We continued our work on the new CD. I also started working on some new competition pieces. I started searching for some other state and national competitions. It seems that the Florida State Dulcimer Championship would take place in the early spring near Tampa. I asked a friend to ride down with me that weekend. We drove down Friday and got a room for the night. On Saturday we drove to the event location. It was out in an Orange Grove area with quite a lot of people. I found out that there were contests on many different instruments. We took note of the time of the mountain dulcimer contest. One competition that caught my eye was the Autoharp contest. I had never seen anyone really play that instrument other than strumming. I watched intently as the contestants competed. I was impressed and thought that I might want to try to work on that instrument some time in the future. The mountain dulcimer contest was getting ready to start. There were three judges sitting at a table in front of the stage. There were some very good players there that day. I played my songs and thought that I did okay. No noticeable bloops. We had a long ride home ahead of us that day, so we were planning on leaving immediately after the announcement of the winners. They always announce in reverse order. Third place, second place, then the winner. They called my number last and I was the 1998 Florida State Dulcimer Champion. After the presentation we headed straight for the car and made it home after a 9 hour drive
We continued working on the new CD as I started making plans to head west for the Southern regional in Mountain View Arkansas. The mecca of the mountain dulcimer world.
I remembered how my mentor Bob Thomason, who had won there, talked about this event. It was a major step up from the previous contests. I enlisted my friend Oliver to again take the ride out to Mountain View. We drove all night to get there in April of 1998. When we arrived, I started meeting some of the other contestants and listen to some good music. This seemed like the big time. I realized that this was not going to be easy.
Friday evening we headed out to the much talked about town square where there was a lot of music being played at different places around the square. That was a real neat experience for me. The next morning we had breakfast and we checked out the grounds of the Folk Art Center. The afternoon preliminaries where to be held in the main auditorium. I went over to check it out. It was huge. I had never been to the Grand Ole Opry, but this could have been it. I performed my two songs in the the prelims that afternoon and was chosen to be in the top five for the evening contest finals.
I did not know the other competitors being from the east coast. Most of these performers were from the mid west. The competition was fierce. I just concentrated on what I could do. Looking back now, I needed a little coaching and guidance to get into this level. Mark Tindal, two time national champion won first place. Linda Brockington won second, previous 2nd place finisher, and I placed third. I received a McSpadden dulcimer as my prize. I felt like I had done my best and took the notice of the the movers and shakers in the dulcimer world. I met Gary Gallier who came up to me and introduced himself. He was very complimentary of my playing and said he could show me a few things that would help me. I did not know who he was at the time.He was a judge and former National Champion in his own right. He showed me a few things that evening that helped develop my style even more. He has been a good friend since. I just needed to go back and regroup and work on my arrangements and get ready for the upcoming Mid Eastern Regionals in Ohio. Was I going? Oh yea! It seemed like a lot of traveling was in store for me. This little instrument was taking me across the country and I was having a ball. Stay tuned!
Mom had been released to go home and was packing to walk out the door. Then all of a sudden she had a relapse and was taken into emergency surgery.
We all rushed to the hospital thinking that this set back would mean a longer recuperation than we had anticipated. When the doctor came into the room, no one was prepared for what he said. She was not going to make it.
Her untimely death affected all of the family in different ways. I think as I went through the months of the grieving process, the dulcimer was a constant friend. I would sit up very late at night playing through the hymns that I had grown up listening to and hearing mom sing. Things were very different in our family now. Mom was the spiritual and musical leader of our family and now there was a void.
After the holidays, we brought in the New Year of 1997. I continued to work on my music and skills. When I would reach a musical plateau, I would buy another dulcimer recording and learn the songs from different artists. In the spring, I started thinking about doing a recording. I wanted to do some of the hymn arrangements that I had put together. I was talking one afternoon to one of my neighbors who had done some recording. He recommended that I go see Dennis Steele with Trackside Studio in Lexington. I realized that was the same Dennis Steele that I went to high school with. I called and made an appointment to come and visit his studio. I was very impressed and yet somewhat intimidated by the studio. I was pretty confident in my playing at that time and thought this would be a fun adventure. We scheduled some sessions. I was going to be a recording artist.
