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Friday, May 6, 2016

Hammered dulcimer plays its way through history

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gene Goergen, of Sioux City, built three hammered dulcimers in 1985. Then he learned to play the instrument, and has been playing publicly since 1995. He practiced at the Old Time Country and Blue Grass Music Festival Wednesday afternoon.
Gene Goergen, tucked away behind a building in a relatively quiet place, practiced playing his hammered dulcimer at the Old Time Country and Bluegrass Festival Wednesday at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds.

Goergen, of Sioux City, didn't grow up playing a musical instrument, but when he heard a dulcimer played in a park in San Diego, Calif. it caught his interest.

He began researching the hammered dulcimer, which he learned is about 2,000 years old and was played heavily in the Middle Ages.

The musical group "Buckskin" performed on the Church of Jesus stage at the Old Time Country and Bluegrass Festival Wednesday. Organizers encourage musicians to stop by and play spiritual and gospel music.
Goergen also studied how the stringed, trapezoid-shaped instrument was built.

Then in 1985, he constructed three hammered dulcimers. That first one had problems with bracing and the second with sound quality, Goergen said.

"When I built the third one, it sounded pretty good but it looked homemade," he said.

Harold Condray, of Missouri, has played harmonica 56 years. He often plays it when performing with the Harold Condray Nashville Classic Country Band. Condray was one of the performers at the Old Time Country and Bluegrass Musical Festival Wednesday.
So Goergen turned his attention from building to playing the hammered dulcimer, which he began playing publicly in 1995.

He took a couple lessons to learn to play, but most of his skills were self-taught, Goergen said.

"I taught myself enough to read music in one Saturday night," he said.

With his mandolin ready to play, Adam Sherrerd, of Omaha, studies the schedule at the Old Time Country and Bluegrass Music Festival to decide which stage to head to first. Sherrerd said he just bought a mandolin and decided to come to the festival to learn from people who've been playing a long time. He has played in a few rock bands before, he added.
Since then he has studied music theory, which is more in-depth study of music, and is currently attempting to learn to "play by ear."

"I'm trying to train my ears for sound," Goergen said.

As he practiced Wednesday striking the wire strings with wooden "hammers," Goergen explained the hammers come in different sizes, can be homemade or commercial and each have a padded side and a hard side.

"I've even seen them (dulcimers) played with toothbrushes," he said.

Holding the hammers loosely, one in each hand, and striking the wires of his hammered dulcimer Goergen produced sounds similar to that of a harp.

"The more strings, the louder it (the music) is," Goergen said. "The less strings the sweeter it is."

There are 68 wires that can withstand up to 40 pounds on his dulcimer, but the commercially purchased instrument weighs just 23 pounds, he said.

"The mobility of it makes it still popular," Goergen said. But "it's pretty new around here."

The dulcimer is considered the forerunner to the piano and in the Middle Ages musicians played old church modes, which were fixed arrangements, on the dulcimer, Goergen said.

"I play folk music," he said. "It's basically a folk instrument."

Although he has played his hammered dulcimer in churches and retirement homes and even at a funeral, Goergen said he has not performed professionally.

"I'm just an amateur level (player)," Goergen said. "I have a problem with stage fright."

That means he might not play on stage at the country and bluegrass music festival, but he will "probably look around for somebody to play with," he said.

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