Traditional role of the mountain dulcimer.

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
one month ago
52 posts

The diverse regional variations, such as the flatvele and venleg vele in the north and east, and the distinctive Hardanger fiddle in the south and west, showcase the rich musical heritage.

jost
@jost
one month ago
76 posts

I own a score books with pieces Compostela by Michael Praetorius. Although he considered the scheitholt a "Lumpeninsttument" ( beggars instrument ), his pieces ( especially the Gavotte dances) work quite well. The score book and arrangements  were published by Wilfried Ullrich and are available from him.

So although there might no classic pieces written for the dulcimer there are enough, who work quite well.

I'm still trying to get this Mozart piece right:

https://thesession.org/tunes/7077

Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
one month ago
1,404 posts

A couple cool links: 

https://youtu.be/uQaLuklN73Q?si=zt632ssDhTAiSg8d

https://www.conniellisor.com/orchestra/blackberry-winter

It is to be noted the traditional tune Blackberry Blossom is foundational to the piece.  


updated by @robin-thompson: 01/20/24 01:51:29PM
Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
one month ago
1,063 posts

And Steve also played it with "the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra, the Knoxville Symphony, and many others" according to his website.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one month ago
2,233 posts

David Schnaufer " brought the Tennessee music box into the classical arena with Blackberry Winter, a concerto for the Tennessee music box, mountain dulcimer and orchestra which he wrote with Conni Elisor, Nashville composer and arranger. Delcimore, Schnaufer's 1998 CD, features this beautiful piece of music played by the Columbus, Georgia symphony."

https://dulcimerarchive.omeka.net/schnaufer




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Randy Adams
Randy Adams
@randy-adams
one month ago
112 posts

https://www.ledorgroup.com/product/blackberry-winter/

Steve Siefert has played this with Nashville Orchestra. 


updated by @randy-adams: 01/19/24 08:15:10PM
Richard Streib
Richard Streib
@richard-streib
one month ago
228 posts

Ken Hulme:

There have never been any 'classical works' written for the Appalachian dulcimer either.  Leonard Bernstein has been bust with other projects.   IMHO "lower class peasant instrument" is a bit harsh.  No, they were not instruments of the major cities -- Vienna, Paris, Milan -- nor were they "favored" by the hoi polloi of those cities and cultures.  But that doesn't make them 'lower class peasant instruments'.  

I so agree kenH. !!

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
2,103 posts

There have never been any 'classical works' written for the Appalachian dulcimer either.  Leonard Bernstein has been bust with other projects.   IMHO "lower class peasant instrument" is a bit harsh.  No, they were not instruments of the major cities -- Vienna, Paris, Milan -- nor were they "favored" by the hoi polloi of those cities and cultures.  But that doesn't make them 'lower class peasant instruments'.  

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
one month ago
1,063 posts

Yes, we do tend to wander. I'm gad you found the rambling answers to your questions informative. 

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

DavisJames
DavisJames
@davisjames
one month ago
14 posts

The replies to my initial enquiry have been great and informative...somehow it travelled from the dulcimer to the langeleik,etc...Then through that to "Hangman's Reel"...After listening to a lot of Scandinavian music in the 70's,I figured that Quebecois people inherited a lot of northern music[open tunings,uneven rhythms] through their Norman antecedents ...very far-fetched...then I surmised that metis and native people perhaps played open tunings and odd rhythms because of the influence of Hudson Bay company factors from Orkney[once a Norwegian colony]...very far-fetched....The one common factor about the scheitholt,hummel,langeleik[perhaps not the mountain dulcimer]....they seem to have been regarded as lower class peasant instruments.....there are no classical works for the scheitholt,to my knowledge plus you don't have to take lessons from age four to get good at it...I like that!

