You might think that mountain dulcimer players in the Pacific Northwest would be few and far between, considering that the instrument has traditionally been played in the Appalachians and along the East Coast. You'd be surprised, though—there are many enthusiastic dulcimer players in the region, with more joining in each year. Numerous clubs have formed here over the past decade, including the Three Rivers Dulcimer Society, the UpRiver Dulcimer Club, the Bellingham Dulcimer Club, Mt. Hood Dulcimers, and the Stumptown Strummers. It's no surprise, then, that two new mountain dulcimer festivals have popped up: the Columbia River Gorge Dulcimer Festival in early June, and Dulcimer Week in the Wallowas in early July.
The Columbia River Gorge Dulcimer Festival
Scott Crane, Program Director for Menucha Retreat and Conference Center in Corbett, Oregon, ran with the idea of a new Pacific Northwest mountain dulcimer festival after his mother-in-law, Sally, suggested that Menucha would be a great location for one. Scott and his wife Katie had been back visiting family in Georgia, and had stopped by the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association's Fall Festival at Unicoi to watch Sally play in an open jam. After they returned home, he contacted several dulcimer groups and determined that there was interest in a new festival, so he set the wheels in motion for the first annual Columbia River Gorge Dulcimer Festival at Menucha.
Nestled in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area a bit northeast of Portland, Menucha Retreat and Conference Center is a 100-acre sanctuary surrounded by lush green forest land. Time almost seems to slow down there. Whether walking through the beautiful rose garden, hiking the forested trails through the grounds, watching a sunset over the majestic Columbia River, driving a short distance to view scenic waterfalls, enjoying a home style meal, or sharing music with friends, visitors find Menucha to be a wonderful place of tranquility and peace.
After much planning and preparation, the first-annual Columbia River Gorge Dulcimer Festival was held at Menucha in June 2010, drawing 28 attendees and featuring workshops by Robert Force, Lance Frodsham, John Bole, and Sally Smith. Festival participants also enjoyed evening concerts by Robert and by Lance Frodsham and Sylvia Hackathorn. In 2011, the festival drew 33 attendees and featured workshops by Janita Baker, Madeline MacNeil, Robert Force, and John Bole, along with evening concerts.
Although students were kept busy during the scheduled workshop blocks, they also enjoyed free time in the afternoons and evenings. Impromptu jams formed here and there, as five or six people with dulcimers sat on the lawn to play tunes they'd just learned, Robert walked through the Menucha grounds with a dulcimer slung over his shoulder, and others gathered in the main hall to play old favorites. People brought mountain dulcimers, of course, but they also brought a mandolin, a guitar, a banjo, a concertina, and other instruments.
The third annual Columbia River Gorge Dulcimer Festival will be held from May 31 through June 3, 2012, and will feature workshops and concerts by Janita Baker, Madeline MacNeil, Robert Force, and Scott Snyder. Subjects to be covered include Rounds and Canons; Fingerpicking Techniques and Repertoire; Classical Tunes for Mountain Dulcimer; Duets and Ensembles; Harmony and Backup for Singing and Instrumentals; Singing for the Joy of Singing; Compose a Waltz for the Dulcimer; Rhythms and Syncopation; Two-stop Chords; Modes—the Historical Dulcimer; Songwriting for the Dulcimer and Beyond; Classic Folk, Rock, and Pop Songs on Dulcimer; and Watching the Fretboard: Playing with Guitarists. To register online, visit http://menucha.org/programs/dulcimer-festival.
Dulcimer Week in the Wallowas
Heidi Muller and Bob Webb decided to start a week-long mountain dulcimer festival at Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon, after teaching enthusiastic dulcimer players around the Pacific Northwest for many years. Although Heidi and Bob have lived in West Virginia for a long time, their concert tours brought them to this place where they fell in love with the beautiful snow-capped mountains, lush farmland, and clear blue lakes of Eastern Oregon, and they knew Wallowa Lake would be the perfect setting for a new festival. Heidi had offered several months of classes and organized a Dulcimer Day in the town of Joseph a few years ago, and had taught a large week-long class at Wallowa Fiddletunes Camp in 2010, so this area seemed ripe for a new festival dedicated to mountain dulcimer players.
The first annual Dulcimer Week in the Wallowas was held at Wallowa Lake Camp in July 2011, with Heidi, Bob, and Stephen Seifert as instructors. For this festival, mountain dulcimer players signed up by ability level for week-long workshops taught each morning by a single instructor. Bob taught a week-long workshop for 10 novice students, and Stephen taught a similar workshop for 18 intermediate/advanced students. In the afternoons, students attended shorter elective classes taught by Heidi, Bob, and Stephen on a variety of topics, including West Virginia Fiddle Tunes and Techniques, Medieval French Dance Tunes, Cowboy Songs, Irish Jigs, Songs with Easy Chords, Capo Tunes, Waltzes, and The Zen of Rhythm.
Wallowa Lake is a popular vacation destination in the summertime because it offers so many attractions for visitors. Dulcimer Week participants were able to enjoy free time in the afternoons to hike nature trails around the lake, go bird watching, learn fly fishing techniques, take a horseback ride on mountain trails, enjoy specialty chocolates at one of the many shops in town, take a tram up Mount Howard, play miniature golf, grab a latte at the corner market, photograph deer strolling through the camp, and jam with friends.
In the evenings, participants were treated to instructor-led jams, an open mic night, a band scramble, and a wonderful instructor concert that drew a large and enthusiastic audience from the Joseph community. The jams were one of my favorite parts of the entire week, as everyone was encouraged to join in and play. Most people joined in on their mountain dulcimers, but a few played other instruments, including autoharp, piano, mandolin, and guitar. Someone even brought a nyckelharpa!
In 2012, the second annual Dulcimer Week in the Wallowas will be held from Sunday, July 1, through Saturday, July 7. This year, the instructors will be Stephen Seifert, Susan Trump, Heidi Muller, and Bob Webb. The festival format will be a little different this year. Mornings will be divided into two class periods. Beginners will take two morning classes from Bob. Advanced beginners will take morning classes from Susan and Heidi. Intermediate/advanced students will take morning classes from Stephen and Susan. Truly advanced students will take a master class each day with Stephen. In the afternoons, a fun selection of elective workshops will be taught by Stephen, Susan, Heidi, and Bob, to include fingerpicking, playing with a capo, recording techniques, songwriting, using the 1.5 and 8.5 frets, and more. For more details and to register online, visit www.wvmusicalliance.org.
Because Dulcimer Week in the Wallowas will be held during the week of July 4, there are many other great communty activities available, including fireworks.If you've never been to the Pacific Northwest before, this summer is the perfect time to come and attend one of these festivals! For information about how to register, please see the Festival Guide in this DPN.Martha Einan is a freelance writer from Washington state. She began playing dulcimer after hearing one played in a café in her dad’s hometown several years ago. She plays standard and bass dulcimerswith Early Birds Dulcimers and Three Rivers Dulcimer Society.