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How sweet it is: Students listen to, play dulcimers

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Stacy Vogel
March 1, 2008
— The strange instrument resembles a wooden box with strings across it.

It’s played on one’s lap over a “possum board,” which certainly doesn’t sound pleasant.


But the dulcimer’s sweet sounds held Milton sixth-graders enraptured Wednesday as a group made up mostly of retired teachers introduced them to a “unique American instrument.”


The performance of the Rock Prairie Dulcimers kicked off a unit at Northside Intermediate School on the instrument, a descendent of the European zither popular in the Appalachian Mountains region.


For the past year, the five members of the Rock Prairie Dulcimers have been collecting money to buy enough dulcimers for an entire music class at the school. They have now raised more than $1,000, enough to buy 29 simple versions of the instrument.


The performers showed the students the different types of dulcimers and accessories such as picks, bows and possum boards. They played rousing folk songs with titles such as “Fiddlin’ Around” and “Whiskey Before Breakfast.”


“What’s nice about the dulcimer is it really is an easy instrument to play … but you can also play it as difficult as you want to make it,” performer Dan Reese told the students.


Eight lucky students proved the truth of his words as they got their first hands-on lesson Wednesday. The hundreds of sixth-graders in the room eagerly shoved their hands in the air to volunteer.


The performers showed the eight students how to hold the picks and took them through the notes or frets. Students even learned to play a simple tune, “Boil Them Cabbage Down.”


The students agreed the dulcimers were “cool” or even “awesome.”


“It was kind of hard to remember the frets, but it got easy once you started to play,” said Hannah Keeser, 12.


The rest of the sixth-grade class will have to wait until after spring break at the end of March to start learning the instrument.


Alison Jewer, sixth-grade music teacher at Northside, said she is eager to introduce the students to another way to play music.


“My goal with this dulcimer unit … is not to create dulcimer players,” she said. “It’s to embellish the students’ musical education.”


Jewer tries to expose her students to as many types of music as possible to show them that everyone can participate in music, no matter their experience or financial means, she said.


“I really feel strongly that music is for everybody,” she said.


For information

The Rock Prairie Dulcimers perform at 1:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at 29 South, the coffee shop at 29 S. Main St., Janesville. For more information about the group, call Nancy Garrett at (608) 752-6514.


Listen to the performances:
Water is Wide
Ash Grove
Boil Them Cabbage Down
Fiddlin' Around
Whiskey Before Breakfast

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