Hammered Dulcimer Champion Named Featured Student

Sugar Grove – It’s not everyday you meet someone who plays the hammered dulcimer, a stringed trapezoidal instrument played with small mallets. It's even more rare to meet a regional hammered dulcimer champion, especially one who has only been playing for four years. And if you meet a hammered dulcimer champion who also excels in the field of graphic design, then you must be meeting Waubonsee Community College’s Featured Student for September 2010, Katie Moritz, of Aurora.

When Moritz was a child, she went to a dulcimer festival in Morris, Ill. and was instantly hooked. "I thought it was the coolest thing ever," she said. Besides being cool, the hammered dulcimer is also very expensive, so Moritz instead took up the tuba, playing throughout junior high and high school.

But a few years after her 2001 graduation from Joliet Central High School, when she was working as a computer-aided drafting and design technician, Moritz took the money she was making and finally bought the instrument she had always wanted to play. For the past four years, she has been studying with master dulcimist Bill Robinson in St. Charles.

While her musical passion was going well, the construction industry in which she worked was not, and Moritz was eventually downsized from the firm.

But the job had sparked her interest in graphic design, photography and project coordination, and so after some unsuccessful job hunting, Moritz enrolled in Waubonsee’s graphic design program.

"It’s a small program, so you get to know everybody and the teachers can spend more time with you," Moritz said. "I feel confident in my skills."

Moritz has been able to balance her time and interests, also taking several music courses at the college and participating in percussion ensemble and steel band. The music theory courses have led her to experiment with composing. In fact, one of the pieces she played during her winning performance at the Mid-Eastern Regional Hammered Dulcimer Championships was an original composition done as an honors project entitled "Expedition of a Sweet Sound."

"The piece was about being experimental," Moritz said. "I used chords and progressions I don’t typically play. I wanted to play with more feeling."

Her hammered dulcimer playing has also been helped by her participation in Waubonsee’s bands and ensembles. "I struggle with my timing, but it’s gotten a lot better since I’ve been in steel band and percussion ensemble," Moritz said. "[Waubonsee music instructor] Frank Check is like a walking metronome, and he gets you to where you’re playing in time."

Moritz had to put all of her performance pieces together when she competed in the national hammered dulcimer championships in September in Kansas. But she's used to putting things together. She has used her graphic design skills to promote her musical passions, creating posters for steel band concerts and a book design for Bill Robinson’s compositions. She’s even putting all of her coursework together to earn two associate degrees. She earned her Associate in Applied Science Degree in Graphic Design this December and will follow it up with an Associate in Fine Arts Degree in Music Performance in May. She plans to transfer to Robert Morris College to earn her bachelor’s degree in graphic design.