It’s not every day that you come across a video with the subtitle “Mark and Steffi Performing on the Chapman stick in Adelaide, Australia.” You might even wonder if the Chapman stick is a popular instrument in Adelaide. However, according to Mark White and Stefanie Barthel, who perform as Cascade, there are only 8000 Chapman sticks in existence.
White, from Austin, Texas, and Barthel, from Ulm, Germany, believe that they are the only Chapman stick duo in the world. So it’s understandable if you’re not familiar with the instrument, which looks like the neck of a guitar but is wider, longer, and has 8, 10, or 12 strings. It’s also more versatile than a guitar. Take a listen to Cascade
This beguiling performance of The Sound of Silence on a night-dark Adelaide Street shows the range of the Chapman stick, which has individually tuned strings and can be used to play melodies, bass parts and chords simultaneously, while allowing for texture variation.
Since the Chapman stick is usually played by tapping the strings with the fingers of both hands, it’s more like playing a piano than a guitar in many ways. Claudius Buchi sums up Cascade’s playing succinctly: “Wonderful.”
Still, puzzled by the Chapman stick? It has been described as a bass, a piano, a percussion instrument, and a guitar all in one. Essentially, the strings are closer to the fretboard than on a guitar, and the pickups are more sensitive. This allows the strings to sound as if they are pressed anywhere along the fretboard, without the need for picking or strumming. It was invented in the early 1970s by Emmett Chapman and has undergone several modifications since then. The latest model is the Railboard.
One last thing about the Chapman Stick: it has a waist belt and a shoulder strap so that it is centered at the waist but leans to the left or right, depending on whether the player is left- or right-handed.
Mark White and Steffi Barthel met on the East Coast of Australia in November 2016. They started traveling together, and after six months, White began teaching Barthel to play the Chapman Stick. Steffi was a quick learner and put in the necessary hours of practice. They started busking together as Cascade while continuing to travel. They are currently in Koh Tao, Thailand, to catch up on their tree planting.
Tree planting? As The Music Man has previously reported, Cascade has partnered with the Eden Reforestation Project and plants 5 trees for every album sold. On this trip, they planted another 485 trees through their music sales, bringing the total number of trees planted from their 5 albums to 42,030.
While in Thailand, White and Barthel are working on new material. However, they are itching to return to Europe as busking is illegal in Thailand, and Cascade had a great run of street gigs in Scandinavia last year. The Music Man has videos of Cascade playing Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust” in the world’s northernmost city, Tromsø, Norway, and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in Stockholm, Sweden.
Writing on their Facebook page, Cascade notes that the “Hallelujah” video “became huge while we were traveling in Scandinavia. It got over 4 million views and introduced many people to the Chapman stick and our music.” So, if you knew about the Chapman Stick before reading this piece, the chances are that you are an attentive follower of The Music Man. You can easily find The Music Man pieces on Cascade on the duo’s Facebook page under the “Mentions” link.