Karen Alley, the 2014 National Hammered Dulcimer champion, is a hammered dulcimer teacher and performer currently based in Wooster, Ohio. Her repertoire ranges from Celtic to classical to hymns to show tunes, and her style combines percussive techniques with the rich harmonies and broad dynamics that make the dulcimer one of the most expressive instruments used in the folk community.
Karen was playing fiddle at a folk festival in Pennsylvania in 2004, when she realized she could make much nicer sounds on the dulcimer than she could on the fiddle. To her family's relief, she put down the fiddle and began dragging dulcimers with her to festivals and concerts all over the country. Her main passion is teaching, but there's little that compares to the exhilaration of playing with and learning from other musicians backstage and in concert. She has released two albums showcasing a variety of styles, as well as three books: "Beyond Melodies, Using Chords to Add Harmony," which demystifies music theory and playing harmonies with melody lines, "Christmas with your Dulcimer," a book of arrangements of favorite Christmas carols for beginner and intermediate players, and "Difficult Ditties and Hammer-Hampering Harmonies," a book of exercises to increase efficiency while practicing.
When she's not playing the dulcimer, Karen is a glaciologist specializing in the ice shelves of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. She also teaches in the geology department at the College of Wooster in Ohio, where she lives with her husband and two wonderful cats, Maximus and Lily.