Photos by Connor Burnard / Contributing Photographer
Story by Caleb Revill / Contributing Writer
The MTSU Center for Chinese Music and Culture hosted its “Dueling Dulcimers” musical performance in Hinton Hall Friday night.
Several performers attended, one of which was the US National Champion of hammer dulcimer, David Mahler.
“My mom has her master’s degree in voice, so I grew up listening to classical music, musicals and music of all types,” Mahler says about his introduction to the art form. “My mom was interested in learning how to play the dulcimer, and when I wanted to play the drum set, she convinced me to try out the dulcimer. I really loved it and stuck with it.”
Thirty minutes before the program had begun, attendees were already waiting in the lobby outside of the theatre. It may have been chilly outside, but the Wright Music Building was warmed by the friendly atmosphere of people speaking and laughing.
The doors were opened, and the crowd began to siphon into the auditorium. There was a single dulcimer on the stage, and the sounds of players tuning their instruments could be heard from offstage.
After a few more minutes the auditorium lights dimmed, and the audience quieted down. A woman stepped out onto the stage and began to speak. She welcomed everyone, and introduced herself as Dr. Mei Han, the director of the Center for Chinese Music and Culture.
Dr. Han began with a phrase in Chinese. She then translated in English, saying, “Happy New Year, in the year of roosters.” She then explained that the performance was, in part, to celebrate the beginning of the Chinese New Year.
After providing the audience with some background of the instruments and cultures that would be presented in the program, she introduced the first musician to play: Xuanye Mi. The performer sat down and began to play.
The dulcimer appeared to be a hybrid of a guitar and a xylophone, with the style and musical range of a piano. The audience listened intently to the musician, who plucked and hammered the strings with two thin mallets.
The sound was nothing short of captivating. The audience was entranced by the beautiful sounds of this peculiar instrument. This initial moment of engrossment set the mood for the rest of the program.
As the performances continued, the audience was introduced to more instruments. A pipa, named after the “Pi” and “Pa” sounds it made, was a four-stringed lute. There was also a zheng, which was a very large stringed instrument.
Later in the program, David Mahler played the dulcimer alongside Yuening Liu, creating a mix of traditional Chinese and Appalachian folk music. The duet was a splendid combination of both cultures.
David described this mix of cultures as his favorite part of the program, explaining, “Taking these traditional tunes from two different countries and bringing them together so all of a sudden we aren’t playing them traditionally anymore, there’s something new.”
At the end of the program, all of the performers played together, creating a circus of sound. The precision and harmony was incredible to watch, as all five musicians played their instruments in unison.
After the performance had concluded, the audience roared with applause, and had a standing ovation for the performers. The musicians bowed and were presented bouquets of flowers by several members of the audience. It truly was a wonderful experience.