About 50 years ago, CarolLynn Langley saw a woman on television playing the mountain dulcimer. Langley was captivated by the instrument’s sound and vowed to own one herself someday.
That day didn’t come for many years, as Langley was busy raising a family, working on her farm and volunteering with 4-H. But finally, in the mid-1990s, Langley went to a dulcimer festival in Binghamton and bought her very own dulcimer.
Today, Langley, of Averill Park, is the president of the Dulcimer Association of Albany. On Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8, the group will host its 20th annual festival at Calvary United Methodist Church in Latham, where Langley looks forward to sharing the magic of the mountain dulcimer with others.
I just can’t say enough about the instrument, she said. `It can sound like it’s bubbling over with laughter, or it can move you to tears.`
The mountain dulcimer is a traditional American folk instrument. Langley credits Jean Ritchie, the Kentucky woman she saw playing on television all those years ago, with `taking the dulcimer out of the hills and introducing it to the rest of the country.`
Similar in size and shape to a violin, dulcimers typically have three or four strings. People lay the instrument across their laps and finger pick the strings with their right hands.
`It can be played very easily in its most basic form,` Langley said.
`It’s deceptively simple,` agreed Lori Keddell, another member of the Dulcimer Association of Albany.
Those who have never played a dulcimer can find out for themselves how easy it is at one of festival’s workshops for beginners. Participants will learn how to hold and strum the dulcimer, as well as play a tune by ear.
Langley noted that people don’t have to worry about bringing their own instrument. Dulcimers will be available to rent for the duration of the festival.
More advanced dulcimer players can take advantage of other weekend workshops. There will be lessons on waltzes, Appalachian fiddle tunes, hymn, medieval and early music.
`There’s so much more you can do with it,` Keddell said. `You can play all different styles of music.`
A jam session on Friday night and an open stage concert on Saturday will give festivalgoers a chance to showcase those different styles. On Friday night, the workshop leaders will put on a concert, and on Saturday night, the festival’s three featured performers will take the stage for a closing concert.
One of those performers, Susan Carpenter, helped to start the Dulcimer Association of Albany back in 1985. She lives in Texas now and is making a special trip back to the area for the festival’s 20th anniversary. She’ll be joined by Susan Trump, a nationally known dulcimer player who was also instrumental in launching the association, and Steve Eulberg, an acclaimed musician from Colorado.
Keddell and Langley said the concerts would make good entertainment for families.
`The concerts are wonderful,` Langley said. `It’s rare that people have heard of this kind of instrument. It’s just a lot of fun.`
`We get really good responses from everybody,` Keddell added. `They really seem to have a good time.`
If families get hooked on the sound of dulcimers like Keddell and Langley both did, they can check out the vendors at the show who will be selling the instruments. Festivals are generally a good place to buy dulcimers since they’re not widely available in music stores, Langley said.
`You can get them online on eBay, but the problem is, you can’t hear them,` she said.
When Keddell made her first purchase, she drove to a store in Connecticut, where she spent two hours trying out dulcimers. Since then, she’s purchased about 10 more.
`It’s addictive,` she said.
Registration for the festival, which includes all events, is $45 at the door. The two concerts are $12 for visitors with $5 admission for those 12 and younger at Saturday’s featured performers concert.
For information, visit www.bhsinging.info/daa/festival.html.“