gas prices and air fares are making it more desirable to stay home and invite others over. Most people have no problem with providing cocktails and sumptuous meals for their guests but what about entertainment? Well, sitting everyone in front of a big, flat screened, high definition television will only work for some of your guests. You could hire a D.J. but that will cost at least $400 for the evening and he may not always have the genres of music you want to hear.

One solution for musical entertainment many savvy hosts are turning to is Karaoke. Now we’re not talking about the kind found in the kid’s toy section of Target. No, these are professional and semi-pro models which offer fantastic sound quality coupled with ease of use. The semi-professional Karaoke System we tested after checking out a ton of others is the Singing Machine. Their latest SM -1010 Digital model is a pedestal type with a full color 7 inch monitor. You don’t have to set it up on a table and then squint at black and white graphics. The TFT LCD liquid crystal screen shows full color lyrics and is packed with features to get the party started!


The Singing Machine SM 1010

Semi-Pro Karaoke Machine

MSRP $599.99

Karaoke is a Japanese abbreviated compound word: "kara" comes from "karrappo" meaning empty (as in karate - empty hand), and "oke" is the abbreviation of "okesutura" or orchestra. Rather than having both vocals and music, karaoke tracks only have the music. A live person who holds a microphone and sings while following the words displayed on a screen provides the vocals.

Everyone can have the chance to be the “star” at your party! Karaoke began in Japan but has quickly spread all over the world as a way to get people to participate in music, not just simply listen to it. We especially liked the fact that you can even plug in a guitar or other instrument which uses a ¼ inch jack into this machine. This gives extra versatility and encourages anyone with a desire to play an instrument while they sing. This Karaoke system includes:

iPod Docking Station (iPod not included)
7"TFT LCD Color Monitor with on Screen Lyrics
Built-in Video Camera
AM/FM Radio
Digital Key Control
Microphone Echo Control
Microphone Volume Control
A.V. C (Auto Voice Control)
Balance Music/Vocal Control
Two Microphone Inputs
Headphone Jack
Two Tower Speakers
Built-in Speaker System

What impressed us most with this karaoke system was the sound quality. Twin tower speakers has a top mounted horn tweeter and four drivers. A 50 watt system that offers a lot of great sound and clear volume. I’ve used professional Karaoke systems in the clubs and really, this system has far more features to help tweak your vocals. We found that the microphones included with the system were unfortunately closer to what comes with the toy karaoke machines. Based on this, many people have complained that the Singing Machine’s vocal volumes are very poor. I contend that the problem is not with the machine but with the cheap microphones that came with it. Made of inexpensive plastic, they are not nearly sensitive enough to carry your voice over the professionally recorded music and background vocals of the CD-G’s. I’ve seen this before with other low quality microphones. You need to nearly shout into them just to get the volume to register on the PA System!

No need to toss out the baby with the bath water. Simply exchange the microphones that come with the SM 1010 with a pair of serious Audio-Technica PRO 31QTR Cardioid Dynamic microphones. There’s your upgrade! You will find your vocals to be far more pronounced and clear over the system without having to turn up the microphone volume so high.


Audio-Technica’s PRO 31QTR

Cardioid Dynamic Microphone

The recommended upgrade for

Karaoke machines

MSRP $59.00

This affordable cardioid dynamic microphone is designed for close-up vocal performance. We recommend this microphone for the Singing Machine Karaoke SM1010 as it nails the clarity and audibility often lacking in standard “Karaoke” mics.

The PRO 31QTR has a broad frequency response while keeping handling noise at a minimum. We especially appreciated the all metal, tough, durable design that delivers consistent performance. Like all Audio-Technica microphones, the PRO 31QTR is extremely well made, (bomb proof in fact), and can stand up to life on the hard road. The mic sets price/performance standards for intelligibility, transparent sound quality and noise suppression. Available in two models for easy use with consumer and pro electronics: PRO 31 (XLRF-XLRM cable) and PRO 31QTR (XLRF- ¼” cable).

When we switched out the microphones which came with the Singing Machine with the PRO 31QTR’s, the improvement was immediately evident. Vocals we much cleaner with little or no popping. One feature we were quite impressed with was the MagnaLock silent on-off switch. Not only does it eliminate the clicking sound associated with turning the mic on, but it can be locked into the on position to prevent accidental shut off during performance. Vocals had far more punch and volume with the PRO 31QTR’s.


Visit Audio-Technica Online at :


Got Game?

One of the things you want to do when hosting your holiday parties is to make sure everyone is included in the fun. Now it is going to invariably be the case that only some of your guests are going to want to sing Karaoke. Depending on how good these guests are, even less may be willing to listen to them! You can set up a few tables with old favorites such as Monopoly or Scrabble in a nearby room. The idea is to have as many options for entertainment open for your guests as possible.

The New Harvard Convertible

3 in 1 Multi Game Table

MSRP $699.95

Want to add some gameroom fun but have limited space? We can recommend the New Harvard Convertible 3 -in-1 Multi-Game Table. This is a high quality, American made Pool, Air Hockey and Ping Pong table. You can set the schedule to have games of Pool from let’s say after dinner, then Air Hockey can begin a few hours after that with Ping Pong finishing off the night’s tournaments. Your guests can get a schedule and look forward to when their favorite game will start or they can simply be spectators while cheering the other players on. The table easily converts from one type of game to another for non stop action. You can give gift basket prizes of cookies or other homemade goodies to the winning players to take home. All accessories are included with this superior quality multi-game table, so you needn’t worry about getting any extra equipment.

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and your guests during the holiday entertaining season. Don a stunning outfit, pour yourself a glass of wine, set out some hot and cold appetizers and join your guests at the party!

Posted by Author at 12:51 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 26 November 2007 8:27 PM EST
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Saturday, 10 November 2007
Winterize Your Axe!
Now Playing: Proper Instrument Care & Humidification

Proper Instrument Care & Humidification


As the cooler, dryer weather of winter moves in, you’ll need to pay more than the usual attention to caring for your musical instruments. In this issue, we are going to give you the best tips on how to keep your precious wood instruments in top condition.


