This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
by Jenny Coxon
The Dulcimer
Rocketing to relative obscurity
The hammered dulcimer and the mountain dulcimer in the UK, and your chance to try them out!
H
igh in the nave of accompanying a puppet show at
Manchester Cathedral Covent Garden and other sources
amongst a set of indicate that dulcimers featured in
remarkable medieval carvings popular entertainment at venues
(c.1485) is one of the earliest such as Sadler’s Wells.
pieces of evidence for the
existence of the hammered (or Interest in dulcimers rekindled
plucked) dulcimer in England. a hundred years later and
A wooden dulcimer player, eventually, from the mid-eighteen
one of a set of fourteen angel to the mid-nineteen hundreds, the
musicians, plays an instrument instrument enjoyed an upsurge
immediately recognisable of popularity which peaked in
to contemporary players; the period between the first and
trapezium-shaped, with twelve second world wars. Thirty years
strings and struck with hammers on, David Kettlewell set out to
which in shape and form clearly find the remaining players and
resemble those still used in East instruments from that time, which
Anglia. A line drawing of this he called “the great dulcimer
angel seemed an appropriate boom in Britain”. The result, in
choice for the logo of the UK- 1975, was his doctoral thesis, and
based Nonsuch Dulcimer Club a book with accompanying audio
which began in 1990, initially cassette called ‘All the tunes that
for hammered dulcimer players, ever there were – an introduction
makers and enthusiasts. to the dulcimer in the British Isles’.
Since then there have been surges
Meetings of dulcimer players took of interest in the dulcimer assisted
place at Glebe House in Cornwall by a number of coincidental but
and at the Glasgow People’s often unrelated developments; as
Palace where Colin McAlister and Birmingham plucker Fred Woodley
Jack Bethel held the Glasgow summed it up later – “I thought I
Hammered Dulcimer Study was the only one!”
Group. It was at Glebe House
that the idea of a dulcimer club During the late 70s, some
was first mooted, and the setting musicians described by Kettlewell
up of the Nonsuch Dulcimer had a new lease of life appearing
Club was completed by October at folk clubs and festivals.
1992; establishing a support Glaswegian Jimmy Cooper in
network, information base, regular particular, undoubtedly the best
newsletter and annual residential player of his generation, enjoyed
weekends. By 1994 the club travelling to folk events with
included Appalachian mountain the late Dave Williams who had
dulcimerists and a lone autoharp
player!
‘... Hammered dulcimers probably came to our
provided the dulcimer building
plans for Kettlewell’s book. Billy
The Internet has been of immense
islands about 600 years ago. A new fashion
Bennington and others continued
the East Anglian traditional style
value to specialist interest groups
and the expansion of the club in the late middle ages, they would have been
and Topic Records and Forest
Tracks released recordings
was furthered by a web site of players such as Bob Smith
www.nonsuchdulcimer.org.uk
played by the upper classes, and largely
(Scotland), John Rea (Northern
- set up by Peter Collinson and Ireland), and Jimmy Cooper. A
undoubtedly putting the English
considered women’s instruments.’
major stimulus for musicians in
dulcimer scene on the world the folk revival was the hugely
map. There have always been influential ‘English Country Music’,
more hammered dulcimer than Hammered dulcimers probably instruments. As their social a re-release by Topic Records
mountain dulcimer players in the came to our islands about 600 status gradually declined, they in 1976 of a limited issue own
club, and this article reflects that years ago. A new fashion in the were taken up by lower classes label LP from 1965, featuring Billy
balance. Both types of dulcimers, late middle ages, they would have and itinerant minstrels. In the Cooper on dulcimer with Walter
as the title of this article suggests, been played by the upper classes, mid-seventeenth century Samuel and Daisy Bulwer on fiddle and
have seldom hit the headlines! and largely considered women’s Pepys enjoyed hearing a dulcimer piano.
The Living Tradition - Page 1
Issue80.indd 31 14/7/08 14:50:46
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