Santa Plays the Dulcimer

Santa Plays the Dulcimer

Profile of the Week

Secretly, it has been a lifelong dream for Ralph Lee Smith to play Santa Claus. After 75 years, Smith is finally getting his chance. To the delight of thousands of local youth, this longtime Reston resident will don the traditional big red suit, sturdy black boots and hearty white beard when the 12th annual Holiday Parade rolls into Reston Town Center Friday, Nov. 29. "Yes, I've been practicing my 'ho, ho, hos,'" a laughing Smith said. Smith says he is looking forward to this "role of a lifetime," but he isn't too worried. "If you enjoy people, which I do," he said, "then it isn't hard to be Santa."

<b>SO WHO IS SANTA?</b> Smith — a Connection Newspaper employee — is widely considered one of the country's foremost historians on the Appalachian Dulcimer. He has taught dulcimer classes at Appalachian State University, the University of Virginia and Davis and Elkins College. Smith's interest in folk music grew while he was an undergraduate at Swarthmore College. Smith and his folk-friendly friends convinced early folk legends, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seger, to play at their small Pennsylvania campus "for cheap." After graduating in 1951, and serving in the Air Force, Smith found himself in the middle of the folk revival in the heart of New York's Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and 1960s. While in the Village, Smith was introduced to the acoustic sounds of Appalachian music. It was there that he acquired his first dulcimer. Quickly, Smith became a fixture in Lower Manhattan's bustling folk music scene. In 1978, Smith brought his progressive outlook and his new bride, Shizuko, to the young and equally progressive community of Reston; 24 years later they are still here.

Smith can be seen performing a program of traditional folk songs at the Reston Museum at Lake Anne Village Saturday, Dec. 7, at 2 p.m.

<b>Name</b>: Ralph Lee Smith a.k.a. Santa Claus

<b>Town</b>: Reston

<b>Born</b>: Philadelphia, Pa.

<b>Birth date</b>: Nov. 6, 1927

<b>Occupation</b>: Account executive with the Connection Newspapers.

<b>Achievements</b>: "No. 1 is a long happy marriage and a lovely daughter. No. 2 is my books." A leading authority on the history of the Appalachian dulcimer, Smith's book, "The Story of the Dulcimer," is considered the standard history of the instrument. Besides being one of the foremost dulcimer players, Smith's other publications include, "Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions," and "Songs and Tunes of the Wilderness Road: Arrangements for Appalachian Dulcimer."

<b>Family</b>: Married his wife, Shizuko, Nov. 7, 1977. They have one daughter, Keyuki ("Little Snowflake"), 24.

<b>Education</b>: Graduated from Swarthmore in 1951 with a degree in English Literature. Received his M.Ed. from the University of Virginia in 1987.

<b>Likes</b>: Traditional folk music.

<b>Dislikes</b>: "The fact that I am never as good at playing the dulcimer as I would like to be. It's a trial and I practice everyday, progress is very slow."

<b>Favorite local restaurants</b>: Tortilla Factory, Virginia Kitchen and Cafe Montmartre on Lake Anne Plaza.

<b>Community ties</b>: Frequently a featured artist at the Reston Museum, Reston-Herndon Folk Club and the Lake Anne Coffee House.

<b>Community concerns</b>: "The one thing that Reston needs is a big strong branch of a state university. There is nothing like that in Reston or Herndon; it's like a big hole in the donut."

<b>What made you choose where you live?</b> "I had heard all about Reston before I moved here. It has always been a great example of post-war urban planning and that interested me very much. Happily, I have never regretted my decision to move here. Never once."

<b>Personal goals</b>: "Finishing up writing a book on folk music in Greenwich Village in the 1960s."

<b>Personal goals</b>: "Enjoy this beautiful world."

<b>Hero/Role Model</b>: "Embry Rucker because he had a wonderful sense of humanity combined with a great sense of humor."