Mountain Road Trip Leads to Love of Dulcimer Music

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

On a trip to the mountains with her husband, Kirk, Judy House saw people playing dulcimers and was immediately captivated by its simplicity and sound. As a surprise, Kirk ordered a dulcimer for Judy as a Christmas gift. Living in Raleigh, Judy could not find anyone who knew how to play the dulcimer, so she just tinkered around with it.

Judy related that the dulcimer dates back to the 1740s Appalachian mountains and although no one is certain where the dulcimer originated, some believe it could have come from a German or Scottish instrument. From those humble beginnings, the dulcimer is now played all over the world.

After moving to Winston-Salem, Judy found a dulcimer group and her love of the instrument blossomed. She also discovered that her dulcimer was poorly made and she began buying better quality instruments. Judy’s  interest in dulcimers piqued the curiosity of Kirk, which led to his taking a dulcimer building class. And as they say, the rest is history. Judy and Kirk have been playing dulcimers together ever since.

A Second Career

After retiring as a teacher, Judy started teaching dulcimer classes at Forsyth Technical Community College. She later took a class at Western Carolina on how to teach the dulcimer and now teaches the first year of this program at Western Carolina University’s Dulcimer
U Summer Program.

Judy started getting requests for dulcimer music and found that there wasn’t a lot available. This led her to write her first book of music, “Patriotic Songs of the U.S.,” for a veteran. Her second book was for groups that play for retirement homes and includes favorite sing-along songs that seniors enjoy. That led to more books and as her reputation grew, she received more requests to teach and play at dulcimer festivals across the U.S.

A request to present at the N.C. Music Educators Conference led Judy to write a teacher’s manual and a student’s book for teaching dulcimer in schools. She will be teaching and performing this year in Lancaster, Pa, Indiana, and Georgia. She now has her own “brand” dulcimer called the “House dulcimer” made by Jeff Sebens, a luthier outside of Cana, Va.

Judy says, “Learning to play the dulcimer is as easy or as hard as you want to make it.

But when you fall in love with it, you’ll want to see what all it will do.” She said that most dulcimer players are over the age of 50 because that’s when they have time to learn a new instrument. Judy teaches private lessons for all ages, including a 93-year-old student!

Her collection of dulcimers includes a flat body, electric, teaching, performance, small portable, baritone, and banjammer, all which sound and play differently. Kirk is her accompanying “bass man” and has four different bass dulcimers that he plays. They both play in a trio called “Cantabile Jubilee,” along with Carol Crocker, and they entertain at weddings, funerals, schools, meetings, churches, hospitals and retirement homes. Judy also gives presentations on the history of the dulcimer.

Dulcimer Club

There is a local dulcimer club that meets the second Tuesday from 6:30 – 8 p.m. at South Fork Community Center, 4403 Country Club Road, Winston-Salem. For over 20 years, they have sponsored a dulcimer festival held annually the first Saturday in May.

Judy admits her love of dulcimers is all consuming and is thankful that her husband shares her love of music. She cautions that you never know where a simple road trip can end up taking you. “If you had told me ten years ago that I would be teaching dulcimer students around the country, I would have laughed,” she said. “Look at me now.”

For more information about individual or group lessons, or concerts by Cantabile Jubilee, visit or email


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