I got my 'Bum Ditty Strum' on again when the Madison Dulcimers regrouped on July 15 for the first time since COVID set us adrift 16-months ago.
It was a harmonious reunion with everyone strumming a happy tune.
Since March 2020, I've been sporadically practicing on my own. But, it's hard to stay motivated when you're forced to play solo for so long. With zero gigs planned, I had no agenda to guide my random selections.
At times, I found it difficult to dedicate the extra time to nail those pesky parts giving me trouble. Especially when I was playing for an audience of one -- me.
Still, I knew it would be worth my while to practice now, so I didn't stand out in the crowd later. When performing with a group, you want to blend in, not stand out.
We have about 75 songs on our playlist that we might perform at any given event--at a school, charity fundraiser, nursing home or anywhere we're invited.
There are traditional fiddle tunes like "Wildwood Flower," "Black Mountain Rag" and the dulcimer's unofficial national anthem, "Bile Them Cabbage."
Patriotic songs like "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "America the Beautiful." Along with waltzes. Irish jigs. Even some reggae.
Plus customized playlists for special gigs like the Battle of Richmond reenactment where we perform Civil War era tunes like "John Brown's March" and "Lincoln and Liberty."
I practiced all of those songs a bunch--at first, when everything suddenly came to a grinding halt.
But since I usually play harmony, and no one was strumming the melody, it didn't sound nearly as noteworthy as it could have.
After a few months of repeating the same old songs, I searched for some new material.
Something more challenging.
Fortunately, I had a tote stuffed with tablature dating back to when I started playing with Madison Dulcimers some 20 years ago.
The marvelous Merwyn Jackson organized and led Madison Dulcimers from 1999 until his failing health and eventual passing in 2019 separated him from his doting protégés. Merwyn had an endless supply of music, which he would tirelessly copy and generously distribute to all of us -- free of charge.
My tote held beginner music that I remember being impossible to master when I first joined the group. Now I can easily play many of those tunes from memory, like "Soldier's Joy" and "Columbus Stockade Blues."
I discovered songs from different workshops Merwyn sponsored. He invited accomplished players like Tull Glazener, Susan Trump and Butch Ross to teach us a few tricks to finger various songs more efficiently and effectively.
I also found a folder of music my sister, Rebecca, put together for workshops she's presented for my group. She performs with the larger Hills of Kentucky in Northern Kentucky. My favorite music comes from "O Brother, Where Art Thou," and folk songs by the legendary Jean Ritchie.
Plus, my magic tote contained music from The Gatherings I'd attended. That's an annual get-together of dulcimer players from Kentucky and surrounding states, which includes workshops for all levels of players and evening concerts.
Deeper down in the tote I found some rock n' roll tunes like Herman's Hermits' "The End of the World."
Yes, you can actually play Rock and Roll on traditional instruments like the dulcimer (which has been Kentucky's state instrument since 2001).
Confession: I was equally amazed until I heard a young kid perform a concert at the Kentucky Theater in Lexington. The kid's friends were teasing him about playing such an old-timey instrument. So he bet them he could rock the dulcimer. Which he did. And won a national championship contest to prove it.
When the holidays finally rolled around, I was thrilled to retrieve my Christmas music for a few weeks.
Ho, Ho, Ho!
However, since playing alone for too long, I've developed some bad habits. My tempo is off since I haven't had to keep time with anyone else. I might hold a note longer or shorter than a song calls for. What does it matter when you're playing for an audience of one, right?
Some fortunate folks in my group got together with a few close friends during the hiatus. Mostly after they'd been vaccinated. Others had a built-in partner since we have several married couples in Madison Dulcimers.
Our two music leaders sent out several e-mails to see how everyone was doing during the pandemic, which was a great way to catch up with other members.
Then came the e-mail we'd all been waiting for.
Practice. Thursday. 7 p.m. at the Active Living Center.
Twenty-three dulcimer players came.
Prepared to play.
Our room is spacious and acoustically suited for our quiet instruments.
We always end our gatherings with "Amazing Grace," and true to the lyrics, "how sweet the sound" of Madison Dulcimers strumming together again.