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Dulcimers, Luthiers, Heidi's Good Road and All Things Musical

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Well, today I’m feeling rather musical, or at least musically inspired. I am thinking not only of the art of making music, but the art of making musical instruments. I began thinking about instruments and inspired to write of them when I heard of the upcoming presentation of Heidi Muller and Bob Webb by Icicle Arts coming up on December 9th. Muller and Webb will be performing at the Leavenworth Community Coffeehouse playing holiday and winter solstice songs from their new holiday/solstice album,’ Light the Winter’s Dark’, in addition to their usual repertoire.

Heidi Muller and Bob Webb are known for their original songs. Muller spent about 20 years in Seattle and anyone that has listened to ‘Inland Folk’ on NPR will recognize the theme song “Good Road” written by Heidi Muller. Her song has been the theme to the show on Northwest Public Radio and KPBX-Spokane since 1989. I really enjoy hearing that theme song on NPR every time “Inland Folk” comes on.

Of real and personal interest to me is the playing of the Dulcimer. Dulcimers are very commonly played in music from the Appalachian region of the U.S. in music derived from the Scotts and Irish ancestry there. This, even though the dulcimer is not known to have been played in either Ireland or Scotland. Its roots are ancient and can be traced back through many regions of Europe and some say to ancient Persia. I should add here that I had the distinct pleasure of building a Dulcimer (hammered not mountain) when I was in graduate school with a fellow grad student between quarters. This fellow had been trained in lutherie prior to deciding to pursue a career in Counseling. Lutherie I should add is the art of building stringed instruments, which is derived from the word LUTE which is yet another ancient stringed instrument. Needless to say I have a special appreciation for the lovely sound and the visual beauty of dulcimers of both the mountain and hammered variety.

Heidi’s connection to the dulcimer goes back to 1978. Which is when her good friend Bill Vanheteren began making some instruments (easier said than done, let me tell you). Her first instrument was a Jay Leibowitz cherry dulcimer made in the 1970's. In the 19 80's she began playing a Sunhearth dulcimer. Sunhearth dulcimers were made by Walter Martin of Roaring Spring, a small town in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. !Walter Martin was known worldwide as a builder of Appalachian dulcimers. He is said to have made a thousand of them before retiring at the age 80). Heidi still uses her Sunhearth dulcimer for songs involving four string fingerpicking. I would really love to see the visual beauty and craftsmanship of the red maple instrument made by Bill Van Dusen of Hale, Missouri, that is her main choice for three-string old-timey tunes, as well as hear it melodious tones that to some can be so tranquil as to be hypnotic or lively as to make one want to get up and dance a jig. Bill Van Dusen has been well known for building fine dulcimers for decades and is listed on web site dedicated to Vintage Dulcimers: And, though Bill is no longer building dulcimers his wife Sharon Imagewho took up inlaying mother of pearl onto his instruments in 1993 continues to do custom inlay work as well as jewelry making:

Here locally, we have some lutiers as well. Anyone who has attended an art opening and reception at local galleries where Kirk Lewellen was playing has likely heard music played on a guitar made by a fellow by the name of Kurt Davis. Kurt is known for his use of exquisite imported woods like Mahogany from Africa or Central America as well as woods from closer to home, such Master grade Alaskan Sitka Spruce Top - kinda makes one think of a wine expert who can tell which side of the hill the grapes were grown for some imported French wine. But, he sure knows his woods and makes some fine wood bowls and other object d’art as well.

And no guitar would be complete without a finely crafted guitar strap. I recently learned of a local weaver by the name of Kat Haapapuro, who specializes in custom guitar straps and custom camera straps. She apparently is quite busy making these as she only occasionally has time to work on her stained glass, candle making, jewelry, spinning yarn, weaving baby blankets and scarves. Hopefully one of these time I can get a chance to see some of her other artwork as well. What a talented gal. Kat went to college at Finlandia University where she majored in art. Weaving was one of the classes she took and fell in love with inkle weaving (Inkle weaving is a type of warp-faced weaving where the shed is created by manually raising or lowering the warp yarns, some of which are held in place by fixed heddless on a loom known as an inkle loom). Kat’s work can be seen at:!/pages/Kat-Straps/107470882676663 On a somewhat lighter note but in keeping with the musical theme of today’s blog would be the whimsical guitar and banjo shaped birdhouses of Paul Compaan. Paul you may recall from one of my blogs over the summer builds these musically themed birdhouses from repurposed wood… mostly old fence material up in the old mining town of Liberty. Some of you readers may also recall from that blog that he throws quite a party and has many artifacts and custom artwork, including the stage banner for the band, by local artist Terry Johnson on his property.

Well, enough for this musical/art themed blog. It’s been fun and interesting and the show in Leavenworth should be a joy to see and hear. Enjoy!