Ten years ago, my English 101 professor, Dr. L, told our class that instead of our regular classroom, our last class before Thanksgiving would be meet in the Appalachian Center, a beautiful old house on the Carson-Newman College campus. "I'll bring my guitar," Dr. L said, "Billy can bring his djembe, and Bethany will bring her dulcimer. Instead of rushing through another essay, we'll celebrate Thanksgiving with music."
We made a funny ensemble -- one guitarist, one drummer, a damsel with a dulcimer, and a dozen Baptist-college freshmen. We sang hymns, mostly: "Blest Be the Tie that Binds," "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," "For the Beauty of the Earth," "Amazing Grace," and others. I missed more than a few notes, but in the chorus of voices and drum-beats and guitar-strings, my mistakes didn't ruin the song or lead anyone astray. I remembered all my high-school years in choir, the delight of letting my single voice dwell in a much greater sound than I could produce alone.
Unfortunately, that Thanksgiving sing-along was a unique event. My friends and I did plenty of singing in college--especially on long road trips--but in the years since I have hardly played at all.
I always look back on that first college semester fondly, for it was full of so many things I spent my adolescence praying for: rigorous academics, adventures in the mountains, a group of friends, and, of course, sing-alongs. I do not exaggerate to say that in stepping onto campus at eighteen, I found myself in the sort of place I thought only existed in my daydreams. For a short time, my dulcimer was part of that ponderous and lovely incarnation.
Indeed, for most of the time I have owned my dulcimer, I have felt more guilt than enthusiasm when I think about it. Once every year or two I will buy a new book of music to prod me to practice, but these resolutions haven't lasted long. I like music, and sang in choirs for years, but my other pursuits--writing, knitting, baking--not only bring more immediate gratification, but also come more easily to me.
You might wonder, then, why I haven't simply sold the dulcimer and removed the object of so much guilt. I have enough interesting (even eccentric) hobbies that I don't need the dulcimer to keep me busy or provide a topic for dinner conversation. Even so, I cannot bring myself to give it up. That Thanksgiving sing-along still haunts me with hope--hope that one day my imperfect notes will find a home again within the singing of my friends.
Tonight I tuned my hammered dulcimer for the first time in years. Tomorrow I have a chance to meet with some new friends interested in playing music together, and although I am ashamed at how much I've forgotten, I'm hopeful. I may never be able to play as well as the musician in this video, but tonight, tuning my dulcimer was my of affirming that the world of late-November hymn-sings, the world of discourse-giving-way-music, the world of abandon-the-rushing-for-the beautiful, that this world exists in more than memory.