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
one month ago
52 posts

What a fascinating glimpse into the musical history of Norway! The evolution of musical instruments often mirrors the changing cultural landscapes.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
2 months ago
1,063 posts

Thank you Jost. I appreciate your posting those links to information about the langleik. That is interesting reading. I especially liked learning about the tuning of the langleik to the key of A. We have a state park not too far from me that is named after Ole Bull. That part of Pennsylvania had many Norwegian immigrants working in the lumber industry. I haven't discovered any references to the langleik among the lumbermen, but there are references to the dulcimer, but in this case it is the hammered dulcimer.

 Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

jost
@jost
2 months ago
76 posts

Ken Longfield:


Yes, those are excellent books and must reads for folks who want to learn about mountain dulcimer history and context. One part of your question we have not addressed is the use of European predecessors of the mountain dulcimer. Wilfried Ulrich addresses some of this in his book  The Story of the Hommel . There are many such instruments in museums in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, etc.Unfortunately I am not aware of English translations of literature that describes how folks used these instruments. What is clear is that they were "folk" instruments and not considered to be of great value musically. Again, they were mostly played by folks in their own homes for their own enjoyment. 



At least Wilfried Ulrichs book is available in English from himself:


http://www.ulrich-instrumente.de/kontakt-links-impress/


https://hogfiddle.blogspot.com/2011/05/wilfried-ulrich-story-of-hummel.html 

Some of the information is also available on his website (in German though so you might want to use a translation service like Google Translate, deepl etc). 


Now according to Ullrich one of the oldest references of an hommel is the use in a procession (propably with a kind of strap). He also displays a hommel which was built by a carpenter named Adolf Hilke who played it in the local dances until the concertina and accordion took over at the beginning of the 20th century (they were louder than the hommel thus getting more popular soon). 
Now my own hommel and galax dulcimers both are quite loud so I guess the actual volume might depend a little bit of the way of building and circumstances.

The norwegian langleik ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langeleik ) is interesting as a kind of edge case: It was mainly played by women who tended their livestock on mountain meadows during the summer in their bothys. According to the German wikipedia:


Quote:
Langeleik traditionally falls within the sphere of activity of women. In rural regions, women spent the summer with the cattle on the high pastures (soeter). Here a special genre of songs arose in connection with everyday tasks. Certain songs, called smørbon, describe the making of butter, and there were melodic calls for goats (geitlokkar), cows (kulokkar) or to communicate with the shepherds (laling, huving) over long distances. In the early evening, the women were busy with handicrafts on the soeter or performed instrumental pieces (lydarslåttar) with langeleiks. Later in the evening they played for social dances. Concerts and accompanying dances remained the two areas in which the Langeleik was used.
Written sources from the end of the 17th century mention regular Sunday evening concerts at which women played Langeleik. Nevertheless, there were a few men who became known as professional Langeleik players. Ragnhild Viken (around 1810-1895) was a professional Langeleik player who performed at markets and festivities. She taught the instrument to her son Johannes Viken (1844-1936), who also became a well-known musician. Berit Pynten (1809/1812-1899/1900), who lived in a farmstead in Valdres, was just as highly regarded. In the 1880s, she received a visit from Edvard Grieg in her low hut, who had her play for him and notated her dance songs on paper. Grieg and other Norwegian composers in the 19th century studied folk music, which they valued as an element of national culture. Berit Pynten is said to have had a small dancing doll attached to her right hand with a string while she played.[10]
In the course of the 17th century, various forms of the violin emerged, which took over the two areas of use of the Langeleik and gradually pushed it back into its core area. The European stringed instrument spread under the names flatvele ("flat violin") and venleg vele ("common violin") mainly in the north and east of the country, while the Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) with an additional four or five resonant strings under the fingerboard has been played in almost unchanged form in the south and west since around 1700.


