The sun is shining, there’s a slight breeze, and the birds are singing. I get up from my spot on the porch and grab my dulcimer, anxious to play outside for the first time this year. Mine is a tear-drop shaped dulcimer, bulging at the sides and tapering off at the ends. It was handmade by a man named George in New Hampshire and has hearts and leaves twirling around the bridge. I sit down in an Adirondack chair and begin to play my warm-up song, Blackest Crow.
Eight years ago, my friend Audrey’s fingers glided over the strings as she sang Road to Drumlamen, the sounds echoing across the elementary school cafeteria and leaving me entranced. I had never heard a dulcimer before, didn’t even know it was an instrument. I just know that was the night I fell in love.
As I switch from Blackest Crow to Wild Mountain Thyme, I think back to the first time I played a dulcimer. I was at the Rhode Island Folk Festival in 2008 and attended a workshop in which Audrey was teaching beginners like me how to play a dulcimer. I was thrilled, but when I arrived at the workshop, there were no extra dulcimers to go around. I was told to ask George if he would lend me one of his stock for the session. George was understandably reluctant, but agreed so long as I promised to take care of the instrument. I think he knew I wasn’t about to damage it – I had waited so long to play one that I treated it like the most sacred thing I had ever held.
After the session was over, I had fallen so in love with the instrument again that I debated buying it. The catch, as with many instruments, was the price. I was a first year college student and wasn’t sure I should spend the money on something that I might not use.
It’s funny; my dulcimer is one of my most prized possessions and I very nearly didn’t buy it.
Luckily two of my friends were also there with me, Katie and Amanda. They listened to my indecision and finally asked me a simple question. “Will you use it three hours from now?”
The answer was a definite and emphatic yes.
“That’s simple, then,” Katie reasoned. “You should buy it.”
Amanda agreed with her, and I didn’t argue. I returned to George and purchased the same dulcimer I had used that morning at the session and spent the rest of the day jamming with some friends, who also happened to play.
That was five years ago, now. In that time, my dulcimer has traveled to Indonesia and back where it helped me win the heart of a two-year-old girl. It has chimed out songs both soft and loud as I tried to wake up Iraqi, Indonesian, Egyptian, Nigerian, and American teenagers at summer camp. It has provided me with comfort and stress relief as I sat on the front steps of Piskor Hall and strummed out tunes as students and professors at St. Lawrence University strolled past. Young children have wondered what it is and how it works, while older crowds have sat back and enjoyed the music. It has provided me with everything I could have asked of it and more.
My dulcimer has become a part of me, and I will continue to play until my fingers give out.
Sometimes our life takes us in unexpected directions, where a single song played out one night can lead to an entire cloth of memories, woven among each other and entwined in this thing we call life.
We don’t have to know or plan everything in our lives; sometimes we just need to listen to the music and follow where it leads.