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Final day of Dulcimer Fest has Far East feel

September 12, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The annual Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest in Shepherdstown usually means a sampling of music that evokes Appalachian life.

On Sunday, listeners were taken East.

Far East, in fact.

About 25 people gathered under a shade tree Sunday afternoon to hear two musicians create a unique form of music that is centered around a Chinese dulcimer, a form of the instrument that came out of China's Ming dynasty.

The sounds that came from Xiao Xiannian's Chinese dulcimer created an Asian feel as he tapped on the instrument on the grounds of McMurran Hall.

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Unlike most American dulcimer players, Xiannian periodically bent the strings of his instrument to create a different sound while his colleague, Julie Tay, added drums on some of the numbers to give the music an added unique flavor.

Tay, who teaches her unique brand of music in New York City, began experimenting with Xiannian about three years ago by adding drums to his playing.

"It's just the way we want to make a different edge to it," Tay said.

The crowd was receptive, and they snapped up CD recordings of the music afterward.

"It's fantastic. It's a different art form," said John Barrow, who drove to Shepherdstown from Sykesville, Md., to hear the duo perform.

Barrow said he thinks there are plenty of ways to expand the music, such as incorporating it with symphony orchestra performances.

Elliott Schmuckler had not heard the group before Sunday, but he picked up a CD after the performance and was planning to listen to it during his drive back to Havertown, Pa.

"It's beautiful," he said.

Xiannian is a multiple prize-winning master of the Chinese dulcimer. Xiannian came to the New York area in 2000 and was awarded U.S. immigration status as an "Alien of Extraordinary Talent," according to promotional material distributed at Sunday's performance.

His appearance came on the final day of the Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest, which featured a weekend of activities such as workshops, jam sessions and professional performances.

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