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Archives Area choir director wins dulcimer competition

Nov. 20, 2019

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing writer

PLATTSBURGH – Nate Pultorak, choir director and organist at the Plattsburgh churches, recently won the National Hammered Dulcimer Competition.

“It was incredible to be able to win this competition,” Pultorak said. “The festival is an amazing time with over 10,000 people showing up to watch concerts and contests or just to reunite with friends that enjoy similar types of music.”

To win, Pultorak had to make it through two rounds of competition.

“I went onstage, and played my first two pieces, “Two Silver Hearts” – a piece I wrote and dedicated to my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary – and “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. The emcee came to the stage and announced the numbers of those who were to move on, and my number was called! . . . . When I went up the second time, I played ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ from the musical Les Miserables and ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ . . . . When they revealed I won, my face lit right up. Pictures were taken posing with our prize instruments, and we prepared for our encores. I played ‘Calling Out Your Name’ by Rich Mullins.”
The hammered dulcimer is played by striking the strings with a pair of special mallets called hammers.

“It is a wonderful feeling to play the dulcimer,” Pultorak explained, “An instrument like this has such a range that can be expressed while playing it with various techniques. For the fast, energetic pieces, it is thrilling to throw in fast flurries of notes to accent various moments of the song. For the slow pieces, it is an emotional yet soothing experience to precisely time just when and how I will play the next note.”

Christian music artist Rich Mullins helped inspired Pultorak’s love of the dulcimer.

“I grew up listening to Rich Mullins around the house and on long car trips from my native Joliet, Illinois to visit my grandmother near Watertown,” Pultorak recalled. “‘Sing Your Praise to the Lord,’ ‘Creed,’ and ‘Calling Out Your Name’ were some of my favorites, which incidentally have Rich playing the dulcimer. The friend of the family who introduced me to the dulcimer became my teacher, but I also went to many festivals dedicated to the dulcimer, where many musicians who had made the dulcimer one of their main things taught workshops.”
Pultorak said music and faith played important roles in his upbringing.

“I had a love for music from a very early age, as my family led music at one of the Masses at the church I grew up in,” he said. “I was behind a musical instrument in a Catholic context from the time I was still in utero.”
When he attended college, Pultorak’s passion for playing music grew.

“When I was at Franciscan University, the Residence Director of my dorm invited me to join a small men’s choir he directed that sang at Masses done in the Ordinary Form in Latin” he said. “I was drawn into the beauty of singing Gregorian Chant and various pieces of Polyphony. Through that I learned that one of the common misconceptions was that Vatican II did away with that music, whereas the only mention of it was to encourage its use. As I continued through my academic career, I studied abroad at Franciscan’s campus in Austria, where I had the opportunity to direct a choir of my own that sang for masses in various places that we had group excursions. Places included Assisi and even at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Those experiences made me want to pursue doing Catholic music more seriously.”

Pultorak also plays the drums, piano, trumpet, penny whistle, hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer and organ.

“For me, my favorite instrument depends on the environment,” he said. “When playing out at places like Church Street Marketplace in Burlington or jamming with friends, I love to play the Hammered Dulcimer, but in a church, the power and beauty of an organ and choir wins hands down.”

In addition to playing at church, Pultorak also plays at other venues.

“When the weather is warm, it is not uncommon for me to drive over to Burlington, Vermont where the Church Street Marketplace offers opportunities for street performing that are unparalleled in this area. I also play in some bands with [local] musicians. On the first Fridays of the month in Malone, NY, I lead music with Abigail St. Louis for the Hearts on Fire Holy Hour at Notre Dame Church. With the opportunities that can arise from being a national champion, I am looking forward to being able to play in many other locations in the area soon. While my studies have led me to believe that the dulcimer in most instances is not suited for the Mass, I enjoy playing the dulcimer while doing praise and worship during Eucharistic Adoration.”

As for future musical aspirations, Pultorak reflected “I am currently looking for ways to incorporate my music into evangelization, and I would love to some day in the future make the Dulcimer be a more full-time musical endeavor.”

For those who would like to pursue music, Pultorak advises “If you do it, make sure you love it. While I was beginning on the dulcimer, I had so much fun, I would just walk up to the dulcimer throughout the day and start playing a tune because I really wanted to. The important thing with music is to have fun no matter what your skill level is.” Although he has previously recorded albums, Pultorak is “currently preparing to create a professionally produced album that will be coming out next year.”

Pultorak is available to perform at various events. Contact him at natepul29@gmail.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/natedulcimer, or Instagram at @natedulcimer


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