Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Dulcimer & Me

As I shared in “The Dulcimer and a Wild Hair,” my Mother's Day gift to mom was to learn to play the dulcimer. And that I did!

I left early yesterday morning for Land Between the Lakes; unfortunately, the sky was overcast and threatened of rain. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my drive, always one of the best parts for me in the travel, especially when I'm traveling alone. The time covering the distance I spend with my thoughts and reflections about my life, and life in general. Meditative in nature, my inner wisdom and guidance comes through as I'm focused only on the task of driving without other distractions. This time I also enjoy spending being a “rock star;” its the safest place for me sing at the top of my lungs along with music favorites like the soundtrack for “Rent” or “Evita”, Melissa Etheridge, John Cougar Mellencamp, Pat Benatar, and other songs from my day.

After overcoming mild confusion thanks to my being directionally-challenged, I finally arrive at The Homeplace an hour and a half before class. GPS offered a different “scenic” route with which I made better time than I expected. As I waited, I perused the many cases of exhibits and explanations of living life on a farm in the 1850's. A mild melancholy came over me at how simple life was then, though I realize those of that century had their own unique challenges just as we do in this century. I learned how various plants, what many today consider to be weeds, were used to make dye for wool, how to preserve food without the benefit of a refrigerator or freezer, and how to work the land for a healthy garden and crop. I decided I need to return when I have time and attention to pay to this museum's preservation of our Kentucky living history.

Three other people arrive to learn the dulcimer with me: an older man and woman, and a young gal between ten and twelve. The four of us settled in for our class as we became acquainted with our husband and wife teachers, Kelly and Susan Amsden, who traveled three hours from Tennessee to teach us the art of the dulcimer. We learned the history of the dulcimer which literally is an indigenous American instrument created in Appalachia. We learned the anatomy of the dulcimer, how to tune it, the different scales in which you can tune the dulcimer, the different types of dulcimers there are, and ways of playing it, etc. For being an instrument that's “simple to learn,” it seems complicated in its many possibilities.

Once we had the basics of understanding where the notes were on our dulcimer fretboard and which finger positions we used to achieve them, we began to practice a simple scale, then moved to a simple song! I filled with excitement after we finished, even playing at a turtle's pace! I crossed that line of my ignorance of the instrument to playing and appreciating it. We played another simple song that introduced skips – where you move from one note in the scale to another two or more notes up or down the scale. Technique comes into play here and my technique was awkward. I realize as we move further into this class I will need more beginning classes and lots of practice.

I learn there's a dulcimer group here in Owensboro, so I will begin researching into how I may participate with them for further practice and learning. I need to find a dulcimer maker to fix a small issue with the “nut” bridge in which the strings are cut too low and close to the fretboard, thus making it sound twangy. (In fact, they suggested I play one of their dulcimers but I really wanted to work with Mom's. Kelly rigged it so two of the four strings would sound better at least for the day.) The Homeplace is hosting “The Picking Party” Memorial Day weekend and I plan to return and listen to the sounds of all the beautiful strings of fiddles, banjos, and dulcimers, as well as reconnect with my wonderful dulcimer teachers.

During my drive home, I was rather pleased with myself and this adventure. I felt excitement, then discouragement, then encouraged again about my ability to play the dulcimer. I didn't learn to play the piano overnight, and realized the “perfectionist” in me harassing me for not being a perfect player after one class. I played it again last night and realize practice will be the key to my feeling more comfortable with the instrument, to fine-tune (pun intended!) my technique, and learn even more than I what I did in this one day workshop.

I thought about my mom several times and felt her sitting beside me grinning ear to ear. During her final months, she told me how much she loved I stepped out and tried things, went after what I wanted, and how fearless I was about stepping out of the comfort zone of “normal.” I felt mom's pride once again as I took a huge step to try something new this weekend; and I'm feeling pretty proud of myself for doing it and breaking out of a rut. I owe gratitude for that to my mom and her dulcimer. And I can hear her saying to me:

"Welcome back, Sweet Caroline, welcome back!"

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