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by Haven James

Preview:11th Annual Mountain Dulcimer Music Fest
Date:Friday & Saturday, Feb 26-27, 1999
Location:McKnownville United Methodist Church in Albany

"It's a diatonically fretted instrument, so you don't have all of the half steps you might like to have to play the blues, but there are ways of getting around that," says Meredith Rhindress of the friendly and familiar dulcimer. The venerable instrument is the focal point of the 11th Annual Mountain Dulcimer Music Fest, which is scheduled for this Friday and Saturday, February 26 and 27 [1999], at the McKnownville United Methodist Church in Albany. The event begins Friday evening at 8 with an open stage and jam and continues through Saturday with a full day and night of workshops and concerts.

Headlining the event on Saturday night are two legends of the mountain dulcimer: Aubrey Atwater of Rhode Island, who represents the legacy of the Northern tradition, and, hailing from the rolling hills of North Carolina, Wayne Seymour, who'll bring a taste of the Southern style to this New York audience.

The history of the dulcimer in America is to some degree a matter of conjecture. "The consensus is that it was brought over here by the Pennsylvania Dutch as a little bit different instrument, one of their traditional instruments," Rhindress explains. "As they migrated down the Shenandoah Valley it got modified ... and made so that any old backyard carpenter could build one, so there's a lot of variety in the old ones. It became more durable and easy to play and it became something that you could play for your own family's amusement."

Mountain dulcimers appear in a variety of configurations, sporting anywhere from three strings to six or more strung in pairs. The instrument is generally set up in an open tuning, so that strumming it unfretted produces a wholesome major chord; D and G tunings seem to prevail, though all sorts of variations do appear. "The style of the instrument has progressed so that it can be less folkie than it used to be," says Rhindress. Many approaches to plectrums, or striking tools, have been used, ranging from the traditional goose quill to flat picks to fingerpicks to naked fingers. People bow dulcimers, or even use chopsticks; there "aren't any rules," says Meredith, though traditionalists might frown on some of the variations.

Also featured at the festival will be the companion instrument, the hammered dulcimer. This is an entirely different beast, resembling something more like an abbreviated soundboard from a piano that is struck with hand-held felt hammers instead of hammers linked to ivory keys. This, too, has had a varietal history, dating back to instruments that originated in ancient China and the Balkans.

A.J. Bashore, Heidi Cerrigone, George Haggerty, Lori Keddell, Carol Lynn Langley, Bonnie Leigh, Donna Missigman and Susan Trump are all devotees of these instruments and will lead the Saturday workshops. They'll also perform an afternoon concert Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Though both the mountain and hammered dulcimer can be played as stand-alone instruments, they are often teamed with other folk instruments like the mandolin, guitar, old-time banjo, tin whistle, autoharp, harmonica and such. Players of all of these are invited to attend and participate in the activities.

Devotees can join the Dulcimer Association of Albany and attend regular meetings the second Tuesday of each month if they like. These are also held at the McKnownville United Methodist Church, between 7 and 9 p.m.

Directions from Woodstock are easy: Take the Thruway to Exit 24, turn south on the Northway, and at end of the Northway turn right-- the church driveway is the first traffic light you come to after you turn onto Route 20, which is Western Avenue (the actual address of the church is 1565 Western Avenue).

Prices for the event range from $1 for the jam to $30 for the entire weekend and there are discounts for children. Call (518) 762-7516 or (518) 762-7516 for further info and advance bookings. The event's e-mail address will be linked from Werewolves on the Web at the Hudson Valley Music website via the column banner. There will be instruments available to rent if you don't own one; dulcimers are easy to play, and they're a small investment to have music in your home. The Albany Dulcimer Fest ought to be a good place to get started.

Dulcimer Association of Albany

      Dulcimer Association of Albany
      Lori Keddell
      119 Co. Hwy 107
      Johnstown, NY 12095
      2nd Tuesdays in Albany

Haven James has been a consistent contributor to the Music & Arts scene around the Hudson Valley and beyond for almost a decade through his column, Werewolves of Woodstock, published weekly in the Woodstock Times

A writer, musician, philanthropist, and Mac addict; he lives reclusively, high atop Overlook Mountain with his son and a menagerie of animals, both wild and domesticated. Though currently unmarried, rumors abound as to his intimate relationships with Madonna, Sandra Bernhardt, and Eli Bach; though he insists these notions to be pure hearsay. His identity has remained a mystery to all but the closest of friends as he often travels in disguise and appears unannounced and undercover at concerts and venues in a dedicated effort to get the real story.

Go to the Werewolves of Woodstock page for more articles by Haven James.
Haven James can be contacted at

Posted on February 25th, 1999

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