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Help: Mountain dulcimer history

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GUEST,MV 06 Aug 00 - 07:25 PM
Sorcha 06 Aug 00 - 07:37 PM
catspaw49 06 Aug 00 - 07:54 PM
GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) 07 Aug 00 - 09:38 AM
catspaw49 07 Aug 00 - 09:52 AM
Pinetop Slim 07 Aug 00 - 10:12 AM
GUEST,Okiemockbird 07 Aug 00 - 11:10 AM
catspaw49 07 Aug 00 - 11:24 AM
GUEST,MV 07 Aug 00 - 11:50 AM
GUEST, Banjo Johnny 07 Aug 00 - 04:34 PM
catspaw49 07 Aug 00 - 04:44 PM
GUEST,Okiemockbird 07 Aug 00 - 05:36 PM
catspaw49 07 Aug 00 - 05:46 PM
GUEST,Ely 08 Aug 00 - 02:03 AM
catspaw49 08 Aug 00 - 02:19 AM
Pinetop Slim 08 Aug 00 - 09:23 PM
GUEST, Banjo Johnny 08 Aug 00 - 09:40 PM
Sandy Paton 09 Aug 00 - 12:27 AM
GUEST,Anne, Northumberland, England 11 Aug 00 - 12:21 PM
GUEST,anne, northumberland, england 11 Aug 00 - 12:27 PM
catspaw49 11 Aug 00 - 12:31 PM
Metchosin 11 Aug 00 - 12:43 PM
Pinetop Slim 11 Aug 00 - 08:56 PM
Lanfranc 12 Aug 00 - 09:09 AM
GUEST,Ely 12 Aug 00 - 05:59 PM
Mary in Kentucky 12 Aug 00 - 06:07 PM
dulcimer 12 Aug 00 - 06:53 PM
Pinetop Slim 12 Aug 00 - 10:07 PM
GUEST,Anne, Northumberland . England 13 Aug 00 - 03:10 PM
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Subject: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,MV
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 07:25 PM

Could anyone please share with me some definitive references concerning the history of mountain dulcimers? Sources I've examined seem to be quite contradictory.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Sorcha
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 07:37 PM

My understanding, from "In Search of the Wild Dulcimer" (sorry, can't rememeber authors and I don't own it) was that it was from the Scandinavian "humle". The immigrants did not have room for actual instruments, or time in the first generation to deal with music, so the 2nd or so generation tried to build instruments from the Elders memeory.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: catspaw49
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 07:54 PM

Dear MV..........Welcome to the world of Appalachian Dulcimers! My friend, the name dulcimer is stolen so what do you expect from the rest of it.(:<)) We have run several threads here at times and you can find them by using the search box just above the threads on the main page to the left....enter dulcimer and you'll find tons of info of all sorts.

What's definitive is anybody's guess. The instrument is a long zither and has relatives in most European countries and also Scandanavia. Its popularity in the southern mountains probably best relates to its drone sound similar to bagpipes and very appropriate to the music and also its inexpensive construction.

What I think is most likely is that as the mountains were settled, the ancestors of the instrument arrived too. Remembering that the southern mountains were a very closed and iconoclastic world for many years, the App. dulcimer developed as a hybrid of things like the epinette and was carried from place to place by itinerant builders. It is far simpler than any of its cousins and that fits with the style of the mountains.

There are several websites that have long and short histories of the App, but each one is flawed in the end by the inability to pinpoint an exact time/place when it was "invented." Better to think in terms of its cousins and see it as a development in tune with those people, in that place, during those times.

I know I didn't answer your question, but I hope I may have shed some light on your search. Welcome to the Mudcat and please stick around. Its great place filled with bright, intelligent, caring, and musical folks!!! Join in, we'd love to have you around.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 09:38 AM

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.

T.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 09:52 AM

Thanks T for the additional "agreeing" info.

Its true that the instrument was "pocketed" in an area of eastern Kentucky, WVa, eastern Tennessee and eastern North Carolina and the SW tip of VA. There are about 244 counties in this area and to me, I think they should have been a state! The fact that this area was so 'closed" explains much about the development and the music of the area too.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 10:12 AM

T: My wife agrees with your theory. "Isn't that dulcimer something that you should go off and play by yourself. The further away from my ears the better," she says (OK, she never says it aloud, but I know what she's thinking while she inserts the earplugs), but old photos show otherwise: Check out the cover photos on IB Stamper's Red Wing, some of the Doris Ullman photos (I think she took one of Catspaw playing for a crowd at Berea College in 1928) and others in Jean Ritchie's excellent books on the dulcimer. It was used in string bands, although it's better suited as a simple accompaniment for singing. Also, early examples of the instrument have turned up in Ohio and Pennsylvania (some made with a 2X4 fretboard with staples hammered in for frets and gate latches used as tuning pegs.) "In Search of the Wild Dulcimer" authors are Robert Force and Albert D'Ossche. Footnote: Daughter and granddaughter of a teacher from the Hindman Settlement School in 1920-21 came back this summer to present a dulcimer she bought from "Uncle Ed" Thomas, a seminal dulcimer maker from Bath, KY. I was pleased to be in the audience when Jean Ritchie accepted it on behalf of the school.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,Okiemockbird
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 11:10 AM

markf, thanks for the qualifying info about dulcimers as consort instruments. And yes, the dulcimer was known outside the pockets I mentioned. I should have said something like "mainly" rather than "only". Most examples of pre-1940 hourglass and teardrop-shape dulcimers were made in the places I mentioned. Straight-sided dulcimers have a wider pre-1940 distribution. I'm sorry about the careless wording.

