Erin Mae Lewis
Featured Teaching Artist
Erin Mae is a mountain dulcimer virtuosa who has taken an obscure American folk instrument, and with it has developed a high level of technical proficiency and musical expression. Erin has been playing for over twenty years and in that time has developed a unique and progressive style. She performs extensively as part of a duo, Scenic Roots. Carrying the rhythm section with her signature percussive chop and flat-picking fiddle tunes with impressive dexterity; audiences nationwide show amazement as they watch her fingers dance over her dulcimer strings. One guitar player quipped, “Erin can do more with three strings than I can do with six.”
Erin Mae received her first mountain dulcimer at the age of seven. Ten years later, in 2004, she won the prestigious National Mountain Dulcimer Championship; making her youngest winner of the award at the time. Erin went on to study classical piano at Sterling College in Sterling, KS before pursuing a degree in Commercial Music, with an emphasis in bluegrass and acoustic jazz, through South Plains College in Levelland, TX. She graduated in 2010, becoming the first mountain dulcimer player to complete the program; and began touring full-time as part of the duo Scenic Roots. Erin has participated as an instructor at children’s music camps; as well as various festivals, and providing private lessons.
Erin Mae is a cancer survivor — and played her mountain dulcimer through every chemotherapy treatment. She firmly believes that her music and faith were paramount to her healing. Erin is currently working on a book project documenting her struggle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and the impact this event has had on her music and worldview. Erin strives to let her music and story act as a beacon of light for those going through difficult times. You can hear that passion as Erin Mae culls from her instrument music which lifts the spirit and heals the soul.
Steve is a versatile full-time folk musician who specializes in fretted and hammered dulcimers, but his first instrument was his mother’s ukulele. He later bought a kit and built his first mountain dulcimer. It’s been love ever since – through a career performing folk for kids to seniors, as a composer, and as an inner-city pastor, this award-winning touring musician brings joy to all who hear him.
He’s been called an Appalachian Jimmy Buffett because of his personable stage presence and warm voice, but Buffett doesn’t have Steve’s on-the-money musicianship on dulcimers and more. He plays the dulci-bro, banjammer, electric dulcimer and baritone dulcimer, guitar, bass, mandolin, piano and hand percussion. He is a five-time Winfield, KS National Winner in Mountain Dulcimer and a three-time National Finalist for Hammered Dulcimer, in addition to other honors. He has produced 15 recordings; the newest, Old School Old Time, was released in December 2012 and recorded with third-generation fiddler Vi Wickham. Calling themselves “Fiddle Whamdiddle” (the latter is slang for hammered dulcimer), this 15 song collection of old-time folk includes tunes they “can’t remember not knowing.” Steve offers his considerable talents on both fretted and hammered dulcimers, making for a knee-slapping good time.
Steve has a musical soul influenced by many, including Tchaikovsky, Jean Ritchie, and Stevie Wonder. He’s shared the stage with folk artists John McCutcheon, Bryan Bowers, Maggie Sansone, Emma’s Revolution, and Mundy Turner. His music has appeared on National Public Radio and on United Airlines Inflight Audio; his “Soaring” was licensed by PBS’ RoadTrip Nation. Several songs have charted on The Music Review, including “War Is Sweet,” which topped the Independent Country chart in September 2007. In the Roots Music Report for November and January 2013, he had 3 albums in the Top 50.
Originally from Pemberville, Ohio, Steve spent many years living in Fort Collins, CO. Since 2014 he and his wife Connie settled in San Mateo, CA, where he is now the Artistic Director of the Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering and leads the Berkeley Dulcimer Orchestra. In addition to teaching pre-school children and their families in Music Together, Steve teaches at many top dulcimer festivals and continues to bring his “smile-inducing, toe-tapping, thought-provoking folkgrass” to audiences across the country.
Dusty Thorburn grew up strumming guitar and singing “Kum Ba Ya” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” before it was a cliché. A professional historian, he sees traditional music as a way to connect with people from the past, especially those who left few written records of their lives. A guitarist and occasional mandolin player, Dusty discovered the dulcimer several years ago and has been entranced ever since by the simple beauty of the instrument’s design and sound. He founded River City Dulcimers, a group of musical friends that meets monthly in Sacramento and is also a Moderator at the popular website Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer. Dusty has been a regular at music events around Northern California, currently offers private lessons at The Strum Shop in Roseville, and just completed his first book of tablature: Lullabies from Around the World arranged for the beginning mountain dulcimer. His lessons, arrangements, and compositions combine a respect for traditional sounds with a modern, blues-influenced sensibility.
Neal Hellman, nationally acclaimed performer and teacher of the mountain dulcimer, has been active in performing, writing, teaching, and recording acoustic music for the past 30 years.
