Dulcimers stretch for new sounds, depth of soul

September 20, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Steve Schneider says he came to play the hammered dulcimer totally by accident. A longtime player of the piano, Schneider had learned to play the mountain dulcimer, sometimes called a zither, a very different and smaller instrument.

He saw a notice of a dulcimer concert and was surprised when he saw the larger and completely different version.

He was even more surprised when he heard it. "I was just enchanted by the sound. I became really entranced," he says.

Schneider will play his hammered dulcimer Saturday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. at the Frank Center Theater on the Shepherd College Campus.


He will share the stage with Paul Oorts, a Belgium-born musician he met several years ago.

Schneider was playing piano in a New York restaurant, French tunes Oorts had grown up hearing and hating as a child.

"Who is that?" Oorts asked.

He learned, and the pair has since played and recorded together.

Schneider says the dulcimer still enchants him - in a different way. "I love to bring the music that I love onto the dulcimer," Schneider says.

His Saturday evening performance with Oorts and Charles Town, W.Va., bass player Ralph Gordon, will feature such music, including Beatles and Latin American tunes as well as original compositions such as "Treefrog," which Schneider wrote for his wife.

That suits Joanie Blanton just fine. Blanton, organizer of the weekend's Upper Potomac Dulcimer Festival - the 15th annual - says her mission is to get people pushing the instrument to new levels.

Schneider continues to take the dulcimer into new territory. He's played for movies, TV and radio commercials and had a two-year gig with the Broadway musical "The Secret Garden."

A certified music therapist, Schneider plays in hospital surgery recovery rooms, oncology wards and neonatal intensive-care units. He calls that work thrilling and says the unique tone of the dulcimer takes the patients to a different place. The "sustain" of notes played on a dulcimer reaches deeper into the soul, he says.

Schneider and Oorts also will teach three workshops during the weekend festival. "I love teaching," Schneider says.

"He really knocks himself out for his students," Blanton says of Schneider.

The Saturday evening showcase concert also will feature Harmonia, a six-piece band, presenting the traditional folk music of Eastern Europe - Hungarian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Romanian, Croatian and Gypsy.

"We kept in touch with our roots and our music," says Walt Mahovlich, Harmonia's founder and accordion player. The ensemble includes Alexander Fedoriouk on cimbalom - a 120-string dulcimer-like instrument that has really become virtuosic, Mahovlich says. Marko Dreher plays violin, Andrei Pidkivka plays flutes, Adam Good is on bass and Beata Begeniova sings with the group.

"We really prefer to play traditional music," Mahovlich says. Yet Harmonia's arrangements are the ensemble's own, he adds. Harmonia's music covers a wide range of moods and emotions - from fast and fiery to meditative.

"In a sense, we're a quintessentially American band," Mahovlich says.

The weekend festival will provide opportunities for players to hone their skills, and it will provide ample opportunity for newcomers to discover the instrument, to hear music old and new.

If you go . . .

Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest

Friday, Sept. 20, to Sunday, Sept. 22

Friday, Sept. 20

Shepherdstown Men's Club

102 E. German St.

Shepherdstown, W.Va.

n 5 to 7:30 p.m. Registration

n 8:30 p.m. Student open mic followed by concert with Patty Looman. Jam session follows.

Saturday, Sept. 21

n 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. - workshops

n 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. - open Jams and tune swaps

Registration required. Cost for weekend is $120, including both concerts. Cost for Saturday only is $100, including showcase concert.

n 8 p.m. - Showcase concert will feature Steve Schneider and Paul Oorts, with Ralph Gordon and Harmonia

Frank Creative Arts Center

Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Concert tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for Shepherdstown Music and Dance members and seniors, $6 for children and students. For information call


From Hagerstown take Md. 65 south to Sharpsburg. Turn right on Md. 34 west through Sharpsburg across the Potomac River into Shepherdstown. Turn right onto the campus just past the Bavarian Inn. Frank Center is large building on right at the top of the hill.

Sunday, Sept 22

-- Short concert of gospel music and hymns during Shepherdstown Farmers Market on King Street.

-- 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. - workshop

-- 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. - Picnic and jam session

The lawn at McMurran Hall - the building with the clock tower - King Street, in the Center of Shepherdstown

For information, call 1-304-263-2531.

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