Motown Dulcimer Style

Posted 6/5/19

Although she has been in the music industry for more than 40 years and released 23 albums, Claudia Schmidt sometimes finds it difficult to stand out in the crowd these days.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Motown Dulcimer Style


Although she has been in the music industry for more than 40 years and released 23 albums, Claudia Schmidt sometimes finds it difficult to stand out in the crowd these days.

“The whole do-it-yourself thing, like everything else, has democratized the art of performing and making music which means anyone can make a CD,” she said. “That means there is a lot of crap out there the DJs and reviewers have to sort through.”

Unlike the days when it was up to a record label to produce and release an album, the current low barriers to entry put wildly disparate artists on equal footing.

“There isn’t really quality control of any sort,” Shmidt said. “It is very hard. It all comes down to whomever has the best hype wins. That has never really been my strong suit.”

Schmidt formerly was signed to Red House Records, but now produces her own materials.

“The problem is they have built-in distribution you don’t have as a self-produced person,” she said.

Schmidt now sends her albums to DJs at radio stations, but without the clout of a record label behind her, it is hard to keep her CDs at the top of the playlist, she said.

Still, Schmidt continues to record and tour, confident the quality of her music and her onstage persona is all she needs to succeed.

“I am very grateful to be doing this work right now,” she said. “I feel like it is really important for me and the people who come and hear it. It is really good stuff.”

Port Townsend residents will get a chance to hear material off Schmidt’s most recent album, “Concinnity,” during a performance at 7 p.m. June 7 at Northwind Arts Center, 701 Water St. The show is part of the Northwind Songs series. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets or at the door.

“I have presented Claudia in concert about seven times in Portland and here in Port Townsend,” said Northwind Songs producer Matt Miner. “She never fails to bring out an enthusiastic audience who know and love her like a sister who’s moved away from home.”

Schmidt is a role model for touring singer-songwriters, bringing her best no matter the size of the venue, Miner said.

For this show, Schmidt will perform music, poetry, story, laughter and drama.

“It will be two days after my birthday, so I will still be celebrating,” she said. “I head out west on my birthday.”

Schmidt said she will invite audience participation during her performance.

“I do a lot of things where people can join in with me,” she said. “I really love to have other people’s voices in the air, especially in a room like that. The gallery has really nice acoustics. I played there last year.”

And the show will be fun, she said.

“I like to laugh. It is one of my favorite survival tools.”


Schmidt combines lively folk, jazz and blues with rich poetry and playful humor into her music, she said.

Her unique style influenced by the music that came out of Detroit during her childhood, located about 40 miles south of her hometown.

“I was just singing in choirs and doing that sort of thing and listening on my little transistor radio, the Motown stuff, the heavy metal stuff, the power trio stuff and the jazz stuff,” she said. “I was something of a sponge so it all went in the hopper and found its way out in unexpected moments in my writing and performing.”

Setting off early in her career for Wisconsin and Minnesota, Schmidt was a frequent guest on the early days of ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’

In the middle of her career Claudia took a detour from her music and opened a bed and breakfast with her husband on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. Eventually she returned to recording and touring full time.

In 2012 she released a retrospective, “Bend in the River: Collected Songs,” and in 2014 her studio album, “New Whirled Order.”

Her latest album, released in October, is more of a jazz record with a pianist and bass player, she said.

“It is a combination of original stuff and standards, but more in a jazz setting.”

While this upcoming show will be a solo performance, Schmidt will perform the parts normally performed by her backing musicians on guitar and Appalachian dulcimer.

The Appalachian dulcimer is a four-stringed instrument typically associated with bluegrass music.

She calls her technique the “Motown Dulcimer Style,” and combines that with songs about humanity, she said.

“I am fascinated by our quirky nature as humans and the choices we make in this world. My writing delves into that a lot.”


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment