By Jonathan Williams
Times West Virginian
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different kinds of instruments in the world, but on average we see comparatively few when we listen to bands or go to concerts.
We see and hear pianos and guitars and drums almost every day. If you listen to classical music, you hear a medley of strings and woodwinds and brass. But odds are, if you aren’t looking for it, you won’t hear the mountain dulcimer much, if at all.
Robert Lackey thinks it’s a valuable piece of West Virginia heritage, and on Saturday, he and fellow dulcimer players will be hosting an event to show off the humble instrument and all the music it can make.
The Wartz’n’All Spring Fling Dulcimer Gathering will be in Clarksburg on Saturday, featuring concerts, jam sessions and workshops for amateur and seasoned dulcimer players alike.
Lackey said this all began with a website called “Friends of Mountain Dulcimers.” He, Kevin Messenger of Bruceton Mills and Tim Fawcett of Allegheny County, Pa., got together to “jam” and share music with each other.
“Last fall we had (a session) at Coopers Rock,” he said, “and it went over so well we decided to have one in the spring.”
For this event they’ll have nationally recognized talent. Jerry Rockwell, whom Lackey called “one of the most respected players in the United States,” will be headlining the event with his unique style and ability.
The mountain dulcimer is an unassuming instrument. It looks like a guitar that’s been stretched out, getting thinner, with four strings and a lot of heart. It’s played laying flat on the lap and can be picked or strummed.
Traditionally, Lackey said, the dulcimer is used in Appalachian folk music. However, he said, “You can play anything on a dulcimer.”
The two workshops being offered demonstrate this.
The first, Lackey said, is built around traditional music, while the second will teach about more modern applications for the instrument.
Rockwell is leading both workshops and will perform a selection of his own works later in the evening. He has written a number of books on traditional dulcimer music and has several albums under his belt.
Dulcimer music will be played throughout the day in a “jam” session, Lackey said, in a variety of styles from traditional folk to more modern interpretations.
“Last year we had fiddles and auto-harps and guitars,” he said, and he’s hoping for a similar ensemble this year.
“They may even hear some quite modern sounds coming from some of us,” he said. “You’ll hear various styles of playing, from the most traditional with a little schtick ... to finger-picking with jazzy sounding chords in there. There should be something for everyone as far as musical tastes go.”
With the workshops, there will be resources for people who play as well as those who just want to listen. Lackey said there’s a large community of mountain dulcimer players in the region, and this event should cater to them.
“We want people to bring their instruments and come and join us and share and learn and teach,” he said.
“I know for myself, I don’t get to play with other dulcimer players much because of my work schedule. This is a chance for me and hopefully others to share our music in a group setting.”
The gathering will begin at 10 a.m. at the Main Street Cafe and Gallery, 331 W. Main St., Clarksburg, and run through 6 p.m. There is no entry fee or charge for the workshops, but Lackey said donations are appreciated to thank Rockwell for his time and to help with travel expenses.
Email Jonathan Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JWilliamsTWV.