Music evokes sweet memories

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 12, 2012

When I approached Tannehill Historic State Park earlier this month, my heart pounded in anticipation. I had been looking forward to this trip for more than a year. I longed to be among the friends with whom my late husband and I had gathered for the Southern Appalachian Dulcimer Festival every spring for more than 20 years.

Although we both came home with one of the fascinating lap dulcimers after attending the first festival, I seldom practiced. Not so with my husband. He played his dulcimer every day. He almost drove me out of the house learning his first song, playing it over and over and over. When we returned the following year, he had learned a lot of songs. At that time, a group held jam sessions on the porch of one of the rustic cabins in the park. “The only way you’ll learn to play is to sit on the front porch and play with the big dogs,” he’d say. And he did just that. We always laughed about his first on- stage festival performance. He was so nervous when he introduced himself, he forgot for a minute where he was from.

It wasn’t just the appeal of the sweet music that drew us back year after year. It was also the camaraderie of those who found so much pleasure in the music. They have fun learning, teaching, playing, and sometimes singing along with the music. Even if you don’t play, you are welcome to pull up a chair and enjoy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a dulcimer player who isn’t eager to teach someone who showed an interest how to play. The festival is for fun—no competition. Even if you make mistakes, you just keep on strumming. Nobody criticizes you.

Nothing much had changed at this year’s gathering. I saw new faces and missed familiar ones who couldn’t come or had passed away. Twice a day, a group with lap dulcimers and various other instruments such as hammered dulcimers, violins, autoharps, penny whistles, psalteries, and guitars, gathered at a campsite to jam. I sat in on some afternoon sessions and most night-time sessions. A friend told me every time she heard “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad,” my husband’s face came to mind. It was a song he often chose to play when it was his time to lead the next song during a jam.

My granddaughter and I attended the worship service at the old schoolhouse on the park grounds Sunday morning. For years, my husband had preached the gospel at that service. Despite the ache in my heart for him, I was touched by the one who brought the message and the hymns we sang to the accompaniment of the dulcimers and other instruments.

I returned home praising God for the time I enjoyed once again with dear friends I would never have met if it hadn’t been for that simple musical instrument called a dulcimer.