CF Martin’s D-16GT Dreadnought Series 16 Gloss Top, (solid Sitka Spruce top)

One of the most important things you can do for your instrument is to wash your hands before picking it up to play. Oil and salty sweat from your hands can mar the surface and build up on your guitar strings, shortening their life. To remove dust, light surface dirt and fingerprints, I recommend Mist and Wipe Finish Enhancer by Meguiars. Meguiars makes car polish for Ferraris and made this formula for racy guitars! This is a very light, water - based cleaner which is suitable for most guitar finishes. If your guitar is factory new, then you will want to wait before using anything heavier than this such as a polish or wax. This is because natural wood still needs time to “breathe”. If you seal your guitar too early, it will not cure and age properly.

Once the guitar is adequately aged, (this can take about year), you can consider applying a more substantial wax especially designed for the guitar’s finished wood surface. Planet Waves makes a two step system called Restore which is a deep cleaning cream polish and Protect which contains Carnauba wax. The Restore really removes deep down dirt, grime and even minor scratches to reveal a mirror like shine. The Protect Wax as the second step seals the shine with Brazilian Carnauba. The results are quite impressive.

Solid body guitars like this

Aria Pro II Strat react somewhat

less to humidity changes


Next to keeping your instrument clean and grime free, the most important step as the winter season creeps in is to make sure proper humidification is maintained. We all know how important this is but are seldom given any comprehensive way of accomplishing it. There are even new guitar models with built in hydrometers. Personally I think that is a bit of overkill. A general rule of thumb goes by where you live. Most states in the northeast seldom have humidity drop below 40%. It happens but it is not the steady norm. If you live in the Southeast, you are more likely to run into problems with high humidity, not low. In this case you will need to use a silica pack product which absorbs excess moisture similar to what you find packed with new shoes.  In either zone, remember that indoor heating and air conditioning systems are going to be the defining factor.  Keep in mind also that solid body instruments such as electric guitars without soundholes are going to be a bit more stable even with fluctuating humidity levels.


How much moisture does my instrument need?

Ideally, optimum humidification of your instruments is around 45-50%. Too low humidity causes the wood to shrink and you will notice the strings going out of tune because the sound board has shrunken. If you strings need constant tightening, it could mean that your guitar is drying out. On the other hand, too much humidity causes the wood to swell and expand. Therefore you’ll notice the strings needing to be loosened.

A minute amount of expansion and contraction is to be expected even under the best conditions. This is why skilled luthiers make the backs of acoustic guitars slightly bowed out.  When the wood dries, the entire back will not cave in.  Still, having a system to constantly monitor and maintain optimum humidity is finally within reach.


Humidi Pak by Planet Waves

Maintains 45-50% Humidity

The Humidi Pak by Planet Waves has just taken the guess work and mess out of maintaining your instrument’s best humidity levels. The Humidi Pak system eliminates the need to refill the unit thus dispelling the possibility of water leaks and instrument damage. On the road?  If your guitar spends a lot of time in its flight case in transit, then you might want to make sure that it is being properly humidified in that environment. Most in case guitar humidifiers are tedious, leak and have to be refilled. Planet Waves lets you leave all that nonsense behind with their Humidi-Pak in case humidifier.

We tested the Humidi Pak system and found it to do the job very well. It is placed directly into the sound hole while the second unit goes in the headstock area of your guitar case.  We used it in a small acoustic Autoharp case and a large CF Martin Dreadnought guitar in a hardshell case. The smaller Autoharp case kept humidity at about 54% while the larger guitar case was kept at about 55.7% even when the room‘s humidity itself had dropped to 35%. Really, the best place for your instrument is its case, so you’ll want to be sure that the humidity inside is just where it should be. Planet Waves Humidi Pak is a painless way of accomplishing that. Our instruments barely needed tuning and stayed humidified even when the ambient room moisture levels dipped and rose.


The New Air O' Swiss U7142 Ultrasonic Humidifier

Proper Humidification for your voice

 and your instruments!

One of the problems with the dryer winter air is the havoc it wreaks on your guitars AND your voice! One way to remedy both at the same time is to properly humidify your home or studio environment. Using a high quality whole area humidifier is the better choice if you enjoy leaving your guitars out on display and / or you have multiple instruments in one room. The New Air O' Swiss U7142 Ultrasonic humidifier is the unit we recommend for accomplishing both goals. It has a hydrometer so you can set the target humidity that you want for worry free operation. It takes care of a large room up to 860 square feet with the bonus of not only keeping multiple guitars happy but by improving the moisture and quality of the air you are breathing. Keep in mind that like your guitar, your vocal chords, (folds in fact) and nasal passages can also dry out. This makes you more prone to upper respiratory infections and colds which are serious problems for vocalists.

This unit offers cold or warm mist, the latter of which does not lower the ambient temperature of the room, a big plus during the cold winter months. An Ionic Silver Stick inhibits the growth of bacteria and a mineral cartridge helps remove calcium, rust and lime. The Air O’ Swiss has special settings for automatic night time humidification while alerting you to clean the unit which is very simple.

The large capacity tank needs far less frequent fillings and is completely transparent making water levels easily visible. A red light flashes when the water is out and the unit’s overall operation is silent. Extra features such as a dual direction jet stream allows you to send moisture in two different directions. The New Air O' Swiss U7142 Ultrasonic humidifier is feature packed. The only accessories are the replaceable Demineralization cartridge which completely eliminates white powder, and the Ionic Silver Stick® (ISS) which keeps the water germ free.

I’ve personally noticed better quality sleep with my throat and nose being much clearer upon arising. My vocals are definitely reaping the benefits as my throat is getting the proper amount of moisture while my instruments on the stands are staying in tune much longer. We’ve found the New Air O' Swiss U7142 Ultrasonic humidifier to be the best quality humidifier available that will give your instruments, your living environment and your voice the proper moisture they need.

CF Martin's D-16GT

Acoustic with Ellipse Matrix Blend Pickup



Visit Air O Swiss Online at :


Visit Planet Waves (Humidi-Pak, Restore & Protect Wax) at:


Visit Meguiars (Mist & Wipe) at:


Check out CF Martin Guitars:


Posted by Author at 5:50 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 10 November 2007 7:55 PM EST
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Friday, 26 October 2007
Best Thought Out Software and Toys for Christmas 2007
Now Playing: And the Winners Are....


