Alumni Profile: Ken Kolodner '72, Hammered Dulcimer and Fiddle Player with Helicon and Ken & Brad Kolodner Quartet, Educator

Alumni Profile: Ken Kolodner '72, Hammered Dulcimer and Fiddle Player with Helicon and Ken & Brad Kolodner Quartet, Educator

We sat down with Ken Kolodner '72 over the summer to talk about his career (Hammered Dulcimer and Fiddle Player with Helicon and Ken & Brad Kolodner Quartet, Educator) and the impact of his experience at Friends for the most recent edition of Friends Magazine

How he got here: It was a very circuitous route! While at Friends and in college, I never played a note of music. After Lawrence University, I obtained a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. But just before graduate school, I took up the fiddle, and a few years later, the hammered dulcimer. By the time I finished the doctoral program, I was performing regularly with Chris Norman, a world-class flute player. We later joined forces with Robin Bullock and formed Helicon. We toured for many years, performing what became known as “world music” in nearly every state in the U.S. Although music was my focus, I was able to work part-time as a biostatistics consultant, publishing 100+ articles.

Current work: Sometimes, I am asked if I will ever retire. My typical response: “Why would I? I play music for a living.” I perform, teach, organize events and concerts, record, do marketing, and more. The bulk of my performance is with my son Brad Kolodner '08 in The Ken & Brad Kolodner Quartet. For the last 20 years, I’ve been running and teaching The Sandbridge Hammered Dulcimer and Fiddle Retreat, which attracts 150+ players from around the world. Much of my work is community building with music as the binding agent. Brad and I run The Baltimore Old Time Music Festival and bi-weekly jam, The Baltimore Old Time Jam. I’ve recorded over 20 CDs and written and produced instructional books and videos. I also put on Helicon’s Annual Winter Solstice Concerts, now in its 38th year.

Impact of your Friends School education: Friends provided a strong foundation in writing skills, analytic and critical thinking, and the value of service. My daughter Hillary Kolodner ’10 went to Friends, as did my older brothers Kirk Kolodner '71 and Nathan Kolodner '68. I think there was a Kolodner at Friends for 40 years, a little dynasty. The Quaker values permeate from social justice to listening to each other, which is the critical skill to have as a musician. I really liked Friends’ welcoming nature of accepting all kinds of different people and different approaches to life. I didn’t feel pressured to go down any specific path. I didn't know then that I was going to become a professional musician, self-employed, and an entrepreneur, but my Friends education set me up for sorting out my own path. Many of my classmates who became professors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, actors, musicians, whatever, are all occupations of service. I don't think of playing music to serve, but I think ultimately that's what Brad and I do with community events. Music gives people joy, and we enjoy doing that for people. That’s what Friends education inculcates in students, to make the world a better place through how you approach your life.

Notable Friends School experience: I’d like to highlight an experience after Friends School: reconnecting with classmates at our 50th Reunion. Over the course of a long and incredibly meaningful weekend, we had “Ted Talks,” a Meeting for Worship to remember those who were no longer with us, a crab feast, a breakfast, and an Orioles game. It was striking to all of us how long-lasting our connections still were all those years later. 

Memorable Friends School teacher: There were so many, but I have fond memories of Clark Taylor, Doris Neumann, John Roemer, and Gary Blauvelt.