Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I haven't sold my dulcimer

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.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, you must now bring the dulcimer to Thursday Club so we can hear it. Secondly, you Grace and I need to get together with you so we can play hymns together, us on our recorders and you on your dulcimer. Should sound great, even if we miss a few notes.

    -Steve S.