Part 2- Competition in Kansas here we come!

So to continue and complete the story of the hammer dulcimer contest in Kansas, Wednesday morning we packed the car to the brim with a large tent, 5 days of clothing and one 91stringed instrument and headed west! 

Earlier in the week we had prayed, asking the Spirit to show me which songs to perform, and in what order. He faithfully gave us a game plan and so we headed forth in hope and faith that if we would obey the Father would meet us.

(By the way the photo album at the top of the member's page shows you a timeline of what took place. We really enjoyed the freestyle road trip, stopping for lunch as we wished and winding our way to Kansas. :) Take a peek at those after you read this blog and you'll get the full scope of things.)

When we arrived at the festival entrance Thursday afternoon we were wowed by the size of the event- there must have been 3000 camping units already set up and more pouring in as the weekend approached. I spent the next 2 days observing the other competitions, eating fair food, studying my Bible and meeting our camp neighbors. I believe it was on Thursday that I learned I should keep my 2 songs in each round to a total of 5 minutes. "Crap!" I thought, since my first song alone was 4 minutes. So I went back to camp, sat at the dulcimer and began paring my songs down to their core so that I was still using the unique elements that highlighted (or should it be highlit?)  my abilities, without letting the songs drag on. After that was completed I felt ready to take on the world. I believe my words to Donna were, "I'm as ready as I'm gonna get!"

Saturday morning I tuned up, packed up the tent and then went to get lunch, praying that my nerves would settle and I would be able to meet some of the other contestants before the playing began at 3:30pm. Sure enough around 2 I saw a couple with a large dulcimer case in hand entering the performance area to tune up. After all the secrecy of not knowing who was judging, who was competing and who the audience would be, it was nice to finally have some names and faces! This national competition is unique in that the judges are sequestered and never watch the performances but only listen with a technical ear. It makes for a very fair and unbiased contest but wow does that element of the unknown add suspense!

For the first round I played two of my original compositions from the Songs From Walnut Valley CD, Storm and My Fathers's Song. I played well but struggled to get my rhythm solid on the first song. My hand was shaking so much that at one point I could not bend a note that I intended to. Adrenaline is a whole body experience, let me tell you! I left the stage unsure if I would be advancing to the second round simply because I did not nail the passion of the songs as I usually do and the other competitors were playing with a high level of accuracy. My humble opinion is that 2010 was a year of very strong competitors! It is an honor to be counted among them. As I walked off the stage I thought, "I've hated every nervous minute of this, but if I don't advance to the final round, I'm coming back next year! I want this!" I headed backstage and began tuning in faith that I would be called upon to play my last two numbers...and lo and behold I was!

I was elated when my number was called as a finalist- "I have one more shot," I thought. "This is my moment to nail it!" I drew number 6 which meant I was the one closing out the show. Great! More time to tune. After tuning I laid down and waited for my moment, working hard at not listening to the competition or trying to gauge my popularity with the crowd.

My final two pieces were Moon On The Water and Bach's Prelude to Cello Suite, (also on the Songs From Walnut Valley CD). I have to share a few details about these because a surprise or two even jumped out and  caught me as I played. On the first number one of my hammers became tripped up in a string and I dropped it on the dulcimer. I have never done this in performance before and hope to never do it again! Somehow God gave me the presence of mind to continue playing a few measures with my right hand until I could scoop up the hammer again with my left. Boy did it feel good to reach the end of the song with both hammers in hand! The former champions sitting up in the front rows saw what occured but Donna, who was sitting about 8 rows back, had no idea that it even happened. To top things off I also lost my place on the second song but somehow continued playing notes in the right key long enough to get to where I remembered my next line and finished the song without further ado. Did I mention that adrenaline does funny things?

So, long story a little bit shorter, after tallying the judges scores they began to announce the results backstage- After the hammer blunder I was amazed to learn that I was in the top three finalists, which meant that I was taking home either first, second or third place. WOW!  Sam Wachtler was named third and I was happy for him...and then it started to sink in that I was either second or first. "What?!" When the second place contestant, Tina Gugeler, who is a former champion, was announced it took what felt like minutes for reality to sink in that there was only one position left for me. When the good people sharing the news with me nodded and smiled their approval, I must have gone a few shades paler as the whirlwind hit. "What? Me? Are you serious?"

Amazed, I took the dulcimer out one more time to play an encore piece. As I prepared to begin The Unknown someone in the front shouted, "Drop a hammer!" and the place erupted in laughter. I think a legend is now firmly established! I like this element of the story because the race is not always won by the swiftest, nor the battle to the strong...but time and chance happen to them all. It took all that I had within me to play through this final piece and when it was over I impulsively threw my hammers down in triumph ont the dulcimer! I did it! I showed up and God handed me victory in my hour of need.

Winning first place means something very special to me. When asked which dulcimer I would prefer I pointed to Russell Cook's and said, "That one!" I have wanted one of his dulcimers for years and this special edition that he crafts for the National Competition is a beauty! So I am now the proud owner of a trophy that is a foot taller than it needs to be, a new Intellitouch tuner, (which by the way comes in handy when tuning 91 strings) a limited edition pewter belt buckle and some cash from the Walnut Valley Association. And a wonderful dulcimer. What a day of abundance!

I wish that I had the video documentary available to show you already because in it you would see the excitment on my face and the joy in my heart. It's hard to figure out how to say that on a blank white page with a keyboard. (sigh) As Russell from MasterWorks dulcimers was presenting the prize instrument to me he made a spontaneous announcement that he would not be sending the instrument home with me ("WHAT!?!") because he was going to first take it back to his Oklahoma business and install dampers on it so that I can continue to explore the new directions this instrument can go. (a $650 extra) WOW! I am so amazed at the generosity of Mr. Cook and the favor of my Father who is so lavish in his love for me. (I am excitedly waiting to see and play this stunning and glossy instrument. I'll put up pictures or something once it arrives.)

I can not write any further without mentioning one of the contest highlights- The contestants this year were a thrill to meet. So skilled, so diverse and so unique. I am honored to be named among you and hope for many years of comradarie together in the dulcimer community as you all grow in the unique talent that each one of you has been given. Thank you for sharing this moment with me. I also am grateful for my friend, Josh Messick, who critiqued my work and shared the stories of his competitions with me. You helped equip me to be the best I could be! To the wonderful friends and family members who gave our 5 older children a home while we were gone Donna says, MANY THANKS! Also thanks go out to Mom and Dad who changed their travel plans to spend 24 wonderful hours of my life with me and cheered me on to the finish. Your presence settled me before the contest and calmed Donna as she waited for news in the audience. Lyra didn't mind the ice cream and hot dogs either. :) Besides, it is just plain fun to see one's mom giddy with excitement!

Donna recommends here that I close the story with a few notes from my acceptance speech. First I let everyone know that I was thrilled to have taken the title as a dad. It's been a long time since a father stood there in first place! Then I poked at the young people who have edged older folks out in the last decade. Perhaps it was a bit strong to call them "punks" but I just didn't know what else to call the men and women who play as fast and acurately as these competitors do! I also thanked my wife for her support and my daughter for coming along for the ride and then, the moment I had been waiting for, I was able to thank my Saviour, Jesus Christ, and our God, who delights in giving good gifts to his children. 

We all have so much work to enjoy, so much life to live and so much God to love! Thank Him with me and let's take this music to the world! Thanks for rejoicing with me. I look forward to sharing more with you of our journey in this music that God has planned for us. Please let me know if you have any questions and I'll be happy to fill you in.