Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stories with the dulcimer

Last week, I did something new: I used my mountain dulcimer in performances with preschoolers. I've had this beautiful instrument for about twenty years, a present from a friend who used it as a wall decoration. I've played it occasionally for my own entertainment. I don't pretend to play terribly well, but I can pick out a tune if I hear it in my head, in the way I play harmonica and various recorders and folk flutes.

But use it in performance? Nah. Then I was asked to do a series of shows in conjunction with performances by Chiara String Quartet for the Lied Center of Kansas' program, Performing Arts 3 to 5. The quartet played for the children and collectively told a story. My goal in following them was to underscore what they did and extend it with stories, music and puppets.

First I asked the children what they remembered from their field trip. They went to the Lied Center and sat on the stage, not swallowed up by the theater seats, for the show. Most of them remembered that they'd seen violins and a cello (a jello, some said). Some remembered the viola. Some proudly announced that it was a quartet.

I told them I'd brought a stringed instrument, but it wasn't a cello or a violin or a viola. I brought it out of its box and showed them the similarities to those classical instruments. I showed them the pick and the noter (a little stick used to press the strings down next to the fret).

Then I told a story about a boy with a violin. I played songs in the story and the kids called out what I was playing: "Mary had a little lamb," "The itsy bitsy spider," etc.

The next part was magic. I carried the dulcimer to the children and let them strum it, one at a time. The kids were amazingly patient and quiet, waiting their turn, even with the big groups of 40 kids. Gentle, too, in the main.

I put the dulcimer away and moved on to more songs and another story, with help from my puppets.

I visited thirteen groups at five preschools last week. This week I have eight more of these sessions. It's a treat to try something new--a treat for me as much as it is for the children. We all have a good time.

Oh, speaking of puppets, don't you think the inside of the case looks like Elmo?!

Monday, February 06, 2012


This young fellow, who shall remain unnamed here, listened intently to the stories. Engrossed, you might say. This was his first time hearing me in person, after listening to my CDs for months.