Dean Robinson


Amazing people who have made a HUGE difference in my life - listed in chronological order!

Joellen Lapidus

Joellen has had an influence on every modern dulcimer player whether they realize it or not.

She built one of her signature instruments for Joni Mitchell.

Joni recorded four songs on her "Blue" album using the dulcimer: "All I Want," "Carey," "California" and "A Case of You."  The album was released in 1971.

Due to Joni's popularity and the gorgeous instruments Joellen creates, the dulcimer really took off and has been popular ever since.

Joellen has an unmatched legacy in the dulcimer family and in music as a whole.

I had the honor of meeting Joellen at the Menucha Dulcimer Festival and discovered she is not only a humble artist, she is a blast to be around! Her infectious smile can melt the coldest of hearts.

Watching her perform taught me that while people enjoy her technical prowess, she really shines when she sings songs created to make people laugh and sing-along. She engages the audience like no other performer I've seen!

As a result I'll be incorporating humorous songs in my sets!

"Wa Wa..WaWa..Wa! Waltzing With Bears!"

Check out Joellen's website - you owe it to yourself to take a gander at her gallery of amazing instruments! One day she will create a dulcimer for me. I have to have one of her works of art!

Frank Ledgerwood

Frank is an amazing dulcimer player and introduced me to the instrument in the late 70's. Skateboards, Sultans of Swing, and a friction peg dulcimer kit. I started noodling with it and Frank showed me some beginner stuff.

Within a couple of months, Frank moved away.

There was no internet back then and I knew nothing so I started exploring what this little instrument could do. 6 years later Frank moved back to Washington state. I couldn't wait to play the many songs I had written!

He really liked them and started playing the most amazing harmonies. After a couple of months we had a 30 minute set ready to audition for the 1986 Seattle Folklife Festival. And we landed the prime Arena Stage during a prime time 7pm slot! We were blown away!

Then we auditioned for the World's Fair in Vancouver, B.C. and followed a really good belly dancing act. Half the guys in the audience left to douse themselves with cold water. lol

But we drew back the crowd once we started playing.

Now if I can just draw Frank back from the Philippines...

Dean & Frank in 1986
Dean & Frank in 1986 - This was our promo photo for Seattle Folklife Festival

Janita Baker - Blue Lion Instruments

It was such a treat to get to meet you (what a smile!) and especially to hear your music.  Everyone was blown away by your proficiency and your talent for songwriting—really really lovely music." - Janita

It is in no small part due to the dulcimer you made for me 31 years ago that kept me enchanted. The beautiful woods, the rich tones and that ROSE! Everyone loved that rose!

Not having any TAB or knowing other players, I composed music by just exploring this lovely instrument! She was my muse!

I finally had the privilege to meet Janita at the 2018 Menucha Dulcimer Festival where I took several classes from her.

But I will always remember the Ensemble class. She taught 6-part arrangements for several different songs and we had at least two players per part so it was stunningly gorgeous - when I DIDN'T play. lol

Because I played my own music for so long, I'm a horrible TAB sight reader.

S-L-O-W! I use TAB only as a starting point. Not to sight read.

At the evening concert, the Ensemble class was setting up to perform and I tried, unsuccessfully, to hide but Janita spotted me and asked me to join the group. I laughed but declined and she did the most adorable puppy whine pleading with me to join the group.

I whispered to her that I could not sight read fast enough to keep up and I didn't want to spoil their magical (and it was!) performance. I hoped she wasn't disappointed and she said " how could you disappoint me with that smile!"

What an incredibly giving artist and teacher!


Elaine Robinson

Words cannot possibly express my love and gratitude for you.

Your patience with me these many years is a miracle.

I pretty much isolated myself for close to 25 years and even though I would insist she go to social events, Elaine rarely went unless I would go. She would forgo her social life and instead wrapped around me while I was in my chrysalis. And she waited...

And She Waited. The title of an upcoming song. Watch for it!

After dear Norma's passing in July 2017, we had epiphanies falling like rain and it was glorious! What should have been a mournful time was mournful mixed with joy if you can imagine that after just losing your only other friend.

Since that time Elaine has blossomed! Her network of friends is HUGE and she is positively radiant!

