By Nancy Huth
For the past 10-15 years, a Geauga County group of 16 seniors who call themselves the Geauga Sweet Strings, have played at various venues, most recently at the Burton Apple Butter Festival. Becky Samardge, an early member who worked at the senior center, said, “The Chardon Senior Center offered a beginning dulcimer class about 14 or 15 years ago. A gentleman from a music store in Twinsburg taught the class of five students and some learned on dulcimers made from cardboard. When the cost of the classes became more than the students wanted to pay, Bill Dysert, a member of the group, offered to contact his neighbor, who played with groups in Willoughby and Florida. Under the guidance of Bette Ernst, a very talented dulcimer player, the group flourished.”
The hammered dulcimer is a zither-type instrument with strings struck by hammers. In America the Appalachian Mountain people made their own instruments in the early 1800s and popularized this type of music. Most members in the Sweet Strings play mountain dulcimers which are placed on the lap. The name dulcimer comes from the Latin word for sweet.
Samardge recalls, “The wife of one of the members played a variety of rhythm instruments that helped us hear the beat and stay together. A real crowd pleaser was always our harmonica player, Bill Alford. Laura Sterlekar plays the hammered dulcimer and her husband Tom, along with Diane Stevens, plays the fiddle (or violin). On occasion, some members put down their dulcimers and pick up the spoons, a tambourine, a ukulele or even a kazoo. Pat Urquhart plays the dulcimer and is often our featured vocalist.”
The sound really is sweet, and the group members, all seniors, practice once a week. They love the camaraderie, the music and the sharing of their instruments. Since they are a non-profit group, they donate any contributions people give them to a needy cause. Recently, member Jean Strojan passed away, and a scholarship has been established in her name.
Through the years, they have played for various senior groups and at assisted living facilities, and the past two years the Sweet Strings have played on the Summer Solstice at the Burton Library. This event, initiated by Connie Shutts, honors International Make Music Day on June 21. They’ve also performed for the Friends of the Geauga West Library and often play at different events at Century Village. This summer they enjoyed performing for the children at Pioneer School. They even traveled to Columbus once for the Ohio State Fair.
Samardge added, “We don’t have a marketing person, but once we perform somewhere, we always appreciate being asked to come back. We have fun and encourage the audience to sing or play along on one of Sharon Ricci’s rhythm instruments. Sharon is a Clown School graduate.
We’re a fun group that enjoys sharing information about our instruments. The mountain dulcimer is the easiest stringed instrument to play and you don’t need to know how to read music. If you play any type of stringed instrument, we’d love to have you join us. In fact, if you play any type of instrument, we’re sure to find a spot for you!”
To join the Sweet Strings or have them play at an event, call Becky Samardge at 440-285-9602.