August, 2021: Thank
to all who've read, watched, and commented!
The family and I simply can't believe the response. - G
A Miner Family History
Welcome to this private page, which will provide background on a personal labor
of love I recently completed.
The opening shot explains...
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?!
It took a while. After seeing the movie Coco in late 2017, I brought up our ancestors with my family, who dutifully started to dig out photos (my brother Mark had already done most of the genealogy). Coincidentally, while moving my parents out of their home of 60 years in 2015, several additional boxes of photos and scrapbooks we had no idea anyone had, let alone saved, were discovered!
Meanwhile, I arranged the
poignant theme song above for solo harp guitar, which I played at the
next Harp Guitar Gathering. In 2019, I recorded it for posterity,
without any upcoming album project for it. Hmmm….why not use it as
backdrop for the photos we had discovered?!
Except it was only 2 minutes
long…good for a couple of relatives at best! So I removed my acrylic
nails and got back on the pedal harp after 15 years, arranging another
section, which surely would do it? Nope – not enough! And so, in turn, I scrounged the
museum room for instruments and ideas and created a full 25-minute
soundtrack (instrumentation details below).
As I worked on the music, the storyboarding and execution of the “elaborate slide show”
took a full year (my friend Jon Pickard helped me get started
with some ideas, and I realized I needed film-editing software, which
was another learning curve).
But I did it.
My sister Kris (and others): “But
who do you think will watch
Fair point. Perhaps few. Honestly? It started just as a way to try and archive names and faces of my immediate ancestors, then evolved into a love letter to my family (we're extremely fortunate to still have both our parents). I well understand that most of you may care little about these assorted grandparents and aunts and uncles of mine, and 25 minutes is a long time to spend with someone else's family you've never met. And yet…I’m sharing it because:
For playback I highly recommend quality
headphones or speakers. And if you’re curious about the instruments
you hear, please come back and check out the details below.
Otherwise, here is the link for viewing on Vimeo.
NOTE: The video is packed with archival detail
(dates, etc.) which necessarily go by fairly briskly. Don't try to take it
all in at once!
I started things out with the original harp guitar solo (this is Stephen Bennett’s original Merrill #1), but later changed the ending to segue into the next arrangement.
The next section consists of a Gibson mandolin “orchestra,” with 3 tracks each of mandolin, mandola and mandocello and 1 of mandobass.
But that was just the backdrop. For the lead instrument, I kept hearing violin – and it would have to be a charming “period” fiddle, as this was to score my Dad’s parents’ early days. Remembering the fantastic player on my own HGM “Christmas Present” compilation (he did a duo with the late Tom Shinness), I asked if he’d give it a try. Needless to say, Nashville's Stephan Dudash’s gypsy-style 5-string viola was everything I could’ve hoped for.
had no idea what to do for my Aunt Dot – more of the same? But once
her video section was blocked out, I knew I just had
to try an Africa-themed version of the Disney tune. I based the tempo
and bookend vamps on the great pop version from the Coco
soundtrack. I snagged a free authentic percussion sample from the web, warped
it to fit the click as the background, then threw half of the 4 dozen
instruments in my African case over it (also mandobass). I did have to
pitch shift some of the “tuned” instruments to fit the key. Modern
kalmibas and a valiha do the melody (the kora didn’t cut it), and I
had my brother Mark add his own djembe to the last vamp (as, unlike I,
he’s taken classes).
thought ukulele might sound appropriate for my Dad, so used the Duane
Noble harp uke. I then tweaked the arrangement for Mom.
I already had the harp arrangement recorded (Lyon & Healy gold Style 23) – it could’ve gone in many places. Naturally, my parents’ wedding was the obvious choice.
