Medieval/Early performances on dulcimer

01/24/24 09:03:38AM

Over the past two summers I've been developing a repertoire of live performance at Renaissance faires in my area.  I performed with a couple of groups in '22 on percussion, but I did do a song or two solo on dulcimer: "El rey de Francia" was one.

Then last summer I did a solo act where I juggled dulcimers and drums and sang.  Last September I got a harper to join me, and for most of our set I accompanied him on percussion, but we did do Tristan's Lament and Rotta as a harp and dulcimer duet.

Since I have more than one dulcimer, I worked out sets where I could use one tuned to Ionian (I generally stick with the old fashioned DAA or the like) and the other tuned to Aeolian, which I would down-tune to Dorian halfway through the set.  I know I can play Dorian with the 6 1/2 fret in Aeolian tuning, but I've gotten used to playing in the Dorian tuning for some songs, and besides, there are some that still use the extra fret in that tuning; also I like being able to play in Mixolydian with that tuning (it works more consistently than DAD).  And I can make a corny joke in my performer's patter about "drop D tuning: D for Dorian."

In between those, I had some songs that I would sing while playing a drum.  Some songs I start out on dulcimer to mark the tune and then switch to drum.  It's not an ideal setup, in fact, I find it frustrating, but if I'm playing solo it's the best I can do.

With so many medieval tunes available, and the 16th and 17th-century hymn tunes I found in my hymnal, I have not lacked for material; designing a set for an event meant picking from my long list and trying to arrange in what I thought would be an engaging variety.

Some of my mainstays for these events have been:

El rey de Francia

Nun danket alle Gott, with Old 100

Septime estampie real (or as I call it, 7th Royal Stomp), with Coronation

Douce dame jolie

Cuncti simus concanentes (from the Red Book of Montserrat)

Cantigas de Santa Maria: 1. Des oge mais, 10. Rosa das Rosas, 26 Como poden

The biggest challenge I have found is the lack of amplification at some events, making it hard to draw attention with the quieter dulcimer; I leaned more heavily into singing with my drums then, since I can sing kind of loud.

Anyone else here have experiences playing at events like these that they'd like to share?