Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lucy Long - 1998 article in Folklife Center News on dulcimer origins

Lucy Long. "Appalachian Plucked Dulcimer: Field Recordings in the Archive of Folk Culture." Folklife Center News [American Folklife Center, Library of Congress] 20.3 (Summer 1998)

Short. Long's article is about eight pages printed out. But it takes into account Ralph Lee Smith, David Whisnant ... also anticipates the reseach that talks about "pockets" of dulcimer development in Va., Ky., Middle Tenn.

Money graf:
Easily constructed by hand of local materials, the dulcimer
spread through the southern Appalachian region by chance
encounters and active peddling of several makers, particularly J.
Edward Thomas of Knott County, Kentucky, who had connections to
the Hindman Settlement School and made dulcimers between 1871 and
1930, and C.P. Prichard of Huntington, West Virginia, who
manufactured what he termed an "American dulcimer" and offered
strings through mail order. Both makers used an hourglass form
and three strings, possibly helping to make this form the

The dulcimer, however, was not widely known. Frequently, it was
associated with a single individual or family, suggesting that it
was part of an idiosyncratic tradition. Variations in shape and
construction further suggest "pockets of tradition" rather than a
homogenous, pan-Appalachian regional dulcimer tradition.

Toward the end of the 1800s, the settlement school and
crafts movements brought the dulcimer to the attention of
outsiders, and it became emblematic of an imagined and
romanticized Appalachian culture. This view simultaneously
encouraged mountain residents to preserve the dulcimer as it was
at the time and discouraged them from developing it further.

After the 1940s, the dulcimer entered the urban northeast
folk music revival scene, largely due to Kentucky-born musician
Jean Ritchie. Dulcimer making has now become a hobby and cottage
industry throughout the United States, dulcimer clubs abound, and
a quarterly magazine DULCIMER PLAYERS NEWS began publication in
1975. Although a wide variety of playing techniques and
repertoires have developed, the dulcimer still carries the aura
of a simplistic Appalachian folk culture.
And this ...
The [Library of Congress] Archive's recordings document a wide array of dulcimer
playing styles and techniques, and this may reflect collectors'
interest in capturing such variation. The use of feather quills
canonized by Jean Ritchie seems to have been a local tradition in
eastern Kentucky; players elsewhere preferred a thin piece of
wood or a stick. Many contemporary mountain players use plastic
picks cut from milk jugs or other recycled plastic objects. There
are also accounts, but no recordings, of early players using
bows, a practice possibly drawing from northern European folk

Some early players also used their fingers to strum the
strings, either substituting the thumb for a pick or adapting
other instrumental playing techniques to the dulcimer, such as
the clawhammer style of playing the banjo or fingerpicking
techniques of playing guitar. Such adaptations were natural,
since there were no dulcimer instruction books to establish
standard techniques and the instruments were being disseminated
by peddlers who might not have known how to play them.

The portrait of dulcimer music that emerges from the
recordings in the Archive of Folk Culture is of a diverse and
eclectic mixture of playing techniques and repertoires, which
drew upon southern Appalachian musical traditions as well as the
popular music of the United States. There was no single tradition
of dulcimer music among the mountain people recorded but
rather there were many family-based traditions. And rather than
confirm the conservative, nostalgic holding to the past posited
by the popular stereotypes, the recordings document an
innovative, inventive approach to cultural resources.

No comments: