[Feature Article for the tri-cities: Saginaw, Midland and Bay City, Michigan]
Dulcimer, the surname of a pair of instrument siblings, is from Greek and Latin words meaning â€œsweet sounds,â€ says Steve Eulberg, master of both the hammered dulcimer and the mountain dulcimer.
Heâ€™ll prove the aptness of the name with both instruments and more Saturday, July 22, in a concert at the Creative Spirit Art Center, 1517 Bayliss St.
â€œMy quest is to uncover, support and create beauty â€” to nurture beauty in a world that challenges that effort,â€ he said in a phone interview during a tour pause between Canton and Cleveland, Ohio.
If that hints at spirituality, itâ€™s no wonder: Eulberg was a pastor who is now a musical minister (while his wife has become a pastor).
Born and raised in Pemberville, Ohio, Eulberg took piano lessons, learned trumpet in school band, and then picked up guitar. By college, at a seminary in Denver, he was playing in a duo with a college buddy.
"He came back from Christmas with a mountain dulcimer his family had made for him,â€ said Eulberg. â€œI asked him, â€˜How do you play that?â€™ â€˜You donâ€™t,â€™ he said.â€
â€œItâ€™s a diatonic fret board â€” kind of like playing only the white keys on a piano. We found, trying to work it into our act, that there were notes we just couldnâ€™t get.â€
But Eulberg kept trying to play it. â€œIt took about three years. I found out later itâ€™s easier than that, but there wasnâ€™t anybody around that could teach me that in Denver.â€
Eulberg cites educator Maria Montessoriâ€™s belief that people can undergo a â€œsensitive period, when they just canâ€™t stop doing what inspires them.â€
â€œThat was me, then. I just couldnâ€™t walk past the dulcimer without playing it. I was forgetting to eat, showing up late for meetings.â€
It paid off: He has won the National Mountain Dulcimer Championship four times, and has been a finalist in the National Hammered Dulcimer Championship three times.
The singer, player, composer, producer and publisher now tours in summer, playing in locations as far-flung as Los Angeles, Arkansas and Michigan. The rest of the year he works in his Colorado church ministry, and teaches dulcimer students.
The difference between the two instruments? â€œIf youâ€™re carrying one, not playing it,â€ he said with a chuckle, â€œthe difference is about 20 pounds.â€
The mountain dulcimer is a laptop instrument, smaller and with a gentler sound.
The hammered dulcimer, one of the pianoâ€™s ancestors, is a more exuberant instrument. And one with a Michigan presence, thanks to its popularity in lumber camps and other gatherings.
â€œSay â€˜dulcimerâ€™ in Michigan and people immediately think of the hammered dulcimer,â€ said Eulberg. â€œSay it in the Appalachians, and they automatically think of the mountain dulcimer.â€
His favorite? â€œI always say, whichever one Iâ€™m playing at the time.â€
â€œI have found, in each instrument that I play, a different part of my soul. It feels like a different connection to transcendent, eternal things.â€
What does he listen to? A new three-CD collection, â€œAutoharp Legacyâ€ is a favorite traveling companion this summer.
And his 14-year-old son, a guitar player, â€œhas been listening to the music I listened to at his age â€” Eagles, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Heart, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC. Thatâ€™s been really enjoyable for me.â€
Eulberg was to come north to take part in the Evart FunFest, July 13-16, said to be the countryâ€™s largest hammered dulcimer festival. Heâ€™ll teach, and play in late-night jam sessions.
His family â€” wife and two sons â€” also will join him for their traditional one-week northern Michigan vacation.
Eulberg said that for his Midland concert heâ€™ll play â€œtraditional tunes, from a variety of traditions,â€ on both kinds of dulcimer, plus guitars and didgeridoo.
The concert comes amid a summer touring schedule that includes many festivals. â€œFestivals you get to play maybe 20 minutes. About the time you get warmed up, itâ€™s time to go.â€ Concerts, he said, allow him to develop an evening of music.
Who: Steve Eulberg, dulcimer and guitar player
Where: Creative Spirit Center, 1517 Bayliss
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 22
Tickets: $10, available through 837-1885
Venue info: www.creativespiritcenter.org
Artist info: www.steveeulberg.com
[Note for accuracy: I actually won IN the National Championship 4 times, 2nd twice and 3rd twice.]