Thursday, February 25, 2010

Waverly Couple Shapes Local Dulcimer Culture

by Jill Dickert

Gary and Toni Sager, co-owners of Prussia Valley Dulcimers: Acoustic Music Shop, indubitably have expanded the folk music culture in Waverly, Ohio. By pursuing their passion, they have surpassed being a mere music shop and instead have extended the store into part of Pike County’s local culture.

How it all began:

Sager built his first mountain dulcimer, a uniquely shaped, carved and plucked musical instrument that is a big component of the Appalachian folk music scene, in 1991 after seeing David Schnaufer's music video for "Fischer's Hornpipe" on CMT. He had always been a country and folk music enthusiast. After seeing the video, he wanted to know more about dulcimer instruments.

At the time, Gary was an electrician at the RCA/Thomson plant in Circleville, Ohio where he had been working since April of 1971. A co-worker gave Gary a book that contained instructions for making mountain dulcimers after Gary expressed his interest in the instrument. With the help of the book and determination, Gary constructed his first dulcimer. “It wasn't the best sample of my work for sure, but the instruments gradually improved,” says Gary.

Prussia Valley Dulcimers: The Early Years

Gary had been building mountain dulcimers for a few years and his interest in folk music only increased throughout the years. Gary’s wife Toni is also passionate about folk music. After seeing a woman playing an autoharp at the Fraley Mountain Music Festival in Kentucky, she became enthralled with the stringed instrument that has a series of chord bars attached to dampers which, when depressed, mute all the strings other than those that form the desired chord. The autoharp is a flat instrument that does not really resemble a harp at all.

Gary and Toni started to attend some local dulcimer festivals such as Fort New Salem Dulcimer Festival, Dulcimer Doin's in Dayton, Ohio, and Buckeye Dulcimer Festival in Ashley, Ohio. The couple quickly learned that the attendants of these festivals were also interested in dulcimer cases, picks, tuners, CDs and tablature books. Soon Gary and Toni decided to sell some of those items in addition to the dulcimer instruments that Gary made at the festivals. “After achieving success with these festivals, it just seemed logical to open a store in 2001,” says Gary.

Prussia Valley Dulcimers, nine years later:

The shop has seen a great many changes since its inception in 2001. A re-location has occurred and it has since expanded from a mere music store. Gary and Toni made the executive decision to make the store more than a dulcimer-selling entity and now sell several other acoustic instruments such as guitars, harps, fiddles, banjos and autoharps. There is a freestanding Web site to place online orders, workshops and lessons, CDs available for purchase and even a publication titled Dulcimer Players News. Gary and Toni continue to brainstorm and implement initiatives to extend the Prussia Valley Dulcimers presence in Pike County. They have recently developed a program with Bristol Village, the new senior citizen center in Waverly. Gary is going to offer free group workshops on playing the mountain dulcimer for the seniors. “It should be fun and we hope to help generate more local interest in the mountain dulcimer,” says Gary.

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