My first night in the studio brought some unexpected surprises. First, I had never played with a click track. Most people, including myself, who play by themselves usually develop timing issues. Staying with the click was very hard. Then the microphone was so hot that I could hear myself breathing. You also felt like you were in a fish bowl inside the recording area.
This was going to be harder than I thought. The first night brought a lot of humility to this dulcimer player. I look back now and know that if I had gone anywhere else to record, I would have been recorded quickly and pushed out the door. God brought me to Dennis and Trackside. He basically held my hand and took me through the recording project, encouraging me all the way. I also started working with another friend, James Rizzuti, on all my graphics. We released our first recording, Dulcimer Praise, in the fall of 1997. It was also time for the Georgia Sate Championships in Hiawassee, Ga. After letting my nerves get the best of me the previous year, I decided to go back. Mom would have surely encouraged me. This time the results were different and we came away with the win. Georgia State Champion!
Sales were good on our new project for the Christmas season. After New Years, I starting contemplating recording another project. From the style of some of my signature songs, I decided to call it Swingin' the Gospel. I compiled my selections and started to work. I was now excited about going back into the studio. I also started looking at other competitions that would be coming up in the spring. Should I go and see what I could do? 1998 was starting out to be an exciting time with the dulcimer.
Well, I had the dulcimer in my hands usually every night. Being a night owl and the dulcimer being a quiet instrument, I could just play to my hearts content. I learned from a book how to tune in a DAA tuning. I started picking out hymns that I had grown up singing. Very shortly I was playing a few songs. I would play for my wife on occasion. I would ask her the name of the tune. I finally figured that when she could name the tune, I was getting somewhere. I carried my little dulcimer when we went to family functions. Being from a musical family, they all thought it was a curious instrument but unfamiliar in SC. Mom liked that I was taking an interest back in music. She would play something on the piano and I would play along on the dulcimer. It was an odd combination. I kept going once a month to the dulcimer club in town. It was the few times I got to play with other people. I found out there was going to be a large dulcimer festival in Helen, Ga in the fall. I immediately made plans to go to it. When November rolled around my wife and I headed for the festival. I had no idea what to expect. When we arrived we saw so many vendors and dulcimer people. I had no idea that it would be so many players there. I signed up for some classes. I had been playing mostly by ear till that point. In the classes, they passed out music called tablature. There I was in a class with my tiny little instrument. I had on both sides of me, ladies with these gorgeous Blue Lion instruments. I could only dream about having one of those. Friday night was the concert. We got there early because I wanted to sit on the front row. I had my video camera with me and set it up on the floor. That probably was not allowed but I did not think of it at the time. One of the artists that night was my mentor, Bob Thomason. I had listened to his tape so much that I had almost worn it out. The other performer was Tull Glazener. I had heard of him but had never heard him play. I was totally mesmerized by the performances that night. I had seen first hand what could be done on that little dulcimer. I came home all inspired to play like those guys. I watched my video over and over and finally started being able to play some of the songs. This encouraged me to put more time into the instrument. At Christmas, my wife surprised me with an envelope that was the receipt for a Bob Thomason dulcimer. She had gone by Bob's shop while at the festival and ordered it for me. Unfortunately, he was so backed up that it was February before I finally got my new real full size dulcimer. I continued going to the club meeting and playing at any time, for anybody. Time passed on until the fall of 1997. I thought I was getting pretty good. I could play most of the songs on my video and tapes. When I would hit a plateau in my learning, I would get another tape and learn those songs. I knew that Bob had won some dulcimer competitions. My competitive nature started me thinking about going to a contest. I heard about a contest in Hiawassee, GA. This was the Georgia State Championship. I started practicing getting ready to go down that fall and try my luck. My mom was having some minor heart valve problems and the doctor had recommended the she have a valve replacement operation. Mom was scheduled to go in about the same time of the contest I had decided to not go, but she insisted that I go ahead. She told me to go down there and play your dulcimer for those people. So we left and went to Georgia. The auditorium was huge. I