Some of Walt Michael's music may be familiar even to people who've never heard this virtuoso of the hammered dulcimer. He provided the sounds for the Pilobolus Dance Company, and he and a former partner were the "official minstrels" at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. One of Michael's tunes, "Snowblind," became the unofficial anthem of that winter extravaganza after it was played at the closing ceremonies. "The BBC used it in their theme music for rebroadcasting the Olympics," Michael says. "It was never officially chosen, but after it was used at the end, people just assumed it was."
Michael and his new group will perform at the Washington Ethical Society auditorium Saturday. Filling out his hard-driving hammered dulcimer, guitar and mandolin will be John Kirk's fiddle, guitar and banjo and Mark Murphy's acoustic bass. Kirk joined the group after a stint with the Metropolitan Opera. "I was in what they call'the extra chorus,' " Kirk said, "a little band of no-name musicians that, when the Met had to do a big production, they just called us in."
The switch from opera to folk music was not difficult, Kirk said, because folk "was music I grew up with and it's really my first love. There is a real difference in forcing the tone in classical or forcing when I'm singing folk; it's a different thing when you have to project or yell over something. I've liked the toning down; it's more of a mixture, more of a head voice."
The opera experience has come in handy, however, for those frequent times when Kirk calls square dances and contradances. "In opera, or any kind of singing, you have moments when you're singing and others where you're not doing anything. In calling it's full tilt for about four hours. When I was first doing it I lost my voice a lot--until I went back to that classical training."