On Thanksgiving day, 2019, Elaine approached me and asked to learn the dulcimer., She has blossomed into a fine player and loves this amazing instrument. It has always been my dream to play music with my beloved!

And finally, her real passion is building beautiful websites like this one. Isn't it wonderful?!

Love, I couldn't be more proud of your transformation this past year!

I love you, sweetheart.

My daughters adore her and she loves them as her own. Elaine was instrumental in both girls' care and suffered some heartache as a result. Read on to learn about my amazing girls!

Dean & Elaine
Dean & Elaine

Cerise & Kylie

Cerise and Kylie, I am absolutely bursting at the seams with pride for your monumental accomplishments! You wrestled the monkey and kicked its butt.

I was divorced when the girls were 12 & 5 years old and it was torture to only see them every other weekend. But we made it work and their mom, Judy Jones, did a fantastic job raising them and taught them good values. Judy is an elementary school teacher - a shamefully underpaid and undervalued molder of the keepers of our future.

Cerise, my oldest daughter, made the mistake many kids make these days: thinking they will be the one who doesn't get addicted.

Cerise fell into meth and was very nearly gone when she made the decision to get help.

Only a few years later she graduated USC with a Masters in Film & Television specializing in sound design and is now working for Deluxe, the premiere sound company in Hollywood.

And last fall, Cerise bought her first dulcimer! We got to visit for a week in February and jammed for the first time.

There's nothing quite like the feeling of making real music with your (36 year old) child.

I love you, Cerise.

So my youngest daughter, Kylie decided we hadn't suffered enough (lol) and even though she had just witnessed her sister's nightmare, thought "I can handle it. I won't get addicted" and fell into heroin.


I was thinking I couldn't be that lucky twice in one lifetime could I? To have TWO daughters beat the monkey. We'd see her in and out of the hospital. And I was just waiting for the inevitable call. Until they make the decision to get help themselves, you can only love them and provide a safe environment for them to know they can retreat. I'm looking at you, Judy - thank you!

But she made the call and is now working towards her Masters in Education and following in her mom's footsteps; knowing ahead of time the hellacious way we treat our educators.

That tells you a great deal about her character.

I love you, Kylie.

Norma Osborn

Norma loved her daughter with all her heart.
I loved her daughter with all my heart.

And we both harbored a subtle envy of the other, don't ask me why: Elaine has enough love for all and to spare.

So over the years we had our little tiffs.

We had our differences but I was concerned for Norma because she lived 4 1/2 hours away and was in her 80s. With that in mind I suggested to Elaine that we get a house with a mother-in-law apartment or cottage.

We found one and Norma moved in November of 2016. During the first two weeks things were a bit awkward and eventually there was an uncomfortable incident. Elaine was crushed and at that point, both Norma and I realized we needed a fresh start or break Elaine's heart.

Our friendship grew rapidly! We laughed and watched movies together and shared stories and history and I grew to love her deeply. I considered her my only other friend that I could talk to on a daily basis.

Then suddenly Norma grew ill and was in and out of the hospital and finally Elaine and I were her primary caretakers through hospice. And the world became a little dimmer on July 5 after Norma suffered her final hours wincing at the sound of fireworks.

Norma Osborn, 2015
Norma Osborn, 2015


We were devastated. Elaine lost her mom and we both lost our dearest friend. But my life-saving epiphany was revealed. I was an angry person; not violent - just untrusting and unsocial. The grief of her passing allowed me to reach deep inside myself and realize that while I thought I was shielding myself from harm, cutting myself off from the world and locking away my dulcimer for over 20 years was actually killing me.

Norma was a singer all of her life. She performed with choral groups and with her equally adept sister, Dora!

Ironically, Norma never saw me perform and I never saw her perform until after she started the next phase of her journey.

Elaine produced a moving tribute for the memorial service at our home and I saw Norma sing a song titled Poor Mary. As she sang, tears were streaming down her face, such was the passion she had for her music.

I love you, Norma. I hope I make you proud and hope I can share at least half the passion for music as you.

Mark Iler

Mark honored us by playing his guitar at my mother-in-law's memorial service at our home in August of 2017. Mark and Norma were also very close.

After the service Mark asked me to grab my dulcimer to jam. I told him I hadn't played my dulcimer in 20 years but he kept badgering me until I gave in just to shut him up! lol

He literally saved my life that day - and I mean literally in every sense of the word.