Best Thought Out Software and Toys for Christmas 2007


If you are like most value conscious parents today, you are probably pretty tired of the constant marketing push of dolls that look like a street walkers or for the boys, something out of Dalton’s Inferno. Even worse are books which glorify the occult as “innocent fun” and computer games which demean women and revel in perpetrating violence. Do these toys and games really portray the types of personality traits we would like to see our children develop? Also, what about education? Recent test scores in our public schools show a lack of mastering basic skills. What if we could find toys and software for our children that both engage and enlighten at the same time?

Here is our short list of some of the BEST, most innovative toys, games and educational software we’ve seen rise far above the mundane pack.


Leap Frog - Fly Fusion Pentop Computer                               


The Leap Frog Fly Fusion Pentop Computer allows students to store and upload their writing, drawings, music via an MP3 player to the computer. This is an upgrade from the Fly Pentop 1.0 released previously. More than that, the pen itself, as the name implies, is a computer replete with a camera which processes what the student writes in order to help with Algebra, Science, Essay work or other studies. Quite an amazing piece of equipment!

Our resident student tester, age 13, test drove the Fast Comp Math and Journal modules.

Our student tester was able to upload the platform software and then the modules herself without any adult supervision. She remembered to have the pen plugged into the computer while doing this, otherwise the modules will not be synced. Best of all, our teen was able to run and configure the programs herself. You need to be connected to the Internet in order to activate these modules and your computer needs a minimum of 516 MB of RAM. Keep in mind that many laptops need at least that much space just to boot up so additional RAM made be necessary. We ran the Fly Fusion on our HP Laptop which has a respectable 120 MB of memory, (that's 1.2 GB), far more than most PC’s made just a few years ago. This system is compatible with Window's Vista and XP but does not work with Macintosh.

Fly Fusion Journal-A penny for your thoughts? This is a great tool that gets children to express themselves in both writing and drawing of ideas. Better than that, the built in camera allows the student’s printed writing and illustrations to be photographed, (remember the Fly Fusion has an onboard camera), stored and then transferred to the child’s computer screen. The system offers an active workspace and easy access to all of the uploaded modules. Additional modules can be easily ordered online.


Fly Fusion Fast Comp Math - Calculated moves! The Fly Fusion Fast Comp Math module offers help in math computations. When students encounter a difficult math problem, they can get help from their Pentop computer. The solutions add to the student’s ability to write out a problem and examine its components leading up to its solving. There are certain nuances involved with using the pen itself which are resolved with proper positioning and use of the given symbols. However, our teen tester quickly mastered them and went on to get the sought after solutions.

Pros: This system is very portable and will provide students with hours of homework assistance, subject support and fun. Modules such as the Brain Teasers, Music Studio and MP3 player add an interesting option for creative downtime. Students can enjoy these less academic related modules while still learning something. The system is feature packed and addresses many areas of academia including exploration into Spanish and French languages. Our teen student tester was able to upload all of the modules on her own without adult supervision or help.

Cons: Your child’s laptop will need to have ample RAM space and continuous Internet access especially when uploading the modules. Therefore you may have to figure adding Internet service and a computer upgrade into the total cost of purchasing this system. On the positive side, most newer laptops have a built in wireless air card so your child will most likely not need paid wireless service unless outside of a “hot zone“.

Visit online at



Messengers of Faith by One 2Believe

One2 Believe Biblical Action Figures and Toys

In a world full of new toys that present dubious role models for children, these Biblically based heroes are making a refreshing entry into the toy market. Well made and quite affordable, children can make their favorite people of the Bible come alive in play and teaching time. As a child, I remember how important visual cues were to me. My parents would read me beautifully illustrated Bible Story books before bed. The pictures were so colorful and vivid. I still remember those pictures!  More than that, they covered heroes of both the Old and New Testament. It made an incredible impact on me and kindled my love for God and His Son.

Well, these toys do the same thing, only in 3-D. Each set has a booklet which explains about the person while encouraging the child to read, (or have read), the Biblical account.

Perhaps our favorites are the Messengers of Faith Series. These dolls, Noah, Moses, David, Esther, Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary, all tell their story in clear, audible speech. They are so well made that I have used them as teaching aids in my music ministry. While these are Christian oriented toys, the Old Testament Messengers of Faith have been very well received by Jewish believers. We must remember that it is the Judeo-Christian beliefs upon which our society is founded. There could be no New Testament without the Old and we found these toys to be far more inclusive than exclusive.

The Nativity Set is especially precious because it is made to be explored, unlike those ornamental versions made to go under the Christmas tree. These are very affable figures and encourage children to see that the adults and children of the Bible were people just like us. These people were afraid, had concerns about everyday worries and were mocked for their faith. Jesus said to him that overcomes as he overcame, he would give a reward. This gives the child and us courage to have confidence in God’s promises which Peter said were even for those who were afar off. Part of the beauty of these lessons from the Bible is to put ourselves in the scene. God is no respecter of persons so what He has done for people in the Bible, He can do for us. Children will learn this lesson quite well in their playtime which can really be a time of blessing and edification.

Pros: These toys are extremely well made and a great value for the dollar. Voices are clear and the bodies are fully articulated to add to the child’s imaginative exploration of Bible accounts. Children will notice the detailed clothing and beautiful eyes on the Messengers of Faith Dolls.

Cons: None although some of the soft sandals on Peter and Mary Messengers of Faith could be a little tighter to stay on better.

Visit their website at



Deliverance - Moses in Pharaoh’s Court by West Creek Studios

Screen shot of Moses in Pharaoh’s

Court Computer Game

Moses is courageous as is his brother Aaron as they move through the obstacles set before them in the Pharaoh’s court. This game has action and scripture combined that show that the Israelites did have obstacles to conquer. Our teen student tester enjoyed this lively alternative to the mindless violence and sexual exploitation often found in other computer games. The challenges were engaging and the graphics very realistic with a 360 degree range of vision.

