On Saturday, the beautiful sound of a mountain dulcimer playing Christmas carols could be heard at the Carver Monument.
The occasion was the Holiday Open House, and not another sound could be heard, as children and adults listened intently to this old-fashioned instrument.
Elaine Smith, of Joplin, strummed the strings of the dulcimer as she has done for years. Although interested in music all her life, she only took the dulcimer seriously about 25 years ago.
"I got interested in the dulcimer while going to Silver Dollar City," she said. "So I started playing."
Smith says that dulcimer is an easy instrument to play.
"I could probably have you playing a song in 15 minutes," she said. "But if you want to be a good player, you have to put forth some effort."
Although most any song can be played on a dulcimer, she and a troupe she is with usually plays old time music — mostly from the 1800s and often from the Civil War. However, the song she likes playing the most is a tune called "River," which was written probably in the 1970s.
Her audiences like the happy tunes.
"I know when they enjoy a song because they are tapping their toes," she said.
But the dulcimer is both a happy and a sad instrument and it makes both happy and sad songs. In fact, one of the most popular songs is about the Orphan Train.
"Many people can relate to that because they know someone who rode the Orphan Trains many years ago," Smith said.
Smith is a retired teacher, having taught 17 years in the Joplin school district and 13 years at Neosho Middle School. Since her retirement, she has found more time to play music. She is part of a musical troupe called "Hawthorne," which plays at the Carver Monument and also performs at many schools. She especially enjoys playing at the Carver Middle School in Springfield, at a special musical event held each year.
Although "Hawthorne" is often paid for their musical services, they mostly play for the love of music. They can be found playing in churches and at benefits.
Elaine Smith grew up in Joplin and has two grown children and six grandchildren with another on the way any time.
Thus far, none of the grandchildren have shown an interest in playing the dulcimer, but she has hopes. In fact, each of the grandchildren has a new dulcimer waiting for them if they want it.
"I have played in so many contests and won enough dulcimers that I have saved one for each grandchild," she smiled.