The dulcimer is an instrument with a well-varied heritage. Invented in the Appalachian mountain region in the early 19th century, the instrument is speculated to be a hybrid of many different European influences: the German zither, the Swedish hummel, even the Norwegian langeleik.
Played while rested on the lap, the dulcimer lends itself to old-fashion music styles. Derived from two more mysterious sources, Greek and Latin, the instrument's name means "sweet sound" according to White House Dulcimer Players member Joyce Partain.
Like the history of the dulcimer itself, the group that makes up the White House Dulcimer Players is also diverse, organic, and wholly original. Says Partain, one of the founding members of the group, "They come here to play from all over."
Retiring to White House from Northern Illinois in the early 2000s, Partain began playing dulcimer with a friend as a hobby. Taking lessons from a dulcimer musician in Nashville, she says she progressed quickly.
"It's an easy instrument to learn," she said.
Soon, Partain was looking for people to play with closer to home. Along with fellow musicians Sue Clayborn and Chester Page, she started the Players in 2005.
Despite the group's name, the White House Dulcimer Players has attracted dulcimer musicians from across Northern Middle Tennessee. The group holds a practice and playing session every Monday at Authentic Coffee Shop, open to listeners and new players.
Partain says most of the group's members are relatively new to the instrument and even to playing music. She says the Appalachian instrument's simple construction makes learning easy. Partain herself came to the instrument with no prior musical training, having heard the dulcimer at a meeting several years before. Still, she says there is always something to learn.
"I don't think I've mastered it at all," said Partain.
Curious listeners are always welcome to join the group to learn according to group member Ann Morris.
"If you don't know how, we'll show you," she said.
The group is also active in performing at local festivals and events. One of the Players' largest venues this year was the Kentucky Garden Club Contention in April. The group's busiest time is at Christmas, says Partain, when the Players perform hymns and seasonal songs.
The White House Players' Weekly meeting is at Authentic Coffee from 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays. For more information, contact Joyce Partain at 615-672-9604.