Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sebastian - Nick Apollonio

Noel Paul Stookey describes on his website how he and his wife Betty were attending a Rinctum that was held in a home in Maine. A Rinctum is a gathering of musicians for the purpose of sharing music with each other.

This one was put together by Canadian Folk Singer, Gordon Bok who invited a group of 30 or so musicians. They each had brought their guitars, fiddles, mandolins and pennywhistles.

Betty’s brother named Denny was there and had brought with him a boxy looking twelve string guitar and began to play songs from the Hebrides Islands.

Noel described how fascinated he was at the beautiful sound of this instrument. Its sound was similar to a harpsichord. He became hypnotized. He mentioned this to the fellow that was sitting nearby.

To his surprise this man said, “I made that guitar.” Noel was astounded. The man introduced himself as Nick Apollonio and said that he made guitars and stringed instruments for a living.

Noel immediately ask if he could build a guitar for him. Mr. Apollonio said yes, but it would take him several months.

He states there was a period in the career of Peter, Paul and Mary were there was a lull in their performances. He was just enjoying life in his home. One morning he woke up at 10 AM, which is early for most musicians and went down to his kitchen.

He was alone in the house and he spotted a large cardboard package standing in a corner. His first thought was that his wife had done some shopping and had something delivered by parcel post.

On closer examination he saw the package was from Maine. He realized it was the guitar. He had almost forgotten.

He took it to his home studio. The walls in the studio were all painted black. The carpeting was red. Stookey cut the twine the held the package together. There was no case with the intrument! The guitar was tightly packed in newspaper.

He lifted the unusual shaped instrument out of the box and there was a note slipped between the strings. It read, "This is Sebastian, treat him with love and care for that is how he came to be built."

In Noel’s own words he said “I looked once again at this strange flat sided twelve string and think how inauspiciously he arrived. I return to reading the next several pages of the note which suggest brand and tension of string to use and a bit about the wood and a brief history of the casket style.

It seems that long voyages on the sea made for a certain kind of musical vacuum and when the desires of the crew ran beyond shanties and the little squeeze concertina, several planks from an empty packing case could be fashioned together into a box and joined with a long sturdy neck (made perhaps from a split oar) to produce a fair replica of a guitar without of course the tonality that results from shapely curves of steamed, pressed and clamped hardwood.

Any musician, from serious composer to jazz virtuoso, knows the extent to which coincidence often creates a new set of melodic options...I could be wrong but it seems to me that most musical 'accidents' just challenge the status quo; the 'established' way of presenting the inversion of a chord.”

In his first encounter with Sebastian, Noel had hit upon the first chord for the beautiful song he wrote about his guitar. This is the same instrument he used to play The Wedding Song.

Sebastian  (click to hear Sebastian)

Sebastian arrived in a cardboard suitcase
Sealed with a kiss from his Mom
With a newspaper under his arm
And over his head
Alone in the hall with his back to the wall
You could see he was one of a few
He spoke only when spoken to
And sometimes alone in his bed

Sing sweet Sebastian
Sing the sweetest song
Sing so sweet that while you sleep
Your melody lingers on

Sebastian is led to a black-walled room
Red carpeting covers the floor
Someone is closing the door
And raising the blind
Hiding his eyes so they won't looked surprised
When the hand reaches down for the note
The one that his mother wrote
And tied by a string to his neck

Sing sweet Sebastian
Sing the sweetest song
Sing so sweet that while you sleep
Your melody lingers on

Waiting for the sunrise
And the rest of his life to begin
Sebastian is wearing a grin under his nose
Out on the grass, he can hear it at last
The rush of a bird to his home
Then, while unpacking a comb
He thinks of a song that he knows

Sing sweet Sebastian
Sing the sweetest song
Sing so sweet that while you sleep
Your melody lingers on
Sing sweet Sebastian
Sing the sweetest song
Sing so sweet that while you sleep
Your melody lingers on

Sebastian is actually not a guitar, but is a bell cittern. Citterns are stringed folk instruments originally made in the Renaissance era. They are used to play Irish and English folk music. Originally citterns were easier to make than lutes since the cittern had a flat back. Most often citterns are made with five courses. A course is a set of two strings tuned to the same pitch, much like on a mandolin.

Mr. Apollonio makes traditional tear drop citterns, but also makes what he calls Bell Citterns. I am certain he will make you a 12 string cittern if you ask him.


Tom Clark said...

This is the most besutiful sounding guitar I've ever heard. Wow and the song brough tears to my eyes. Tom in Mapleton, Msine

Anonymous said...

I've always loved this Noel Paul Stookey song, but was always curious about the lyrics. Thanks for sharing this story. Made my day!

Ann Mayo Muir said...

This is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. I was at that party in Maine and met you and you lovely wife. Nick built me the very first 12 string bell guitar.. a smaller version and I too was thrilled to my toes. It holds so many special songs. Thank you for sharing this song you wrote . It does sing so sweetly and transports me to a higher realm.
Ann Mayo Muir

Fred Gosbee said...

After decades of playing 12-string, two that I made and a pretty good old Fender acoustic, my wife worked a barter with Nikos - one of his 12-strings for studio time. He made me a custom 12 with a slightly wider neck so I can do more "classic" style finger work.
I couldn't be happier with this guitar. I've had the guitar for 11 years and have used it in countless performances and recording sessions.
Nick's recording of tunes played on his cittern is a treat - check it out.

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