We think games like this show that Biblical heroes were not one dimensional but adaptable according to their circumstances. Bravery as shown by taking action and determination are in fact very desirable attributes. Deliverance is a well done, high quality video game which combines action with scriptures showing that the two needn’t be separate.

Pros: Fantastic computer graphics, action packed challenges.

Cons: Is not compatible with the newer Microsoft Home Vista but will work with Windows XP.

Visit online at



Switched On Schoolhouse 2007 Curricula

by Alpha Omega Publications

Finally, a complete, quality, educational curriculum that also instills values most parents hold as important. No internet access is needed in this freestanding 5 module set. It uploads easily from CDs and guides your child through the same grade level studies as the public schools. We previewed the 9th Grade Curriculum which included the following courses plus one elective:

Algebra 1

Earth and Natural Sciences

Language Arts

Introduction to the New Testament

History and Geography

Elective: Home Economics

All offer three-D animation, multimedia presentations and much more. One of the challenges of home schooling is not to isolate the child from beneficial experiences of a well rounded education. Interaction with teachers or instructors outside of the home can help offset this.  Our children range in age from 27 to 13 and all were homeschooled with additional instruction in art, music, European Culture and culinary arts, being provided by private tutors.

Switched On Schoolhouse encourages a child to explore academia while exemplifying good morals and life lessons from the Bible. Proficiency in a subject is somewhat empty if your values are so eschew that you can not benefit yourself or others from that knowledge.

Our resident teen tester was able to upload all of the installation CD’s and subject software without any assistance.  There is an onboard Installation Wizard that helps to show the steps involved which our tester accessed on her own. Switched On Schoolhouse does not require Internet access in order to run. Online registration is available for those who do have Internet service but this is not a requirement. This is a full curriculum with the same subjects and more just as offered in regional high schools. The use of graphics and multimedia keeps the student engaged while allowing them to check their progress periodically throughout the lesson. Our student tester enjoyed the course work and games associated with the History & Geography module especially. Activites included choosing the correct definition and filling in the missing word to complete the sentence.  This system is feature packed with special pop ups in the Teacher's area such as a complete Periodic Table of the Elements and other helps.

The difference in choosing this curriculum over others is the emphasis on moral values and character building which are often lacking in our schools. This curriculum likewise does not tout Darwinian theory as fact.  Therefore Switched On Schoolhouse offers a welcome respite from this sort of dogma while allowing the student to freely explore alternatives to any unproven theory.

Pros: We gave Switched On Schoolhouse an A+ for ease of installation and use. Not everyone has Internet access and SOS does not require it so the system is ready to go right out of the box. On top of that, SOS has an excellent tech support team to trouble shoot any programming or setup problems which may arise. They even offer Accredited Distance Learning via their Alpha Omega Academy.  A very committed company.

Cons: None

Visit AO online at


Editor's Note: Please keep in mind the current state of our public schools in America. Secular humanism has slowly encroached on any display of personal liberty in matters of faith. In many public schools, our children are even prohibited from saying a silent blessing before eating their lunch. Everyone should see Ben Stein’s new movie, Expelled, to get an idea of what happens to serious scholars who even dare question Darwinism. This sort of draconian enforcement trickles down to students in our schools as well. One may or may not necessarily agree with all of the religious creeds and conclusions presented by some of the manufacturers and publishers represented in this review. However, we all should be in agreement on the need to return to morality and Biblical values playing a part in our childrens’ educational experience. Likewise children of faith should have the freedom to express their beliefs.




Posted by Author at 5:32 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 2 November 2007 8:58 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 22 August 2007
Check out the X-Training BLOG!
Now Playing: Canoeing the Outback!

Be sure to visit our X-Training BLOG for some great health and nutrition tips on canoeing this fall.  COOL stuff!!!

Dr. Miczak's X-Training BLOG......






Canoeing Tips

Much More!

Posted by Author at 1:30 PM EDT
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Sunday, 10 June 2007
2007 Summer Concerts
Mood:  cool
Now Playing: Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits!

Our 2007 season of outdoor concerts began with Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits who performed to a record New Jersey crowd this past Saturday, June 9th. They are on tour and their next concert appearance will be on July 18th 2007, Canyonville, OR at Seven Feathers Casino.

Peter Noone seen here fronting for Herman's Hermits, continuing the US portion of their world tour in New Jersey

You'll remember Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits as part of the "British Invasion", coming over with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the 1960's. Having more in common with the Beatles than other groups, they are one of the few bands from that era who are still performing. Like the Beatles, Herman's Hermits style of music is the English skiffle. Skiffle was a novelty music form originating in New Orleans in the 1920s and played through the 40s. It had largely faded from view when, in the late 1950s, skiffle was reborn as a major musical movement in the United Kingdom. This when the Beatles and other groups began entry into performing at the local pubs. When the cry of, "The British are coming with their new sound", rang out, it was simply the little remembered skiffle reappearing. Skiffle was the British equivalent of rockabilly, a new form of music, loud and fast, with a direct communication between the musicians and the audience. Like American rockabilly, British skiffle is one of the direct ancestors of rock and roll. This is why it is important to listen to many different genres of music, not just what you personally enjoy playing.

Peter is known for writing the group's songs, many of which became solid hits of the 1960's such as, "I'm Into Something Good", "Must to Avoid", "Can't You Feel My Heartbeat?", "There's a Kind of Hush" and "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter". He's currently promoting his Greatest Hits Live album with all of these top tunes plus quite a few more. Noone recently appeared on the televised singing competition American Idol on March 20, 2007 as a mentor for the male contestants on the show. He then performed "There's a Kind of Hush" on American Idol on March 21, 2007. Peter is a fantastic performer and says his band's staying power is due to the fact that they've never used drugs. At age 59, he is still kicking it! Add to this mix a very energetic lead guitarist in tails who plays a wireless so he can do these crazy kick steps while playing and singing. Include a keyboard / guitarist called "Fatty", (really he's not), who was amazing on both instruments yet kind enough to encourage me in my music career when we spoke after the show. Plug in a serious bass player with a precision drummer to back it all up and you have a very polished rock n' roll performance worthy of a world tour.

