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GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) Help: Mountain dulcimer history (29) RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history 07 Aug 00

Spaw is right: the scholars who try to state that the Dulcimer derived from, say, the Tyrolean scheitholt and not from the French Epinette des Vosges or vice versa, may be creating a false problem for themselves. I think players would have considered all the European fretted zithers to be essentially the same instrument, so it doesn't matter which European country the prototype dulcimer came from, assuming that only one prototype was copied, rather than several, or none (i. e. independent re-discovery).

Fretted zithers aren't documented in Europe prior to circa 1550. According to the Grove dictionary, this coincidence has led some to speculate that the European fretted zithers derive from the fretted zithers of the Far East. My own $0.02 on this: The Chinese zither I have seen was quite different. It had a curved fretboard, not a flat one. It didn't have metal frets. I have read since that the stops are marked by inlay spots. Also the European names for the fretted zither seem to be mostly unrelated to each other, except for Hummel/Houme: Scheitholt, Epinette, Hummel. I think the fretted zithers may have been invented independently in several places. Maybe luthiers needed some way to sell their factory-second fretboards! Anyhow, it seems in Europe to have been a marginal, country instrument.

In the Appalachians, dulcimers seem only to have been known in a few places: eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and some others. The tradition also seems to have been that it was a very private instrument. (I must emphasize that I'm extrapolating from some sketchy sources here: mainly an essay by Jean Ritchie and an anecdote about the N. Carolina craftsman who made Frank Warner's first dulcimer.) It was something you'd go off somewhere and play for yourself, or play for your family and intimates. I don't think it was ever used for dances, or in consort with other instruments. As a result of these factors, many people who grew up in the mountains may never have seen a dulcimer while they were living there.

Nowadays the dulcimer has become a public instrument, used in solo concert and in ensemble with other instruments. Players are developing new techniques and playing styles. It's an exciting time to be a dulcimer player.


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