Old-time music provides anytime fun 

 

By Greta Cuyler - Reading Eagle - 8/30/2010

with a video by Jeremy Drey.

 

Instruments don't take forever to learn; Maidencreek festival offers 21 workshops.

 

Holding finely carved, 6-inch wooden dulcimer hammers in each hand, the students played without sheet music.

They landed each note on the instrument's strings, emitting soft, almost chime-like sounds that reverberated through the tent. 

"Nearly everyone I know loves it when they hear it," said instructor Jess Madow of Allentown, who led the advanced hammer dulcimer workshop Sunday afternoon at Maier's Grove in Maidencreek Township. "I think it has a magical sound." 

Sunday's second annual Maidencreek Old Time Music Festival offered 21 afternoon workshops where, for a flat fee, visitors could learn a handful of instruments in old-time style. The event culminated with a concert.

 

Old-time music is about participation, organizers said, and it's learned by ear and sight. It mimics traditional folk music of the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania through the Carolinas.

 

"Some people, it takes them back to a time with their grandparents on their porch or at church," said Tom Druckenmiller, an organizer of the event.

 

Old-time music predates bluegrass and descends from Celtic folk tunes imported by Irish, Scottish and Welsh immigrants.

 

More than 100 people spent Sunday afternoon trying their hand at playing instruments that included the mandolin, banjo, lap dulcimer, hammered dulcimer and fiddle.

 

It's a struggle to keep old-time music alive, especially with artists and big shows, said Buster McAfee of West Lawn. 

 

"Old-time music is not a big show," McAfee said.

 

Kay Oswald, 55, of St. Lawrence has been playing the hammered dulcimer since January, when she came across a video on YouTube.

 

"I thought it was a cool instrument, but I didn't know who plays it or where or who teaches it," said Oswald, who dabbled in piano and steel guitar when she was younger. Three years ago, she began playing the djembe, an African drum.

 

Oswald sat in on one dulcimer class and was hooked. 

 

"I can read music, but the thing about the dulcimer is you don't need to," Oswald said. "If you have a pattern for what you play, you can move it up into a whole different key."

 

Since she began playing, Oswald has discovered a woman in her neighborhood and a high school friend on Facebook who also play.

 

The Maidencreek Old Time Music Festival began last year, inspired by the annual Winter Dulcimer Fest of the Poconos Dulcimer Club of Stroudsburg. 

 

Organizers decided that despite a strong fiddle and bluegrass events in the area, there was room for old-time music.

 

And unlike some instruments that may take months or years to learn, old-time music instruments can be played at nearly any level. 

 

"I think people are getting into it because it's easy to learn and play," said festival volunteer Mike Stershic of Lower Macungie Township. "But you can always embellish it and make it more complicated."

 

Contact Greta Cuyler: 610-371-5042 or gcuyler@readingeagle.com.