When the Jacksonville Jammers formed seven years ago, dulcimer players Lynn Stanley and Margie Adams wanted to give musicians an opportunity to play “old-time music” together.
Now, it's a means of helping keep that particular music tradition alive and at the forefront of East Texans' minds.
“Old time music is indigenous to Appalachia and it usually has a story that goes with it,” said Stanley, who lives in Sardis.
“We want to keep it alive in a place where it's not (as common), so that's why we get into old-time music,” she said.
And so far, people seem to enjoy it, even recognizing some of the pieces.
“When we play 'Tennessee Waltz,' they love it, though if we play 'Eileen O'Carroll,' they think it's a pretty tune (but they're not familiar with it),” Stanley said. “But, people listen and see what it's like.”
At an October jam session, strains of waltzes, gospel and old-time music filled the air of the Jacksonville Senior Center, with performers traveling from Jacksonville, Tyler, Slocum, Sardis, Palestine and Nacogdoches just to sit in.
Mingled in with the mountain dulcimers were an autoharp, a harmonica, a bass fiddle, a melodica, a violin “… or fiddle, depending on what song is played,” laughed Gloria Welch, a dulcimer player who handles publicity for the group.
“And we have a guitar, a penny whistle, a keyboard, a mandolin, a flute, a tambourine – there are a lot of different instruments, but we tend to see a lot of strings,” she said.
Along with Appalachian old time music, the Jammers also perform gospel songs, waltzes, jugs and Broadway tunes.
“Today, we're just playing the alphabet, (different) songs we've played maybe once or twice, or a long time ago,” Stanley said.
When the group started out, it was billed as a “'dulcimer and friends club,' and there were a lot of people who showed up with instruments. It gave them a place to play,” Welch said. “People come for fellowship; it’s amazing how they come together.”
Grayson Stanley, a mandolin player who “just plays for fun,” agreed.
“Anybody wants to play we welcome them. And we play a lot of different kinds of music. If someone wants to play, we have an open mic session,” he said, adding with a laugh, “if you want to play the spoons, you can play them.”
The best part about
attending the jam sessions with his wife Lynn? “You get to know people,” he said.
“It's an opportunity for all of us to come together. All of us were strangers, and none of us had a background in this, but we felt way through the music,” his wife said.
Like the Stanleys, a majority of the members are seniors, but the group also includes a set of young women, twins, who play alongside their parents.
“One girl plays flute, while her sister plays violin,” Welch said.
Most of the members “are people who got into the music world within the last seven years,” Stanley added.
“Some of them have been (at it) longer, like Margie, who is a piano teacher, who has been playing a long time,” she said. “And we have some who are church musicians.”
The group primarily uses music by Margaret Wright, a dulcimer player who publishes tab books of music in which chords are notated so that different instruments can utilize the sheet music, Welch said.
“(Wright) does a wonderful job,” she said. “And Lynn sends out notices of new songs that we'll use, and includes the music so that we can practice.”
Since their inception, the Jacksonville Jammers have performed at the Rusk Heritage Festival, the Henderson Syrup Festival, the Mission Tejas Lone Star Festival and the Jacksonville Music Fest. Members also have performed at at Rusk State Hospital and nursing homes and retirement centers in Rusk, Jacksonville, and Tyler.
During the past two years, the group has also played at the Scarecrow Trail for the past two years.
“We had a lot of children who were interested in the music we played,” Welch said.
About a dozen group members also take part in a music ministry called “Dulcimers in Praise,” entertaining at area nursing homes and led by Margie Adams, who co-founded the group.
“Sharing music and God's love is our goal, and the residents get into the act and join along with us,” Stanley said.
The group offers free lessons at their monthly gathering and “we have had quite a few who have come in” that way, Welch said.
“We bring an extra instrument so that a person can try it … almost everybody goes out and get their own, because they can't wait (to join).”
A dulcimer is “good beginning instrument because it's easy to play,” Stanley said.
“You can play any kind of music you want, it's very versatile. And dulcimers are like people, they have their own personality because they're made out of different kinds of wood and each has a different sound,” she said.
Most of the players use mountain dulcimer, “also called the lap dulcimer, the Applachian mountain dulcimer,” she added.
Because a dulcimer's fret boards are numbered, a beginner picks up the instrument easily because “we play by numbers,” Welch said.
“The going story is that if you can count to 10, you can play the dulcimer,” she laughed, then described how she was fascinated by a woman playing the instrument in a “quaint shop (while) we were up in Eureka Springs, Ark., on vacation.
“I heard it, and I bought (a kit) from her, and she showed me what to do. Then when we got home, I didn't know what to do,” she recalled.
However, she learned about beginner dulcimer course taught at Tyler Junior College and signed up.
“I learned how to play, fell in love with playing and got serious about it,” Welch said.
The group regularly meets the fourth Saturday of the month, but due to the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, they will meet at 10 a.m. Nov. 17 at the Jacksonville Senior Citizen Center for a “Holiday Jam.”
They will reconvene their regular schedule in January, on the fourth Saturday at 10 a.m., and free dulcimer lessons will be offered at the Senior Center.
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