I next tweaked Stephan’s viola part into a new standalone solo that worked great dramatically. It segues into a new key and the next arrangement:
I have no idea how, when or why
I came up with this idea, but I found myself playing Bach’s G Major Cello
Prelude on the mandocello and thought it would make a cool motif for a
sweet and emotional rendition of the pop tune. I tried a lot of
instruments for its melodic duo partner and finally one clicked, though the
stringing is apples and oranges: a Russian harp guitar. Its gut strings produce a gorgeous singing
treble. Its standard tuning is already an open G chord; I then tuned the
sub-basses to match (GBDG), as you can hear at the close. I really enjoyed
working out this one. Both instruments incorporate light and dark tones, and both
have a large range (so I had them cross – twice – to get my money’s
I have no idea how, when or why I came up with this idea, but I found myself playing Bach’s G Major Cello Prelude on the mandocello and thought it would make a cool motif for a sweet and emotional rendition of the pop tune. I tried a lot of instruments for its melodic duo partner and finally one clicked, though the stringing is apples and oranges: a Russian harp guitar. Its gut strings produce a gorgeous singing treble. Its standard tuning is already an open G chord; I then tuned the sub-basses to match (GBDG), as you can hear at the close. I really enjoyed working out this one. Both instruments incorporate light and dark tones, and both have a large range (so I had them cross – twice – to get my money’s worth).
Still needing to expand the soundtrack and starting to panic, I knew a piano should be under my piano-playing Aunt Glad, so enlisted my talented friend Brad Hoyt. He gave me a few takes, each better than the last (so naturally, I ended up using the first). A gorgeous arrangement.
The Miner “story”
could have gone in any direction (and, in fact, I could only “circle
back” over and over to get everybody in, in any sort of logical way),
but here I chose to continue we kids from where we left off. That meant
High School…and guitars! I had a rhythmic “folk-rock” thing in my
head, but guitars were too boring and obvious. So I switched to this group of
fretless zithers, with my trusty Marxophone handling the melody (two
tracks worth, re-tuned to get the chromatics).
I did want one guitar to open and close the piece, and again, couldn’t find the right sound in the collection until trying this Washburn terz lyre guitar (silk & steel strings, tuned 3 steps up, played with a leather pick…details!). Mandobass and percussion on a banjo head provided the rest of the acoustic "rock band."
Finally, I decided to
musically bookend the film, so did a re-edited/mixed reprise of the harp guitar
solo, now with its original ending.
Hope you enjoy it! - Gregg
For more on the museum instruments, visit The Miner Museum of Vintage, Exotic & Just Plain Musical Instruments
Friends from around the world:
Hurrell (harpist): “Gregg, OMG! That is a fabulous video. I loved it so much. And
the soundtrack is gorgeous, tugs at your heartstrings (harp strings?), and
such great arrangements. I loved all the instruments and the pedal harp
segment was wonderful! What a family, what a story. It's America's story.
And there's so much music-making in your family history. Such an
incredible project and really shows America's melting pot of cultures.
Thanks for including me. Your video moved me to tears more than once. Just
brilliant. When I read that your family thought no one would sit through
it, I thought, you don't have to know these people. It's so interesting
and it's a universal story on ‘families.’ As I watched it, memories
flooded back of my own summer vacations growing up and then the trips with
our own boys.”
Boston Biography Group: “What a great video – watched with interest and admiration." “Fabulous and fascinating! Brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for sharing!"
Marshall (TV editor/producer): “Brilliant job, and huge kudos to
everyone involved for the Herculean effort! A truly loving tribute
to your family… I’m going to play it again now and just listen to the
beautiful music with my eyes closed.”
Dean Brown (childhood friend who lived on the same block in Clarendon Hills): “Gregg, thank you very much for the link to your family's history. It has to be one of the best things that I've ever seen. You should be very proud. Seeing things from the 1800's to how I remember you all as a kid…I have to admit it made this old bald guy cry. As always the music was incredible!”
