Lynn Koch is not slowing down. The folk musician has 35 years behind him as a music teacher and is looking at his fifth year of retirement. Despite the limitations of COVID-19, he’s been productive.
The Freetown man has folk gigs lined up this summer, is playing the organ at the McGrawville Baptist Church, where he directs the choir (in normal times), and is teaching his wife how to play the piano. He is enjoying his new custom-made 12-string guitar, crafted for him by a fellow musician — something he’s wanted for years. And he just put out his second folk CD for children: “Don’t You Rock ’Em!”
“We have been cautious during the pandemic,” said Koch, 67.
He talked about his latest CD and upcoming shows at the home he shares with his wife, Deborah. “When my church opened up at the end of June, the insistence was: No choir … Hymns are to be sung in your heart,” said Koch of the McGraw church. “For the most part, people are good about it.” He plays several songs on the organ during Sunday services.
Koch plans a benefit concert for the Council of Churches and the Interfaith Association 3 to 4:30 p.m. June 6 p.m. at the parking lot of United Presbyterian Church on Central Avenue in Cortland. The show has a rain date of June 13.
He’ll appear June 17 in an outdoor 6 to 8 p.m. show at Lamont Library on Main Street, McGraw. If it rains, the audience will go o the McGraw Community Center. He’ll also play July 17 at the Freetown Town Park during its townwide yard sales.
A classroom start
Koch spent 29 years at the Cincinnatus School District. He performed many of the folk songs on “Don’t You Rock’ Em” for his students. He’s got 15 songs on the disc, songs he’s explored from other folk singers, including a number from the mountains of North Carolina, a 1940s tune, “Wallabug,” and “Cluck Old Hen” an American fiddle tune he heard by the Slightly Bewildered String Band.
He’s been doing “Lumberman’s Alphabet” and “The Rooster Song” on the album for 30 years.
“Some of these songs were not part of my repertoire. ‘Cluck Old Hen’ I learned for this CD.”
Koch did the vocals and instrumentation on the CD, playing guitar, banjo, Irish bouzouki and more. The CD is available on iTunes and CD Baby (lynnkoch.hearnow.com) and at any of his shows. People can email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy.
“A lot of records get the title of the CD from one of the songs on the record, oftentimes, the first cut. I decided to go in another direction,” Koch said. “I took from the last line from the last song, which was, ‘Don’t You Rock Them.’ It’s folk music through and through.”
Koch did a commercial folk CD, “The Fox, Old Blue and Dinosaurs Too!” in 1994. “That was after having done a couple of folk concerts at school. I sent a recording to a friend of mine.”
The friend suggested a commercial recording, which came out when his girls were 3 and 7.
“Now I have grandkids, by way of Deborah’s daughter, Jessica. We have another one coming in July. They always like to hear grandpa sing. The album is dedicated to Vivi, Max and Ty, those are our three grandkids so far.”
“Don’t You Rock ‘Em!”
One of the challenges of the album: “It’s all over dubbed. I would have to have the arrangements completely worked out ahead of time, either in my head or on music paper,” he said. “I would lay down the guitar tracks first, going for as perfect as possible. Then do the vocal tracks. Then record using the bouzouki, and so forth and so forth.”
He recorded the album at Chad J. Dean’s studio at Backbone Audio in Whitney Point.
“He’s an amazing musician. He had many suggestions. We worked on many different things for any given song,” he said.
Dean co-produced with Koch and engineered the album. It was mixed by Jeff DaBella at Mansion Audio Productions. Jim Weiss did the photos on the CD, while Sherry Dans of Cortland helped format the layout.
He had a hard time choosing his favorite instrument. “On a fiddle tune, ‘Cluck Old Hen’ – I don’t play fiddle. I played on the banjo and bouzouki,” he said. The bouzouki is tuned in such a way it’s especially useful for Irish tunes. “A lot of them are in the key of D or G. It fits very nicely into the fingers,” he said.
Koch said a lot of instruments are similar so he can transition from one to the other, like the mandolin and the fiddle. For a new instrument like the bouzouki, “I was working on it for a couple of years before I felt comfortable in public.”
Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor
Lynn Koch said the Irish bouzouki he’s playing is perfect for Irish tunes.
‘Thousands of instruments’
“It’s cute … Plus he plays like, thousands of instruments,” said Paulette Fry of Cortlandville, organist for the United Presbyterian Church. “His really refined, sophisticated technique gets lost. You are listening to the tunes. His instrumentation is amazing.”
“He started as a trombone major, then went into conducting and other things,” Fry said. “He knows brass instruments. He plays folk instruments. … He was my inspiration to start composing. He would compose stuff for the organ and give it to me to play in church. ‘Wow. I never thought of doing that.’”
Koch showed off a custom made 12string guitar made by Kevin La Due, a technology teacher in Vestal. La Due taught a class to high school students on building guitars.
“He and I have been talking about a 12-string guitar for years,” Koch said.
“You know, I think it’s time I built you that thing,” La Due told him.
About that 12-string guitar La Due lives outside of Whitney Point. He’s been a shop teacher, now retired, for 32 years, in Vestal, Cincinnatus and Chenango Forks.
He met Koch when the two worked in Cincinnatus. He taught the acoustic guitar building course for 12 years, developing it at Vestal. The kids made 300 guitars in that time. He guesses there may be three or four such guitar classes in the U.S.
“I don’t think we’re unique. It’s extremely rare,” he said.
Koch is an unusual fellow, but so likable, La Due said.
La Due, a guitar player, has been performing for 50 years. He asked Koch to play a fall festival in his area. “We had a great time,” he said. “He’s a very qualified musician. … He knows what he’s doing.”
La Due set out to make his own guitars 30 years ago because he’s left-handed and most guitars are made for righthanded people.
“Instrument tops have to be conifer, particularly spruce,” he said.
But the spruce in upstate New York is not suitable, he said. He gets his from Alaska, from a supplier who does not cut live, standing trees, he said. Adirondack spruce is available, but it is very expensive. “It’s easier to get nice, quality spruce from Alaska.”
A work of art, for artist’s work
For Koch’s instrument, he used walnut on the back and sides he traded a deposit gunsmith for 15 years ago. Those planks came from a 70-year-old back then, who’d been looking at that wood since he was 5 years old. He built a guitar in trade.
The top of Koch’s guitar is made from bear claw spruce, from Alaska, he said. It’s called bear claw because it looks like a bear scraped it and left marks on it. Some of the neck is from local walnut. Some of it is from wood he collected as a 17-year-old, 51 years ago.
“It’s important for me to know where wood came from. I started collecting it at 15.”
Twelve-string guitars are very hard to make, La Due said.
“I was very pleased with it … Getting them to sound good is challenging,” he said. “There’s over 200 pounds of tension in the strings.”
He thinks it was serendipity it came out so well. He’s made 10 12-string guitars. Koch’s is one of his best.
“Deborah and I worked together on making the design for it,” Koch said. “It’s a work of art. It sounds good. (La Due) is such a marvelous craftsman. His attention to detail is astounding.”