What kind of equipment did these guys haul from England? Well, I did notice a beautiful vintage cabineted Roland Stage Amp and a full sized Kurzweil keyboard when I went up to the stage as they were packing up. Take note. This is the kind of equipment that holds up on a world tour, on and off the plane and with baggage handlers. Amps and instruments like these will surely survive your local gigs as well. Here's my hand autographed CD of Herman's Hermits Greatist Hits Live from the June 9th concert. "Fatty", the keyboardist / guitarist also signed the inside cover. This is a outstanding concert tour! You too can become a "noone-a-tic" by visiting Peter Noone online at: Peter Noone on the Web

Links to the professional equipment cited in this article:

Roland Amplifiers

Kurzweil Professional Keyboards

In our upcoming issue...... Which digital recording studios really make the grade? Which guitar model can impress acoustically yet still come through flawlessly in a recording studio session?  Which portable PA systems stand and deliver at a live concert?  Stay tuned!!!

UPDATE!!!: Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits responds to reading this article:

07/01/2007                    5:41PM 

Hello doc,

Loved the article
Thank you so much
Hope we get back to NJ soon?
See you next time I see you!!!!!

Peter Noone


Posted by Author at 4:20 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 2 July 2007 8:43 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 22 May 2007
Can You Canoe?
Now Playing: Turkey Swamp Park's 2007 Outdoor Expo'

Boating anyone? Turkey Swamp Park hosted its annual Outdoor Expo' on May 20th. This gives the park a chance to showcase its recreational facilities for camping, fishing, boating and mountain biking. If you recall, by God's grace, yours truly participated in and WON the Advanced Division of the 2005 Woods Hollow Mountain Bike Race. This competition is sponsored by the same park system as the Ourdoor Expo'. Here in the photo, Magda and me took about a half hour to navigate the lake. High winds blew us off course until we were able to regain our bearings. I was in the back steering and would like to think some of my Native American genes helped in that endeavor!

Mind you, the last time I was canoeing was with my husband before we were married and this is our 28th wedding anniversary coming up in July! As if this were not enough fun for the day, Magda and me tackled the 50 foot rock climbing wall right after our Lewis & Clark reinactment,(May is the anniversary of the Lewis & Clark expedition).

Yes, that's me all the way on the right in the Athleta Alpine pants made especially for such adventures. I got about half way up and found myself dangling and holding on only with my hands, (look Mom, no feet!) I regained my footing and continued a bit higher but the wall is shaped like an inverted pyramid. So as you climb, you find that you are reaching back over your shoulders as the rock juts out above you. Repelling down was a bit spooky but my cable held and I returned to earth safely, thank God. It was a gorgeous day and the rain actually held off until evening. We were truly blessed to be out and about in creation.

If you want to experience something truly spiritual, get away all by yourself to a lonely, secluded place in the woods to sing, worship and pray. Jesus did that himself and I believe it is a great way to renew your spirit. I thought, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to have some annointing oil with me?" Then I found the Victorie website which not only compounds oils based on Biblical formulas but sells jewelry to carry the oil in. It has been awesome to have on my person, a little oil to pray and to bless with.

I ordered this Beloved Etched Necklace shown here in .925 sterling silver. The Beloved Necklace has a 20" Chain and retails for $79.95. The pendant is 1" tall and 3/4" wide. This does not include the bail. It will hold approximately 1 ML (20-25 drops) of perfume or anointing oil. It comes packaged in a velour jewelry box with a funnel to fill the pendant.
I have found that the oil does leak out if you lay down with the Beloved Necklace pendant on, however in a v-neck blouse or open shirt, this will not be a problem. The Oil of Joy and Holy Anointing Oil especially are so very fragrant that just the scent of them reminds you to pray.

Victorie Biblical Oils and Gifts
Visit them online for a full selection of oils, candles and gifts.

In my chaplaincy, I use this gold toned anointing oil holder shown below from Abba Oil. This lovely oil holder has the name Yeshua etched on the side and has a rubber ring inside which makes it virtually leak-proof.

This holds a bit more oil without any loss and allows me to take it with me when visiting the sick in the nursing homes and hospitals. The key chain loop keeps it fastened in my bag so it goes where I do.
Abba Oil

The last anointing oil holder that I have is also a necklace. It is an antique design pewter perfume bottle with pewter chain. The weight of the bottle is 2-1/4 oz. so it is a bit heavy around the neck.

A glass perfume bottle sits inside the scrolled pewter vessel. 2"Lx1.5Wx3.5" diam., chain 14.5"L. This is a very ornate oil holder and I wear it to more formal events and gatherings. Pewter traditionally contains lead, so I do not wear either the chain or the pendant next to my skin but only over clothing. It really holds A LOT of oil and the metal dipper attached to the non-leaking screw cap is a lovely touch.

The point is that no matter which anointing oil and holder you choose, do avail yourself and your ministry of these spiritual "boosters". As a chaplain on call, I have to be ready to pray in all sorts of circumstances. When I serve in a formal church setting which is about twice monthly, I still bring my own fragrant oil with me. I pray first for myself to be strong so that I may minister to others. Having my oils with me for the ministry or even alone out in the woods allows me to enjoy the sweet fragrance of prayer anytime and anywhere. Bless Yah all you people and forget not His benefits!

Posted by Author at 1:47 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007 7:52 PM EDT
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Friday, 11 May 2007
Renewal for Body and Spirit
Now Playing: Beautiful Bibles, Songs of Praise
Beautiful Bibles, Psalms of Praise

This issue, I am reviewing two exciting new Bibles and a hymnal.

Archaeological Study BibleThe first Bible I reviewed is published by Zondervan in the NIV or New International Version translation and is called the Archaeological Study Bible. At over 2,000 pages it has nearly 500 color photographs and free software which places the entire Bible with pictures at your fingertips. It also has 8,000 study notes with Christ’s words in red.
The Archaeological Study Bible is full of research, archaeological findings and artifacts from Bible lands and cultures. It is the history and culture of the peoples of the Bible that gives us fresh insight as to the deeper meanings of customs of that day and time.

