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Festival memories make her melancholy

I get a little melancholy around this time of year when E-mail brings me photos and videos of the Southern Appalachian Dulcimer Festival. For close to 20 years, the last week of April and the first week of May usually found my husband and me camping at Tannehill Historic State Park. The festival was officially held the first Saturday in May. I guess you might say there were “mini-festivals” all over the campground during those two weeks as people gathered at campsites and strummed their dulcimers any time during the day and at night.

I loved to hear the dulcimer music float in the breeze as we sat around a campfire. I enjoyed the friendly conversation of those who shared the love of the instrument and the tunes they played. Whenever we sat in a big circle or at a small campsite gathering, each player took a turn selecting and leading a song. Everyone had their favorites, whether they were folk songs or hymns.

Of all the songs the dulcimer enthusiasts selected to strum, my favorite was “Holy Manna,” a song of worship and adoration. It called for prayer while the gospel was preached. It promised that if the brethren and sisters pray, “Holy Manna” would be showered all around. To me, those words painted a portrait of revivals and camp meetings. I pictured godly men and women praying in the pews of small country churches or kneeling in brush arbors as the preacher appealed to them to commit their lives to Christ.

The song truly stirs the soul. Once under a canopy of trees in the campground, I heard a young woman sing a verse of “Holy Manna,” accompanied by dulcimers. Her clear, sweet voice penetrated the stillness of the evening. I was deeply moved.

Later I was surprised to find four verses of that song in a daily devotional book under the title, “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship.” It seemed to me that somehow, sometime, someone dropped the long title and shortened it to “Holy Manna.” I don’t know if that could be attributed to dulcimer players or not.

The hymn was in “Amazing Grace,” a book by Kenneth W. Osbeck. It relates brief stories of 366 inspiring hymns. I came across “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship,” for September 6. According to Osbeck, it appeared around 1825 and had always been a favorite in the South. He wrote that nothing was known of George Atkins, the writer of the text. My husband and I started using the book as one of our daily devotional studies at the beginning of a new year. Each time we turned a new day’s page, he searched for the selected hymn of the day in our United Methodist Hymnal.

In the cool of the evenings during these May days, my thoughts wander back to sharing God’s blessings beside glowing embers of a campfire at Tannehill with my husband and our many dulcimer friends. How I miss those wonderful times.