Connection Between Hammered and Mountain Dulcimers?

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
3 months ago
66 posts

dulcidom:

If I may add a few details....

Reading the excellent books by Ralph Lee Smith: "The Story of the Dulcimer" and especially "Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions" clearly shows that the name "dulcimer" (or "dulcimore " and other variations) was already in use for the fretted dulcimer well before (at least a century) the folk revival of the 1970s. I have a little personal hypothesis about this strange disambiguation of the two types of dulcimers :

The King James I Bible, first published in 1611, quickly became the version authorized by the Church of England. The passages that interest us are in the book of Daniel: 5, 10 and 15.:

"Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made".

In this text, "dulcimer" is used to translate the Aramaic word "sumponiah", itself derived from the Greek "symphonia" (in fact, a kind of bagpipe), which the translators did not really know what to do with at the time. It was therefore the (hammered) dulcimer, very fashionable at the time, which saved them the day, thereby making this instrument an instrument of biblical times.

In the depths of Appalaches, with practically only the Bible to read, the hardy pioneers also found themselves in the embarrassment of baptizing the youngest of the family of alpine zithers, derived from the unpronounceable Dutch "scheitholt" or "zither". It was necessary to accompany the hymns, an instrument accepted by the Church, unlike the violin (the devil's box). What's better than an instrument name quoted in the Holy Scriptures? And there you have it, the Appalachian "dulcimer".

Homonymy was not a problem for almost two hundred years, when the two instruments had well separated geographical domains. It was only after the Second World War and the folk revival and the arrival of Jean Ritchie (the damsel with a dulcimer) in New York that the need for two distinct qualifiers arose : the hammered dulcimer and the pinched/plucked/fretted/lap dulcimer...

Of course, it's nothing but a(nother) hypothesis. Sorry if I was a bit long.

 

In the Appalachian wilderness, pioneers baptized a new instrument, derived from alpine zithers and known as the "dulcimer." Acceptable to the Church unlike the violin, it accompanied hymns, its name found in the Bible, making it ideal for religious music in the region.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
last year
1,107 posts

Nate, here is a link to a short piece from the Smithsonian Institution on how to build a hammered dulcimer.

https://www.si.edu/spotlight/hammered-dulcimer/hdmake

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
last year
1,107 posts

For anyone interested in learning about the hammered dulcimer, I recommend this book The Hammered Dulcimer A History by Paul M. Gifford which was published by Scarecrow Press. The book is no longer available new. When I looked for it in the used market, it is even more expensive that when I bought it new; $65 then and almost twice that now. In my opinion it is well worth the price to those who have a genuine interest in this instrument. If you just want to read it, see if your local library can get it for you.

On the "scheitholt" issue, I in addition to placing the blame on Praetorius, we can also place the blame of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC for displaying a zitter and calling it a scheitholt without extensively researching the history of the instrument and on Jean Ritchie for taking it at face value and repeating it in one of her books. The same instrument is still in the collection at the MMA, but is now called a zither.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
last year
264 posts

robert schuler:

I saw my first hammered dulcimer in a 1972 issue of Singout magazine. I went back and  read it again only to get lost in all the other great stories from folks long gone and others now very old. It gave no history just a how to build our own for $5.

I can't add anything about its origins but I did build one 17 years ago. I keep it in my dining room always handy to play whenever I pass  by...Robert


Do you by any chance still have this article? I am sure i could find an online resource for how to build one but I have become very fascinated with how people would convey building ideas over print. The first dulcimer I built was from a Reader's Digest "traditional skills" book. It did not explain anything nearly enough, but my un-intonated dulcimer with absurdly high action did sound so bad it made me want to actually learn about building dulcimers, out of desire to produce something better.
Anyway, if possible I'd really appreciate a photo of this article, or details that could help me find a digital copy of it.
Thanks
Nate

robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
last year
252 posts

I saw my first hammered dulcimer in a 1972 issue of Singout magazine. I went back and  read it again only to get lost in all the other great stories from folks long gone and others now very old. It gave no history just a how to build our own for $5.

I can't add anything about its origins but I did build one 17 years ago. I keep it in my dining room always handy to play whenever I pass  by...Robert

dulcidom
@dulcidom
last year
2 posts

For those interested in such historical details concerning (especially) the hammered dulcimer, I highly recommend the thesis by the late David Kettlewell, downloadable at :

https://repository.lboro.ac.uk/articles/thesis/The_dulcimer/9332858

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
last year
264 posts

Those are really interesting details Dulcidom. I didn't mean to suggest that dulcimers were named after hammered dulcimers during the folk revival, I have just observed that the communities of fretted and hammered dulcimer players seem to maybe have become interwoven around that time. It makes some sense to me that many uncommon folk instruments would end up falling under that culture (zithers, wood flutes, etc)

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
last year
2,130 posts

We now know that the term "Scheitholt" was more or less invented by Michael Praetorius in his masterwork De Organographia, in 1618 which described the instruments of Europe at that time.  The term is actually the Austrian slang "holts scheit" meaning 'firewood' and referred to a specific boxy form of fretted zither found only in the Tyrol district of Austria.  That's like calling all mountain dulcimers Ozark Walking Sticks or Tennessee Music Boxes regardless of shape or place.   

