Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Applied Theology of the Hammer Dulcimer by Fr. Michael Shields

How fortunate I am to be a part of the trapezoid world! The hammer dulcimer has put me in relationship with many fine people, for which I am truly thankful. One of my favorite fellow hammer dulcimists is Fr. Michael Shields of Siberia … that's right, THE Siberia.

I first met "Fr. Mike" in 2009 at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival. He was enjoying a visit to the US and had begun studying the instrument with Ken Kolodner who happened to be teaching at W-S that year. In the summer of 2011 Fr. Mike and I had classes together at the Swannanoa Gathering and then at the Sandbridge Dulcimer Retreat later that fall.

We both attended the most recent Sandbridge event this past October. Afterwards, he sent out these words of wisdom to fellow participants and gave me permission to share them here with you.

Thank you, Fr. Mike for helping us recognize the symbology of our musical endeavors. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Applied Theology of the Hammer Dulcimer
or Resolutions and Learnings for Life from the Hammer Dulcimer
by Fr. Mike
  • You can with great patience actually tune to the beautiful green light. The temptation is to settle too easy for the slide to the right of left into the red. The idea of living with less compromises and seeking the center where it all vibrates so beautifully can be a real goal. Not perfection just less compromises.
  • In practicing it is not important how many times you repeat as much as how many times you repeat it correctly. It is not how many mistakes you make but the willingness to correct them that is important. Not perfection just a willingness to change.
  • Each note is there for a reason. Alone they might at times seem dissonant or unnecessary but placed in the whole movement of the song and played together they are necessary. The willingness to find meaning in the dissonant times and see them played out in the whole of life patterns softens them and gives them meaning.
  • Look for patterns. Life has a way of repeating itself in surprising ways. It may look to you upside down but it is the same notes just played differently.
  • Look for the chords. If you can see the chords you will be more confident in your hammering. The key is why that note is found in the patterns of chords. Confidence in making good choices is found in following good patterns.
  • Play the basic song first in a simple pattern and know that pattern. Often we make things so complicated that we forget how beautiful one well played note is following another. Enjoy the simplicity of a tune and of life.
  • Play with expression which means the space between the notes actually is the music. Let silence and pauses enrich the song and your life.
  • See the pattern in the music. There are questions and there are answers. Let the questions come and seek the answers that follow. Much of life is a question being answered over time.
  • The hammer dulcimer is in itself a large, cumbersome, and difficult to keep in tune instrument. Those who play know the trouble it brings from carrying to setting up to tuning and tuning again and again. The struggle is worth the sweet sound. Sacrifice and struggle - at the time difficult - makes for deeper faith, more humility, great patience and a greater compassion for others who struggle. So it is with all hammer dulcimer players.

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