T.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 11:24 AM

Good info and the point is still the same. This has turned into one of the more "reasonable" discussions about the instrument that I've read (even if I do say so myself).

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,MV
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 11:50 AM

Thank you all very much for your very interesting and informative comments re the origins of the mountain history. I appreciate all of your input and, as a result, now feel quite confident that I am not inadvertently introducing an anachronism in my presentation as a Civil War lady from Kentucky. Y'all been a great help! Thanks from the bottom of my Confederate (Missouri Brigade Medical Service) heart!


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST, Banjo Johnny
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 04:34 PM

There were a couple of fellows here in OKC the other night playing mountain dulcimers, and I can tell you they gave a whole new meaning to the instrument. There was none of that slivery thin tinkling I usually hear. These guys look like a couple of truck drivers, and they were in up to their elbows and burning them up. My fingers hurt just watching. One had a sort of figure-8 shape with a rich tone, and the other one was a long fish shape with a bright tone. (The dulcimers, I mean.) Together they had a really GIANT sound. Our whole club thought they were the hit of the show, which was a pretty darn good show anyway. == Johnny in OKC


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 04:44 PM

The shapes you descibe are almond and hourglass, which, along with teardrop, are the basic shapes they are known in. You see the occasional fiddle shape, but that's rare. The sound quality (outside of amplification) is due more to the woods used. Cherry and Maple are quite bright while walnut is much warmer. Most people notice the sound difference in Apps from the woods far more than they do in guitars. You also fing dulcimers being made from the native woods and far less from the exotics, although that too is being done. There is a saying in App dulcimer building that states, "The tradition is to be non-traditional."

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,Okiemockbird
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 05:36 PM

Banjo Johnny, I think that was Neil and Pete. (I think his name is "Pete"). "Pete's" dulcimer is a teardrop shape which is a bit larger than usual, hence the full, strong tone. For the volume of sound produced I think the size of the soundbox is the zero-order term, with the wood being a smaller factor.

I agree with what I consider to be one of the implications of Spaw's "non-traditional" proverb: whatever works is fine. Loud sound can be good sounding (or not), and the quiet dulcimer sound can be just as good.

T.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 05:46 PM

Yeah T....volume (again outside of amp) is a factor of size....quakity of or type of sound (warm/bright) is a factor of woods. Strings influence both.

John Jacob Niles had some truly outlandish size dulcimers which he used in large halls, but then again, Niles is a whole other story!!!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,Ely
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 02:03 AM

Don't forget box dulcimers (long, trapezoidal shape, which produces another slightly different sound). Mine are both hourglasses, walnut with cedar tops, which has a nice, kind of lute-ish sound.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: catspaw49
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 02:19 AM

Though most of its cousins are basically rectangular, the box shape Ely describes is a bit rare in the App. One of the reasons the multiple influence theory holds water is that certain shapes are more associated with areas within the Appalachian area we talked about above.

Also, long zithers are an interesting acoustic piece to begin with as the material of the fretboard has more to do with the sound of the instrument than do all the woods in the soundbox! Combining the two makes for very different sounding instruments, ie., maple fretboard with walnut soundbox, an excellent combination to produce a bright sound without a big edge to it.

But they are also capable of being made out of damn near anything as some today are made of a cardboard like material from reprocessed paper. And if you want to have fun, build a stick dulcimer and lay it on various things to play it and listen to how the sound changes.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 09:23 PM

What tunes did Neil and Pete tear up? Is there a blue clicky for the thread where Spaw gave instructions for building a stick dulcimer? May I ramble? Thank you.
I think of mountain dulcimers as like babies -- I ain't seen one yet that I didn't think was pretty (unlike babies, I want to hold most dulcimers I see. I never heard of a dulcimer peeing on anybody, though I bet Cleigh or Cletus or whatever his name is has got a story about it happening). The cardboard ones that kids paint and put glitter on are the best. A lady named Fay Smith has one made out of pawpaw wood that you can't take your eyes off. Those long slender hourglasses by Uncle Ed Thomas -- I saw a woman slinking down the street today in a sarong; the lines were about the same. I think I'll go lay one just like it across my lap.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST, Banjo Johnny
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 09:40 PM

"Neil and Pete" didn't tell the names of the tunes. Mainly they kept talking about how long they had known each other. I don't think they gave their names either. This was possibly the only flaw in their act. == Johnny


