by Wiley Sloan
Born from a love of music, the Mountain High Dulcimer Club seeks “to promote interest in learning, playing, and performing traditional and contemporary music written and arranged for the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer”.
If you want to learn about a dulcimer all you need to do is talk to Les Scott or Paul Andry, two key members of the Dulcimer Club. Les has been playing dulcimer since 1971 and Paul admits to playing since 1980 when he discovered the instrument while on vacation.
From these two energetic musicians I learned that the dulcimer originated in America in the early 1800’s. It first appeared in regions dominated by folks of Irish or Scottish heritage, which is odd since the instrument is not found in either of those countries. Jean Ritchie, a talented American folk singer and songwriter grew up with a father who played the dulcimer. She is aware that there are similar instruments found throughout Europe and she speculates that European immigrants were instrumental in creating the Appalachian dulcimer. No one knows for sure.
If I told you that the mountain dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the zither family typically found with three or four strings, would you know what I was talking about? I didn’t until I did a little research and discovered that a “zither” means that the strings are mounted on a body (think autoharp or piano). Without getting too technical I will tell you that a fret is the raised portion on the neck of a stringed instrument (think guitar, banjo or dulcimer).
Originally dulcimer players would hold the strings down with a stick or dowel and pluck the strings with a pick. For old timers their picks may have been goose quills, collar stays or even a piece of a plastic-coated milk carton.
According to Les and Paul the dulcimer can adapt to many types of music but the most familiar tunes that we relate to the dulcimer are those of Bluegrass and country music. The styles of dulcimers are almost as varied as the music that is played thereon and the people who play them. Although there are many highly trained, talented musicians who play a dulcimer, it is an instrument that is easy for the beginner to conquer. Matter of fact, Paul says that he will guarantee anyone that he can teach them to play two songs on the dulcimer during their first lesson.
Made up of members of all skill levels, from beginners to advanced, the Mountain High Dulcimer Club welcomes everyone to come and try their hand. They meet each Monday at 10:00 a.m. at the Highlands United Methodist Church at 315 Main Street. Beginner lessons are available-either in a group or individually. There are even “loaner” instruments that can be obtained. If you have ever had a hankering to play a dulcimer, you need to give this group a try. Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or Les at email@example.com.