Wini Matheson (descendant of Hollywood movie star Wini Shaw): “An idyllic and charmed life by all. Thank you so much for including me. I loved it! This is an incredible treasure and gift to your loved ones. I am also truly impressed by how well documented all of these lives are. I can't believe the treasure trove of photos. You have rivaled and surpassed me in that department! Last of all ...bravo on the soundtrack. The music is poignant and lovely."
Bulak (my high school Cinema Study teacher): “It’s fascinating,
mesmerizing in fact. Once you climb aboard, you decide you’re committed
to the entire journey!”
Aluisio Laurindo Jr. (multi-string guitarist): “Thanks for sharing your family's history! A history of love, commitment, work and creativity. It's amazing how dense, exciting and full of quality everything you do is! Again I say, thank you very much!”
Brookes (author, Guitar:
An American Life, etc.): "Nice work!!! "
Jim Milio (Producer, My
Big Fat Greek Wedding, etc.): “It's really great…there are many
great photos, moments, etc...excellent job, my friend. I am sure you lit
up many lives....including some not in your family.”
Bill Fiorella (my instrument restorer): "Wow…What an incredible family you have! Your soundtrack is stunning! Absolutely incredible, Gregg."
Darcy Kuronen (retired former BMFA Curator of Musical Instruments): “I think your family video is amazing, and congrats on all the effort I know went into producing it. I'd love to do something like this myself someday.”
Kline (lawyer, guitarist): “Quite the labor of love Gregg. A
thoroughly enjoyable view & listen...I never felt like bailing. The
music was really well done. Kudos to all involved.”
Jayson Dobney (Curator in Charge, Musical Instruments, the MET): “What a beautiful piece you created about your family – and your arrangement is gorgeous. Congratulations.”
Hagel (Northrop-Grumman): “Heartwarming! ❤
Hilsabeck (high school best friend) & Sarah Pfisterer (the
Phantom and Christine in the touring production): “As tropical storm
Elsa was raging outside, we sat in bed with our coffee and watched your
beautiful Miner family documentary. It came as no surprise that first, the
soundtrack is exquisite – perfect. Always just the right touch of
sentimentality and nostalgia. Oh, and the brilliant and deft playing.
Beautifully arranged and mixed. Superb. Obviously your connection to the
material made this a once in a lifetime creative experience. We loved
seeing your family tree come to life as the moving slide show made its way
through time. Well done.”
Redman (professional multi-instrumentalist): “Even not knowing these
people, the photos and information you have is a welcome step into their
lives. What a challenge to get that much info in that time, whilst it was
fast, it had a great rhythm which we as viewers became accustomed to.
Anything before the early Victorian period is really rare to have, so to
go back to the Norman conquest is an outstanding achievement for any
genealogist, amateur or professional. The level of stuff about every one
of them is mind-blowingly comprehensive, never seen a family story
presented with this much, and I'm sure you had to have leave some out. So
glad you had a song plugger in your line and so, SO many musicians - you
were destined to do this, why was I surprised to see this many? And the
engineering/technical professional relationship to your dad's career.
Don't think I'm not going to go back and study the patents!”
Ives (high school rock bandmate): “Outstanding, Gregg! A beautifully
produced family ‘documentary.’ Loved the music, and your arrangement
is very impressive and moving. Your photo compilation and editing are
PBS-worthy. Charming and funny to see those pictures of you and your
family. Geez, I'm even in there! What a wonderful tribute to your
Paul Ruppa (professional mandolinist, Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, etc.): “Typical. . .exceeding my expectations, inspiring and setting another bar too high. Thanks for keeping me in the loop. Particularly loved the Wisconsin dairy references and the Minerian, story-telling continuity.”
Carlson (pastor, high school music friend): “Absolutely wonderful,
Gregg. A real labor of love!”