The music played on the Langeleik is divided into dance songs and melodies for listening. The dance songs include the lively and fast dance style halling, named after its home region Hallingdal, the ganger and, in Valdres, Hallingdal and Telemark, the springar, which is played in a strict asymmetrical ¾ time. Several composers adopted the rhythm and melodic forms of springar, including Edvard Grieg in his folk music adaptation Jon Vestafes Springdans Opus 72/2. Grieg was preceded in the popularization of folk music by the violinist Ole Bull (1810-1880) and the composer Ludvig Mathias Lindeman (1812-1887). Lindeman's extensive collection of Norwegian folk songs Ældre og nyere norske Fjeldmelodier ("Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodies") appeared in twelve volumes between 1853 and 1863, with a follow-up volume published in 1867. According to the Norwegian pianist Einar Steen-Nøkleberg, his piano arrangement of the dance piece Springlått contains typical Langeleik tone sequences to be played by the left hand[12] .


Concertante pieces of music belong to the group of klokkeslåtter or huldreslåtter ("Huldrenmelodien", Huldra is a beautiful girl related to the trolls in Scandinavian mythology)[13] .


 

From https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langeleik#Verbreitung translated with deepl. 

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langeleik#Verbreitung

I think these are interesting in quite a different ways: First that the norwegian folk musik has another drone instrument (the harding fiddle), second that the instruments were used for dancing tunes as well as tunes for listening.  Third: The langleik is usually tuned in a A major tuning ( see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langeleik ). Now the funny thing is that the reel de pendu/hangmans reel  is actually a norwegian tune called Fandens polsdans (meaning something like pole dance of the damned/hell pole dance/devils pole dance) although norwegian fiddlers play it a lot slower:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-HQnPZpJHY 

Now this tune is usually played in the key of A so I guess that although it's mostly known as a fiddle tune (in the old and new world) it was also played on langleiks. Or at least the langleik tuning would explain why it was composed in the key of a in the first played, the anonymous composer propably knew the key quite well from his evening dwellings. On the other hand harding fiddle players used a lot of different tunings (up to twenty according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardanger_fiddle ) so my idea might be a little bit far fetched. 

However my take on the matter is that although the hommel/langleik/langspil/dulcimer was mostly an instrument for playing for your own enjoyment (be it just for listening tunes or accompiement) at home (or your cabin on Norwegian/appalachian  mountains ;) ) it wasn't limited. When the opportunity arose, they were probably also played for dancing too. 

Just my two cents, Jost.


Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
2 months ago
2,233 posts

Great points Dusty.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
2 months ago
1,712 posts

Just yesterday I enjoyed a presentation by Aubrey Atwater at the Dulcimoon Virtual Dulcimer Festival on the playing styles of Jean Ritchie.  One important point that emerged was the way Jean accompanied her singing.  She neither played the melody on the dulcimer nor strummed chords (obviously), but played a "counter-melody."

Watch her play "Lord Thomas" here , paying attention to what she is doing on the melody string while she sings.  She is not playing a harmony in the way we understand it in modern pop music with parallel thirds or fourths that follow the melody, but rather a different melody, one less elaborate than the melody, but a different melody entirely that accompanies (or runs "counter" to) the song's melody.  If you keep watching the video to hear "The Cuckoo," you'll hear the same thing.

The counter melody style of play is similar but not identical to our modern use of harmony; it plays a role similar to chord play in hinting at harmonic changes underlying the melody; and it often offers "filler" licks in the interstices of the song's main melody. In other words, the dulcimer is playing three different roles as we define them in modern music.

This is quite a difficult style of play to master, and it has mostly been lost in modern dulcimer playing.  When we say that a traditional role of the dulcimer was used to accompany singing, I think it important to point out that it was done in this manner that is strikingly different than the way we use the dulcimer today. 

I would also like to point out Jean's right hand.  She is picking (mostly with her thumb), sometimes plucking only the melody string, sometimes plucking all the strings one-at-a-time, and sometimes strumming, either all the strings or the two drone strings after having plucked the melody string.  This style of play is far more varied than modern playing in which people assume you have to strum all the strings all the time.




--
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.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty: 01/15/24 08:18:12PM
DavisJames
DavisJames
@davisjames
2 months ago
14 posts

Thank you for all of the comments.All pieces of the puzzle.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
2 months ago
229 posts

Wally Venable:

As I have noted before, there is still a culture of "cigar box" instrument makers, many of whom are now making instruments with electric pickups. I suspect that wood from shipping boxes for various imports was used because it was available in usable "thinnesses."

