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The world on a (hammered) string

The sweet sound of dulcimers, plus other acoustic instruments, will liven the Shipley Nature Center on Thursday.

August 13, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Barbara Gershman practices her hammered dulcimer, a table-like percussion string instrument, in her Huntington Beach home. She is vice president of the Southern California Dulcimer Heritage Group and has been at it 25 years.
Barbara Gershman practices her hammered dulcimer, a… (Don Leach, HB Independent )

Paul Babcock considers himself lazy.

That might explain why the Long Beach resident still isn't proficient in playing the dulcimer, despite being introduced to the instrument nearly six years ago.

Drawn to its gentle sounds, his wife, Teresa, purchased a fretted dulcimer and enrolled in classes. Paul is, by all definitions, a supportive husband who applauds at local performances and also accompanies her to Western Carolina University's Mountain Dulcimer Week.

The novice player simply doesn't practice.

"I wouldn't call myself a player — I play at it," Paul, 64, remarked. "I'm more interested in the history of the instrument and enjoy constructing it."

Toward this end, he has built four dulcimers, two from kits and others from scratch. Having gifted one to his mother-in-law, Paul plays the remaining three and displays them at woodworking competitions — the latest at the OC Fair. While he didn't place at the Costa Mesa event, the same hammered dulcimer earned an honorable mention at the San Diego County Fair earlier in the summer.

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With pride evident in his voice, Paul said he plans to watch Teresa join her Southern California Dulcimer Heritage Group counterparts for a concert at Shipley Nature Center from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. The entertainment — an unrehearsed jam — will feature a few hourglass-shaped fretted and trapezoid-like hammered dulcimers, along with fiddles, Irish whistles, banjos, guitars, cellos and more. The musicians, although having performed together in the past, will come in cold, picking in the moment the Celtic and old-timey melodies and other, more participatory tunes to play.

The performance, part of the venue's yearly Cool Summer Nights program — which includes discussions about raptors, bees and other elements of nature — will precede the arrival of the Orange County Astronomers club, whose members will set up large telescopes to view planets, constellations and more.

Established in 1974, the 18-acre fenced natural area within Huntington Beach Central Park is named after former Mayor Donald D. Shipley. The nonprofit's goal is to offer an ecological sanctuary for native plants and wildlife while providing the community with an environmental education, said administrative coordinator Carol Williams. Sometimes, as with the dulcimer band, music can complement the natural setting.

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