Petes (Art Deco Society friend): “Absolutely BEAUTIFUL Gregg! I had to send
to my dad as I know he’ll love your music and the story behind it. "
York (née Lisa Carnall, childhood friend who shared my exact
- just wow - what a great family video! It was so fun to see all the
family resemblances in older relatives as well as younger pics of Bob!! I
loved the music and the stories. I do remember those elephant tables but
had no connection to the wonderful work done by your Aunt. So many
interesting characters, loved the information on the farm and the great
work done by your grandparents. I have been collecting family history from
Nebraska and Colorado and you have inspired me to take on something to
record it all. Great work Miner and West Family!!"
Ben & Pauli Carnes (ex-Woodland Hills neighbors): "Gregg! You're an inspiration to all of us. Beautifully put together and, as usual, an audiologic treat. You are fortunate to have such documentation of so much family history and I'm happy for you and the generations to come that it has been recorded for all to enjoy."
Daniel Wheeldon (AMIS scholar/ friend): "Thanks for this Gregg! It's a reminder that family is big, and winds its way in all sorts of directions across the generations. It also shows that 'history' is only a small number of overlapping lifetimes away. Loved the music too."
Filipo Bertipaglia (Italian guitar virtuoso): "Man, I gotta tell you...you’ve made me cry...when I have seen you and Jaci...you are amazing guys, and you Gregg are a genius, my friend. The soundtrack arrangement is just sublime; every variation is so pure and beautiful in its musicality and the sound is terrific!!! How can you do that??? Amazing. Just astounding. Thank you for this movie."
Friends from the Harp Guitar Gatherings:
Stephen Bennett: "For now, just wow!"
Pickard: “Awesome Gregg - SO great to see where you took it - and
all the intricate work I missed out on! Loved every minute. Really
wonderful music. Thank you for letting me be a tiny part of the project.”
Bob and Carol Hartman: “To Gregg and family - Carol and I sat down and admired, revered and just plain enjoyed your production of preserving your heritage. It inspired me to wish I could do the same for our family. The background music was adapted and performed with the highest degree of professionalism. It kept me wondering, what will come next? The pages of photos used in the video were also additions to the realization of the building of the musical piece. All-in-all, a lovely compilation of family memories. ‘Remember Me’ Know that you and Jaci will be remembered by our family."
& Tone Powell: “Very inspiring Gregg! Great production on the
tune, love the instrumentation and the vintage family photos, thanks for
Fouquet: “Bravo Gregg, Tu as fait un superbe travail.
L'histoire que tu racontes est très émouvante. La reconnaissance que tu
exprimes à ta famille est magnifique. Bravo pour le travail musical. Quel
bel hommage ! Amitiés Philippe"
Labadie: “Very nicely done Gregg! Although I didn’t know the
people in the photographs, the images and music seem to transport me into
the world in the video. It gave me a greater sense of who you are and
where you’ve come from. I was deeply touched by the music!!! Incredible
Pike: “Amazing, beautiful, and inspiring. What a wonderful gift to
and Nancy Silva: Steve: “Gregg, thanks so much for sharing this
project with us. I feel privileged to call you my friend. You are surely
one of the world's great historians. And what can I say about the music
and amazing performances. Simply amazing! My favorite scene was the kids
sitting around the Mousetrap game. That one jogged some fond memories for
Noble: “Absolutely beautiful! A labor of love for sure. I enjoyed it
very much, Gregg!”
Doolin: “Gregg, your ability to convey emotion through music is in
peak form. I was really moved. And you have a fascinating family! Although
I obviously don't know most of them, you present their stories in such an
engaging way that I wish I did know them!"
Hoyt: “Well done Gregg! It's good to know that many years from now,
perhaps hundreds of years from now, this video will cause people to
remember. I may have to wait before playing this for my family though; my
wife and daughter already have a hard time getting through the original
tune without tearing up; I'm not sure what would happen if they were
subjected to 25 minutes! I hope the songwriters get a chance to hear this
magnum opus version of their tune while being introduced to your
Smith: “Ken Burns better look out! Triple-threat Gregg Miner has
just delivered a gorgeous 'River of Life' tapestry that pulls the heart
strings with a lovely musical accompaniment. My hat's off. Well done, Sir
Chuck Thompson: “This is the most amazing and wonderful family tribute in the world. Love the music. I am so moved by this.”
