17 June 2020

music lives on

Yesterday was the scheduled date of a local dulcimer festivaL. There are several activities at one of these. First there are classes offered by experts, festival organizers intend to both attract new players, and provide learning to existing players which keeps them coming back. Second there is a marketplace. Especially for dulcimerists, this is a big deal. One can acquire cds of really good music, sheet music books arranged for our instruments, various accessories, and of course new instruments to add to our collections. Finally, there are jams. Groups of players with or without a leader, sit and play together.

If you have never heard a group of dulcimerists playing together, you should seek out a jam circle, Our instruments tune to the same pitch, but there things become individual: some of us use heavy thick wires, some of us more moderate ones and some like me use very thin very light wires. Yes an A sharp is always an A sharp, but the tone and especially the the shape of the note, what we call the attack and sustain are very different.

We also play instruments that are not standardized. So the material, while most instruments are wood, not all are. And even then, different woods contribute to tone, attack and sustain. You can hear some of this when a diverse group of guitarists play together. But then dulcermists are always diverse.

Our instruments are also different shapes and voices. Part of this is that two very different instruments share the name. One, the "American Dulcimer," appears to have a section of the inside of a piano mounted horizontally. Players strike strings typically group in threes, using devices called, "hammers." Thus the other name for these instruments, "hammered dulcimers." The other instrument, which I play is entirely different. Three to six strings are arranged over a fretboard reminiscent of a guitar or banjo, which on examination is very different. The body of the instrument may look like a box, a violin, or something else. The strings are plucked or strummed.

That is the basics!

Look at an orchestra. You know instantly where the violin players sit. So to the bass and oboe players. But, put twenty dulcermists together and you are not sure they are playing the same instrument. We have multiple shapes and this is important, multiple length fingerboards. Add all that up and even though we can prove we are all playing an A, we sound different."

The effect when a lot of us play together is magical. Or at least we think it is. And this year I miss it. There are no festivals as we all attempt to outlive the covid 19 pandemic.

Ah well, if there is a vaccine soon, there will be festivals next year. Perhaps even later this year in the South. I do not make a living on the ,festival circuit, but a lot of the performers do. I hope they can survive return next year.

Here is a link to a Youtube performance on the instrument. The music lives!

click here for a youtube series of performances.

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