A dulcimer decade

On a bright crisp fall day in 2000, Marcy Prochaska was driving across Virginia to pick up a bright and lovely new thing: a hammered dulcimer of her own. In celebration of that anniversary, she will present a concert at 4pm, Sunday October 16, in the Legion Memorial Building on the campus of Culver Academies.

The hammered dulcimer is a hollow wooden trapezoid supporting many strings; like on a piano, notes are produced by hammers striking the strings. A dulcimist holds the hammers instead of using a keyboard to activate them. (A smaller distant relative, the mountain dulcimer, is played by plucking or strumming.) The sound is a little like piano, a little like harp, a little like guitar, and yet not quite like any other instrument – resonant, rich, clear, luminous.

It was in college that Marcy first saw and heard a dulcimer. Tim Seaman was playing in a church service, and she was captivated both by the shimmering sound and the dancing of the hammers. After getting her own dulcimer, Marcy was privileged to study with Tim, who, besides teaching tunes and techniques of all kinds, provided the warm encouragement of treating her as a real musician from the beginning.

Music has been part of Marcy’s life from the beginning. She wrote her first “song” at the age of three, on the black keys of the old blue piano in the basement. There were also children’s choirs at church, a brief stint with viola at school, handbells, organ, guitar beginning in late high school, a fabulous semester of harpsichord in college, and more choirs and other singing. Marcy found (much to her surprise) that the dulcimer fit her more naturally and intuitively than other instruments she’d tried. For one thing, there’s just two hammers to manage, instead of ten fingers. Also, it’s well-suited to visual learners; most scales involve identical patterns and spatial relationships, and many musical phrases form triangles, rectangles, lines, and other shapes.

In these eleven years of dulcimer playing, Marcy has performed a repertoire of classical, traditional, sacred, Celtic, and original music at a variety of events. There have been weddings, baptisms, special church services, and a memorial service. There have been fairs and festivals, farmers markets, teas, open houses, art museums and openings, Christmas parties, wine-tastings, birthdays, restaurants and coffee shops. Marcy excels at background music, when guests can relax, mingle, converse, listen, ask questions. She also really enjoys weddings and other such special occasions. And at concerts like this eleventh anniversary celebration, she feels honored to share her music in a more intimate setting.

That sense of intimacy also characterizes her three albums. No Loose Threads is a varied collection of music on hammered dulcimer with other acoustic instruments and some vocals. The instrumental What Child Is This? tells the story of Christmas from Eden to Easter. The Hanshaw Trio is the self-titled release of a mostly Celtic group featuring fiddle, guitar, and dulcimer. The Christmas CD is available through CDBaby, and all three are available through Marcy’s website, http://mp-dulcimer.com, or at the concert.