thought I was at the Grand Old Opry. The contestants drew numbers and I went out to do my 2 songs. I was doing a waltz for my first tune. I started playing the intro and I froze and could not remember how to start the song. Never happened before. I finally got it going and finished the song. I did well on the 2nd song. When they announced the top 3 winners, my name was not called. I felt really bad that I had let my nerves get the best of me. We headed back to SC and back to the hospital to see my Mom. She was in a lot of pain. I told her that I did not do well. She said you just keep trying. I stayed the night with her. She was to be coming home in a few days. I went back to work on Monday and the work was going well , when I received a call. Mom had taken an unexpected turn for the worse
I had finally had my dulcimer experience. I loved hearing the sounds of Bob Thomason's dulcimer cassette and wanted to experience more. Where could I find a dulcimer in Columbia, SC? I went to the local bluegrass store thinking I would find an instrument to play on again. The owner told me there was a dulcimer group that met once a month in Columbia. I got the phone number and called a sweet little lady named Fran Cargill. The group was to meet the following Sunday in town. I went to that meeting, even though I did not have an instrument at the time. Someone noticed that I did not have an instrument and loaned me one. There I was sitting in a group of dulcimer players, playing the dulcimer. I went back into playing by ear mode and had a great time. The little beginner instrument that I played that day was made in Alabama by a guy named Butch Sides. It was called his woodpile dulcimer. I envisioned him going out to his woodpile and cutting wood into pieces. When I got home from the club meeting, I called him and ordered my first dulcimer for $80.00. About two weeks later a package came in the mail. It was my dulcimer. Then I had a thought, I had forgot to mail Butch his check. I immediately called him to apologize. I found out that dulcimer people are not only friendly but very trusting. Now I had a dulcimer so I just started playing.
Our family took a trip to Maggie Valley, NC in the spring of 1995. We did most of the tourist type things. While heading up toward the Blue Ridge Parkway, I saw a log cabin on the side of the road. On the sign it said " Balsam Gallery Dulcimers." We stopped in and met Mr. Jack Lyle and his daughter-in-law Karin. It was a typical music shop but it featured dulcimers. My only experience with dulcimers was listening to the theme song of the Victory Garden PBS shows back in the 70's. As we looked around the shop, Karin asked me if I wanted to learn to play the mountain dulcimer. I said sure. She then proceeded to give the typical demo of the mountain dulcimer. She asked if I wanted to try it. I said sure. I had played music by ear my entire life. So I started picking out a song. I was thinking to myself that this was a very simplistic instrument. Karin was very enthusiastic about how well I picked it up. I also thought this must be the reaction everyone gets so that they would purchase an instrument. Knowing Karin as I do today, I know she is just a very sincere person, genuine and a good judge of talent!. We were on a tight budget and an instrument was not something I could do at that time. I did purchase a cassette of noted dulcimer artist, Bob Thomason. I listened to sounds of the dulcimer all the way home. I was hooked and knew that a dulcimer would be in my future.
My next adventure concerning the dulcimer was my visit to a Dulcimer club meeting. Till next time.
Music had always been a large part of my life when I was young. After High School, I played in a beach and soul band for about four years. I played trumpet and Sax and did vocals. After I left the band, Disco was the new thing. With my experience with sound systems and lighting, I moved into the world of a disco DJ. It was called, "Mike's Music Machine" with all sorts of special effect lighting. I did that part time for almost 20 years. I did very little singing and playing on my guitar during that time period. I always had a competitive spirit in what ever I did. My discovering the mountain dulcimer in the spring of 1995 was a life changing event for me. The dulcimer, which comes from the Zither catagory of instruments, completely fascinated me from the first day. I will explain that special first day in my next post.
Greetings music friends and Happy New Year! We are ushering in 2011 with the launch of our new and improved website at michaelshull.com
. We would like to thank all the supporters of Michael Shull's music over the last 12 years. We are expecting 2011 to be a year of much growth as we continue to share our music with many new audiences. We have tried to make the new site as user friendly as possible keeping all aspects organized and very intuitive for viewers like you. We also have a new CD presently in the works for this year as well. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Myspace, as well as this blog, and we will keep you posted on our progress as we head into 2011. Have a blessed and prosperous New Year.