May 19, 2021
People may not be familiar with the instrument that has become the focus of Ted Yoder’s life’s work, but he’s more than happy to demonstrate it.
Yoder will show off his hammered dulcimer and singing voice when he appears at The Club Room at The Clyde on May 28, as part of WBOI’s Meet the Music.
If you’re unfamiliar with the hammered dulcimer, nobody can blame you. It’s not generally among the top ten instruments most kids want to play when they’re growing up.
In a recent interview with Whatzup, Yoder described it as the “grandparent to the piano and a bit different from the harpsichord, as that instrument is still a plucked string. If you open up a piano, you strike a key and a hammer hits it. You just take away the key and you’re actually holding just one hammer in each hand, striking the strings, just like a piano.”
Yoder began playing the hammered dulcimer after having tried several other instruments, becoming “a jack of all trades but a master of none.” He came across the instrument somewhat by accident.
“There was only one person I knew that played the hammered dulcimer and his name was Rich Mullins,” Yoder said, referring to the late contemporary Christian artist. “I heard about him and his instrument all the way back in the ’80s. It took me about ten years to find one, because it wasn’t like you could walk into Sweetwater or your local guitar shop and just pick one out. There are very few people who make them and at that time there was no internet, so you needed to know someone who knew someone in order to find one.”
Yoder is totally self-taught, because, well, there aren’t a lot of places you can learn to play the hammered dulcimer.
“I’ve had a couple of lessons from a couple of good friends over the years,” he said, “but for the most part, it was just me doing my thing.”
Video goes Viral on YouTube
Yoder wasn’t originally aware of the instrument’s Appalachian history. So, with his background in piano playing songs by Journey, Toto, and Billy Joel, he just figured he would play the same things.
“I definitely approached it in more of a rock n’ roll vein than Appalachian,” Yoder said.
Yoder won the National Dulcimer Championship in 2010, gaining respect and appreciation from his peers, but he needed the help of the internet to propel him to the next level of popularity and into the minds of more casual fans of music.
In 2016, a video of him playing the Tears For Fears classic “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” surfaced and went viral, tallying millions of views in a very short time, and even catching the attention of Tears For Fears frontman Curt Smith and drummer Jamie Wollam.
The pair of international superstars were so impressed that they arranged a visit to Ted’s home in Goshen a couple of years later.
“They came over and hung out for about five or six hours and had coffee and doughnuts,” Yoder said. “Then Curt said, ‘Hey, let’s go live. I’ll sing and Jamie can bang on something.’ It was totally impromptu. We ran through the song a couple of times then played it for the world. They were just wonderful human beings and everything that’s right about the music industry, in my opinion.”
Full-time in the music business
By the time he started a full-time music career, Yoder had five children. Deciding it was “now or never,” he took that fateful leap, hoping for the best.
Admitting that he has never been very good at compartmentalizing things, family has always been a consideration in anything he does. His artistry has been built out of his love for his community and the people closest to him.
From time to time, he has asked his wife and kids if they would like him to stop his career so they can do “normal things,” but the same answer always comes back. They want him to continue doing what he loves.
“My family has always been 100 percent behind me,” he said. “If that support wasn’t there, I’d have probably quit a long time ago.”
Yoder said he typically plays five to eight shows a month during non-COVID-19 times, wowing audiences across the country with his mastery of the underappreciated instrument.
While his stage show doesn’t include laser lights or pyrotechnics, he promises that it’s more than one guy standing in the middle of a stage pounding strings.
He’s bringing a band with him this time, including a percussionist, a bassist, and his wife, who plays marimba.
In describing what might be in store for us on May 28, Yoder likened his show to a miniature version of Stomp.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of three percussion instruments that are the main lead of the band,” he said. “We have a lot of fun. It’s a very eclectic sound and a fun visual. It’s pretty entertaining, too, if I can humbly say so myself.”
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