Never too old to learn the Dulcimer: Club invites folks from all over, of all ages, to learn instrument

Dulcimers have quite a following with folks from Southwest Ohio. Sweet strains of folk ballads, classical music — even swinging country and rock ‘n’ roll tunes — can be played on the four-string wooden instrument that has deep history in the Appalachian Mountains.

Come find out, said Sue Creager of the Springfield Dulcimer Club. For decades the group has been gathering the first Thursday of the month from 3-5 p.m. to play, share musical tips, and often, to head out to supper afterwards just to socialize.

“It’s a good group of people. When you play in a group like this, and you don’t have to be perfect, it’s very nice,” she said. Currently the monthly gatherings draw about 20 people from the 40-plus membership.

The dulcimer is extremely easy to learn, Creager said. Players do not need to know how to read music or have experience with other instruments. “I started at age 50,” said Creager, now 68 and a retired physical therapist.

“If you can hum a tune, you can play the dulcimer,” said Shelley Stevens, a founding member of the club. She picked up the dulcimer in 1984. “And life has never been the same since,” added her husband, Mike.

Shelley provides much of the group’s music. She’s arranged more than 1,000 pieces of music for dulcimers, including 18 published books of songs — even two books of classical music. For 22 years, Stevens, now 76, was a principal with the dulcimer Folk trio Sweetwater.

During monthly “jams,” club members gather in a circle in the large church family room. Everyone takes a turn and calls out a favorite song for the group to play.

Don’t know that song? Strum what you know. Or just listen.

Thick music books are presented to new members, with additions circulated at the jams. New members can even get loaner dulcimers to begin the learning process.

Listening is a great way to start, Stevens and Creager agreed. Group members can show beginners how to hold the instrument, how to strum and even recommend teaching aids like YouTube videos or local teachers for lessons.

Acoustic musicians are also welcome at the monthly jams. Creager and Stevens noted that their musical circles have included guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, cellos, autoharps — even harps and Irish bodhran drums. Some dulcimer players prefer the larger, 40+ string hammered dulcimer played with wooden, spoon-shaped mallets.

“It all really fills out the sound. It makes it richer and fuller,” explained Stevens.

In addition to monthly jam sessions, the Springfield Dulcimer Club also performs on request at events and at parks, senior care centers and more. Requesting groups can donate to the club. Or not.

“We’re happy to do it,” said Creager, who is also president of the club. She adds the club’s structure is relaxed.

There are no membership dues. Meetings are held during the jams and last about 15 minutes.

“I’m president because I have the church key. And I set up the chairs.”

Members come from across the area as far away as Vandalia and Columbus. Some players are also members of the Mountain Dulcimer Society of Dayton. And while many members are senior citizens, younger members — even interested children — are welcome.

“Just show up. You don’t even need an instrument,” says Creager. And feel free to bring a spouse, other relative or friends who just wants to listen to good music. “Come check us out.”

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