I began playing mountain dulcimer when my then-new sweetheart, Colorado guitar builder Max Krimmel made me a dulcimer for Christmas in 1971. At the time, I was working in the mental health field, but I had played music since I first accompanied my mother on piano (whether she wanted me to or not) at age 4 - after piano and guitar, the dulcimer came easily, and several decades later, came African marimba. Here’s a summary of how all this fit together into a life.
In 1972, funding in the mental health field underwent one of its intermittent cuts, and I lost my job of the time, working for a state mental hospital. By then Max had mystified me with the fact that he went to a lumberyard, bought boards, and made them into guitars. In just a few months we had driven to Alaska via the (at that time) unpaved Alcan Highway, and were on the way to a stunning life together. I say this now as we celebrate approximately four decades - our last big project was building a house with an 800-square-foot music studio and a 1000-square-foot workshop. The living space in the house sometimes seems incidental - oh yes, there's a bedroom, a kitchen, and a living room. Now we can really play music and make things (including dulcimers and marimbas) seriously!
back to 1971 when I lost my mental health job, and Max said, innocently
could show you how to make dulcimers and maybe you could do that
for a living." And so began a saga: "Well trained mental
health professional becomes gypsy musician and crafts person." I
built a few dulcimers, sold them, and after a couple of years and
20 or so dulcimers, I thought, "Time to get a real job in the
field where I am trained - psychology." But just before I launched
this job hunt, I saw a notice in the 1975 Dulcimer Player's News
about the first Kindred Gathering. After attending the festival on
the rainy Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, I immediately executed
an about face before I ever got to that ill-fated job hunt: dulcimer
players were the people with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my
life. I observe that psychology is a fascinating field, and playing
music is a great pastime. These observations would lead most people
to get a psychology degree and play music as an avocation. I got
it backwards: music vocation - psychology avocation. After this,
the first Kindred Gathering, took my heart away, I began doing whatever
I could to make dulcimers into a decent living. I built dulcimers,
wrote books, taught dulcimer at the Denver Folklore Center, and the
Music Association of Swallow Hill, performed on the dulcimer, produced
a radio show at Boulder’s
fabulous community public radio station, KGNU, of all the music I
could find out there in dulcitopia - it was named (what else?) Dulcimania.
I mostly learned to play hammered dulcimer on the streets of New York City - I found that with five or six songs and some LP's I could make a dependable $100-200 an hour in front of Trinity Church or the Met. I engaged in this work-study program for a month or so and next thing you know, I could play the hammered dulcimer tolerably. Probably a lot of this success on the streets of New York could be attributed to my dulcimer - it was the four string per course monster built by Dana Hamilton which had the most beautiful and loud sound, and as I mentioned, it only weighed 47 pounds. I had no need for weightlifting at that time in my life. I probably looked like someone's country cousin (or niece - I weighed only about twice as much as the dulcimer, and was I innocent! I remember a little old lady about 4 feet tall learning over and whispering to me once, "Dear, you have too much money in your hat. Put some of it in your pocket.") I found New Yorkers universally helpful and protective and had a wonderful time in the Big Apple.
1986 brought my first solo hammered dulcimer recording - the concept recording, Laughing Willow. The concept? Why, travel of course. And nature, which is my second love following music closely. Maybe third next to Max and music.
I most enjoy the doors music and the dulcimer open for me - and I love to travel. For example, I had some of my most memorable life experiences with the dulcimer in Central America. In 1988, I saw a notice in a local arts calendar about an arts brigade to Nicaragua. I was lured to Nicaragua with 10 or so other musicians, actors and visual artists, and we spent a month in the country creating a performance with our Nicaraguan counterpart musicians, actors and artists and performing it in the community arts centers throughout the countryside. During the several weeks we were rehearsing in Managua, capital of Nicaragua, we had a house with a large front porch and the word traveled through the music community of the city that we had music happening on the porch every night. Musicians from all over the city would drop by and we played late into every night. I've never been the same - this experience enlarged on my early days growing up in Texas surrounded by the Tex-Mex border culture, and I have become interested in Tex-Mex conjunto music, and music of the Caribbean, as well as the rest of Latin America.
This experience inspired my
fourth recording, Celtic
Caribe, NOT named for a New England basketball
team, but for the Caribe Indians and a favorite musical genre. It's
more varied than previous recordings: I play both dulcimers, sing,
play marimba, and congas. I wrote Celtic inspired songs with Caribbean
rhythms played on Afro-Cuban percussion. So far, I haven't found a
sort of music that I can't play on dulcimer, at least not one that
interests me. So, I'll try anything! Why not! My next recording was
also on the hammered dulcimer, The Very Top of the Tree.
That's the story of how I first heard, heard of, built and played dulcimers. It's been as much fun as anything I've ever done in this short life.
Next, ask me about rafting the Grand Canyon with dulcimers in tow – another life-changing adventure. I work daily on finding more ways to live in the wilderness and be connected to the music community simultaneously… the first step was to get hired as the resident musician on a canoe trip on the Gunnison River in Colorado. Twenty of us river runners had seven fretted dulcimers, three hammered dulcimers, and two guitars, a raft, a bunch of canoes, and some great food which we took for three days of camping, hiking, canoeing, swimming, singing and playing songs around a campfire. It was enough fun that I started the yearly Moons and Tunes Wilderness River Trip – we gather our instruments and raft on the great desert rivers of the Colorado Plateau. It’s been 20 years and still going strong.
The beginning of the century finds me making a living playing and building dulcimers, running rivers, hiking, cross country skiing, and exploring Zimbabwean music on marimba.
Marimba? I guess it was a natural progression. I’ve always been interested in cultures other than the one I hail from and when I found Nicaraguan and Costa Rican musicians playing marimbas I thought, “I could do that!” Marimbas are, after all, a cross between the keyboards of piano and the percussion of hammered dulcimers. I returned to Colorado to find not a Central American marimba scene going strong, but rather an African one – specifically music of Zimbabwe. I traded marimba and hammered dulcimer lessons with Mary Ellen Garrett and before long we had started a Zimbabwean style marimba band named Chimanimani. After a several year run, Max built a set of the seven marimbas (including the Giant Fan Bass) for our own studio here in Nederland, and in the late 90s we began another marimba band, Zebra Marimba. I taught several marimba classes over the years, and the last one became the Wild Okapi Marimba Ensemble. And as astists must do, this changed as well: the band found we had experienced what we came for in marimbas and the ensemble morphed into a group of friends and out of marimba playing. Again my transcription and computer skills have led me to write the marimba music down, and these marimba books are also available.
Well … what a life so far. I have gotten to spend the majority of my lifetime engaged in pursuits that involve music and art, wilderness and travel, and that hopefully make our world a more sustainable and peaceful place. I believe fervently in the power of creativity, art, and connections with people to improve the world, and I continue to be delighted with all these involvements. What a time!
©Bonnie Carol 2015 * Bonnie@BonnieCarol.com * www.BonnieCarol.com * 15 Sherwood Road * Nederland, Colorado 80466 * 303.258.7763