 
I have built many cigar box guitars, and a few cigar box dulcimers, including a couple very unconventional ones. Nowadays cigar boxes are mostly for 'aesthetics' which is why most of them have pickups that entirely overwhelm and negate the tone of the box. I believe you are right that thin, prefabricated boxes are good for tone and that cigar boxes are, and have always been, very accessible.

It makes sense to me that craftsmen have always been skilled and competent and with capable tools, but I would contend that the ability to build string instruments generally requires access to information. I often take for granted how much information I have access to about dulcimer building, both scientific and anecdotal. For people learning to build instruments without access to information, I assume they used intuition as well as 'trial and error.' and I imagine these contributed to the changes/innovations in zithers that Appalachian Americans made.
Thank you for your insights, Wally.
-Nate

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
2 months ago
229 posts

Ken Hulme:

Nate said  "I assume the original developers of dulcimers were very innovative folks who were applying the concepts of older zithers to the materials they had in the Appalachians. This makes it hard for me to tell the difference between deliberate choices made by the 'masters of old' and choices made purely out of necessity. It's hard for me to imagine that they would have used staple frets if they had access to fretwire." 

You have to remember that those "innovative folks...applying the concepts of older zithers...":  were not consciously doing anything. 

They were random, scattered individuals who heard and/or saw an instrument someone had -- who in turn had seen/heard someone else's instrument... back through time to the zitters which came over in the late 1500s/early 1600s.  There probably were no Euro-trained luthiers among the Moravians, the builders to follow were trying to replicate instruments that had come from the old country. -- out of necessity.  Staple frets of the early 19th century were the high-tech of the time. prior to that there were wood/bone/ivory inlaid frets or the tied gut frets of Lutes.  Mushroom frets weren't invented until the mid 1800s in Europe.  

 
Ken, this perfectly highlights what I mean to convey. That people will ultimately use all sorts of things depending on what is available to them. Perhaps people who understood the parts of a zither on a conceptual level found a lot of different ways to employ these principles with different instrument designs. I still imagine that if you gave top of the line modern building equipment to classical builders of old, that they would be ecstatic to use it. Still, when I see an instrument like a TMB, what I most admire is the cleverness of building a beautiful instrument in such a simple way. Thanks again for the insight. 
Nate

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
2 months ago
55 posts

Ken said:
....  There probably were no Euro-trained luthiers among the Moravians, the builders to follow were trying to replicate instruments that had come from the old country....

Nor among the Germans, Scots, Irish, etc. but it is almost certain that simple fiddles were being made and played. As I have noted before, there is still a culture of "cigar box" instrument makers, many of whom are now making instruments with electric pickups. I suspect that wood from shipping boxes for various imports was used because it was available in usable "thinnesses."

I can remember 75 years ago when "orange crates" were made of rather high quality stock about 1/4 inch thick. Cub Scout manuals provided plans for making stuff from such readily available recyclables."

Ken also said "prior to that there were wood/bone/ivory inlaid frets or the tied gut frets of Lutes.  Mushroom frets weren't invented until the mid 1800s in Europe."

I can imagine using the wood from small boxes set in slots cut with a cross-cut or furniture maker's back saw as frets. I seem to recall that some match boxes had wood parts when I was a child, and you can produce small pieces of thin wood with a simple plane.

It's easy to envision hill folks as "having nothing," but the reality is that most communities had craftsmen capable of making windows and doors and their frames, country furniture, etc. as well as the occasional gift of extremely high quality. There would have been good quality saws, planes, knives, and chisels, in most of the smallest villages and on many farms.

Most hill folks went to the county, or township, seat to pay taxes, serve on juries, consult real estate lawyers, and so on. The men-folks served in the army. They didn't live in complete isolation and saw most of the "high tech" of the day.

