Dante M. Bucci, 33, who made music with an unusual instrument.

Posted: August 20, 2014

THE PHILADELPHIA Folk Festival last weekend wasn't the same without Dante Bucci.

Dante, who died last Wednesday, had been taking his unique way of making music to the festival since 2001. His instrument was the "hang," a kind of drum in the shape of a flying saucer, balanced on the lap and played with hands and fingers.

The music Dante produced with this odd device, much of it of his own composition, was unlike anything heard from traditional instruments. Its sound is usually described as "dreamlike" and "haunting."

At the festival, he performed with other musicians and often by himself. He also was a familiar sight around the streets of Philadelphia, performing with two hangs on his lap to enraptured audiences.

But a dark cloud intruded on the fun of the annual and well-attended folk festival in Upper Salford when word got around that Dante M. Bucci was found dead in his home in Roxborough at age 33. Death came from complications of a fall, his family said.

"It's really rocking all of us," guitarist Miles Thompson told the Daily Local News of West Chester as he stood by the main gate dressed in a khaki kilt. "I played with him a few times. It's a real shame."

A Fistful of Sugar, a group of Philly musicians, dedicated their song "Call Me" to Dante, and there were many words of tribute over the weekend.

Dante could play just about any instrument, from the guitar to the piano to the theremin to the Australian didgeridoo to the washtub and the tin whistle, to name a few.

"He could make music on anything," said his brother, Damien. "He played music because he loved it. He didn't think about making money or becoming famous."

Theresa Conroy, a former Daily News reporter who now teaches yoga, said Dante played for some of her classes at Yoga on the Ridge on Ridge Avenue. "It was just so magical, so haunting," she said. "It was perfect for yoga."

In fact, the hang (pronounced hung) was developed about 10 years ago in Switzerland as a meditation device. Although it is often called a "hang drum," its makers prefer not to call it a drum. It is not struck as a normal drum would be, but caressed.

Dante had six of the instruments because each is tuned to a different key and he needed more than one key to create his music.

"He was very quiet and sweet," said Conroy, who as a yoga therapist taught Dante for a time. "He was a little shy. He was very generous; he never wanted to take money for playing."

Singer-songwriter Mutlu Onaral, who regularly collaborated with Dante, is quoted in an article by John Vetesse in the Key, an online music publication, as saying Dante "was a master of unique and unusual instruments."

"He could take anything, mess around with it, and in a half hour make it groove and sound good."

As for the hang: "He took it to an incredible level. What he could do with it!"

Onaral's set at the folk festival on Saturday was to be with Dante and guitarist Jeremy Dyen. He told Vetesse beforehand, "We're going to go ahead with the set as a duo, and he'll be there in spirit."

Dante's day job was as a systems analyst at Drexel University, his alma mater.

He was born in The Hague, Netherlands, when his parents were there on a business trip for his father, Joseph Bucci, an Italian-born businessman. His mother, the former Maryann Tomaino, is a classically trained singer.

The family returned to the States when Dante was about a year old and he attended schools in the Pennsbury School District. After high school, he went on to Drexel University, where he studied information systems.

"He was sweet and very humble," his mother said. "He did music for the fun of it. He was a very kind person, a joy to be around. He loved people and when anyone needed him, he was there.

"He was wonderful, sweet - and silly."

Dante had a quirky sense of humor. He liked corny jokes and tongue-twisters, his family said.

"I never heard him say a bad word about anyone," his brother said.

Besides his parents and brother, he is survived by his partner, Gillian Pianka.

Services: Were Monday.

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