My roommate from Westminster Choir College took up playing the hammered dulcimer in 2011! Amelia (not her real name) immediately enrolled in once-a-month lessons given by her local dulcimer club. Mysteriously, the more she played, the more she encountered aches and pains creeping in. Why?
Recently, I got to visit Amelia, so I was more than willing to watch her play and see what was going on. It’s always a concern when a dulcimer player mentions playing in pain to me, and I often see the same handful of issues at the root of the trouble, so I was sure I could help her.
After a homey, comfort-food dinner blessed with catching-up-on-life chatter, we set up our dulcimers and played together. Some essential, between-strikes movements in her playing were missing, so I coached her on plugging them in. Amelia cooed with delight over this discovery while both she and her hammers flew! (I was certain she would shoot through the roof of her home if she got any happier.) She found the dance in the music and herself(!), a new ease of playing, and that magical, three-dimensional resonance every dulcimer player craves, all in about 20 minutes. Wow….
Since that visit, we talked on the phone. Amelia expressed interest in taking webcam lessons with me. That’s fine, except for one small problem, and I mean small: the only electronic screen she owns is on her smartphone! I suggested instead that she fly to Denver for a face-to-face workout with me over a long weekend. (I wish she had time for a week’s worth of B&B lessons, but her work schedule does not allow.) I have a dulcimer and stand here for her use and besides, I’d like to spoil her with all the home cooking I can muster in a couple of days.
During our phone conversation, Amelia also shared a story related to the hammering-related pain she’s been experiencing: at one dulcimer festival she attended, she at last approached one of the workshop leaders about her discomfort, and what might be the cause? The instructor replied: “Oh yeah, it’ll hurt. Just get used to it.”
After I picked up my jaw off the floor,…
…I said, “Are you kidding?” Not that I had to. Amelia and I have known each other too long; she wouldn’t pull my leg about something like this. Our professional training in college wired us both to take a deeper look at how to make music from all angles, including what our vocal pedagogy instructor called “frustrating the dysfunction.” No one needs to play the dulcimer, or any other instrument, in pain.
We then recounted our two, all-too-brief hammering sessions at her house, and how Amelia began to exchange playing in pain for playing that at last felt like the fun she wanted it to be! She’d gotten enough of a taste of fun to want it all the time. Me, too! That’s a personal dream I carry for everyone who plays music. I’m really glad Amelia knows that she doesn’t have to suffer in order to play an instrument she loves. And I’ll do all I can to help her (and anyone else) play pain-free.
I can’t wait for Amelia to get here. It’s going to be an amazing time of music-making. (I just may bake her a Red Velvet Cake from scratch, too…oops, she’s going to hold me to that.)