How About a Little Hammered Dulcimer with Your BBQ?

Ted Yoder and his hammered dulcimer.

Music at this year’s Death’s Door Barbeque is courtesy of Ted Yoder of Goshen, Indiana, who in 2010 was named the national Hammered Dulcimer champion.

“He’s a really interesting musician. He started off in rock ‘n’ roll,” said Death’s Door BBQ organizer Lisa Gibson. “He can play everything from Bach to rock.”

In a recent telephone call, Yoder said he got a call out of the blue from Gibson, who said, “I love what you do. What would it take to get you up to the island?”

“And I was like, ‘Wisconsin has an island?’”

Well, he wasn’t hired for geography lessons, but to provide the soundtrack for the 2013 BBQ event.

He backs up Gibson’s statement about running the musical gamut from Bach to rock.

“I love Bach. I was just working on another Bach piece today,” he said. “I do Bach, the Beatles, Journey, I even threw Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ in there one time. That’s the challenge of it, to take something modern that definitely wasn’t written for the instrument. That’s what I love about it, not only is it a very peculiar instrument, but you play whatever the heck you want on it.”

He says the hammered dulcimer is like a piano in its versatility

“You can do so many things and styles on it,” he said.

But, he adds, it’s really nothing like a piano.

“It’s laid out in such a way, it’s nothing like a piano. It’s not a chromatic instrument. A guitar is laid out in half-steps. It’s laid out in keys or modes or scales. It’s just so eclectic. It really is a percussion instrument. You’re striking it like a drum set. What players miss out on a lot, you can be a melody instrument, a rhythm instrument like a guitar or keyboard vamping behind the lead instrument, and the drums. You can take a song and be three or four instruments simultaneously. It isn’t easy. It took a long time to get used to it. I didn’t have any teachers, so that may have been most of my struggle with it.”

What he definitely did not want to do is the typical folk stylings you might hear on the hammered dulcimer or one of its cousins, the Appalachian dulcimer (which is plucked rather than “hammered”) or autoharp.

“The fact that I sing with a hammered dulcimer is pretty unique as well,” Yoder said. “It’s probably the closest thing to a drummer singing, but instead of a 12- or 14-inch head, you have about a two-inch space to hit on the hammered dulcimer. I think that’s part of the baffling thing when they see it. They watch your hands fly and go, ‘Good god, how do you do that?’”

Asked what sort of repertoire he is coming up with to play for his first Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned cookoff, Yoder says he’s got enough to keep everyone happy.

Later this year, look for Yoder and a musical friend at your neighborhood performing arts center as they perform seasonal music.

“We’re hoping to give Mannheim Steamroller a run for their money,” he said.