Scheitholt was never used to refer to the 'ancestral' fretted zithers of Pennsylvania, where the instruments were correctly referred to as "zithers" or "zitters" by the locals.  


updated by @ken-hulme: 03/30/23 07:19:53AM
dulcidom
@dulcidom
last year
2 posts

If I may add a few details....

Reading the excellent books by Ralph Lee Smith: "The Story of the Dulcimer" and especially "Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions" clearly shows that the name "dulcimer" (or "dulcimore " and other variations) was already in use for the fretted dulcimer well before (at least a century) the folk revival of the 1970s. I have a little personal hypothesis about this strange disambiguation of the two types of dulcimers :

The King James I Bible, first published in 1611, quickly became the version authorized by the Church of England. The passages that interest us are in the book of Daniel: 5, 10 and 15.:

"Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made".

In this text, "dulcimer" is used to translate the Aramaic word "sumponiah", itself derived from the Greek "symphonia" (in fact, a kind of bagpipe), which the translators did not really know what to do with at the time. It was therefore the (hammered) dulcimer, very fashionable at the time, which saved them the day, thereby making this instrument an instrument of biblical times.

In the depths of Appalaches, with practically only the Bible to read, the hardy pioneers also found themselves in the embarrassment of baptizing the youngest of the family of alpine zithers, derived from the unpronounceable Dutch "scheitholt" or "zither". It was necessary to accompany the hymns, an instrument accepted by the Church, unlike the violin (the devil's box). What's better than an instrument name quoted in the Holy Scriptures? And there you have it, the Appalachian "dulcimer".

Homonymy was not a problem for almost two hundred years, when the two instruments had well separated geographical domains. It was only after the Second World War and the folk revival and the arrival of Jean Ritchie (the damsel with a dulcimer) in New York that the need for two distinct qualifiers arose : the hammered dulcimer and the pinched/plucked/fretted/lap dulcimer...

Of course, it's nothing but a(nother) hypothesis. Sorry if I was a bit long.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
last year
2,130 posts

Not a dumb question Nate.  There is no apparent socio-cultural link between Hammered dulcimers (a kind of psaltery) and the Appalachian dulcimer(a kind of fretted zither).  The only commonality is the shared "dulcimer" cognomen.  The hammered dulcimer was a popular parlour instrument in the 1700s and 1800s across Europe and the Americas.  It evolved from a Persian instrument dating back to the 900s which spread across Europe in the early medieval period.  The Appalachian dulcimer evolved from fretted zither brought to the Pennsylvania colonies in the late 1600s/1700s by folks we today call the "Pennsylvania Dutch".

You asked "...why is there such a noticeable cultural overlap between hammered dulcimer people and mountain dulcimer people?".   The answer, IMHO is that they are both, today, uncommon folk instruments (not guitars banjos or mandolins), and both -- as Dusty says, originally pure diatonic.  As you suggest, I too suspect that the connection only came about during the mountain dulcimer and folk music Revival of the 50s and 60s.  

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
last year
264 posts

Dusty Turtle:

Nate, it's not a dumb question at all, and I've wondered about it myself.  The historical origins of the two instruments are completely different.  The techniques of playing the two instruments are completely different. So what, other than the name, brings them together?

In terms of instrument design, both are types of zithers. So there's that.

But I think the more important similarity is that both are traditionally diatonic.  Yes, MD players like myself have added extra frets to get chromatic notes, and many professional HD players play modern instruments with chromatic notes added as well. But traditionally, both instruments were mainly diatonic.


thanks for some insight Dusty. Do you think this might relate to the folk music revival of the 70s? If I recall, you might be someone who dabbles in hammered dulcimer?

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
last year
1,738 posts

Nate, it's not a dumb question at all, and I've wondered about it myself.  The historical origins of the two instruments are completely different.  The techniques of playing the two instruments are completely different. So what, other than the name, brings them together?

In terms of instrument design, both are types of zithers. So there's that.

But I think the more important similarity is that both are traditionally diatonic.  Yes, MD players like myself have added extra frets to get chromatic notes, and many professional HD players play modern instruments with chromatic notes added as well. But traditionally, both instruments were mainly diatonic.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
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NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
last year
264 posts

This question might be really dumb but I've been wondering this for years. What is the cultural link between hammered dulcimers and mountain dulcimers? To me the instruments couldn't possibly have much less in common. Their 'sweet sound' namesake  seems to be the only thing. From what I have heard in the past, hammered dulcimers are hundreds of years older, and it's mostly a coincidence that mountain dulcimers are called the same name.So why is there such a noticeable cultural overlap between hammered dulcimer people and mountain dulcimer people? Shops that build both or sell both, MD groups with a HD player, or vice versa. Even here on this website are a bunch of pictures by MD builders of gorgeous hammered dulcimers they have built. I feel out of the loop haha.
Thanks
Nate