Neal’s latest recording, Emma’s Waltz, is a colorful dance through traditional and contemporary acoustic music styles. Featuring seventeen different musicians playing compositions from Ireland, Scotland, Finland, America and France.
Neal’s other recordings include: Autumn In the Valley, Dream of the Manatee (with Joe Weed) and Oktober County, all on the Gourd Music label. In collaboration with Joe Weed, Neal wrote the score for Princess Furball, a children’s video by Weston Woods which won a 1993 American Library Association Commendation.
An original composition, written by Neal and performed by Jay Unger and Molly Mason, is featured on the Ken Burns production Not for Ourselves Alone. Neal has placed a number of other tracks on the films of Ken Burns including Horatio’s Drive, National Parks: America’s Best Idea and the upcoming production of The Dust Bowl (2012).
He is the author of many books on the Appalachian dulcimer, including Celtic Songs & Slow Airs for Mountain Dulcimer, The Dulcimer Chord Book, The Hal Leonard Dulcimer Method, and Music of the World for Mountain Dulcimer.
As founder, director and one of the primary artists of the Gourd Music record label, Neal has produced over forty albums, including Simple Gifts, The Fairie Round, Tender Shepherd, The World Turned Upside Down and Jefferson’s Fiddle, creating a uniquely distinctive sound, featuring a variety of acoustic instrumental ensembles, rich in texture and tonal color.Neal was music director for a production of The Grapes of Wrath, which played at The Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College in 2009.
Neal produced a show for Santa Cruz Reads titled A Musical Celebration of the Life and Times of John Steinbeck which featured over 20 musicians and had three performances in March of 2013.
Multi-instrumentalist Joellen Lapidus is a pioneer of contemporary west coast mountain dulcimer playing, songwriting, teaching and building. She is the author of the classic dulcimer instruction book, LAPIDUS ON DULCIMER 2. During the 70’s she was a student of classical Indian and Arabic music. Her love of music also extends to jazz, pop, klezmer and country and you can hear all of these influences in her songs.
As a dulcimer builder, her innovative shapes and exquisite inlay work influenced many of the builders of the 70’s and 80’s. She introduced the dulcimer to Joni Mitchell and made 3 instruments for her between 1968 and 1976.
Joellen’s recordings include a live dulcimer CD, “Joellen Lapidus in Concert (2004)” and a studio album: “Dulcimer Music for the Pelican Ballet (2014)”: a feast of dulcimer styles and moods accompanied by violin, viola, spoons and jazz trumpet.
She currently performs on dulcimer and accordion with her group “Joellen and the Urban Gypsies”. She performs on accordion with her klezmer band, “Schmaltz”, continues to teach dulcimer in West Los Angeles at McCabes Guitar Store in Santa Monica, CA and builds custom dulcimers in her shop in Culver City, CA. You can hear her music and see her instruments on her website:
Deborah “DJ” Hamouris
Executive Director & Founder
Deborah is a performer, composer and songwriter; a teacher and choral director; an event producer and community organizer. Known for her work with the mountain dulcimer, she leads the Berkeley Dulcimer Orchestra, produces the annual Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering, and teaches at the venerable Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California. Musically versatile, DJ performs as a jazz vocalist and a traditionally-influenced songsmith. She is also one-half of the DulciMates with husband, Buffalo.
DJ has seven recordings, the most recent being “1 in 8,” songs written during her year as a breast cancer patient, in collaboration wiht renowned guitarist Mimi Fox. This music accompanies their theatrical show of the same name, including personal stories froma patient’s perspective. A book of her music and original arrangements is planned for a 2019 release in celebration of her 40th year with the dulcimer.
In addition to proselytizing for the dulcimer, DJ gives private lessons at her Oakland studio and frequently serves as an instructor for camps, community centers, conventions and festivals. These include Redwood Dulcimer Day, Camp Winnarainbow, Dulcimer in the Wallowas, and the San Francisco Free Folk Festival. She has served on multiple spiritual and art organization boards, organizing community events such as Sing for Your Life and Musica delle Donne, an annual festival of women’s compositions at alma mater CSU East Bay.
DJ lives in her Oakland craftsman cottage with Buffalo. When time and the cat permit, she knits. Learn more about DJ at djhamouris.com
Mark grew up in Wisconsin and bought his first fiddle from a friend there in 1980. He has been playing folk and baroque music ever since, starting with learning Irish and Old-time music. Now, mostly plays Scandinavian music and sings. He learned woodworking from his father and has been building and repairing instruments for the past 35 years. Opening Timbre Folk & Baroque had been Mark’s dream for many years, finally taking the plunge in 2017. He has a huge variety of acoustic folk, ethnic and baroque instruments in his store! Mark has done many repair jobs on dulcimers for us in the past 2 years and we’re happy to welcome him back to the Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering. He will be available to do small fixes, sell & change strings, and consult on evaluating your instrument or one you are considering buying.