What is really edifying is the inclusion of information found in the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were first discovered in 1947 in the area of Qumran Palestine in eleven caves in and around the Wadi Qumran (on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea) in the West Bank. The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they are alleged to be practically the only known surviving Biblical documents written before AD 100. The Greek Septuagint was written around 200 BC by comparison. Bibles written before 1947 such as the King James Version, did not have the advantage of access to older documents as these to compare texts. Today, the more modern translations do and the NIV takes advantage of these later archeological finds. This is a heavy Bible but perfect for referencing cultural practices and beliefs of the Bible. It also brought home to me that the Bible speaks of many tribes and ethnic groups albeit having come from Noah’s three sons. All the same, customs and practices did vary between groups. The Archaeological Study Bible does an excellent job of taking one through not only the history but the cultures that represent the Bible.

Archaeological Study Bible
ISBN-10 0-310-92605-X
Price: U.S. $49.99/CAN $65.99
For more information, visit:

The Holy Bible English Standard Version
The Holy Bible English Standard Version, Thinline, Trutone Edition published by Crossway Books and Bibles.
When William Tyndale began illegally publishing his New Testament in the common English language, he made his Bibles quite small. One reason is that they were easier to smuggle in undetected by the Anglican state church of England. The other reason is that a Bible which fit into the hand was more likely to be read and used in a person’s everyday life. This was very important to Tyndale’s mission whose translations make up to nearly 80% of the King James Version Bible. He was eventually arrested and burned at the stake with a manuscript copy of his New Testament tied to his chest. So great was the fear that the common man should read the holy writ and come to God directly without intercession of kings, priests or bishops.

The Holy Bible English Standard Version by Crossway Bibles follows through on this time tested concept. This is a beautiful thin Bible with gold gilding on the edges and a satin bookmark. The cover’s design is filigree with a buttery soft leather like binding. This is the complete Old and New Testament all in a lightweight, thin binding.

The English Standard Version is a very literal translation which leaves out much of the denominational bias found in many Bibles. It is refreshing to read what was actually conveyed, rather than a paraphrase of someone else’s understanding. There are brief study notes at the bottom of the page but they in no way hinder the enjoyment of the text itself which is so very well rendered. Here is the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord Is My Shepherd-ESV
A Psalm of David.
23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

You’ll notice that only the archaic pronouns are missing and the text reads so beautifully without losing any of its poetic verse. The entire Bible is like this, literal without sacrificing the innate beauty of the scriptures. Extra features often found in a larger family Bible include a dedication page, record entries for births, marriages and deaths, a table of weights and measures, full color maps and a substantial concordance. It is about the size of the Common Book of Prayer and is the one Bible to take everywhere. On vacation, to keep with you for comfort or sharing the Gospel with others. A lovely work from Crossway Books and Bibles.

The Holy Bible English Standard Version
Price: $29.99
For more information, visit:
Crossway Books and Bibles

African American Heritage Hymnal

African American Heritage Hymnal published by GIA, (Gregorian Institute of America), Publications Inc. Compilers of this hymnal took great care to notate traditional hymns the way they are actually sung in African American churches. This project took eight years to complete but the results are incredible. This unique hymnal contains 575 Hymns, Spirituals and Gospel Songs traditionally enjoyed in African American Churches.
This hymnal is a treasure of the specific arrangements which are still sung in many established African American churches. Many such hymns had been handed down for generations until pioneers such as Thomas Andrew Dorsey, began doing formal writing and composing for commercial distribution of his songs. Dorsey actually began his career as “Georgia Tom” singing off-color blues throughout the south. However soon his fortunes dwindled and reaching an epiphany, he began to write gospel music with much the same syncopation and chording found in his blues compositions. His, “Walking Up the King’s Highway” was made famous by Mahailia Jackson who was one Dorsey’s song demonstrators. Dorsey wrote the songs and Jackson would sing them to audiences in hopes they would purchase his sheet music. Another of Dorsey’s compositions found in the African American Heritage Hymnal is, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” sung by Jackson at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. Gospel Pearls, first published in 1921 by the National Baptist Convention, is a wonderful example the transition from learning hymns by ear to using the “shape note“ system to read music. Shape Notes were developed as a system to teach rural parishioners with no access to formal music lessons to sight read music by associating each note’s pitch with a specific shape. The first book printed with shaped noteheads, using "patent notes" was the Easy Instructor, by Wm. Smith and Wm. Little in 1801. The shapes used then are still in use to this day. So they were by 1921 long in use for teaching hymns and spiritual songs.
Other Black composers such as Lucie C. Cambell, (“He’ll Understand and say ‘Well Done‘”), softened the ethnic call and response of traditional field “hollers” and work songs. Poetic lyrics to stir the spirit were added to many such hymns. What emerged was a more mainstream form of this tradition. Gospel Pearls was the first “Gospel” Hymnal so titled for use in the church as the word gospel was not yet widely used to describe spiritual songs. Often used by the church deacons who to this day lead the congregation in devotionals before the start of service, Gospel Pearls allows the leader to sing or line out each verse for the church to follow. This sort of call and response method is indigenous to many African tribes and has found its way into not only religious music but secular blues, popular and hip hop arrangements.

The African American Heritage Hymnal is a complete church or corporate worship hymnal as it has the traditional responsive readings arranged according to subject and occasion in the front of the book. The hymns are then arranged in headings of “God Our Father”, “Jesus Christ”, “The Church”, “Life in Christ”, etc. Perhaps one of the best features is the exhaustive indexing of scriptural passages related to hymns and composers, authors and sources with a topical index.
Rich touches such as hymn number 484, “Ezekiel Saw De Wheel” and “Ain’t-A That Good News”, which was sung by the world traveled Fisk Jubilee Singers, retains the accent and flavor of how the song was originally sung. Others such as “Mayenziwe / Your Will be Done” uses African phonetics and is taken from a South African traditional song. Likewise “Thuma Mina” is a Zulu spiritual from South Africa. This is a rare glimpse into the culture and history of Black Gospel music. The African American Heritage Hymnal belongs in every complete church hymnal collection as it is just as much of Americana as the many folk genres that comprise the matrix of American music. Look for more reviews of GIA Publications in our upcoming issues!

African American Heritage Hymnal
ISBN - 1-57999-124-6
Price: $15.00
Deluxe Leatherbound
Price: $40.00
49 Hidden Treasures from the AAHH CD
Price $25.95
For more information, visit:
GIA Publications, Inc.