Blaustein: “Have listened to the music several times. Wonderful.”
Schreiner: “Thanks for sharing your history. Love the music.
That’s one of my favorite movies. It is a story about family history
like you have recorded here.”
Stevenson: “My goodness...I watched this with my six year old
grandson in my lap. Moved to tears was I. I'm so glad to have met you,
Gregg. Blessings on the next several chapters.”
Sean Woolley: “Loved this. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. Love to you all!”
Lou Alano: “Really nice music, Gregg. Very impressive and touching throughout.”
Tommy Loose: “Very impressive and very interesting! Thanks for sharing.”
Cook: “OMG Gregg. You touched my heart this morning. So much
history, so many paths, so much life! Beautifully orchestrated and put
together. I especially enjoyed the Door County photo of sailing in the
Butterfly. Also the pictures of award from
Hoard’s Dairyman. Located right here in Fort Atkinson! Kudos to you and
your family. And much love.”
Verlene Schermer: ”Wow Gregg! So beautiful! The music, the photos, and the stories! Thanks for sharing your family history and your amazing talents with us!"
Jake White: “Love your arrangements, Gregg! Beautiful.”
Randall Sprinkle: “Bravo Gregg, Well done.”
Karen Ashbrook: “So many wonderful photos! I love that song and use it at the hospital. I loved all your versions of it – never tiring! I particularly enjoyed the djembe version of it. Your Aunt Gladys was so interesting. I didn't realize you came from such a musical family! Thank you for sharing this.”
Rich Poser: “Wonderfully produced, performed and arranged. I especially like the way you've blended the archival photos with modern ones, the stories and the logical presentation. And of course the musical numbers.”
LaVoie: “What an absolutely lovely video!!”
Nelson: "Well that was absolutely fantastic! Beautiful!
Beautifully put together, and lovely (!) playing. What a terrific tribute.
Thanks for sharing this. Really - great playing and many interesting
Schneider (Jaci's sister): “Gregg, this was a fabulous video and I
loved it! It was truly a fantastic peek into the past and the music fit
perfectly. I watched it three times.”
Heather Schneider (Kelli's daughter): "Congratulations, Uncle Gregg. This video was amazing and thank you for sharing."
Miner (my dad): “Dear Gregg, It’s June 24, 2021, our 71st
anniversary and I just watched your video (w/o music). I can’t begin to
say what an accomplishment this video is. It is a work of art and love. I
didn’t tear up watching it but had a lump in my throat many times. Many
of these old photos I had never seen and don’t know where they came from
but I know Kris had a lot to do with that. You have made our family seem
famous although we are certainly not, but very special I believe in many
ways. Thank you immensely for your labor of love. I’m in awe of your
Barb Miner (my sister-in-law): “Well, I am almost speechless. I FINALLY had time to sit alone on the sofa, earbuds in, feet up, glass of water at my side (wishing it were wine or Champagne) and I watched and listened to your beautiful love letter to the family. I was able to see bits and pieces as you and Mark were emailing back and forth. I was so impressed with your earliest creations. YET, this finished product is truly a work of art. You have captured your family history in photos and genealogical facts and have put the most beautiful soundtrack to the whole presentation. What an incredible job of pairing the right tonality of the instruments to capture the mood, scene or people being represented. This is a treasure. Thank you for creating it and sharing it with all of us.”
Heronime (Jaci's cousin): "The music blew me away! I ended up running it just as
background music for a couple of cycles. Gregg, you are truly a musical genius!!!!"
Film out-take: an original postcard from Door County:
Our joint trip in 2009:
Yes, we found the same overlook!
Copyright 2021 Gregg Miner