Studio Visit: Hilary Valentine
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli chats with musician Hilary Kaye Valentine, 54, of Champaign.
Q: How long have you played the mountain dulcimer?
A: About 10 years.
Q: What got you started?
A: I got into it after my husband and young son volunteered at the Lincoln Log Cabin near Charleston one summer. There's a guy down there who makes dulcimers: Don Baker. He made my first dulcimer.
Q: Do you play in any groups?
A: I mostly play with Rebecca Grosser of the Big Bluestem String Band. We mostly play duets.We also lead sing-alongs at the Windsor of Savoy, usually the second or third Thursday of the month. And we play over lunch once a month for the Windsor Court folks. And at the Champaign County Nursing Home the last Thursday of the month — that's the whole Parkland Beginning String Band.
Q: Do you like playing at nursing homes?
A: I love it. It's my favorite thing to do. They just appreciate it so much, and magic happens. People will say something like, "My father always sang, but I haven't sung in 10 years." Music reaches people who are in their own little worlds. Music's so powerful. You just see them singing along. Toward the end, we usually do "Down by the Riverside," and I go up to people and shake their hands. I just love that. It's very powerful.
Q: How long have you been teaching at Parkland?
A: Eight years. I also work there, too, in the marketing department. I've been there since 1997.
Q: You teach through community education, right?
A: Yes, I teach mountain dulcimer and I co-teach with Rebecca the Beginning String Band.
Q: Why do you teach string music?
A: Well, when I started playing it, it was kind of a miracle to me that there were so many songs that were easy to learn. I fell in love with the genre of early country music.
Q: Did you play musical instruments before you started playing the mountain dulcimer?
A: I did. I played music all my life, just as a hobby. I had classical training on piano and flute.
Q: Do you continue to play other instruments?
A: I do. I play guitar a lot — and a little bit of fiddle. I'm not very good, but I keep trying. I've been playing flute a little bit, which is fun. I play penny whistle, and I sing. What I find is that people are more self-conscious about singing, so I try to make the environment comfortable for them.
Q: Tell me about these jam sessions you lead.
A: I call it a slow jam because I want people to know they're welcome, no matter what their level. All acoustic instruments are welcome. Usually, we have guitars and dulcimers and sometimes mandolin. I would love to have banjos and auto harps. I bring my fiddle to show people you don't have to be really good to have fun.
Q: When is your slow jam?
A: The first and third Mondays of the month, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the hallway behind Common Ground Food Co-op in Lincoln Square Village.
Q: Is it free?
Q: How many people do you usually get?
A: Lately, we've been getting 12 to 15. It's a big group.
Editor's note: The beginning mountain dulcimer class taught by Valentine will meet from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays Oct. 28 through Nov. 25 in Room D244 at Parkland College. The fee is $60. To register, call 353-2055.