While I have been part of a university community I have had neighbors who lived with more-or-less 1899 resources, so I have some first hand knowledge.

And we know that many of the earliest dulcimer vendors lived in towns.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
2 months ago
2,103 posts

Nate said  "I assume the original developers of dulcimers were very innovative folks who were applying the concepts of older zithers to the materials they had in the Appalachians. This makes it hard for me to tell the difference between deliberate choices made by the 'masters of old' and choices made purely out of necessity. It's hard for me to imagine that they would have used staple frets if they had access to fretwire." 

You have to remember that those "innovative folks...applying the concepts of older zithers...":  were not consciously doing anything. 

They were random, scattered individuals who heard and/or saw an instrument someone had -- who in turn had seen/heard someone else's instrument... back through time to the zitters which came over in the late 1500s/early 1600s.  There probably were no Euro-trained luthiers among the Moravians, the builders to follow were trying to replicate instruments that had come from the old country. -- out of necessity.  Staple frets of the early 19th century were the high-tech of the time. prior to that there were wood/bone/ivory inlaid frets or the tied gut frets of Lutes.  Mushroom frets weren't invented until the mid 1800s in Europe.  

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
2 months ago
52 posts

NateBuildsToys:


It is interesting to think that at a time when European antecedents were 'traditional,' at one point the dulcimer was probably considered an innovative new thing. I wonder if there were once epinette players who saw new fancy zitters shaped like violins with heart shaped soundholes and looked down on them for not being traditional.giggle2

Your real question is too big for me to answer, but I'm sure some folks on here definitely could. If you havent already I recommend joining the Dulcimer History group
https://fotmd.com/ken-longfield/group/38/mountain-dulcimer-history-traditions
and the Dulcimer Ancestors group
https://fotmd.com/strumelia/group/14/dulcimer-ancestors


 


 Imagining epinette players scoffing at the newfangled zitters brings a smile! If you have any more insights or fun anecdotes, feel free to share!

tonyg
@tonyg
2 months ago
7 posts

Interesting question, and one I've  thought of often.  My response would be a quote.....maybe by Lynn McSpadden, found in the "Four and Twenty" songbook they used to include when you bought a new McSpadden: 

"The dulcimer......that quiet, peaceful, personal instrument designed for playing in a lonely log cabin deep in some dark holler."

For me, nothing much has changed.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
3 months ago
229 posts

I have no evidence for this, but I suspect that many things we might consider 'traditional' now were done out of necessity at the time. This has always been a bit of a paradox for me. I assume the original developers of dulcimers were very innovative folks who were applying the concepts of older zithers to the materials they had in the Appalachians. This makes it hard for me to tell the difference between deliberate choices made by the 'masters of old' and choices made purely out of necessity. It's hard for me to imagine that they would have used staple frets if they had access to fretwire. Similarly, I have a personal hypothesis that noters were invented to allow a player to keep playing on super old grimy strings.

In both cases, the choices they made then shape what we consider to be the "dulcimer sound" and the "role of the dulcimer." I imagine that over 100 years ago, people may have made themselves all sorts of improvised zithers based on concepts they learned from European instruments. Probably what we consider 'traditional' are the ones that lasted long enough to be documented, but I suspect that with a time machine, we could go back and see all sorts of different 'dulcimers' with different features and roles. Mostly I think it's human nature to evolve and adapt, and I suspect that if you could bring those innovative inventors to the modern day, they would probably be ecstatic to hear how much the instrument has developed and grown.

DavisJames
DavisJames
@davisjames
3 months ago
14 posts

Good point!The mountain dulcimer is a folk instrument and as such,capable of growth and innovation.Nevertheless my curiousity about its traditional role is well-founded.As a traditional singer/ fiddler I'm interested in where things come from,the history,the stories.Were I a cajon player I would research that as well....I'm not a folk purist,but old is often better than new.Not always,laugh.

