At Dusty Strings, Sue and Ray Mooers make beautiful music
Of all the world's instruments, none is more hallowed thanthe harp. The most graceful and curvaceous of the chordophones, itis routinely depicted in literature and art in the arms of angels,who pluck and caress its strings to produce beguiling, divinemusic.
That's heady stuff, which is why you can't really blame DustyStrings founders Sue and Ray Mooers for concluding, in 1977, thatthe first instrument they should attempt to build from scratchshould not be a harp. Instead, they tried their hands at a morepopulist music maker, the hammer dulcimer.
"People look at it now and get hysterical," Sue says of thecouple's first clumsy effort. Working from a purchased kit, theydutifully followed the enclosed instructions until the urge tocustomize their creation became overpowering. "We pulled somepaneling off a wall in a basement we were renting," Sue recallswith a wince. "It was really tacky."
The dulcimer, that is, not the basement. In 1979, that roomwould become the first crude production facility for Dusty Strings.A few years later, the fledgling company had five employees workingdownstairs. Upstairs, the couple's kitchen doubled as the stafflunchroom, orders for dulcimers were packed in the living room, andthe dining room was commandeered to display their latest DustyStrings hammer dulcimers (the company didn't get into the harptrade until 1984). "I would come home from work sometimes and justwant to hide," remembers Sue, who made financial ends meet byholding down a day job. "But it was great," she says. "It wasfun."
Twenty-five years and two kids later, Dusty Strings is a Seattleinstitution, drawing novices, acoustic-music geeks, and rocksuperstars alike to its roughly 3,000-square-foot Fremont store;harps and hammer dulcimers are built by a crew of 30 in a17,000-square-foot facility nearby.
Music for the people
Sue does her best to keep all this growth and recognition inperspective. "I know Dave Matthews has been in a few times," shesays of the rock star, who's a recent transplant to Seattle. "Ithink he ended up getting a guitar from us." In fact, on oneoccasion Matthews left Dusty Strings with a new Taylor 914c underhis arm. It's a beautiful guitar with back and sides made of Indianrosewood, a top of Englemann spruce, and fret board of solid ebony,worth about $4,550.
Naturally the Mooers are delighted to sell a high-end guitar toa highly visible customer, but they are even more pleased whentheir store is filled with musical novices nervously striking thestrings of a hammer dulcimer (Dusty Strings makes 11 modelsstarting at $395) or plucking a harp (7 models from $995) for thevery first time.
"Harps and hammer dulcimers are simple to learn on," says Sue."When you play them, they sound good right from the start, which israre for most string instruments. That's the fun of it introducingpeople to an instrument."
Indeed, it's that desire to spread the acoustic word ― tohelp people get in touch with the musical angels of their natures,if you will ― that continues to motivate the Mooers. Playingmusic, Sue says, is "an antidote to all the technical work peopledo; to sitting in front of a computer screen all day. It's akin tokeeping your life balanced with exercise. There's just nothing butgood that comes from it."
INFO: Dusty Strings (3406 Fremont Ave. N.; www.dustystrings.com or206/634-1662)
You can enjoy live acoustic music almost every day of the weekin Seattle. Here's a small sample of what's on tap in May.
Irish seisiún at Irish Emigrant. Leo McNamara andfriends play traditional Irish music at this popular UniversityDistrict pub and restaurant. 9:30 p.m. Wed; free. 5260 UniversityWay N.E.; www.irishemigrant.net or206/525-2955.
Jam sessions at Wit's End Bookstore and Tea Shop. Enjoyinformal concerts in Fremont. Musical styles vary from week toweek. 7 p.m. Thu and Fri; free. 4262 Fremont Ave. N.; www.booksatoz.com/witsend/or 206/547-2330.
Live music at Victrola Coffee & Art. A good place tohear Hot Club Sandwich, Zazou, and other string bands. 8 p.m. mostMon and Tue (check website for schedule); free. 411 15th Ave. E.; www.victrolacoffee.com or206/325-6520.
Saturday Nights on Phinney Ridge. Catch some notables inthis concert series at the Phinney Neighborhood Center. Harry Manx(May 1): This Canadian lap-slide guitarist is known for a bluesstyle that has been compared to that of Ry Cooder. David Mallett(May 8): Acts as diverse as Alison Krauss and the Muppets haverecorded Mallett's richly detailed folk songs. Laura Kemp (May 15):The Seattle native's guitar playing reveals her Nashville andbluegrass influences, and her voice is strong and emotional. 7:30;tickets from $12. 6532 Phinney Ave. N.; www.seafolklore.org/folksche.htmlor 206/528-8523.