The Performer - Karen's Bio

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For more than 40 years, Karen Ashbrook has been a pioneer and an advocate in the development and revival of the hammered dulcimer nationally and internationally!

It began in 1976 when Karen 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 AshbrookKaren plays a wide variety of musical styles including Irish, 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 as a duo with her husband Paul Oorts, playing his native Belgian and French music. She has several recordings both solo and with the group Ceoltoiri, on the Maggie's Music label. Committed to helping the next generation, in 1998 Karen founded the Sligo Creek Hedge School Irish music and culture 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’s most recent recordings are KA/PO in Concert, a live recording with her husband Paul Oorts and Starry Starry- celestial music from the heart - a fantasia of American, Celtic,Asian and classical lullabies on solo dulcimer.

In 2013 Karen became a Certified Music Practitioner (CMP) through the Music for Healing and Transitions Program ( She currently works at a military hospital in Maryland in the Stages of Healing Program and in the Arts & Humanities Program at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. She now gives lectures and teaches workshops internationally, encouraging other musicians to use their music for healing.

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.