2017-04-13 / News

Hessel Musician Crafts Instruments

Les Cheneaux: Peter Goehring and the Unique And Lively Sounds of the Hammered Dulcimer
By Jacob A. Ball


Musician Peter Goehring of Hessel performed at the Les Cheneaux Community Library Sunday, April 9. He holds a hammered dulcimer. A longtime musician, Mr. Goehring makes his own dulcimers, and plays several other instruments, as well. Musician Peter Goehring of Hessel performed at the Les Cheneaux Community Library Sunday, April 9. He holds a hammered dulcimer. A longtime musician, Mr. Goehring makes his own dulcimers, and plays several other instruments, as well. The sounds of the hammered dulcimer rang out with gusto in the silent library, but somehow even at high volume, the rhythms and melodies brought a soothing, meditative tone. Since the mid-1980s, Peter Goehring has been passionately playing the hammered dulcimer. Sunday, April 9, his music captivated the audience gathered at the Les Cheneaux Community Library in Cedarville. He explained that the instrument originated in 11th century Persia, and was exported around the world following the Crusades. There is even a specific “Michigan Tuning” of the hammered dulcimer that is commonly featured in square dance music. Originally trained as a trumpeter, Mr. Goehring said the sound is what originally drew him to the instrument.

Although it is dramatic and powerful, “Once I got comfortable with it, it is a relaxing instrument,” he said.

An accomplished musician, Mr. Goehring lists nine instruments, including the piano, guitar, violin, and bass trumpet among those he can play. A stringed percussion instrument, the hammered dulcimer is an early precursor to the modern piano. Mr. Goehring thinks the dulcimer is a good instrument to start on, because unlike the piano, it does not have all of the half notes that make piano such a challenging instrument to master.

“You can sound bad on it, but [the hammered dulcimer] can be very easy to pick up,” Mr. Goehring explained.

Mr. Goehring’s interest in music began at an early age. Born in Ohio, he moved to Cedarville when he was three years old and attended Les Cheneaux schools until the 10th grade. He was graduated from nearby Sault Ste. Marie High School to be able to take both music and French, which were offered simultaneously at Cedarville. Afterwards, he studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College in Ohio for two years. In 1981 he would begin to train himself to play the hammered dulcimer, and after six years of practice, he says, he was able to play proficiently. Since that time, he has worked as a laborer on construction crews in the EUP while pursuing his interests in music in a number of local groups. Mr. Goehring has performed in choirs including the Algoma Chamber Singers of Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, played trumpet for the Sault Swing Band and Northern Jazz Ensemble, and was featured on the albums of local artists, including Dale Scott of Harbor Springs.

A group of about 15 people gathered to hear him play Sunday afternoon. Mr. Goehring showcased the wide range of the hammered dulcimer playing traditional American folk music, Celtic jigs, waltzes, classical compositions, and even a couple of original rhythms. He also showcased some of his trumpet playing on a bass trumpet that he converted from a bell trombone himself.

Mr. Goehring has built four hammered dulcimers, and is currently working on a fifth. For his performance, Mr. Goehring did not play on one of his own, instead choosing to borrow one from his good friend and professional luthier John Riemer. Mr. Goehring said that Mr. Riemer’s instrument is in better shape than any of his, and would produce a cleaner sound. Mr. Riemer also plays occasionally with Mr. Goehring, and they are scheduled to perform together on the porch at the Les Cheneaux library Monday, May 1.

The hammered dulcimer can become “dictatorial” in many settings, he said, and some square dance music gatherings have forbid the playing of the instrument. To play the hammered dulcimer without taking over requires the musician to limit the number of chords played. Chords played quickly can last for several seconds.

In the lobby of the library, it seemed that that each chord lasted even longer than that, as the sound reverberated through the rafters. As the performance drew to a close, the audience applauded and many of those in attendance approached Mr. Goehring to offer their compliments, and spent some time taking a closer look at the hammered dulcimer.

The Les Cheneaux Community Library will host folk singer and storyteller Adam Miller Monday, April 17, at 7 p.m. An auto- harpist, Mr. Miller accompanies his baritone voice with fingerpicking acoustic guitar and auto-harp. The concert is free of charge.

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