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
3 months ago
55 posts

It seems to me that the inquiry of "what the mountain dulcimer's role was in the area it came from a hundred odd years ago" is attaching undo importance to the instrument. It is a FOLK INSTRUMENT, something which can be made at home and used to create music.

We might ask the same question about the bones, spoons, shipping crate drums, cigar box fiddles, the washtub base, the monkey stick/Stumph Fiddle, cigar box uke/guitar, and many other musical devices. All of these have enthusiastic contemporary users and builders with forums, etc. and are used in public performances. I think all of them are also commercially produced and sold to a widespread market.

As a parallel to the current interest in the lap dulcimer, look at the cajón (Ca-HOne). It is a wooden box on which you sit and pound. In its modern version it is a Peruvian folk instrument, and you can easily pay $400 for a top grade one through Walmart's on-line shopping. You can find YouTube instruction on how to play it, ensembles, and get lessons at many music schools.

Enjoy your dulcimer, I enjoy my assortment along with other instruments. By all means, study its history. But we shouldn't make it into something of great world-wide importance.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 months ago
1,063 posts

Yes, those are excellent books and must reads for folks who want to learn about mountain dulcimer history and context. One part of your question we have not addressed is the use of European predecessors of the mountain dulcimer. Wilfried Ulrich addresses some of this in his book The Story of the Hommel. There are many such instruments in museums in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, etc.Unfortunately I am not aware of English translations of literature that describes how folks used these instruments. What is clear is that they were "folk" instruments and not considered to be of great value musically. Again, they were mostly played by folks in their own homes for their own enjoyment. 

I do what to respond to Kenh's comment about amplification. The zitters used in Pennsylvania Dutch communities had feet on the bottom and were often played by placing them on tables when played. This increased the volume of the instrument. Some dulcimers builders in the late 19th century (J.E. Thomas, C.N. Prichard) made dulcimers with feet on the bottom which allowed them to be played on tables as well. It may have helped when dulcimers were used to accompany dances.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."


updated by @ken-longfield: 12/06/23 05:53:08PM
John C. Knopf
John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
3 months ago
382 posts

I agree with Lisa (Strumelia) that those 2 books are enjoyable and informative reading.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 months ago
2,233 posts

It's not easy to give quick answers to such questions. Some good info has already been posted to your question, but really I'd suggest doing some reading of books and articles written by both Ralph Lee Smith (such as "Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions") and Jean Ritchie ("Singing Family of the Cumberlands").  Those two books in particular are enjoyable reading and filled with descriptions of how mtn dulcimers were played and built before the 1960s 'revival'. Reading books and articles on mtn dulcimer history, and on early American folk music history in general are a wonderfully enriching way to learn all that is currently known, without trying to limit it to a few sentences. I remember almost 25 years ago, curling up in a big chair to read Jean's story of her childhood and her musical Kentucky mountain family, loving how every page swept me into another place and time.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
DavisJames
DavisJames
@davisjames
3 months ago
14 posts

Thanks so much for all of your replies.I was looking for context(what was the dulcimer's role in the Appalachians?Non-existent in Canada,so I wonder).A work in progress it seems,like all things that grow.

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 months ago
1,063 posts

Both Kenh and Dusty offer good points. Dusty's offering of Lucy Long's comments reminded me to mention that role of the dulcimer was different in different communities. Dr. Long specifically researched the role of the dulcimer at Beech Mountain, North Carolina. Things may have been different in various communities in Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Of course we shouldn't forget southeastern Ohio and perhaps southwestern Pennsylvania (the area the borders WV and OH) and some areas of Tennessee. I'm not sure when the dulcimer tradition began in Arkansas, but let's not forget that as well.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."


updated by @ken-longfield: 12/05/23 12:21:58PM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
3 months ago
1,712 posts

In my opinion, the best (meaning accurate and short) history of the dulcimer is the piece written by Dr. Lucy Long and available at the Bear Meadow website: https://www.bearmeadow.com/smi/histof.htm .  Most of us know this story by now.  Dr. Long explains what @robin-thompson notes, the variety of playing styles that characterized the dulcimer from its origins:

The traditional repertoire of the dulcimer included the full range of repertoires found in the mountains, including traditional British balladry and hymnody, dance tunes, and play/party songs [ . . .]  Because of its soft volume, the dulcimer is thought to have been used either as accompaniment to singing or for instrumental solos, but it was also used in string bands and instrumental duets where it functioned as a melody instrument and also provided harmony and a rhythmic background through the slapping of the pick against the strings.