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 09 Aug 00 - 12:27 AM

Ralph Lee Smith has done more research on the Appalachian Dulcimer than anyone else I know. His 1997 book Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions shows examples of the instruments of many of the known builders, and covers the history as well as any study I've seen. Unfortunately, the only copy I find via www.Bookfinder.com has a price of $31 attached. The book is worth it, I'd say, but that price really is off-putting. If you can find a copy at your local library, I'd urge you to check it out.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,Anne, Northumberland, England
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 12:21 PM

Hi - I've been following your 'threads', there all so interesting and friendly. I started playing dulcimer about a year ago. Not making a great deal of progress, but I'm trying to concentrate on mandolin so dulcimer is just for relaxation really. Has anyone any advice to give me on strings. It was made by Elderly Instruments, is figure 8 shape. It has two single strings and one pair. The recommended string guage is light - but light what?. Dulcimers are still quite a rarity in my locality.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,anne, northumberland, england
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 12:27 PM

hi! I've been following your threads there very interesting.I'm new to this and to dulcimer playing. Can anyone help with advice on strings. My instrument was made by Elderly, it is a figure 8 shape. It has 4 strings, two singles and a pair. I've had it tuned to DAD but have had to drop it a tone as that was to high for some of my songs. Recommended string guage is 'light' -but light what? Dulcimers are fairly rare in my locality. I only know of one other player and I see her about twice a year! thanks folks


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: catspaw49
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 12:31 PM

Light refers to a thinner string...the gauge as its called=measurment. Elderly probably didn't make your Dulcimer, but they sell some very nice ones by fine makers so I'm sure you got a nice instrument. Try GHS strings from them....They are an excellent string.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Metchosin
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 12:43 PM

Spaw....read your personal messages.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 08:56 PM

Trust Spaw on these things, Anne, but if GHS is not available where you are, a 24 gauge string works nicely for the bass and 12 gauge for the other three. Most sets for five string banjo have the ones you want if your dulcimer is set up for loop-end strings and guitar strings are OK if you've got pegs to put that little ring around. Try shining a light in the sound holes and see if there's a tag in their with the maker's name on it; could be helpful for future references. There's an English player named Roger Nicholson who is quoted in at least a couple American dulcimer instruction books and some of his followers may be closer than you know. I felt pretty lonely when I first started playing, but over the years I've learned there are at least a half dozen players in my hometown...Enjoy


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Lanfranc
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 09:09 AM

My dulcimer was made in Majorca, Spain, by a Canadian luthier called George Bowden from plans provided by a US Navy officer. It is the only three-string hourglass dulcimer I have ever come across.

The back and sides are walnut and the top is spruce. It is now almost thirty years old an rings like a bell.

I bought it after trying any number of the John Pearce influenced triangular dulcimers that were popular in the UK in the late 60s and early 70s, all of which it played off the stage even when young.

I keep it tuned to D, but shift the tuning to cover Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian or Mixolydian modes depending on the tune or song. I love it dearly and don't play it often enough. Like my bowed psaltery, it is a very useful way of getting the audience's attention.

Roger Nicholson is the best exponent I've come across in the UK.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,Ely
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 05:59 PM

I mostly play in DADD (meaning bass string D, middle string A above that, and melody string[s] D above that A), so I use a 24 for the bass, 12 for the middle, and 10's for the melody strings. Don't try to tune 12 gauges up to D on the melody strings. If the middle string doesn't project its sound well (one of my dulcimers has this problem), you might want a bit heavier gauge.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 06:07 PM

Hi Anne,

I recently heard Dan Evans from Olney, England. Is that anywhere near you? He was introduced as the greatest dulcimer player in England, and then he told us that there weren't many dulcimer players in England! He's certainly worth looking for if you get a chance to hear him.

Mary


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: dulcimer
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 06:53 PM

12 guage on the middle string will tune up to D and a DDDD tuning is commonly called bagpipe tuning and some use it when playing bagpipe tunes. I use a little heavier guage on the middle string--14, 15, or 16 and depending on the recommendation of the builder 22 to 24 on the bass.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 10:07 PM

Anybody know what key or tuning the great English dulcimist Brian Jones was in for "Sweet Lady Jane"?


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Subject: RE: Help: Mountain dulcimer history
From: GUEST,Anne, Northumberland . England
Date: 13 Aug 00 - 03:10 PM

Hi, thanks for all the help with the dulcimer strings and tuning. Can you help with something else? I've come across a song but can't trace it, so I've only two partly remembered verse -

Seven days are in the week, in almost every circumstance
four seasons in the year, or so we learned at school
don't count your chickens when you're dealing with the weather.
There's many a wise man fallen asleep and woken up a fool

the next verse is hazy....

'Twas on a Monday morning I first beheld my darling
I saw her once again on a Tuesday afternoon
She kissed me on a Wednesday, I couldn't wait for Thursday
But I can tell you, friends, that Thursday never came.

does anyone recognise this???


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