About Hills of Kentucky Dulcimers
The Hills of Kentucky Dulcimer Club is a non-profit organization with over 100 members active in the community, providing entertaining programs at local schools, libraries, nursing homes, festivals and other venues. We strive to promote the rich history and music of the Appalachian lap dulcimer to young and old alike.
HOKD meets on the first and third Thursday of each month. The purpose of each meeting is to provide instruction, to rehearse for performances, to discuss club business and to play music.
We primarily feature the mountain dulcimer (a.k.a. Appalachian dulcimer, lap dulcimer, hog fiddle, duckslammer); however club jams include the washtub bass, mandolin, guitar, autoharp, fiddle, flute, train whistle, and other traditional instruments. Our library of music is extensive and includes old time, gospel and traditional folk music. Meeting jams will progress from a slow pace in consideration of novice players to the fast and furious. There is music for all.
Mountain dulcimer instruction is provided for beginning and intermediate levels. Structured instruction is offered. We invite guest instructors to teach technique or a new tune. Many club members are willing to teach other instruments.
There is no better way to introduce ourselves than to reprint an article about the origin of the Hills of Kentucky Dulcimer Club (HOKD) by Ann Startz, one of our founders.
As we prepared to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we saluted a couple who were present at the creation, who helped give birth to the club that would become the Hills of Kentucky Dulcimers: Ann and Mort Startz. Ann’s early idea of becoming a music teacher turned out to be in the cards, if not a career, and Mort’s voice still brings out the soul of a good gospel song.
Ann grew up in western Kentucky in a little town called Beaver Dam, population 1200. Her musical background included playing the trombone and piano in bands through high school and at Murray State. She had aspirations of becoming a music teacher, but changed her tune to pursue a master’s degree in social work. “They aren’t so different,” she says. “They both make people feel better.” She went on to an accomplished career in directing family service offices in Northern Kentucky, a career interrupted to raise her own family of three fine children.
Ann traces her beginnings in the dulcimer world to a mall-shopping trip, where she bought a dulcimer crafted by John Tignor of Kentucky for $50 at an arts and crafts exhibit. It sat on the piano for a long time before Ann signed up for classes offered by Nancy Bick Clark, then went on to join the Cincinnati Dulcimer Society.
One evening, several members of the group were sitting around and jamming and decided to start a club on the other side of the River. Ann says the first and biggest challenge was finding people who could write music for them. Before we had the expertise of Georgia Filson or Esther Reece, Ann tried to tab out music for the group but found it laborious. With play sheets that were often were scraps of paper with a few numbers jotted on them, the new Hills of Kentucky Dulcimers club (HOKD) started accepting invitations to play at shopping centers and parks, spreading the word about the dulcimer and their new club.
Ann has several pictures of the early days of the club and will share them at the tenth anniversary picnic. She says one of the high points came when a national organization of social workers held a conference in Cincinnati and dulcimers played to a room full of people at a cocktail party in the Netherland Plaza hotel.
Ann is delighted to see how her dulcimer family has grown and encourages the club to re-read the HOKD mission: to bring the music of the dulcimer to our neighbors and communities. “I’m not into the dulcimer to develop my own proficiency or teach new players,” says Ann, who has taught beginners classes for both CDS and HOKD. “I think programs should be the main goal of the club so the public can hear the dulcimer. You accomplish that by playing in nursing homes, parks and Elderhostels, not playing for yourself in a practice room.”
Her favorites are still the old traditional dulcimer songs, the kind she plays with her Heart Strings group, the type that brings out the slow, soft, sweet music of the instrument.
Ann and her husband Mort are coming up on their 50th wedding anniversary. They’ve been retired for 11 years. In that time, they’ve attended at least 15 Elderhostels throughout the country as a way to travel. These days all their traveling is to visit grandchildren in California and Columbus, Ohio, but they continue to be active in learning environments. They both teach and attend classes through Learning in Retirement, a catalog of 90 classes on three University of Cincinnati campuses. Among the classes they’ve taught was American History through Folk Songs, where of course dulcimers carried the tune for several of the periods.
Ann encourages new players to participate in the club’s community programs for hospitals, retirement homes, and nursing homes. “You don’t have to be a virtuoso to play for these people,” she says. “They are so grateful just to have you there and it’s a good way to hone your skills.”