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Press Release 10/11/09
Sumner Swings to the Sound of Music

By Jerry Pacholski

Sumner twanged and thumped, rocked and rolled, swooned and strummed to the sounds of acoustic music on Saturday, October 10th. Concert goers and students from all over the Midwest came to this Illinois town to enjoy the sweet sounds of the fourth annual Red Hill Music Festival. The music ranged from the familiar sound of guitars, fiddles and banjoes to the esoteric sounds of Philippine jaw harps, Brazilian nose flutes and Caribbean steel drums. The concert music ranged from old country standards played on recreated Civil War instruments to twelve bar blues played on the hammer dulcimer with accompaniment on the sax. .

The performers received two standing ovations from a grateful audience. “ This was the most exciting concert we’ve ever had” said Paula Jones, one of the founding members of the Red Hill Dulcimer Society, which sponsored the event. “And that’s saying something, because all of our concerts have been outstanding.” The sanctuary of the Sumner United Methodist Church, which has hosted all four festivals, was packed. When asked, about eighty percent of the crowd were repeat attendees and many had attended all the past festivals.

The Red Hill Dulcimer Society performed a selection of acoustic numbers as a prelude to the free concert and then Mike Anderson , a new instructor this year, opened the performance. Mike is a renaissance man from Jacksonville, Illinois. An elementary school teacher who has received numerous honors from national education associations,. he is a frequent presenter at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, a writer and performer, creates sound effects for Disney/Pixar movies and will be an instructor at the National Jaw Harp Convention in Eugene, Oregon this year. The audience was treated to songs played on a cigar box mandolin, and jaw harp solos as well as old tunes sung along to the lap dulcimer.

Rick Thum, another new instructor this year, played the hammered dulcimer and harmonica simultaneously while accompanied by Doug Hawf, from Mt. Carmel on the guitar. He led the audience in singing an old hymn, and performed some of this own compositions while he and Doug carried on an ad-libbed comedy routine like old vaudevillians even though they had only met the day before.

Young and old enjoyed the performances. “ I was watching a young girl, about 8 or 9 sitting with her father. She was bouncing around, clapping her hands, just having a ball when Mike and Rick were playing.” said Bill Schafer, Society member. “It makes you feel so good to know this music appeals to the young.”

Tull Glazener, Molly McCormack and Guy George have been an integral part of the past Music Festival and delighted the audience this year too. Tull performed on lap dulcimer and squeeze box, while Molly played the guitar and did the vocals as Guy vamped on hammered dulcimer, steel drum , Irish whistle and sax. Their music ranged from “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” to “Under the Double Eagle” and “ Flip, Flop and Fly” as well as traditional county standards for the crowd’s delight. They rose to their feet more than once to clap and sing along with old favorites.

All the instructors gathered on stage to close the show with two last numbers. “ I heard about this but I never came before” one of the audience told the club, “but I sure plan to be back next year.”

Although heavy rains dampened preparations for the festival and kept the overall attendance down, over 110 students participated in the classes held that day in the church and the youth center across the street. People from as far as Ohio and Tennessee came to spend the day taking classes in lap dulcimer, fiddle, Irish whistle and guitar. A large contingent of people from Missouri came especially to learn hammered dulcimer from Rick Thum who is from Eureka, Mo.

The Red Hill Society’s hammer players had especially requested he be asked to teach at this year’s festival. Thum, who builds this ancient form of zither which is mentioned in the Bible, has taught at festivals across the country. “ I would love to be invited back next year. This is not like any festival I’ve ever taught at before. Everyone treated us so well” he said.

In addition to being a respected lap dulcimer player and teacher, Mike Anderson loves to appeal to children and the child in every adult with unusual instruments. “ The nose flute is a universally known instrument. People don’t realize it but some cultures use it specifically for religious music” he said. “ The air from your nose is “purer” than that from your mouth. You tell lies with your mouth.” After exhibiting different nose flutes from the Pacific Islands, Brazil and England, the members of his class were taught to play a plastic US made instrument. He plays a jaw- harp, or “jew’s harp” which is made in Austria by a family company who have manufactured them for 400 years. He showed metal, wood and bamboo models of the same instrument from Vietnam, China and the Philippines. Class participants also learned the proper basic techniques of playing the bones, shaker eggs and spoons.

Doug Hawf taught classes in beginning and advanced guitar and fiddle technique. He and his family band entertained the students at the lunch, catered by the Methodist Youth Group who will use the proceeds to provide Christmas baskets. Doug invited everyone to attend the Allendale Bluegrass in the Park festival to be held Saturday, October 17th starting at 10:00 am.

Guy George, with a background of classical training in music, brings his sense of humor to every class he teaches. Be it Irish whistle, steel drum or hammered dulcimer ,in addition to learning more about the instrument, students leave with a smile. He is the author of a series of learn-at-home lessons for the hammered dulcimer.

Molly McCormack, a gracious lady who taught at the last three festivals is an elementary school teacher from Louisville, Ky. She is well known for teaching the art of “jamming” which is getting an impromptu group of musicians who have never played together before to perform harmoniously. Her lap dulcimer class on the songs of Burl Ives was so popular it had to be moved to a bigger room. “I was told that in this area, I should stop teaching the Carter family songs and switch to Burl’s songs. I never expected a turnout like that.”

Tull Glazener, one of the best lap dulcimer players in the world, was the first “big name” instructor to join the staff of the Festival and has taught at each festival. He taught more experienced students advanced techniques and repertoire as well as jamming skills. A favorite of both students and the audience, the Red Hill Society considers him part of the family and wouldn’t think of having a festival with out him.

“ I don’t know how we could top this year’s festival, but we are already planning for next year. I am so proud of all the hard work that the club did.” said Crystal Schafer, Society President. “ Evaluations that the students completed were all complimentary. And the music was unmatched. This was one of the best festivals ever.”