Barby Holder:
a period player

An interview by Tom Knapp,
February 1995

Barby Holder is probably best known to people on the renaissance faire circuit as the raven-haired songstress who can be found doing a "period" performance with guitar or hammered dulcimer. But when she's out in the real world, Holder enjoys some of the conveniences not available to minstrels in the court of Queen Bess.

Amplification, for one. "It's nice using a sound system," she says. "I'm not screaming my lungs out and banging on the guitar."

Holder has nothing against Elizabethan faires, which have been her bread and butter for years. And her mainstream repertoire is certainly colored by her faire experience, so if you see her in a pub, coffeehouse or other venue, you can expect a healthy dose of traditional Celtic music, British folk tunes and sea chanties. But she also stretches herself beyond those period restraints with a sampling of blues, country, contemporary folk and original songs.

Her original music, she says, evolves from "whatever pops into my head."

"They're mostly five- to ten-minute songs," she says. "They come out already formed. I write the words, and usually there's a melody that's been floating around in my head for a while."

The songs are usually light-hearted, she added. "I try not to get too pensive."

Her first album, Nor'Westers (released on cassette in 1991, on CD in '94) was filled with traditionals from the British Isles. Her next effort, The Moon's Fool (1995) includes a mix of traditional and original work. (Editor's note: Since the time of this interview, Barby has released a third album, Haunt Me Forever, in 1999)

Holder adds extra flair to her performance with the hammered dulcimer. A dulcimist for about four years, Holder was startled to learn from other players that she has a peculiar playing style. "I lead with my left hand, while most lead with the right," she explains. "It changes your arrangements; they seem to be completely different."

The peculiarity only adds to her individual style. "Sometimes I add new stuff. I add whatever sounds right," Holder says. "There's a lot of counterpoint in what I'm doing."

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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