A newsmaker you should known: Sutch is making music on the hammered dulcimer

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Adam Sutch was just a child when he was drawn to a musical instrument that dates back at least a thousand years.

"When I was 10 years old, my family took me to Benner's Campground in Farmington, where I first heard someone play the hammered dulcimer," said Mr. Sutch, of the Daisytown section of West Pike Run in Washington County. "I was immediately hooked."

That Christmas, Mr. Sutch's parents bought him a small version of the instrument, which he mastered on his own with a lot of practice. He bought himself a larger dulcimer for $3,000 the following spring, using money he earned showing animals at the Washington County fair, working in his father's deer processing shop and collecting and selling aluminum cans.

"I got my first gig in 2005, when I was 14 for a banquet at Hugo's Restaurant in Centerville," he said. He asked his grandfather, Ron Howes of Fredericktown, to join him on guitar. His grandmother, Darlene, also joined in on guitar, while his mother played another hammered dulcimer.

Mr. Sutch, now 21, is a junior at California University of Pennsylvania, majoring in secondary education/biology and theater.

Musical talent appears to run in the family. Mr. Sutch's younger brother, Aaron, 18, plays the marimbula, a folk instrument that originated in the Caribbean that can take the place of an upright bass, and brother, Austin, 13, plays the bodhran, an Irish drum, and the cajon, a percussion box that sounds like a drum set.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Sutch and his entire family played at the Dulci-More Festival in Lisbon, Ohio, where he also taught several workshops. Usually, when the Sutch family performs, Mr. Sutch's father, Jim, works the sound board.

So far, the family has recorded four CDs, two of which contain traditional and Irish songs and are titled "Sutch Sounds" and "Sutch Sounds Traditional." They also have made a Christmas-themed CD titled "Hammering Through the Seasons" and another of music that Mr. Sutch composed and performed that is titled "Eye of the Hurricane."

In addition to performing at events across the region, Mr. Sutch won the Mid-Eastern Regional Hammered Dulcimer Competition in 2006 and placed three times in the top five in the national competition.

Mr. Sutch said the hammered dulcimer originated in the Middle East and was brought to Western Europe as a result of the Crusades. The American version he plays is trapezoidal and came to the U.S. in the 1700s.

Predating the piano, the harpsichord and even the piano forte, the hammered dulcimer is in the zither family and is considered a string and percussion instrument that has 30 to 100 strings.

Because the piano is easier to play and doesn't demand as much re-tuning, the hammered dulcimer eventually became obsolete. However, it regained popularity in the 1900s in folk festival communities.

The hammered dulcimer is often confused with the mountain or Appalachian dulcimer, which has three or four strings and frets and is usually strummed. Despite the similar names, the two instruments are unrelated.

After graduation, Mr. Sutch plans to teach high school biology.

"I originally wanted to major in theater, but my father convinced me to go for something a bit more solid, so I switched to secondary education," said Mr. Sutch, who will be the first person in his family to graduate from college. "With two more years at Cal U to go, I'm still trying to figure out my career path, but no matter what field I end up in, I'll continue to play the hammered dulcimer."

His dulcimer collection has grown to seven. When he performs, he takes his newest and biggest, a Dusty Strings brand dulcimer. He acts in plays at California University and plays tuba in the school's marching band. He will perform at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. July 28 at the Whiskey Rebellion Festival in Washington Square in Washington. Pa.

neigh_south - neigh_washington

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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