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Don't Mess with the Muse

I was in 2nd grade when I tried to learn to play the clarinet. It wasn't the right time for me. I think my brain probably wasn't developed enough to handle it. I got fairly hung up and frustrated with learning to count music. That's where my musical muse stopped. So, for many decades, I considered myself to be non-musical.

I was wrong. I knew somewhere deep inside there was a budding fledgling musician hoping, waiting, and willing to bust out, yet not knowing how.

Woodworking, on the other hand, was second nature to me. I can remember trying to drive my first nail into a piece of wood when I was 5 years old! And, I went on cutting, sawing, drilling, nailing, gluing, joining, planing, sanding, and finishing wood and wood projects ever since.

Thus, enters the mountain dulcimer to the scene! It was 25 years ago when I ran across an ad in a magazine by the McSpadden Company offering a mountain dulcimer kit.

At that time, Denny was working on her first college degree in vocal performance with a minor in classical guitar. I thought she would appreciate a diversion so I figured a mountain dulcimer would be just the ticket. I ordered the kit as a surprise birthday present. When it arrived, I secretly assembled it.

I had a blast building this simple four-stringed folk instrument.

Two unexpected things happened. The first occurred when I strung the instrument and plucked a string the first time. A musical sound came out!

The strings sang and the sound of music began to resonate in my soul and has never stopped. It really did evoke a special feeling inside. I remember saying to myself, “This could really become a part of me!” But then the self-doubt thing took over and pushed it out!

The second unexpected thing was when I gave Denny this surprise gift.

She liked it. She appreciated it. She was intrigued by it, but she didn't play it much.

Now, one might think that she gradually would get into playing the mountain dulcimer and over the course of time become quite proficient at it. No, that didn’t happen. (At least not right then)

Or maybe I would learn to play it. No, I didn’t take an interest in playing it either.

Remember that Denny was busy earning her degree in music majoring in vocal performance with a minor in classical guitar at the time. And my excuse was that I still had that mental block about learning music since second grade. Thus, the mountain dulcimer just sat in a closet unused for about 18 years.

Then there came that fateful day when Denny and I went to hear Celtic music being played at a pub in Black Mountain, North Carolina. One of the singers was playing a mountain dulcimer. And, for the very first time, Denny really noticed the instrument. She looked over at me and said, "I have one of those instruments at home, you made for me several years ago!" My response was, “Yes! I remember that!

She began playing and I began building them. It was only a matter of time before I would also begin to play the dulcimer and learn music (which I am still in process of doing).

So, why did I agree to become the president of GPDA again? Granted, I still do not know much about music, yet; however, I do know a great deal about organizational structures, groups, and business meetings. There seemed to be some difficulty in finding someone to become the president again for this coming year, so I thought that perhaps I could help again. I know that together we can make this work. I love what we do. I love being a part of this group. I genuinely appreciate and like all of the group members and I have a lot of fun when we are together.

I will constantly be asking for your help, your advice, your input, your suggestions, and even your criticisms. All your input will be greatly appreciated! My main goal is to have fun! If we are not having fun, then we are not doing it right! I look forward to this next year. I hope you do too. I know that there will come a day soon when we can all have a “Normal” meeting with regular jam sessions, instruction, workshops, retreats, warm up picnics, and good times together!

Hang in there! I don’t think it will be too long!

Keep on Pickin’ and grinnin’

Gary Bell

President, Great Plains Dulcimer Alliance


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