I have the great fortune of playing the fretted* (mountain) dulcimer for more than 40 years now and I was thinking recently about the first student that I taught on the Appalachian dulcimer. Her mother had called me and asked if there was a simple instrument that I could teach her daughter (Pammy) that would be easy enough to learn and allow her something of her own that could help build her confidence. I suggested the Appalachian dulcimer. The family could not afford a dulcimer but they could afford a dulcimer kit. Pammy’s mom asked me if I would build an Appalachian dulcimer and give her daughter lessons. I had never built any instruments but was happy to take up the challenge.
I found a kit through a music store (no internet at the time), built the instrument and taught Pammy how to play. I am happy to admit that this kit was not anything special to look at but for this child it truly was a “sweet sound” in her life.
Because she had been picked-on and treated poorly at school (today we call it bullying) her mother asked if learning this instrument would help her daughter’s self-confidence. Mom related that Pammy cried before school every day and could not eat or sleep easily during the week. ( I am in no way placing blame on anyone for what had occurred.) I told her that I would be happy to work with her daughter.
“Mary had a little lamb” was the first song we did together. I taught Pammy exercises first that would prepare her for this song. She got it in a big way. Other songs and exercises followed. She did a home concert of seven songs for her family (Pammy decided who to invite and I was fortunate enough to get a handmade invitation.) It was wonderful and when we clapped and cheered after each song, her smile was electric. We had even worked out two encore songs not listed on her program.
She continued lessons with me and one lesson day told me that there was a talent show at school and did I think it would be OK for her to play her dulcimer. I readily said yes as her confidence at school grew stronger even as the bullying continued.
Pammy’s performance went very well and since no-one else knew what the dulcimer was, she gained a completely new status and the bullying changed to questions about her instrument and being praised throughout the school.
Shortly after her performance, her family had to move to the west coast. I still imagine Pammy playing to this day. I do not know if she is, but she certainly played at the right time for her. (I am in no way taking credit for her accomplishments, as I am eternally grateful for the extraordinary lessons that Pammy and her mother taught me.)
Humbly and with blessings,
J Michael Pope
* I know that at that time I always spoke of this instrument as the Appalachian dulcimer. All of the mentioned names are useful in distinguishing this instrument from the hammered dulcimer.
Click the link below for pieces of music for the Dulcimer. Enjoy!