Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dulcimer Days

When recording music for the Drury Drama Team’s  production of The Diviners, a play by Jim Leonard, Jr., I used an Appalachian dulcimer to play the melody of Amazing Grace.  A long-time fan of Appalachian music, this was the first time I  had the opportunity to get my hands on a beautiful mountain dulcimer.  The instrument belongs to the zither family of musical instruments, meaning that the strings do not extend beyond the sounding box; the body of a mountain dulcimer is as long as the fingerboard.  (Compare this with a guitar and you’ll see the difference.)  

Me and My Appalachian Dulcimer
With a little research, I discovered many prominent musicians have also used mountain dulcimers on recordings, Joni Mitchell and Cyndi Lauper among them.  (Lauper studied the Appalachian dulcimer seriously with David Schnaufer, and featured it in her albums A Night to Remember, Sisters of Avalon, and The Body Acoustic.)  After recording my part for the Drama Team’s production, I became even more taken with the instrument.  I continue to play it, and hope to showcase it at a future date during a “Mountain Mass” at my church.  If you’re curious to hear some Appalachian music, I recommend checking out a truly fantastic, historical recording by Butch Baldassari and David Schnaufer: Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer.  (This is the last album David Schnaufer recorded before he passed away in 2006.)  The album, packed with traditional toe-tapping tunes, is simply delightful.  It truly captures the spirit of Appalachia.  The duo’s artistic mastery is evident from the first track, Ground Hog, and their expressivity makes a tune like Wayfaring Stranger even more deeply moving.  I know my exploration of the Appalachian dulcimer is still only in its infant stages, but I’ve certainly been enjoying it!  If you want a good introduction to Appalachian dulcimer music, this album is a sure bet.  I was quite pleased, indeed.

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