SHERMAN - A well-known folk musician and recording artist from Rochester will be in Chautauqua County later this month to give a lecture and demonstration on a musical instrument that was popular throughout the country during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Historian and musician Mitzie Collins will give a presentation entitled "Historic Western New York State Hammered Dulcimers" on Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 6 p.m. in the Stanley Hose Company fire hall in Sherman. It is sponsored by the Chautauqua County Historical Society and will be free and open to the general public.
In addition to being recognized nationally as a virtuoso performer, Collins is also an authority on the history of the hammered dulcimer. She began her musical career as a pianist and organist and received her Bachelor of Music degree and her Master of Arts in music education from the Eastman School of Music. In the 1960s, Collins became interested in folk music and began playing the hammered dulcimer in 1970. Her presentation on Aug. 19 will not only focus on the history of the hammered dulcimer and the various regional manufacturers that made the instrument, but she'll also play music from some of the dulcimers in her collection.
"I first became interested in the hammered dulcimer because I was fascinated by its long ringing sound," Collins said. "I had no idea of its historical significance in our region. Through my own research and that of Jim Kimball of the SUNY Geneseo music faculty, I learned of the many manufacturers and players of the instrument in Western New York. I have visited many regional museums that have dulcimers on display and have given numerous talks to area historical societies."
Collins' talk in Sherman will be interactive, with questions being encouraged as she talks about and plays the instruments from her personal collection. She will weave the dance tunes and parlour songs that were popular in Chautauqua County in the 19th century into her talk and PowerPoint presentation. She also hopes that anyone who happens to own a 19th-century dulcimer will come to the talk and bring their instrument with them, if possible.
"One of the reasons I enjoy giving a talk about historical instruments is that I often learn even more about their history from my audience members," Collins said.
Sherman was selected as the location for the presentation because of its own history with the hammered dulcimer. A dulcimer factory was opened on East Main Street in Sherman in 1856 by Henry Ransom, with two of his sons helping to demonstrate and sell the instruments throughout the country. Another local dulcimer factory was also located in the area of Stedman Corners in the town of Chautauqua.
Collins and her husband, Tom Bohrer, founded Sampler Records Ltd. in 1977. The company produced more than 30 recordings, which were sold nationally and were enthusiastically reviewed in publications across the country.
In 1988, Sampler Records Ltd. produced a recording and book of New York tunes played on historical New York state hammered dulcimers - the only such recording ever made. Entitled "Sackett's Harbor: Dance Tunes of Western New York State"-the music has been hailed by historians and used as background music on numerous historical videos and documentaries.
Collins is also interested in the worldwide hammered dulcimer family and is on the board of the Hungarian- based organization, Cimbalom World Association. She has performed or presented a paper at five congresses of the CWA, and has just returned from England where she was helping to arrange for the next CWA Congress which will be held in 2015 in Malvern, Worcestershire County, England.
In addition to performing, Collins teaches classes in western music history and hammered dulcimer and directs the Striking Strings Hammered Dulcimer Ensemble as part of the Eastman Community Music School. Her schedule of performances and classes can be found at www.samplerfolkmusic.com. She can be contacted at Samplerrec@aol.com.