Last weekend I had the chance to introduce a couple of new friends to my Memphis-made mountain dulcimers, and I am thankful for that.
People often ask me how long I have been playing a mountain dulcimer, and that is not really an easily answered question. I can't really put a date to the day I decided I would always play music with a mountain dulcimer....but I remember a time when I began to hope and pray that I would not quit playing music with my mountain dulcimer. I knew I had given up other interests....like acting, singing, sewing, embroidery, painting, latch-hook rug-making, etc. I connected with making music with my mountain dulcimer in such an intimate/spiritual way that I knew it was something I could always enjoy and would always need.
I was first introduced to the mountain dulcimer in Gatlinburg, TN, in 1984, I think. I was on vacation and wandered into a dulcimer shop with my mother. The salesman was easy to talk to and demonstrated how the song "Amazing Grace" could be played within 10 minutes by a numbered-fret system and by listening to the sound of the dulcimer as I played it. (I decided it was like painting by number....but I liked this type of playing music more than I liked painting by number.) My situation was like that of many people who learn about the mountain dulcimer whilst on vacation.....I didn't have the extra cash to spend.....so I left the dulcimer shop without an intstrument, but I had a new interest in the beautiful sounding instrument I had just played.
A few years later I received a dulcimer as a birthday gift. It was a simple McSpadden mountain dulcimer, and I thought it was lovely. It didn't take me long to love its sound.
I went to the Memphis Dulcimer Festival in 1990 and took my first/beginner dulcimer class with Larkin Bryant. I fell deeper in love with the sounds of my dulcimer with Larkin's finger-picking style of playing. I think it was playing the song "Love Me Tender" that caused the mountain dulcimer to steal my heart!
So, I could say that I have been playing the mountain dulcimer for 20 years.....as that's how long I have owned one.....but that's not the truth of the matter. After a couple of years of sneaking in playing time for myself, I put the mountain dulcimer away to play with my daughter.....and I am thankful that I did that! No regrets in that regard!! There was a point in my playing when my girl was annoyed when I picked up the mountain dulcimer. Either she wanted to play it, or she wanted me to not play it....I wasn't sure which, but I decided to put the mountain dulcimer in its case. I left it there in its case for a few years.
I took my mountain dulcimer out of its case to use as a mantelpiece decoration a few years later....with hope that I might find a time to take it down and play it from time-to-time. The dulcimer stayed on the mantel for quite a while.
One day when I intended to move my dulcimer from the mantel to another decorative spot, I dropped and damaged my instrument! This upset me very much, of course....for several reasons: I had not been playing it. I wanted to play it. It was now cracked!
This accident was instrumental in my picking it up again, though! I contacted the McSpaddens at The Dulcimer Shop in Mt. View, Arkansas, and arranged for someone to look at my mountain dulcimer and, hopefully, repair it. After a few weeks, my dulcimer was beautiful again...with only a small scar. I decided that if I put money into the repairs, I should not let the instrument go unplayed any longer. I can't remember what year that was, but I have been playing the dulcimer since that time.
When I did some volunteer teaching at my daughter's primary school, I felt confident enough to give a demonstration of the mountain dulcimer. However, I decided after that demonstration (to her third grade class) that I wanted to be a better player and give better demonstrations of the dulcimer.....so I began making more time for music and my mountain dulcimer.....and, I have been doing so, since then.
In 2000 I attended a week-long mountain dulcimer workshop called the Swannanoa Gathering near Ashville, North Carolina. I met Larry Conger as my teacher that year.