Last weekend at the Colorado Dulcimer Festival, there were all of the wonderful elements that make up a dulcimer festival: concerts, workshops, jamming in the lobby, meals and social time with the world’s friendliest strangers. There was much comparing of notes over different makes of instruments, different takes on tunes. There were people on the hammered dulcimer side of the fence peeking up over the fence into the mountain dulcimer yard with an “ooh,” “aah,” and “wow!” [Leave it to Erin Rogers and Aaron O’Rourke to make us all want to take one of those three-stringed suckers home with us.]
But for me, one of the most surprising and inspiring parts of the weekend happened while I was backstage judging the Colorado State Hammered Dulcimer Contest. Of course I heard many lovely things, fine arrangements and great playing. When I heard Allison Lotterhos play (without seeing her), I thought the player was a guy. I may be way out of line saying something like this, but what I was hearing was this rapid, mathematically-perfect, technical precision in her playing that I’ve mostly heard from guys who come to the dulcimer from the percussion world. Numbers, intervals, patterns, rhythms that move and change like hummingbirds… I was pleased to see our champion was a girl–and a rather young one at that. I think Allison had stumbled upon her first dulcimer festival, and the weekend was made all the better for it. She and I swapped CDs (oh, I so got the better end of that deal) and now I’m sitting here in Chattanooga listening to her compositions. As I listen, I’m wanting to take back what I just typed about the math and the numbers. That’s all there, certainly, but what comes out in her playing more than anything else is her direct heart-to-dulcimer connection. This level of focus, imagination, and listening/responding to one’s own music as it’s being created– these are all elements that comprise the playing of my most favorite musicians.
Allison, I don’t know if you’re reading this post, but I’d like to say thanks for making this CD and sharing it. Thanks for showing up at the festival and making it extra special for me (and I’m sure many others). Keep it up with the composing, performing, and recording; you set a great example to follow.
Allison Lotterhos at the Colorado Dulcimer Festival, 2009: