During the great hammer-dulcimer scare of the late '80s, it seemed that every time you turned on National Public Radio you heard this chiming instrument played by such acts as John McCutcheon, Trapezoid, Helicon and Metamora. Malcolm Dalglish, Metamora's hammer-dulcimer specialist, has found a new use for this tabletop, steel-string, mallet-played instrument. His new album, "Pleasure," is his second to feature music composed and arranged for hammer dulcimer and "folk choir."
Whether he's setting poems by Wendell Berry and Henry Longfellow to music, arranging traditional folk songs or composing new songs, Dalglish has created an ingenious hybrid of classical choral technique and Celtic-Anglo-Appalachian folk materials. Thus the "folk choir." Most of this music was commissioned by school choirs in Dalglish's home state of Indiana, so the harmonies are pitched high to accommodate young voices.
The Ooolites are an ensemble of 11 singers, ranging in age from 14 to their early twenties, who have been specially trained by the composer. Though other instruments are occasionally introduced, the choir and hammer dulcimer dominate each song. On an old folk song such as "Kitty Alone" or an original number such as "Swifts," the high, percussive notes of the dulcimer sparkle against the sustaining syllables of the tenors and sopranos. It may be too pretty for some, but anyone who loves both Celtic folk tunes and choral music will be entranced.
Appearing Monday at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church.
* To hear a free Sound Bite from Malcolm Dalglish, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)