Having friends to play music with is a gift.

Some of us are lucky enough to live in an area rich with music, some of us may be in such an area and not know it and of course some of us might just be out of luck.

I live in the western suburbs of Chicago. Chicago has a great musical history, there are musicians everywhere, yet it’s a lonely place for the bowed psaltery player and can be socially anemic for the mountain and hammer dulcimer player as well.

There is a folk community here however, so that’s where I’ll have to find my local musical support. Sadly, like the new kid at school, it’s intimidating trying to break into an established group of players, even casual players. Looking from the outside in you become uncertain of yourself and wonder about etiquette and unwritten rules. Everyone will know I’m a musical newbie!

Sigh, how old am I??? Musically speaking I’m just a whipper-snapper…

Most of the musical friends I’ve made live quite a distance away. With a little bit of calendar manipulation five of us were able to get together the weekend of Oct. 16th. We had hoped a few more of our friends would be able to join us, but life puts up a lot of roadblocks.

We live far enough from each other to make playing together an event, not a spontaneous get-together. With help from Google maps I was able to identify a town central to those of us serious enough about getting together to be willing to drive up to 5 hours.

Richmond, IN turned out to be that town. Richmond is 5 miles west of the Ohio state line, directly east of Indianapolis. I found the web site of a gorgeous Bed & Breakfast that looked like it would provide the perfect setting for some traditional music making.

It is a small world. I wrote to the owner of the B & B explaining what a bowed psaltery was and that a few of us would like to stay there and spend the day in their beautiful place playing our instruments. The gracious response was that their music parlor would be the perfect spot for this and that their uncle in Berea, KY was a mountain dulcimer builder named Warren May. “Have I heard of him?” J

The weekend was meant to be!

Picking a date is always difficult, but we managed to settle on a weekend and decided what music to practice before we got together. It seemed an eternity from making the reservations until the actual event. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by the instant gratification generally available today.

Friday the 15th was a gorgeous day, sunny and 70ish. Five of us met at the B & B in the late afternoon where Eileen, a lovely lady and our hostess, showed us around and acquainted us with the Smith Bed & Breakfast. It was more beautiful than I had expected, lovelier than the photos on the web site! We spent a little more time to get ourselves reacquainted then headed out for dinner.

I feel like Sharon and Terry Kirby (Psaltery Strings members) and Sande and Stan Johnson have been my friends for a long time. The truth is that we’ve met only twice before. The first time was in April this year at the First Annual Bowed Psaltery Symphony at the Tamarack in Beckley, WV. The second time was in June during Dulcimer Days in Coschocton, OH.

The five of us played together at the symphony, along with 16 other players. In June we had a workshop together with Tish Westman. All of us didn’t have an opportunity to sit and play together afterward however Terry, Sharon and I did try to fake our way through our first “real” jam session. That’s another story…

After an interesting dinner we returned to the Smith House to spend a musical evening. We were the only guests at the time, but another guest was scheduled to arrive around 10 P.M. and another couple on Saturday afternoon. We speculated a bit about how fun it would have been if our other friends had been able to meet us, then we would have had the entire place to our musical selves.

The new guest, Tammy, arrived around 10 P.M. and blended in with us in the parlor as though it had been planned. She’s an adorable young lady and was anxious to pick up an instrument and join in. Sande showed her some basics on the autoharp and Tammy jumped in where she could. That was an unexpected treat!

On Saturday morning we were served a delicious breakfast prepared by Eileen. It was another lovely day, warmer than the day before. We were not tempted by the outdoors however, we were there to play music. Our breakfast conversation went on a bit long and I think Terry wandered into the parlor and started warming up. That was the siren’s call and before we knew it we were all back in the music parlor with our psalteries.

To avoid turning this into a historic novel I’ll shorten things up a bit. Tammy rejoined us for a while Saturday morning and instead of heading to St. Louis on Saturday she contacted her friend there and convinced him to come and join her, and us, at the B & B. Both of them were playing the psaltery by the end of Saturday. Another couple arrived in the afternoon and joined us for a bit on Saturday night, again interested in our instruments and trying to play along with us.

We did stop to eat, but other than that we spent all of Saturday playing. There were lots of smiles and laughter along with the sweet sounds of the psaltery. We laughed through our mistakes and had a wonderful time. It felt like we’d been playing together for a long time even though it really was only our second opportunity.

Saturday was over too soon and again we were sitting in the dinning room enjoying another delicious breakfast prepared by Eileen. It was Sunday morning and there was no time for music. It was time to get packed and back on the road to be ready for our Monday reality check.

I believe I’m safe saying we all had a wonderful time. I can’t wait to do it again. Sadly that isn’t going to happen soon enough for me. The musical horizon through the winter looks lonely indeed.

So, I’m going to have to find some pluck and be that new kid in a local group because I can’t wait until next April to share more music time with friends.

Musical friends are important for support and motivation, to answer questions and to prevent the musical blues. Most importantly they are there to share the experience of making music and that forms a bond fast and firm, with the potential to last a lifetime.


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Members who build bowed psalteries for sale

Spring Creek Psalteries - Sharon & Terry Kirby



From the Wood - Wayne Gaydos



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Waynie Psaltery - Wayne Simms



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Dona Benkert -

Lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL
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Phone: 630.393.1247

Tish Westman - West Virginia
Lessons at Tamarack, Beckley, WV. Wednesday workshops also available for individual classes and to teach at festivals.
Sunday "Jam" 3:30 to 6:00. All instruments welcome, play mostly Old Time, Celtic & Gospel Music, not opposed to trying any tune called, once did a rap on Bowed Psalteries.

Rick Long - Tennessee
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(865) 660-4026

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Karla plays a variety of instruments and does workshops as well. Please visit her web site for additional information or contact her via the web site or the information below.
(717) 632-8099

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Melbourne, FL

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