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Genres You Will Love
Folk: Appalachian Folk Moods: Solo Instrumental Country: Old-Timey World: Celtic

By Location
United States - United States

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Phyllis Gaskins

Phyllis specializes in the “Galax Noter/DroneStyle Dulcimer” that she learned to play over 30 years ago from Galax dulcimer player and maker Raymond Melton. This dulcimer style goes back in Raymond’s family to the middle of the 1800s. Born and raised in the foothills of the VA Blue Ridge Mountains, Elkton, VA, Phyllis learned mountain style singing from her grandmother and mother.

She has won numerous dulcimer competitions, and was recognized as a 2010-11 “Master Traditional Artist” by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. She performs with her husband, Jim, and together they present a style of playing the dulcimer with other instruments in the old time Blue Ridge Mountain tradition. They are currently members of the Highlander String Band and the Port Road String Band in which the Galax Dulcimer is a featured instrument.

Phyllis and Jim have three recordings, and they compose songs and tunes in traditional style as well as educational children’s songs. Since retiring from 39 years of teaching elementary school she has focused on finishing the Galax Dulcimer book.

Phyllis Gaskins, nee Williams, was born in 1947 at home in the midst of a late winter blizzard at the foot of the Blue Ridge just down from the Skyline Drive. She was raised in a family steeped in the struggles and privations of mountain culture. Some of her fondest memories center around sitting on the front porch with her grandmother singing the old folk songs and hymns. Phyllis grew up with a fertile interest in music. She played piano for the choir at the little Bear Lithia Baptist Church just down the road and shared her music with family and friends.

Shortly after college and marriage, Phyllis discovered the mountain dulcimer. Her first one was built from a kit, and she used it for playing in church. While going through a succession of instruments by Bob Mize, Audrey Hash Miller, and herself, she discovered the old Virginia instruments and playing style of Raymond Melton. That was the beginning of her journey to becoming the foremost exponent of the “Galax” style of playing. She learned at the feet of her master and mentor, Raymond Melton. It wasn’t long before she became a journeyman following in the footsteps of the tradition bearers who preceded her, playing the old tunes in the old style. She was tenacious in her unrelenting focus on her journeywork. She refused to be dissuaded by contemporary, revivalist playing styles, though she admired them a great deal. After a long, productive period of journeywork and the passing of her master, she has become the acknowledged master of the “old Galax style” and has served in that capacity for many years now.

As a master of the style and as a master teacher, she has spent more than two decades sharing her skill and passing on her knowledge of the dulcimer and traditional music to many others around the country. She has had a colorful and illustrative journey which continues and shows no signs of abating. An important milestone on that journey is the publishing of this book in which she has synthesized much of her vast knowledge about the Galax Dulcimer: its history, construction, builders, playing style, and the beautiful traditional tunes sung to life and renewed with every stroke of pick or quill.