I have not stopped playing music since!

Mark is a good friend, accomplished musician and sound engineer to boot!

He has several bands including one with his partner, Jess, called Humor & Heart. He's produced his own CD, and has been a guest artist on other CDs.

He is  my wife's ex-husband -- so he is in effect my brother in law too!

Mark Iler and Jess McKeegan
Mark Iler and Jess McKeegan

Stephen Middleton

I met Stephen at the Old Growth Mountain Dulcimer Club and was impressed with his playing. I knew immediately I wanted to jam with him.

Stephen is the most peaceful and caring man I have ever met. He just exudes Joy! So I invited Stephen to our home to jam. But first we had lunch and I was amazed at his philosophy.

He mentioned he teaches meditation so I knew I had to give it a try. Stephen lives a good distance away and I knew I needed a daily practice. I started at the first of the year using an app called Calm and have only missed 1 day in 112 days.

Overtime it softened my edges and allowed me to break through to the next level.

Stephen has built 14 dulcimers and they are gorgeous!

And he plays brass, woodwinds, guitar, ocarina, and beautiful Native American Flute.

His lovely, wife, Cynthia, is as creative in arts and crafts as Stephen is in music so it's a real treat to visit their home filled with their creations!

Check it: thanks so much my friend!

We're going to create some beautiful music together!  😀

Menucha Mountain Dulcimer Festival

The Menucha Mountain Dulcimer Festival is the only festival I've attended except for a Kindred Gathering in 1986? '87? hosted by some guy named Bob Force.  ;D

Menucha is an experience not to be missed.

The setting is spectacular: 100+ acres high above the Columbia River Gorge at the border of Washington and Oregon in Corbett, OR.

The rooms are cozy and comfortable but what really shines is the food and the staff.

The food is prepared by a chef every day: breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is always prepared with fresh, local fruits and vegetables. The main menu caters to both meat-eaters and vegetarians.

Lori Nance and the staff at Menucha are like friendly robots in that they do not hesitate to drop whatever they are doing to help. They are professional, courteous and every interaction is comfortable.

It allows the attendees to focus on their passion, confident their needs are being met beyond their expectations!

Thanks for your part in my magical experience! I'm ready to buy a lifetime registration to this Festival!

Lady June Janelle @ Menucha
Lady June Janelle @ Menucha

Aaron O'Rourke

I often receive compliments like "I've never heard a dulcimer played like that before!" and "Have never heard anything more beautiful on the dulcimer".

Um, no.

You obviously have never heard Aaron O'Rourke play.

Compared to Aaron, I sound like I'm playing the dulcimer with a ball peen hammer!

I had the honor and privilege of taking classes from Aaron at the Menucha Dulcimer Festival in 2018.

He is an incredibly humble and giving musician. I am so delighted that he is such a "young'n" - Aaron won the National Championships at Walnut Valley at 25! - it means he will be improving, if you can imagine that, and sharing more of his art to delight and inspire the rest of us lesser beings.

Aaron: if you ever read this, I hope you will consider staying away from motorcycles, bungie jumping, parachuting, sports of any kind, sharp implements, and so on. We simply must have more of your music!

Aaron & Dean at the Hollywood Theater for Hearts of the Dulcimer
Aaron & Dean- Hearts of the Dulcimer showing - Portland, OR

Karen Mueller

I had the honor of meeting Karen as the third instructor at Menucha and some of her classes.

But the one that changed my musical path was the Strum and Sing class.

I've always admired (and envied!) folks like Karen who could play and sing so beautifully!

I had always assumed I couldn't walk and chew gum but I thought I could pick up some tips.

Not only did Karen convince me to try it, I also learned a half dozen sing-alongs I could try immediately.

Joellen Lapidus attended the class and gave a bonus tip: Only strum one chord, let it ring and then sing to that. Then slowly add to the chord. We had a great time and everyone came away singing!

I can't wait to perform at our open mics! Joellen performed the folk song Waltzes With Bears and I was convinced I had to incorporate humorous songs in my set!

Then I heard Karen play autoharp and I was moved to tears. Just icing on the cake.

It was a real treat to learn from such a well-respected and accomplished musician.