By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
Some people set out to play the drums or the guitar, but almost no one sets out to play the dulcimer.
“Everybody who plays the dulcimer discovered it by accident, at a festival, at a park, and heard somebody playing the dulcimer,” said Forrest Smith of the North Mississippi Dulcimer Association. “And that hooks everybody.”
That’s how Smith and his wife, Eileen, discovered the instrument – whose name means “sweet sound” – and the pair formed the association in 1996. Today, the group includes chapters across north Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, and its various members perform more than 600 shows a year. Just one day last week, the group had a performance in the morning in Tupelo, a show in the afternoon in Holly Springs and a performance that evening in Oxford.
The dulcimer has a peaceful guitar-like sound, and it can be learned in just a few minutes – even if the player has no knowledge of music.
The group performs traditional songs such as “Wildwood Flower,” classic works that date back hundreds of years like “Golden Slippers” and “Danny Boy,” and gospel tunes such as “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.”
“It’s fun, it’s a stress reliever, it’s a therapeutic instrument,” Smith said.
Two NMDA members, Wentris Alford and Phyllis Hunter, both started the dulcimer by accident and fell in love with the instrument’s sound.
“I think it’s the camaraderie of the group,” Alford said, “when you know it’s all in sync. There’s something to that.”
The NMDA will perform at the Link Centre’s Monthly Music Mix, where Smith and 60 other dulcimer players will perform and talk about the history and art of playing the dulcimer.
“We’ll introduce the songs and do demonstrations,” he said. “Every dulcimer has its own voice, just like people. Some voices are better than others.”
Who: North Mississippi Dulcimer Association
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Link Centre reception hall
Cost: $10/adults, $5/students
Info: (662) 690-4011