Posted by Author at 4:29 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007 11:28 AM EDT
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Spring Things for Fitness
Now Playing: Check Out the X-Training BLOG Now!
Spring is BACK and summer is close on her heels! See my latest entry in my X-Training Blog

Posted by Author at 3:16 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007 3:24 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Electrified Performance
Now Playing: Amplified Benefits

Amplified Benefits...

I started out with a steel stringed acoustic guitar purchased at age 11. I loved everything about that old guitar from the woodsy smell to the feel of fretting those first chords. I never even thought about playing an electric guitar. The tone of my acoustic was so warm and mellow. Later on, I discovered the Autoharp and began playing at folk festivals, camps and schools. I even played on television with a lapel mike clipped on which picked up the sound as I played and sang, “Freight Train”.

Today in addition to playing live and in concert, I have a fully blossomed music ministry called Harp Hymns playing in much larger venues than before. The sound systems where I perform are not always reliable so I have assembled my own stage equipment “to go” to avoid unwanted surprises. One question you might ask is, “Am I at the point in my performing career that I need pickup amplification?” The answer to this question became painfully clear to me when while doing a performance at a very large church, one of the ministers came running up to me with a microphone and kneeled by my harp for the whole song! It was so distracting, I could barely finish. Lightening struck twice when at yet another church, the guitar player ran up with a mike and did the same thing while I was performing. That was it. When Oscar Schmidt, (Washburn Guitars), came out with their OS150FCE Ltd Edition solid body Autoharp with a pickup, shown here on the lower right, I was ready. However, what I got was far more than just amplification.

What is the best way to amplify? Some seasoned acoustic performers like Brian Bowers have used a lapel microphone to amplify his acoustic, single key harps. This man travels and does concerts all over the country and seems to have this problem in check. Also Mr. Bowers will use 5-6 single keyed harps during his performance so it really would be a lot to have pickups on ALL those instruments. So for his style and performance needs, the lapel mike works quite well. As mentioned before, I have used a lapel mike myself for a television appearance, (this is standard equipment on a television set), and it was fine for sitting down and playing. However, in actual performances, I use a Slider Strap and play standing up. If you move around too much while playing, your harp can knock into the lapel mike or even move out of range to pick up the sound. You also do not have the luxury of equalization to fine tune the “tone” of your instrument for the performance. OS150FCE Ltd Edition Autoharp has a three band equalization on board as well as a volume control knob so you needn’t go back to the amp to adjust those settings. They can be done on the fly in between sets or even while performing. Sort of makes a lapel mike seem pretty primitive by comparison, doesn’t it?

Electronic pickups can also be added to acoustic harps but if your instrument has a large sound hole it could cause feedback when a pickup is added. That’s why most electric guitars today are “solid body” in construction. A sound hole, which is wonderful for acoustic playing, will often feedback into the pickup, causing undesirable sounds and results. Not exactly what one would be looking for while playing before a large crowd. An instrument with a smaller, decorative sound hole which is higher up and further away from the pickup would most likely be a good candidate for amplification. Keep in mind too that where increased volume on an acoustic Autoharp came from more vigorous strumming, with an electric harp, it comes from turning up the amp. This has actually allowed me to work on more precise picking and gentle strumming without trying to force more volume out of the instrument. The OS150FCE is hands down, the best Autoharp Oscar Schmidt has made to date but it has far more to offer than a beautiful flame top finish. This instrument has got, well, soul!

What is the best type of amp to use with an autoharp? Well, what you don’t want to use is a guitar amp. An autoharp is best amplified by a keyboard amp which will help retain its original, sweet tones and sounds. The range of a keyboard amp is actually closer than that of a guitar amp for the Autoharp. I use an Ultratone K450FX, 45 watt keyboard amp with three separate channels. It has a rich 10" Bugera speaker which faithfully reproduces both my harp and drum machine signals. Weighing in at about 32.19 lbs it is a fat-heavy amp but has a 24-bit digital FX with 100 presets, Feedback Detection, full 3-channel operation with separate volume controls and FX sends per each channel plus an additional XLR mic input for connecting dynamic microphones. The 5-band EQ section allows me to truly fine tune my sound. There is even a CD input plus a headphone output. All of these extra channels mean that I can hook up my XLR cabled vocal microphone, (the Shure SM58 is the industry standard as far as vocal mikes are concerned), and my Autoharp as well as an extra microphone and/or drum machine. I have a music ministry to nursing homes and hospitals so it is always great to get one of the patients up to sing a hymn. Having multiple channels for an extra microphone is really necessary for this sort of application. Depending on your playing needs, anywhere from a 20 to a 50 watt amp should be enough to amplify your harp without getting too heavy to tote from gig to gig. Bigger venues will often have their own amps and PA systems that you can and should plug into unless you enjoy lifting amps weighing over 60 lbs.

What about stompboxes and foot pedals? These are commonly known as distortion pedals and mostly used with electric guitars to heighten its range of effects. Depending on your level of comfort with “tampering” with the purist sound of an acoustic harp, you have your choice of various enhancements. One that I like to use is a chorus pedal. It swells the sound of the harp so beautifully that its almost like a “chorus” of harps playing along with you. I use a BOSS Super Chorus Ch-1 which came out in 1989 for guitarists as shown in this this very cool, vintage ad. So why should guitar players only have all the great effects? I’ve heard of an Autoharp player down in Nashville Tennessee who uses a flanger pedal with amazing effects. What is so fantastic about stomp boxes or foot pedals is that you control the amount of distortion by dialing in your settings on the pedal. Therefore you can have a slight amount of distortion or a lot, your choice. One thing is for sure, I don’t believe any instrument sounds good when these effects are overdone.

What other things can I add to enhance my harp’s performance? Well, one thing you will definitely need now is a chromatic tuner. Tuning by ear with a keyboard is fine if your are playing alone but with an electric Autoharp you will be asked to play along with others because you can now compete with volume. If you can only afford one tuner for both your acoustic and electric harps, I would pick the KORG CA-30. It has a built in mike to listen to your acoustic and a ? jack to plug into your electric harp. If you only have electric instruments, then the BOSS TU-2 Foot Pedal Tuner is the best choice. It has a bright red LED display and can be used for silent tuning even on a dark stage between sets. Very easy to use and quite accurate. The BOSS TU-2 is just another accessory that can be found in nearly every serious musician's gig bag.

