The Performer - Karen's Bio
In 1976, Karen Ashbrook built her first dulcimer as a high school project. For five years she lived overseas in pursuit of Irish music and learned her craft in the pubs of England and Ireland, while taking time to travel in Europe and Asia. She subsequently wrote the first book for intermediate/advanced dulcimer playing in the States, "Playing the Hammered Dulcimer in the Irish Tradition," on Oak Publications.
Karen plays a wide variety of musical styles including Appalachian, Belgian, English, classical and Jewish. She teaches at numerous festivals and music camps around the States, and is now central in bringing instruction to the revival of hakkebord (the Flemish hammered dulcimer) in Belgium!
With her delicate touch, trademark shimmering lilt and ear for authentic ornamentation, Karen is considered one of the finest Irish hammered dulcimer players anywhere. Add her wooden flute and pennywhistle playing, and you have the consummate Irish musician. Irish reviewer John O'Regan calls her recordings "Celtic music for the mind and body."
Based in the Washington, DC area, Karen teaches and performs Celtic, contra dance, and Jewish music and works teaching Irish music and culture to children. These days she primarily performs as a duo with her husband Paul Oorts, playing his native Belgian and French music and as a trio in Pavilion 3 with percussionist Steve Bloom added. She has several recordings both solo and with the group Ceoltoiri, on the Maggie's Music label. Playing the Hammered Dulcimer in the Irish Tradition book/CD set on Oak Publications, is a standard text in dulcimer literature. She appears at numerous folk music camps and festivals around the country. Karen runs a monthly Irish music session for children and runs the Sligo Creek Hedge School summer camps. Performance highlights include RTE 1-Irish National Television, the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic, and playing at the White House for President Bill Clinton. Karen also plays with Cabaret Sauvignon.
- Watch Karen and Paul perform at the 5th Annual Harp Guitar Gathering!
- Check out her performance at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.
Karen's newest CD "Spring Will Come" is a live recording featuring her 30th anniversary as a dulcimer player, teacher and advocate, and celebrates her rich musical partnerships with Ceoltoiri, David Scheim (King David's Harp, Hills of Erin) and Pavilion 3.
Recently, the Flemish Folkmusic Guild "Muziekmosaïek" released the first tutorial ever for a fifth-tuned dulcimer in continental Europe - a 2 hour instruction DVD by Karen called "Learn to Play the Hammered Dulcimer" (Leer Hakkebord spelen). It comes with a booklet of all the music and has optional voiceovers in Dutch and French. Watch an interview of Karen talking about the DVD with Dulcimer Players News Editor Dan Landrum. More information and order the DVD. This landmark disc is the equivalent of months of lessons. Karen uses Flemish, French, Irish, Appalachian and classical melodies to teach the instrument.