The Magic of the Dulcimer

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I’ve wanted to play the dulcimer for a long, long time, not because I aspire to be a great musician but because I love the mountain music.  As an undergraduate I visited friends who spent their evenings making music. Someone played guitar while others played fiddle, tambourine, drums, and a teardrop-shaped instrument that I had never seen before.  A few years later while on a trip to Tennessee I learned it was a dulcimer and bought one for myself. Unfortunately, I never learned to play it. I didn’t know any other dulcimer players, and my feeble attempts to learn in the pre-You-Tube era never compared to the demonstration I had heard from my instrument’s maker. Years later I donated it to an auction raising funds for some good cause. I wish I had it back!

Time passed, and once again I was stricken with a case of dulcimeritis. For some reason I decided to build one from a kit. That’s right. The person who had never put together a model plane or car thought she could make a musical instrument! About the most complex thing I had ever built was toy furniture made from cereal boxes an fabric. That dulcimer sat, partially finished, in my parents’ attic for years.

Decades passed, and in the mid-2000s I attended a women’s music festival and once again felt the tug of the dulcimer. This time I bought a Jim Berg dulcimer from Kara Barnard’s shop in Nashville, Indiana, and a book of dulcimer music that came with a DVD. This time I fared a little better, and soon found myself playing Old Joe Clark and Go Tell Aunt Rhody. But I still didn’t know any other dulcimer players, and my technique was lacking. The dulcimer grew lonely sitting in its case by the piano.

Last year I had the good fortune to meet Sammy  Carr. Someone in the park where I wintered mentioned she was offering dulcimer lessons and suggested I enroll. We owe a lot to Sammy, who shared her love of playing the dulcimer with my group of beginners. She told us we would grow tired of playing Boil Them Cabbage Down (and we did). We grew hungry for the new music (tablature) she brought us each week–Amazing Grace, the Carolina Waltz, the Skye Boat Song, and much, much more.

Sammy isn’t teaching lessons at our park this year, but there is a large group playing together each week in Port Charlotte. This morning several of us drove north from our park to the Cultural Center so we could play with the Appalachian Strings. About forty people on mountain dulcimers, hammer dulcimers, harmonicas, fiddles, bass, and guitar sat for over two hours making music. So this is how these songs are supposed to sound! I’m definitely inspired to practice!

After all these years, I’m finally playing the dulcimer! It’s fun, challenging and satisfying. But best of all is seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they play that mountain music.



About JP in B-town

JP grew up on a sheep farm in northwest Ohio. She learned to knit by the age of ten, and loves the smell of wool. She fell in love with reading, a habit she fed with weekly visits to a nearby Carnegie Public Library. Reading fed her desire to become a writer, and her dream of traveling the world. She resides in Bloomington, Indiana, where she continues to knit and write.
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