The second thing you might consider is using a drum and bass machine. I came upon this revelation quite by inspiration. I am also saving you a lot of time and gas by telling you just what works and what does not here! After returning a Digi-Tech guitar modulator that kept cutting off my Autoharp’s pickup, I purchased a used BOSS DR Rhythm DR-3 from my local music shop. I never saw a drum machine before and only by divine providence did I even know to ask for one.

It had no instruction booklet because I purchased it second-hand but within that weekend, I had it up and running to accompany me on many of my harp hymns and contemporary Gospel songs. I suddenly sounded like a trio! I sang the melody, did the chords with my Autoharp and the bass and drums were added by the machine. I often use two amps for stereo effect and plug the drum and bass machine into both amps. You really can’t beat that combination as all of the layered sounds explode from the drum machine when you hook it up that way. The DR-3 offers various keys and rhythms to suit the style or genre you play. With 100 preset rhythms, it is also very useful for song writing. I've only needed to purchase the Foot Pedal accessory, (BOSS FS-5U), which starts and stops the drum machine for me without my having to take my hands off the harp. I now can give very polished performances of my ministry music that people can both hear and enjoy. So that is what amplification is all about. Enhancing, not over-powering the sound of your instrument. One patient said to me after my performance using all the equipment that I have described here, “At least you know that now we can hear you.” Many of the people whom I play for are hard of hearing. These words truly hit home and confirmed that I’m on the right track in reaping amplified benefits. Praise God! END By Dr. Marie J. Miczak Be sure to visit Dr. Miczak's Author's Website

To see the equipment and instruments mentioned in this article, visit the linked websites below:

Oscar Schmidt Autoharps-Washburn Guitars

BOSS / Roland DR-3, Super Chorus & TU-2

Roland's Christian Worship Connection Newsletter

Slider Instrument Straps

Behringer K450FX Keyboard Amp & PA System


We will be reviewing the latest, cutting edge digital recording studios with on board CD burners! You won't want to miss this review as we test the best of the best recording studios which allow you to arm multiple tracks and then burn a polished master CD onboard!

Posted by Author at 9:36 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2007 9:38 PM EDT
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Friday, 23 March 2007
New Homepage Article....Coming Soon
Now Playing: Music's Healing Power Gets Amplified!

Here is a preview of the latest Homepage Article for!:

Music's Healing Power Gets Amplified!

Music does so much to lift the human spirit. Doctors have found a decrease in depression in those who play or passively listen to live music especially. Martin Gizzi of New Jersey Neuroscience Institute says that he has seen music decrease a patient’s need for medication such as sedatives. In Alzheimer’s patients especially, he said it can promote “clarity of thinking” while reducing irritability and promoting calm. One study has shown a decreased heart rate and blood pressure level for those who play or listen to a soothing instrument such as the guitar and harp.

Many purists wrestle with the question of amplification but when playing in larger venues, it becomes something for serious consideration. Does it detract or enhance the benefits seen in acoustic instruments? I now use a keyboard amp and multi-channel foot pedal for effects. It is a good thing that I do because some of the people I play for can not hear very well. Still, with proper placement of the speakers, they are able to enjoy the performance. I caught up with Bob Williams, owner of Music and Things where I purchased my new OS 150FCE Limited Edition Electric Autoharp. His is an online musician’s supply store with, “Instruments and supplies you need at a price you can afford.” Bob is himself a seasoned musician and did a fabulous job of tuning my electric Autoharp before shipping. He spoke of a Tennessee Autoharp artist who added a flanger to his electric instrument with beautiful effects. I’m exploring new territory myself by adding “colors” such as chorus, phase shifter and a bass/drum machine. So far the swirling of the phaser or phase shifter is by far the most favorite of my pedal effects. I added this effect during rehearsal the other night and everyone could hear the enhanced difference. Some said they couldn't believe how good the Autoharp sounded! Keep in mind, most people are not familiar with the Autoharp and unamplified, it can sometimes sound "brighter" than a mellow guitar or bass. However, that is the signature sound of the Autoharp. My goal is not to obscure it's uniqueness but to bring it out. That is too why a keyboard amp is preferable to a guitar amp. Guitar amps do not retain enough of the original sound quality of the Autoharp.

Mary Ann Johnston is editor of The Autoharp Quarterly and herself an avid Autoharp player. In fact we will be featuring her personal insights on playing the Autoharp right here in an upcoming issue. One of the biggest yearly events for Autoharp players of every distinction is the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering in PA. The Autoharp Quarterly is the magazine for Autoharp enthusiasts with great instrument tips, songs and other artists to draw from. Dedicated artists like these are keeping this instrument alive. Now with the interest in everything Celtic and Old English from clothing to music, interest in traditional folk harp music is on the rise.

One of the other things I have added now that I am playing more is a strap. I chose the Slider Strap because it evenly distributes the instrument’s weight, (about 11 lbs) over my shoulders, allowing me to play longer and in total comfort. The inventor of the Slider Strap also makes similar design straps for Nickleharpas,(don't ask), banjos and guitars. It will improve your performance the first time you strap it on. For more information and pictures, visit the website links below. If you would like to know more about my music ministry and Autoharp performances or see the dates where I will be appearing, please check back here. Below are links to this article's featured companies.

Music & Things - Bob Williams-owner Music and Things

The Slider - Autoharp Strap Slider Autoharp / Guitar Straps

The Autoharp Quarterly - Mary Ann Johnston - Editor
The Autoharp Quarterly

Mel Bay Publications Inc. - Sheet Music Books and Instructional lessons for instruments of all kinds. (We are now reviewing their selection of Celtic and Scottish Music Books for the Autoharp).
Mel Bay Publications

Reverend Dr. Marie J. Miczak
Published Author-Editor
Ordained Ecumenical Minister
Harp Hymns Ministry

Posted by Author at 4:23 PM EDT
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