The string's the thing at dulcimer fest

September 23, 2002|BY PEPPER BALLARD

Music teacher Timothy Seaman said he got his first speeding ticket while trying to compose a dulcimer-tuned theme song for the National Park Service.

The 50 year-old Williamsburg, Va., man said he was in such frenzied concentration he didn't realize he was driving his car that fast.

Seaman taught a workshop Saturday at the Shepherdstown Men's Club on composing music for the dulcimer - a flat, wooden, stringed instrument - as part of the weekend Upper Potomac Dulcimer Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va.


He's been teaching the instrument for 19 years, the same amount of time he's been teaching secondary education English in Virginia. He said it's that type of dual lifestyle that draws other people to the dulcimer's sweet sounding music.

"Many urban professionals are looking for something rustic," he said.

Seaman said the dulcimer, used in a variety of music stylings from folk to world, has a combination of percussion - the strings are struck with a small hammer - and resonance - it uses a combination of ringing wood and strings to create its sound.

"You're being a percussionist, but you're making these sweet rustic sounds," he said.

Seaman, now a full-time musician, was inspired to learn to play the dulcimer by listening to players Ken Kolodner and John McCutcheon.

He tried to pass on what he learned from those musicians to the 14 intent dulcimer owners at his workshop Saturday morning.

He even had some repeat students.

Marcy Prochaska, 28, of Ithaca, N.Y., was Seaman's private student while she attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg.

Her cherry dulcimer, with 93 strings, has a range of 4 1/2 octaves. She said that is higher than the average dulcimer, which has about three.

She's been playing for two years and said her music is a mix of "folk, classical and original."

She said she came to the workshop because "I've been writing and I wanted to see if I could get some ideas."

Seaman told students ways to come up with songs by using their names against a chart/musical scale he devised or by borrowing notes from a song they enjoy.

Dulcimer lovers were not just in Seaman's classroom.

Across the street, Christie Burns, 22, sat on the stone wall that marks the start of Shepherd College's campus off German Street. Burns, a Cinnaminson, N.J., native, was wearing a black tank top with the words "Cork Dulcimer Festival" written across the top.

She's been coming to Shepherdstown's dulcimer festival for the past eight years after she heard about it at a similar festival in Philadelphia, Pa.

Burns, a recent University of California Los Angeles graduate, said she spent the past year studying dulcimer in Ireland for her major - ethnomusicology.

Burns specializes in Irish dulcimer music, but she said she likes the sound of the instrument because it can be found in compositions from countries such as India and China and in songs from home.

"At first it was about the music, but now it's about the community," she said. "It's a portal to the world."

The tank top she was wearing was from a festival in Cork City, Ireland, she organized while studying there. She said that after she created a Web site for the event people from Scotland, England and Wales came to it.

Burns and her passion for the dulcimer seem to play out just about anywhere.

"And yet I always manage to get to Shepherdstown every September," she said.

The festival also showcased open dulcimer jams, concerts and tune swaps on the Shepherd campus. It continues today with a picnic and jam session and a short gospel concert at the Shepherdstown Farmer's Market on King Street.

The Herald-Mail Articles