28 JANUARY 2012

Nestled along the meandering Mississippi River is a small city named Red Wing—you must have heard of Red Wing Shoes. Highway 61 goes through the city and carries you off to the west away from the river. Perhaps it is wise in doing this as it keeps you a safe distance from the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant—not that the facility is necessarily bad, but you never know. After you pass through a development to the west of the city, you can turn south on Highway 19. Pretty soon on the right you'll see a big barn with a green roof.

Where you turn off there's a house that's protected by this piece of artillery. It's rustic, rusty appearance indicates that an invasion has been anticipated for quite some time. I hoped that they realized that I'd come on peaceful terms. I should have brought a white flag along. Hmmm, maybe that would be a good thing to carry in the car along with the spare tire, battery cables, etc.

A lonely willow tree stood on the hill in front of a farm building and strange looking structure with green arms.

Then you get to the barn. Sometimes you'll see a barn that carries an advertisement if the farmer needs a little extra income, or a flag for the more patriotic. On this barn is... what? Large words written in green paint that matches the roof. Very nice, but the font is a little too plain. Perhaps it's the message's content that's important:

Green lit limbs fan glances—
Shirtless contours in the downpour—
Ancestors folded into valleys—
Honey in the burning hive

Some kind of poetry? Many times the meaning of poetic words escape my understanding. This is definitely one of those times. But I must admit that the last line resonates in my inner dialog: honey in the burning hive... honey in the burning hive... I like it, but why is this message here? I finally noticed a very small sign shyly proclaiming "Hobgoblin Music - Home of Stony End Harps". As for the poetry, I later found out a little more about it in an article about Red Wing's four poetry barns. Sometimes it helps a little to know at least what it's supposed to be about.

By the way, just what is a hobgoblin? According to the article in Wikipedia, it's a friendly but troublesome creature in folklore—a close relative to the brownie. One famous example is Puck who has a role in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The term has grown to mean something superficial that is a source of imagined trouble. A line from Ralph Waldo Emerson goes "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Something to think about, but what about "Hobgoblin Music"? Music is usually a friendly thing to listen to, but can be tricky and troublesome as you pick up an instrument and actually try to make it if you never have before. Don't let that hobgoblin stop you dead in your tracks. With patience and practice you can make music. You just have to decide which instrument, and here there are many to choose from!

When you pull around to park you see a much larger weather-beaten sign and a beautiful old brick silo.

Luckily I didn't pull into the reserved section. In many parking lots there's a section for handicapped parking. If you don't belong there, you can get a fine and have your car towed away. Here, if you don't have the handicap of being a harp player you'll be strung up! I looked around but didn't see any bodies hanging from the trees. Maybe the strange structure I saw on the way in is some sort of gallows. Scary!

A further sign of warning. OK, I get the message! If you're not a harp player you will be soon and you'll be sitting on a cloud wearing wings, but only if you're lucky.

A modern bridge—coordinated in green—extended from the barn to the hill. After a brief trial with the hanging judge, violators are marched out on this bridge to the gallows. Maybe they're not even given the pleasure of a final walk on the hill but hung right from the bridge—shades of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

I shook these morbid thought from my overworked brain and bravely entered. Right away you see a workshop full of beautiful pieces of wood. This is where harps, harp kits, and other instruments are being made. This is the Home of Sony End Harps.

Since you can't go waltzing into the workshop—especially if no one is there at the time—the only other option is a wooden stair that whispers "Come on up."

You wind around the landing and then see an array of musical instruments. This harp looks a little more comfortable than the one left out in the snow.

When you get upstairs you're greeted by more lucky harps sitting in Hobgoblin Music—a most amazing collection of instruments of all types...

...in a large open showroom filled with plants and all kinds of interesting musical things for sale.

A collection of citterns and smaller balalaikas were hanging around.

Violins of many colors and violas were ready to make music.

Guitars for the electrically minded and a... well, since it has 6 strings I'll call it a guitar also.

A case full of concertinas, button accordions, and melodeons.

A bunch of bodhrans filled the racks.

This one, a cut above the rest, proudly wears the Guinness logo. Below is a bin of tippers—the stick used to play the drum. It looks like there's even a version for playing "snare bodhran".

A rack shows off the collection of Appalachian dulcimers.

A pair of hammered dulcimers. There are many versions of this instrument in different countries and they go by different names. The Latin root of dulcimer—dulcis, meaning sweet—is an apt name, for the music it makes is very sweet indeed.

A tree displayed different types of drums and a couple of didgeridoos thrown in for good measure.

An assortment of African drums were waiting to give the beat.

What are these? They are examples of something called a Strumstick. According to the directions, to "test drive the Strumstick" you:
      1. Use the straps
      2. Press the first string with one finger
      3. Strum all the strings
      Repeat until smiling
"No Wrong Notes" sounds to me as brash as the title of Barbara Woodhouse's book "No Bad Dogs". Is Strumstick a play on drumstick or dumbstick?

There are even concert harps and a piano.

A variety of antique zithers and a bouzouki sat along with the dust high up on the shelves.

As long as you're looking up, you also see a large wooden structure holding lights and harps. Behind it, there's another floor.

The showroom from a higher perspective.

The upstairs is for concerts. What a great place! It reminded me of the "concert hall" at the Oak Center General Store.

Back downstairs, as we left we were being watched by a smiling sarcophagus.

Heading back downstairs, it was hard to leave this friendly place. This friendly lady looks like one of Vargas' Girls and she just wouldn't let me go.

On a final note, there was this strange looking instrument tacked to the wall with some examples of "Bagpipe Humor". One of the jokes—from "The Wizard of Id"—has Bung the court jester sitting at a bar talking with the Bartender:

          Bartender: I have a bagpipe player coming this evening.
          Bung: Does he take requests?
          Bartender: Yes, but he keeps playing anyway.

Wikipedia: Hobgoblin Music

Hobgoblin Music Shops

Stoney End :: Hand-crafted Lever Harps