What is your ideal end-of-summer get away? Mine involves a scenic setting, good company, and lots of dulcimer music. Every year, I look forward to Larry and Elaine Conger’s Dulcimer Duet Retreat at the end of August along with about 50 other dulcimer players from all over the United States.
What is a Duet Retreat, you may ask —if you were not amongst the dozen Nashville GODC members who were there this year. It’s simple. Larry and Elaine create wonderful duet arrangements and teach us how to play them at a lakeside venue. From fiddle tunes to spirituals to blues, songs we know and songs that are new to us—all sound better when played in two parts. The arrangements are geared for the intermediate level player, but the Congers do not turn anyone away. Even if you don’t feel your have intermediate level skills, you can always just pluck the melody line and keep up with the group. But, if you pay attention, you will come away with a better understanding of how to play chord melody style with smooth transitions between chords using the finger shapes that Larry and Elaine teach.
The weekend began by diving right into the songbook which every one receives (with an optional demo CD of the songs). Then Larry and Elaine gave a mini concert. It is hard to believe Elaine never played the dulcimer before she met Larry. Of course, she is very musically gifted with a voice like an angel. But now she also plays bass dulcimer like a boss! Larry seemed to enjoy segueing from one song to another without telling Elaine which song he planned to play next. Sure enough, within a couple of notes she caught the tune and was plucking out a cool bass line.
Saturday was a full day of lessons, punctuated by meals and snacks and coffee breaks. The most anticipated part of the weekend occurs on Saturday night, when the participants play for each other. I know I enjoy this part of the retreat immensely, and it was gratifying to hear that Larry and Elaine also enjoy listening to us amateurs play. Having the largest group of players, the Nashville Dulcimer Ensemble always commands the last spot of the evening. This year we chose to play two of Tull Glazener's arrangements: Packington’s Pound and The Road To Boston. We were also treated to a solo by our own Tricia Hackett. She performed a medley of country hits which Larry had arranged in a beautiful fingerpicked style.
One of the things I appreciate the most about such retreats, is the opportunity to just sit and chat with the players we may see at the monthly club meetings but don’t know well. This is how I first met and got to know Mary Lawrence, Lela, Georgia, and Shan. And now that Shan has retired from playing, I am honored to be included in their quartet, infamously known as the G-strings (G for geriatric, of course.) We performed Appalachian Round based on a duet arrangement by Heidi Muller and Simple Gifts arranged for four dulcimers by Larry and recently published on his Patreon site.
Previous years the Dulcimer Dulcimer Retreat was held held at Tennessee state parks. But since those lodges are under repair, this year the Congers moved the event to Lake Barkley in Kentucky. This is a beautiful rustic facility just 90 minutes from Nashville. Although we all arrived on Friday not quite knowing what to expect, by the end of the weekend we were glad to hear that next year’s event will be held in the same place, August 23-24, 2018. Hope to see you there!
Where have you been with your dulcimer lately? We would love to hear about your dulcimer adventures. Let’s make this a regular “blog” for everyone to contribute. Send your update to Stephanie or to Linda and we'll publish it here.