How Stu Got Started on Hammered Dulcimer

My start in hammered dulcimer is one of those things where the timing was crucial. It was probably around Christmas of 1980. My younger sister had gone to a harp festival and bought a hammered dulcimer record by Douglas Ecker called More Path Rent. She was so enamored with it that she insisted I listen right away. I have little or no memory of it, buttressing her claim that I've always treated her that way ;-)

About six months later, I finished school and in August 1981, got a job with Corning Glass Works in Wilmington, North Carolina. They were short of office space and stuck me in a cubicle with David Shucavage. Dave is a dulcimist and he was playing at the Piney Woods Festival a couple of weekends later. Being new in town with nothing to do, I went.

Dave got me playing pennywhistle in the "Mud Flats String Band" (we weren't too good, but there wasn't much competition), and I occasionally backed him up on piano at other performances. He also organized square and contra dances in the area. One day, the caller quit on relatively short notice and Dave decided to take on calling duties. This left a vacancy on dulcimer, so I started playing around on one of Dave's instruments. Six weeks later, I played one tune at a dance. (I believe this was in late 1982 or 1983.)

Shortly thereafter I was unemployed for five months and was able to learn a lot more about the dulcimer and greatly improve my skills. I moved to Minnesota in 1984 and found a thriving traditional music community. By the end of the next year, I was playing in a contra dance band, teaching dulcimer at the Homestead Pickin Parlor, and had joined up with guitarist Bill Cagley as Greenwood Tree.

The ultimate irony is that about four hours after I accepted my job in North Carolina in 1981, I got a call from 3M - from the same person who ultimately hired me in 1984 - inviting me up for a job interview. Had the timing been slightly off, I may have never made it to Wilmington and never learned about hammered dulcimers.