The members of the Mountain Echoes Dulcimer Club make great music together.
The group meets on Tuesdays at the Chota Recreation Center in the village of Tellico to practice and perform a unique blend of folk, gospel and soft rock music.
The club has performed to small audiences at funerals and other somber occasions, but has also played at some celebratory events such as the Lenoir City Downtown Street Festival.
Small venues are key to the dulcimer’s delicate sound, which was never meant to fill concert halls or large outdoor arenas, said bandleader Ben D’Ooge.
The dulcimer is somewhat unique among stringed instruments due to its simplicity and its Appalachian heritage.
European immigrants who settled in Appalachia had some knowledge of musical instruments from their home country, but generally did not bring such instruments when they came to North America, D’Ooge said.
Once settled, they needed a type of instrument that they could make themselves and learn to play. The dulcimer was a perfect fit and could be made from any native wood. The strings were made with whatever materials were available, which were often wire, he said.
The instrument thrived on the porches of Appalachian homes until the mid-19th century, but began to disappear as more sophisticated stringed instruments like guitars, banjos, and mandolins became more affordable and available.
In the early 20th century, the dulcimer found a place in front of a wider audience with the emergence of bluegrass music as an American art form. The instrument gained popularity outside the South later in the century, as it was adopted by more traditional players in the folk music genre.
Today, the dulcimer enjoys a robust following. The instrument has evolved into the modern era with the addition of better materials and mass production. Traditionally played with only three strings, the local band includes those with four or six strings.
At a recent practice session, eight members sat in a circle to play a variety of songs ranging from Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” to “Amazing Grace.”
What’s interesting about the band is the inclusion of a variety of string instruments, including harps, bass ukuleles, and even guitars.
“I love the feeling of this band,” said dulcimer player Darlene Brazil. “We are always learning from each other.”
She said that the blend of personalities in the band complement each other the same way the many instruments blend together.
Harry McDavid plays guitar, performs vocals, and serves as emcee when the band performs. He said he likes the mix of gospel, rock and folk music. He doesn’t feel out of place as a guitarist and tries to never lose sight of the fact that the dulcimer is the band’s main instrument.
Kathy Garzony is group leader. A member for 17 years, she says she gets encouragement from other members at every meeting. She credits D’Ooge with her leadership.
“He always features new songs,” she said.
Lori Pahls is a bit of an outlier. Although she plays the dulcimer, she also plays the autoharp, blending in perfectly with the others. She started acting 10 years ago when she was 71. She is completely self-taught, having no prior experience as a musician.
The group will welcome members of varying skill levels, but encourages beginners to take classes at Roane State Community College.