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.