1. Maddie MacNeil tribute

Madeline MacNeil passed away on Sunday, March 22, 2020. This was sad news for the dulcimer world, music lovers, and Maddie’s countless friends, including my wife Carrie and me. Maddie touched so many lives with her magical voice and a wonderful spirit that was both gentle and joyful. I built Maddie her first hammer dulcimer in the 1970s, and we have been close friends and occasional musical collaborators ever since.

In recent years Maddie struggled with a bad leg that put her at risk of falling. But she never let that stop her from going out to sing and play her dulcimers. She was preparing to sing outside her church that Sunday morning.

Maddie is buried at the Holy Cross Abbey near Berryville, VA. Public services were not possible due to coronavirus restrictions. Maddie’s local friends plan to have a memorial service, or a memorial concert, at some time when it again becomes safe and appropriate to congregate.

Aldous Huxley said, “after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” In that spirit, here is the link to a piece of music featuring Maddie’s voice:
Love Above All

Below is sheet music for a couple of tunes written to honor Maddie.

Maddie’s Garden
Maddie’s Garden is a mountain dulcimer instrumental that can be heard on the CDs Dulcimer Boogie and Moonlight On The River. The recorded tune is also available from many sources, like iTunes, etc.

Maddie In The Mountains
Maddie In The Mountains was composed by hammer dulcimer students at the 2010 Spring Augusta Festival in Elkins, WV.

Maddie In The Mountains
– A Short Story –

The year is not important. Let’s call it 1990. For the umpteenth time Maddie MacNeil and I drove the twisted mountain roads of West Virginia to Elkins. Destination: Spring Dulcimer Week at the Augusta Heritage Center. The redbud trees were a splash of rosy glitter along the mountain roadsides, like a Jackson Pollack on the landscape. Locals were picking ramps in the forest, a ritual of anticipation for spring recipes and tonics. A physician in town once told me, with a sage look, “cook yourself a mess of ramps each spring and you’ll never need to visit the doctor!”

One sunny afternoon, students and instructors assembled in the chapel, a round rustic building with a high conical roof and ceiling. Seating in the round. A perfect place for dulcimers. We listened to my special guest of the week, master musician Joe Fulator. He played his cymbalom, a version of the hammer dulcimer, and sang the traditional Hungarian songs of his family from Morgantown. After he played for us, we played for him. Maddie sang sweetly. Hammer dulcimers and mountain dulcimers rang through open doors and out into the bright courtyard.

Joe sat next to me as beginning students played Buffalo Gals. There were 29 dulcimers almost together and almost in tune. Joe was amazed that there could be so many dulcimer players in the whole world, let alone beginners playing so well and so happily.

Maddie walked over to join us. They had not met, so I introduced them. Like the belle of a southern ball, Maddie reached out her hand, smiled sweetly, and gazed affectionately into Joe’s eyes. With an audible breath and the voice of angels, she said, “Ohhh, I am soooo glad to meet you! Your music was soooo beautiful!” Hearts melted.

Immediately, Maddie was surrounded by cheerful students demanding her attention and drawing her away. After a moment, Joe leaned over to bump my shoulder and said, “I don’t know what it is, Sam. Either nice people play the dulcimer, or dulcimers make people nice.”

The April sun bounced off reflecting pools outside and slanted in through stained glass windows. Birds sang their sweet songs of spring. And Maddie was in the mountains.

Sam Rizzetta @ 2020

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