Thursday, June 24, 2010

Will Play for Food

Don't you love a lively spirit? We encountered these two wonderful women, Mary and Jane, at the Cumberland Gap Dulcimer Festival. They shared their stories of picking up dulcimers to ease the grief of widowhood and the ongoing adventures that have come with the music. Here they are wearing shirts that say "Will play dulcimer for food or for any other reason at all actually." Their extravagant encouragement and lively spirits were infectious. They even had Alan joining in the music and me believing that learning to pick and chord a dulcimer are do-able endeavors.

My dulcimer

I had visited the shop of Warren May in Berea. Known as a skilled woodworker and master dulcimer maker, I had hoped that if I ever were to buy a dulcimer it could be one made by Warren May. The prices caused me to pause, especially since I didn’t know how to play one at all. But the sound was so lovely, especially when chorded and picked, that I hoped to one day learn. One evening our local dulcimer player, Craig Dial, played and sang at Red Bird. He let me know that the Craft Store on the campus had a Warren May dulcimer that had not sold at any craft shows and was being put back on the shelf. It was a traditional dulcimer beautifully made with cherry wood and simple design. Warren May’s name graces it and I now own it. The learning is yet to come, but just holding the beautiful instrument makes me happy.

My psaltery

Rick Long demonstrates proper psaltery bowing technique.

The bowed psaltery.

Psalteries are not ancient instruments and are fairly new to Appalachia. They are not the psalters of Biblical times, but the invention (I am told) of a German musician who wanted to craft an instrument fairly easy to learn and available to many. The triangular shape and the bowed strings create a sharp, ringing sound similar to a violin. The larger the instrument, the lower the pitch. They stand out distinctively as solo instruments. I have been intrigued with them for some time and was happy to purchase one this year. It was crafted by Rick Long of Ringing Strings in Tennessee and is beautiful of sight and sound.

The Dulcimer Festival

Even Alan got in on the fun playing a washtub fiddle.
An informal afternoon jam.

Early May brings the Dulcimer Festival to Cumberland Gap National Park. Its organizers, Terry & Pat Lewis, attend our church and so we received a personal invitation to attend. But we wanted to anyway. Held at the campgrounds, musicians from around the U.S. arrive in RVs & tents for a week of music and visiting. We attended Friday and Saturday for the lessons and concerts. What fun!
The beauty of the Park, the blue skies and mellow evenings surrounded by music were wonderful. We met a lot of very interesting people—it was a mixture of old hippies, folksters, artisans, retirees, families, serious performers and luthiers, and more. Most were skilled on dulcimers, but there was an assortment of other instruments evident like the “hurdy gurdy” (sounded like a bowed bagpipe-weird), Indian flute, varied drums, banjoes and banjammers (banjo/dulcimer combinations), fiddles, guitars, mandolins, ukuleles and more. Large and small groups jammed all day and into the evening. Even Alan got into the action with a washtub fiddle. One extravagantly encouraging older woman continually assured him he was “doing just fine.” And he was.
I went intent on discovering more about bowed psalteries. I had seen one several years ago and was determined to learn to play one. The class illustrated just how difficult bowing and technique can be in what I thought would be fairly easy. But I was not deterred and bought myself one for Mother’s Day. A few days later, with the sound of dulcimers in my head, I bought myself a dulcimer too.

Appalachian Spring

The dogwood bloomed in pinks & whites throughout the mountains.
Ornamental crabapples brightened many yards with early blooms.
Tulip, or magnolia as they are sometimes called, were generous in their early bloom.
The emerging greens of spring painted a chartreuse landscape across the hills.

Appalachian Spring: 2010

Spring comes in waves of emerging greenery and blooming trees and bushes in the mountains. It overlaps with winter in a series of “Little Winters” known as redbud, dogwood, sarvice, or blackberry—depending on what’s in bloom at the time of occasional dipping temperatures. Everyone welcomes the brighter skies and lengthening days. The gray skies, the shadows of encircling mountains, the inhospitable roads, and series of heavy snows made the winter of 09-10 a hard one—even by local standards.

Festivals herald spring’s arrival in Kentucky, just as they do in other places. An early one for this area is the Redbud & Quilt Festival in Barbourville. A quaint old town and home to Union College (a United Methodist institution), it is a fitting backdrop for a gathering of quilters & crafters. Red brick buildings of the college house the festival’s indoor activities while Red Bud and Dogwood bloom around the historic campus grounds. Spring has to get very warm, very quickly to get the redbud and dogwood to bloom at the same time; it did in 2010.

It’s hard to know what’s prettier: redbud, dogwood, crab apple, cherry, magnolia, mountain laurel. They’re all beautiful. For me, the redbud that lined the roads and bloomed mightily on rocky mountain spots were special. Maybe because they bloom so early & last quite a while. White dogwood were a close favorite as they dotted the mountain sides amongst the greenery of spring leaves.

Of course, there are many more festivals—civil war enactments, the Poke Sallet sounded interesting, the Mountain Laurel at Pineville may have been fun for kids with its inflatables. Lots of arts, crafts, food, and history are to be had on successive weekends through the area. Oh yes, another sure sign that spring has come are the early cars shows that will continue in most areas from months to come.

Emerging greenery on the mountain sides is like a bargello canvas being sewn. Waves of green—dark and light—undulate across the uneven surfaces. The first hint of green is barely perceptible and then one after another of the varied trees begins to dress for summer. Homes that were visible in the leafless winter begin to disappear. The stark metal buildings and conveyors of the coal mines soften in appearance from passing roads. Over a period of weeks the greens change to their mature fullness of summer and the forest settles in for the heat to come.
People emerge in spring too. Tillers get cranked up and gardens emerge in many of the flat bottoms of local hollers. Four wheelers begin to share the roads. One hears about the first ‘Cemetary Reunion,” knowing that their season is just beginning. School children begin their field trips and special end-of-year programs. Baseball starts, graduates party, pools open.

I love spring. New life and energy, accompanied by the flowering that promises new growth is a sure sign that life renews itself in a cycle of beauty and hope.