Impenitent traditionalism

08/25/09 10:34:30AM
I probably shouldn't do this...I've felt several almost completely unrelated tweaks about this, lately, off two forums (this one and ED). Most of these have been unselfconscious; they just have to do with the way different participants the language, or approach music in general. But I can only take so many tweaks. John Brownson (aka: Buffalo) said:
For decades it was enough for me to just play "traditionally", fretting the melody strings and singing border ballads, but eventually someone taught me DAd and a chord or two, and that was it.
Call me hidebound and reactionary. (Go ahead, do. Thanks, we both feel better. Now, read some more.) The thing that tweaked me when I read this was the use of quotation marks, around the word traditionally... as if that was sort of an artificial construct. It is, sure; but it also has objective meaning, outside of which the bulk of contemporary dulcimer making and playing may be perceived to lie.Also on this forum, I saw Ken Hulme's blog about modes; and one of the passages to which I found myself uncharacteristically saying "amen" was this:
DulciMode-iness In all discussion of dulcimers and modes, you must ignore the 6+ fret. It is not part of the true diatonic scale. It is called the 6+ or six-plus fret precisely because it is an addition to the normal sequence of intervals between diatonic frets.
And a little farther down the page, this:
...many people confuse the term Mode with the term Modal Tuning. The reason why is that many people today play chords across all three strings, and no longer think of the middle and far strings as drones that accompany the melody being played on the closest string.
Now Ken, of all people, knows that I'm interested in what the late Allen Smith has dubbed "pre-revival" instruments. He knows, because I sent him photos and measurements of a bunch of them, for his excellent but under-utilized database of historic MDs. But a bunch of the rest of you know, too; I've been posting on ED about this stuff for a couple of years.What I'm dancing around, here, is stating the obvious: dulcimers didn't even have a 6+ fret, let alone a 1+ fret (or anything else outside a diatonic scale) until well into the "revival" (which btw Allen dates a little late; but anyway it was underway when most of us, now living, took up the MD). So, the traditional (not in quotes, it doesn't need any) style developed -- entirely in the absence of chording styles -- on instruments that didn't have any frets over there, to chord on. Duh.Even my 1963 Ledford doesn't have any under the lowest-pitch string, except for one extended (third) fret -- for making the occasional IV chord, in what I suppose one must now call the "archaic" DAA (Jean Ritchie's ole daddy called it "bim, bim, BOM") tuning.Here's what I'd call pretty much the opposite of the traditional dulcimer: Beautiful craftsmanship, and all, but not very deeply indebted to the dulcimer tradition, as such. Maybe American Lutherie, Fine Woodworking, and similar highly refined sources. Anyway, the Shaker esthetic is not in play. In the "Name that Instrument" contest, the lucky owner-to-be of this one is leaning toward names that include the word "Wild," and I totally agree.Does this have something to do with California? Not that I know of, except insofar as that's for the most part a sort of youthful culture. But the folks that moved out there from places that actually had traditions moved, in a good many cases, back in the Dust Bowl days, or as a result of WWII. Anyhow, 2-3-4 generations back, by now. When the folksong revival got into full swing, California fully participated.I'll paste in one more quote from this forum, that caused me to nod sagely when I read it: Roger L. Huffmaster said:
What drew me to the instrument in the first place is the melody/drone sound. If you abandon that, as far as I am concerned, you might as well play guitar.
And then there have been some comments about how noter-and-drone people don't fare well as contestants, these days. And somebody has even noticed that Jean Ritchie also sings... And so on. Talk amongst yourselves. I think I'll go drive my Prius in the Blue Ridge, someplace, and think about how cool it was when everybody was poor and had to walk.Dick