Don’t miss the West Virginia Music 12th Annual Bowed Psaltery Symphony with Tish Westman & Friends.

As presented by

What is a bowed psaltery? The psaltery is both an ancient and relatively new stringed musical instrument. The Bible refers to the psalmist David plucking a psaltery to soothe the soul of King Saul. In 1911 psalteries were reincarnated by Edgar Stahmer, a German primary school teacher, and would be bowed instead of plucked. The sound of the bowed psaltery is highly resonant and can be haunting and ethereal.

The Annual Bowed Psaltery Symphony has been held at Tamarack in Beckley, WV and hosted by Tish and Greg Westman for 11 years. The Westmans are resident artisans at Tamarack and build bowed psalteries there. COVID delayed the symphony for two years and changed so much in the world that it was time for a new venue. In 2023 the event will move and the 12th Bowed Psaltery Symphony will be held at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, WV.

The seed for this event sprouted when Tish Westman and Donna Malus, met on the Yahoo bowed psaltery chat group in 2009. Tish and Greg had been contemplating an event but were hesitant and Donna was determined there would be one. Donna pestered Tish offering any and all help she could possibly provide. The pestering paid off and the Westman’s decided to move forward. In the Spring of 2010, the First Annual Bowed Psaltery Symphony took place.

Interest in this event quickly grew and the original 25 participants climbed as high as 65. Players travel from all over the country: Florida to Massachusetts, Washington to West Virginia. Musical backgrounds are varied, from absolute beginners to players with degrees in music.

Participants’ skills and professions vary amazingly, from A to Z, including architects, artists and painters, ballroom dancers, beauticians, computer specialists, dog groomers, farmers, fiber artists, geneticists, historical re-enactors, homemakers, insurance administrators, lawyers, librarians, luthiers, ministers, professional musicians, nurses, oceanographers, paralegals, photographers, real estate brokers, social workers, surgeons, teachers and yoga instructors.

Each year the music selection is based on a theme, the 2023 theme is “Gardens”. The Westmans identify appropriate traditional music and Tish arranges the pieces to include multiple parts. These parts not only showcase the beauty of the instrument when played in harmony, but also allow all level of players to participate. Some participants also bring additional instruments to enhance the symphony experience. Mountain and hammer dulcimers, harps, flutes, guitars and even a jug have all complemented the performance.

The 4–5-day event provides time for participants to practice playing the music as a group; not an easy thing when you are used to playing solo. This also allows for mini workshops covering crafts and other interests outside of the bowed psaltery. Multiple raffles are held. There are open mic performances and jams in the evening. Ballroom dancers have come in to demonstrate their art, a drum circle was held and in 2019 players participated in a flash mob featuring Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Performing live is the goal of the event and this takes place on the last afternoon. At Cedar Lakes this will move to the last evening. This change will allow the musicians to gather the morning after the performance and share their experiences and feelings. As amateur performers pre-performance nerves are a major obstacle, and everyone will have hit a wrong note and lived to talk about it. Before the performers leave for home they will be thinking about and discussing the next symphony.

Article written by Donna Malus, Sande Corfman Johnson, Stan Johnson, Rose Edington and Karen Long.

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