Dulcimer gathering comes to Cragin Library

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Tue., Feb. 28, 2012
Jane Mazzotta (left) and Jane Carnaghan of the Connecticut Mountain Dulcimer Gathering.
Jane Mazzotta (left) and Jane Carnaghan of the Connecticut Mountain Dulcimer Gathering.

Lynn Rugh grew up singing and playing instruments. But, she said, “I never really was a musician until I picked up a dulcimer.”  That was four years ago, and since then, Rugh has been very busy. She performed with her folk music group, “The Woodpickers,” playing monthly with the Dulcimer Folk Association of Connecticut (www.dulcimerfolkct.org/) – a well-known group out of Farmington that was founded more than 20 years ago - until early last year, when she formed the Connecticut Mountain Dulcimer Gathering (www.ctmtdulcimer.com), which will be meeting on the fourth Saturday of the month at Cragin Library.  Last Saturday, Feb. 25, was the group’s first meeting at Cragin.

A close relative of the zither, the dulcimer gets its name from the Latin and Greek words “Dulce” and “Melos,” respectively, meaning “sweet tune.”  The more ancient dulcimer, which has its origins in the Middle East some 5,000 years ago, is played by hammering strings extended across a sound box, producing a powerful, percussive sound. The more recently-developed mountain, or Appalachian, dulcimer is played by strumming or plucking the strings, producing a unique, and more delicate, tone. 

“We wanted to do something different,” said Rugh of forming the Connecticut Mountain Dulcimer Gathering, which met for the first year in New Britain. She hopes that the new location at Cragin Library may help draw out some local experienced players. “There are quite a few dulcimer players, but we’re spread all over,” she said. 

The Connecticut Mountain Dulcimer Gathering consists of a core group of six to eight players, with some new faces appearing now and then. There were three new players at last Saturday’s gathering, as well as a guitar player and a mandolin player, as other acoustic instrument players are also welcome at the gatherings, said Rugh. 

Rugh also hopes to encourage some new players. The dulcimer “is a very, very accessible instrument.  It’s really easy to get nice music out of [a dulcimer],” she said.

The gatherings run for three hours, with the first hour typically devoted to beginning players, while the final two hours are geared toward all players.  Tunes are suggested by members, and then everybody plays. 

“You don’t have to know how to read music,” said Rugh, as dulcimer music is available in tablature form, which can be read by even inexperienced players. 

Gloria Nichols has been playing dulcimer for about two years, learning on a dulcimer that she and her husband built from a kit they bought while vacationing in Tennessee.  They couldn’t play the kit, having put it together wrong, so they put it in a closet, “and it was there for probably 30 years,” she said.  Finally she called Jane Mazzotta, another member of the group who also teaches dulcimer, and she helped them put the instrument together properly and showed Nichols how to play.

A dulcimer player for 12 years, Mazzotta also plays the mandolin and ukulele. At the gathering, she was playing her handcrafted rosewood and spruce dulcimer with an inlaid mother-of-pearl rose. She and fellow gathering member Pinky Murphy, both from East Haddam, became interested in the dulcimer when they attended “Dulcimer Daze,” a yearly festival in Vermont.  Murphy, who teaches dulcimer, spoke almost lovingly about the patina acquired by her dulcimer after years of use and how it affects the instrument's sound.

“The wood changes as it ages, and it starts to sound sweeter.  It mellows,” she said.

That mellow sound attracted Diane Pattee to the instrument. “But I found my hands just can’t do it,” she said.  So instead, she comes to the gatherings and listens, just enjoying the music.

“It’s not quite Celtic,” she said in trying to explain why she so liked dulcimer music. “Anything that comes out of Appalachia, to me, is a wonderful sound.  I love it,” she said. 

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