When I picked up my dulcimer last year and started taking lessons, I had no idea of the world awaiting me. I thought it was a simple, three-stringed instrument played in the hills of Kentucky, one I could learn without too much difficulty or stress. I was correct about one thing–I could play a song after the first lesson. But I had no idea of the people I would meet, the friends I would make, and the community I would experience.
I knew dulcimers came in a variety of woods with beautiful sounds holes–hearts, butterflies, turtles, leaves, and more, but I’d never heard of a bass dulcimer or a banjimer (seen today for the first time while attending a workshop with Tull Glazener). I was astounded by the amazing sounds this instrument can make in the hands of someone like Steve Seifert (pictured above) or Tull Glazener (pictured below).
I’m not sure what I expected when I first started playing dulcimer, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the warm-hearted, joyous community of dulcimer players I’ve had the privilege to meet this winter. Of course you can play dulcimer alone, but it’s so much more enjoyable to make music with others. This past week, for example, I played with friends in the park.
If you’re lucky, you can join a local group. Playing with the Appalachian Strings in Port Charlotte is one of the highlights of my week. It’s like a family reunion when you walk in the room and see familiar faces wearing smiles because they’re happy to be there. Our love of music brings us together, and our cares fade away as we play. We have little rituals, like playing “You are My Sunshine” when the “Sunshine Man” enters the room.
And then there are “jams.” I attended my first jam this past week, and discovered you play without sheet music. As a beginner, I panicked because I didn’t know all the songs, which the others seemed to be playing by heart. Will I ever learn that many, and can I ever play that fast?
When I began playing the dulcimer, I never anticipated it would bring back so many memories of my grandfather. Fifty years years ago, when I was a little girl, he used to sing songs from his youth in the early 1900s. My group plays many of these tunes, titles I haven’t heard for decades, and much to my surprise, I remember many of the lyrics.
Music, memories, friends and community, what more could I ask?