Pigeonholes are for PIGEONS!

by Linda Ratcliff

The first year I learned to play the dulcimer, I primarily focused on fiddle tunes, you know, the tunes we all have learned to play at jam sessions. They get your toe a-tapping and your hands a-strumming. Then I stretched my imagination to work up arrangements that I could play as solos in church, during Communion or the Offertory.  And I learned to play backup at church on the dulcimer, basically playing the same chords as the rhythm guitar players.   And that was IT.  I was "pigeonholed" in what I could do or play on my dulcimer.  And I thought I was DONE.

But THEN we moved to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And I found it was way past time to stretch my horizons, to think big - outside the box, to create something new. I was experiencing a new genre of music, a culture that celebrated calypso and reggae rhythms, and this was no time to say, “I CAN’T” or, “I WON”T.”

I got with the program. The guys at our church were kind enough to teach me how to flow with these new rhythms, whether on keyboard or on the hammered dulcimer. And flow I did … but the truth is, it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t because I couldn’t be heard over the pulsing sounds of their steel pan drums and percussion drums. But I felt it, worshipped with all my heart and soul in it, participated with all of my might. And I learned.

My efforts caught the attention of Steel Pan Dan, and here we are in my small apartment, practicing together to see if our styles could mesh in a manner worthy of performance level. The idea didn’t pan out (get the pun?), possibly because the two are not well-balanced in volume, but we sure had fun checking out the possibilities and making new sounds together.

I told you about my hammered dulcimer experiences in St. Thomas to say this. Don’t let yourself get pigeonholed on these wonderful instruments. Not sure if you’re stuck in a rut, just spinning your wheels musically speaking? Well then, just ask yourself these questions.

  • Does every practice session seems the same? Are you bored?
  • Do you feel like you're just putting in time when you practice, so you can mark it off your list for that day?
  • Do you feel unmotivated when you pick up your instrument, and unfulfilled when you put it back down again?
  • Do you feel the urge to shake things up a bit, but dread the work that goes along with learning a new tune or a new technique?
  • Are you still playing the same old tunes … the same old way … year after year?
  • Are you in a negative loop, getting nowhere fast, sticking solidly to your comfort zone?

If so, you’re in a pigeonhole meant only for pigeons. It’s past time to break out of the mold, take your music to a new and more challenging level. Become open to new ideas, new genres, new ways of approaching your instrument. Take your instruments to new places. Steve and I like to buy new instruments to add to our collection. Creating new melodious pathways can give your brain the push it needs, motivating you to take up new challenges as you fly right back out of that pigeonhole you yourself created, up and away to new musical horizons.



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