29 April 2008

Telling You. About Me.


The above picture is of the table next to my hammered dulcimer. The jar contains my plain, leather, and felt-covered hammers (the black hammers are ebony - which give the strings a rich, deep sound). The left picture is of me playing for the first time at Vandalia and the right picture is my dulcimer while I played at a wedding. The paint brush is how I keep my dulcimer dusted.

I used to play the hammered dulcimer. My parents gave me my Dusty Strings Prelude dulcimer for college graduation and I was so excited. After years of watching Sally Hawley (a hammered dulcimer fixture in local music festivals) play at the Vandalia Gathering, I wanted to be able to someday join her for an impromptu jam session. But the dulcimer sat and collected dust for ten years. For those who have never played the instrument, it's very intimidating. It requires tuning on almost a daily basis and the notes are spread out over the two, sometimes three, bridges.

Finally, in 2004, I picked up the hammers and began playing. Five months later, I played at Vandalia. Over and over, under a tree on the capitol grounds, I played the same ten tunes and played my heart out. A fiddle player stopped by and jammed to "Soldier's Joy" while two other musicians (banjo and guitar) came by for some "Amazing Grace."

Over the next year, I practiced each and every day. I played Christmas tunes for our family holiday gathering, I realized my dream of jamming with Mrs. Hawley at a Vandalia Gathering, and I played wonderful music for Ian's and Vonda's wedding.

Then our children came and with them came responsibilities and a need to keep the house quiet when they sleep, the only time I can practice.

My dulcimer now sits silent, again. A musical instrument meant to play yet collecting dust is about as useful as a Corvette sitting in the garage. I've had this gorgeous dulcimer for 14 years and have played it for all of two years. It's a travesty and I'm very disappointed in myself and my lack of drive to become a serious musician of a musical instrument that is slowly being lost to history. Only a handful of hammered dulcimer players are left in the United States today. I wish I was one of them.

For a YouTube clip of a hammered dulcimer in action, click here.

14 comments:

HEATHER said...

So why don't you try to play for the kiddoes? Music is so soothing for children, and you may spark a musical interest in one of them.

Momma said...

Ooh, Heather has a great idea there!

I used to play piano. In fact, when I met my husband, I was pretty good. But I was a slave to sheet music, never learned to just "jam." He bought me a piano about 10 years into our marriage, and I got some use out of it, but I never took more lessons to learn how to just play off the cuff. I was quite disappointed in myself, and I finally sold my piano.

I hope you don't ever make the same choice. Pick up those hammers, girl, whenever you can.

Peace - D

Alan Labovitz said...

I live in Lansing, MI and a friend of mine plays a hammered dulcimer. I hope you do try to keep playing. It's a beautiful instrument.
alan7933

Just A Girl said...

I agree with Momma.
Don't give it up, you'll regret that later.

Avitable said...

That's cool - I was about to ask what a hammered dulcimer sounds like, and then you posted that video. That sounds awesome.

You definitely need to get back into it.

.:| Melissa |:. said...

WOW, what a beautiful sounding instrument! I was going to suggest what the first commenter did ... to play it for the kids! A lullaby, or whatever, some soothing type music!

I was lucky with my kids, I guess. I always had the radio (or TV) going, so they were used to "noise" when they went to sleep. I was often inclined to "crank it up" when a song I really liked came on! Lord, they could (then) sleep through an explosion!! LOL

I agree too, to not give up on it! I took piano lessons for a while when I was little, and I quit. I have regretted it ever since! (Mom told me that if I quit, that was it! She would never again pay for lessons. She stuck to it too!)

Lori said...

I am constantly amazed at all these hidden talents you have.
Forget how much you've played it in the last XX number of years ... play it now, whenever you can.
And I agree with all the others that said your kids would love it.
I'd like you to post a video of YOU playing. Get right on that, will ya?
:)

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Other Heather - Good idea. I'll have to make my practice time when they're awake. I'll give it a try and let you know!

Momma - Yes, ma'am.

Alan - I've heard that there's a large amount of hammered dulcimer players in Michigan. Thanks for the encouragement!

Just a Girl - Yes, ma'am.

Avitable - It does sound awesome and different from any other instrument out there.

Melissa - I do intend to pick those hammers back up and you guys will definitely be the first to know!

Lori - I'll give it whirl and will hopefully get one song down to post it for all of you! That's my goal!

Gypsy said...

Such beautiful music! :)

And I know the feeling -- I use so few of my talents these days.

Donna said...

My husband use to play the guitar with the soul of blues heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vauhn ... well, you get the picture.
Since the kids he hasn't played, at all. Our son actually broke one and he sold another several years ago.
He keeps threatening to sell his favorite and most played guitar and I argue with him about it all the time. I've even said I'd buy it first before I'll let him sell it. I'm hoping some day he'll play again . . . or maybe one of our kids.
Either way, I think you'll get back to it again some day. I wouldn't give up hope yet. How many years before school?

Not Afraid to Use It said...

I agree with all above. Once the kiddos are out of diapers, you'll be back to it. Learning how to play a few kid songs might help the kids even ASK you to play it for them.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Gypsy - You and I need to combine talent forces, girl!

Donna - Don't you dare let him sell it!

The twins start pre-school in August of this year, so hopefully then I can get back to it!

NATUI - Thanks, hon!

Violet the Verbose said...

I saw a comment you left on Avitable's site and figured that with a name like "Coal Miner's Granddaughter" you *had* to be from WV, so I came to see your blog. I've read a few posts and was all but jumping up and down about this one.

Despite being born in CA, where I now live again, I grew up in WV from ages 2-15, so you can imagine that my times there are a large part of who I am. I get so excited to find other people in other places with WV roots. It doesn't happen often because so few people seem to leave there, even to visit other places! I still have friends from kindergarten who live there, but they will never venture out here to visit me; I have to go there.

I can hear the hammered dulcimer in my head (though after commenting I'm going to go back and check out the video you posted and hear it with my ears too); it is a well loved sound from my childhood and I think it is so great that you took it up. And the Vandalia Gathering - we used to go every year. The quilts were so gorgeous, and there were always so many other fantastic handmade things. When I was 5 I got to sit up on a high stool and help stir a huge boiling kettle of apple butter. ...Reminiscent sigh...

I am sure you will get back to playing your hammered dulcimer. Before my girls were born I used to make pottery and soap, and I am planning to start doing both again this summer. My youngest is 2. At some point, as other commenters have suggested, the kids can be involved, even if only as an audience at first. And as you say, when they're in preschool, you'll have a built-in practice time there.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Violet - Woo hoo! Fellow hillbilly! Hey, even with just 13 years, we'll claim you, sweetie! I'll bet we were at Vandalia at the same time, as kids. My fave was the local Greek Orthodox church's food booth. Oh, damn. The tyropita. So delish! And? Do you remember of all the quilt competitions? There was a quilt that was a still-life of a flute on sheet music and the music was actual music?!? She had stitched the notes from a piece from Beethoven or Bach? Beautiful. Wish I could go back in time and buy that sucker...