And @nate's point about innovation characterizing the dulcimer from its very origin is spot on.  Both the construction of the instrument and its use was still evolving in the early 20th century when, as @ken-longfield explains, it emerged from isolated Appalachian communities and gained some degree of commercial exposure.  At that time, interestingly, it was already being romanticized as an "old" instrument associated with an imagined Anglo-American past, even though the instrument was very new and was still evolving.




--
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.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 months ago
2,103 posts

The role of the dulcimer, and probably its predecessors as well, was to play what I call "personal" music or in small (3-4) person music group, for listening enjoyment within say 20 feet -- porch or small room in a home. It never was intended as a 'performance' instrument with the player standing/sitting in front of an audience.  It never was intended to be used with any electric/electronic amplification -- at best a 'possum board' or double-back amplification. 

The dulcimer played instrumentals or accompanied the singer/player in the religious and secular music of the local community (folk music) -- not a part in orchestral compositions.  Here in the States that was what we today call "Appalachian" music  (the precursor to Bluegrass, the repertoire varying from region to region, with some songs common across all regions, with variations.  Much of that music was based on English, Scottish and Irish tunes and lyrics which came to America with settlers from those countries  -- although there never was an Anglo-Celtic predecessor instrument. 

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 months ago
1,063 posts

A hundred years ago (1923) the mountain dulcimer was beginning to emerge from isolated communities in the southern Appalachian mountains. With the beginning of the settlement schools northern teachers began sending dulcimers north. At this time the dulcimer was pretty much an instrument played at home for one's own enjoyment. It may have been played at dances but was not a concert instrument. In other words people usually would not have played as a solo performer in a public forum. In 1935 the Galaxy Fiddlers' Convention began. I can't recall if a dulcimer contest took place that year or started later, but we can probably mark that contest as the beginning of dulcimer concerts.

You can find a good bit of information in the discussions Nate cited. 

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
3 months ago
1,404 posts

How I see it is the mountain dulcimer has several traditions depending on where you are on the planet.  sun  Here in the U.S., Jean Ritchie is one person whose family story and travels spread awareness there was such a thing as a mountain dulcimer in the central/southern Appalachians.  On Jean's album The Most Dulcimer , several different styles of music are represented and it is, perhaps, my favorite record of all the music we have in the house.  To me, this album offers a great point of departure for exploring various traditions related to the Appalachian dulcimer.

P.S.- As I understand it, Jean Ritchie is the person who introduced the mountain dulcimer to Ireland.  We have an excellent player and singer from there right here on FOTMD, @macaodha .   

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
3 months ago
229 posts

It is interesting to think that at a time when European antecedents were 'traditional,' at one point the dulcimer was probably considered an innovative new thing. I wonder if there were once epinette players who saw new fancy zitters shaped like violins with heart shaped soundholes and looked down on them for not being traditional.giggle2

Your real question is too big for me to answer, but I'm sure some folks on here definitely could. If you havent already I recommend joining the Dulcimer History group
https://fotmd.com/ken-longfield/group/38/mountain-dulcimer-history-traditions
and the Dulcimer Ancestors group
https://fotmd.com/strumelia/group/14/dulcimer-ancestors

DavisJames
DavisJames
@davisjames
3 months ago
14 posts

Hi,I'm very curious about what the mountain dulcimer's role was in the area it came from a hundred odd years ago.Likewise its European antecedents...any folklorists,historians,traditional family dulcimer players out there?...who could enlighten me,perhaps give a direction to my playing?