A master chimes in the sounds of Christmas

Staff reports

Ready to explore the possibility of becoming a professional musician, Joshua Messick arrived in Western North Carolina a few years ago knowing no one except Black Mountain’s master hammered dulcimer builder, Jerry Reed Smith.

The success and popularity of his musical efforts is evident in the two Christmas music concerts scheduled at the White Horse Black Mountain on consecutive evenings, Friday-Saturday, Nov. 25-26.

Messick’s hammered dulcimer Christmas shows, expected to draw large audiences, have become a Black Mountain holiday tradition. Messick will be joined by percussionist James Kylen and Celtic fiddler Nora Garver. They'll be playing from Messick's new CD "Hammered Dulcimer Christmas."

The word dulcimer translates loosely as “sweet song” and is from Greek and Latin roots. But it’s not a simple thing to produce that sound predictably. There are dozens of strings to keep in tune, and great accuracy is required to strike the right note in that profusion of wire. The hammered dulcimer also generates accumulating sustain, and it takes a sensitive player to control and exploit that feature with clarity. Messick is such a player. His virtuosic command of the complex instrument is such that he can coax textures, from ethereal to symphonic, from its strings.

Dazzling as his playing is, Messick sees himself foremost a composer who uses the hammered dulcimer as a sound palette. His composer’s ear guides him in finding fresh possibilities in his arrangements of well-loved holiday standards, from the delicate chiming of “Carol of the Bells” to the cinematic sweep of “Christmastime Fantasia (Deck the Hall).”

“My listener base has been asking me to make a Christmas recording since I started playing 20 years ago,” Messick said. “Until now, I didn’t understand enough of life to make a Christmas album with meaning. "Hammered Dulcimer Christmas" is close to my heart, and I hope it will transport to to places of joy, wonder and love.”

The sound of Christmas

Who: Joshua Messick

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 25-26

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $18 advance, $20 door