Search This Blog

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Visiting the new Dusty Strings Dulcimer Factory

When I left my parish ministry position in 1997 and we moved to Fort Collins, Jim Brandt gave a parting blessing to me:  

"I hope you can find a way to focus on your music in the next chapter of your life."

Music had been a key organizing tool throughout my call as a parish pastor in a multi-cultural, innercity setting in Kansas City.  But it kept nagging at me, pulling my pants-leg and whispering to get more of my attention.

When we came to Fort Collins, my spouse and traded roles and I became the primary parent for our elementary and pre-school children.  Because I needed to make some income in a flexible occupation, and because I was finally free to focus on music, I dedicated my time to throwing every musical line (no pun intended) into the water and then reeling in whatever bit.  Among other things, I began teaching private lessons on guitar and the "weird" instruments.

Dusty Strings D-260 B (in back)
In Feb 1984 I built my first hammered dulcimer from a Hughes Dulcimer kit, and in the following years I rebuilt it 6 times.  I'm grateful for the kit because without it, I might never have starting playing, thinking that I was not worth having a nice insrument.   But I had such a hard time trying to advance in my playing because I could hardly keep the thing in playing condition!  

Thanks to farewell gifts from colleagues and friends in Kansas City, I was able to order my first "built-by-somebody-else" dulcimer the day we moved into our house in Fort Collins.  

My dulci-mentor, Esther Kreek, had provided both the spark and the avenue of acquiring the instrument.  

I was helping her to set up for what she told me was her 4th gig of the day and she said, "well, I guess I better tune this one string that always goes out of tune when I move the instrument."  I was dumb-founded...tune, yes, but ONE string?  Mine always went completely out of tune if I looked at it, turned away...or tuned it!

I had to know about this instrument!  She was a Dusty Strings dealer and told me she could help me by ordering an instrument for me.

When I did some examination into this tuning-stable instrument, I discovered that the vertical treble bridge construction also appealed to me, so I called her and placed my order.

It took a few months for it to arrive and I was surprised to know that they were building it...just for ME.  I'd never had anything made for me that I hadn't built myself!

The daily and weekly waiting and watching for the brown truck to bring me the instrument (one of their finishers had broken her hand and that slowed the completion process down) turned up in the song I wrote with Jim Pierce:  (6-String) Mail Order Bride.  Listen Here.

It finally arrived on the big brown truck....and it was IN TUNE!

Ray & Sue Mooers in the entry to the new office
I've had wonderful adventures with this instrument and eventually became a dealer to help provide others with the joy I've had in making music with these skillfully and reliably produced instruments.

I had visited their store on Fremont St. in Seattle back in 2000 while on tour with Russ Hopkins as Blind Monks.  Sue and Ray Mooers gave me a great tour.  

The door of the retail store & music school
This time, so much had changed!  

Connie and I started at the old store, which has MORE space for instruments, and is also home to the music school that the Mooers had envisioned for so many years. 

They've purchased a new warehouse, construction/office facility south of the river and a few minutes away which is serving them wonderfully.

Sue and Ray gave us an in-depth tour of the harp and hammered dulcimer production facility: we saw the cache of beautiful woods, the milling room, computer-aided machine that keeps production humming, the assembly and sanding rooms, the paint booths and as we turned the corner from the stringing room into the tune-up room there stands Mike, an employee who is also a local sculptor, who is hammering away on a new instrument, stopping to tweak tuning every now and then, but just caressing these new instruments to find their voices.  That's not all he does, Sue assures me, but playing dulcimers all day might not be a bad job, huh?

Ray and I compared notes from building our first instruments and there, in the showroom is #1..."You win the crude-est instrument contest!" I conceded as we all laughed. 

Also on display is this historical "piano harp" which reminds me of the square grand piano that I grew up taking piano lessons on in my home in Pemberville, Ohio. 
Piano Harp by A&W H. Kenzies, Nov 11, 1890

If you are in the area, be sure to stop in and see the place where all these beautiful, sweet-sounding instruments are made.  

They'll be glad to see you, and you'll be glad you came.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Sample of a Dulcimer Festival

Mark Webb just posted this finely-edited video which portrays the spirit of a dulcimer festival wonderfully!

Enjoy!  Sign up for next year:  July 17-22, 2011!

(Addendum, please note that Gary Sager was unintentionally left off of the list of instructors.)