Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History

Chadds Ford Days Spotlight: Dulcimer

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Here is our interview with Lynn King, who will be one of the demonstrators at Chadds Ford Days this September 12th-13th.  Lynn plays historic music on the dulcimer and provides the history behind this American folk instrument. 

How did you end up in Chadds Ford Days, and how many years have you attended?

I ended up at Chadds Ford Days because of Al Webber, Sr., a member of the Chadds Ford Historical Society.  He got me interested in attending the Candlelight tour.  I brought my dulcimer and played Christmas music.  I started playing at the entrance, and now I’m with the demonstrators.  I now play the dulcimer for Chadds Ford Days.  I don’t remember the first year I did it, but it must have been over 10 years ago or even 15 years.

What is your craft and how did you get started in it?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I play the dulcimer, and this was because I had attended a Brandywine Friends convention and saw someone playing the dulcimer.  I thought it looked easy and so I started playing it.  I taught myself, which was simple.  I had a bit of music background and so could read music already.

How did this play into the lives of colonists around Chadds Ford/what is its historical significance? 

The dulcimer has quite the history.  The Germans came to America and settled in Lancaster county.  They brought with them the instrument scheitholt, which means “piece of wood.”  The scheitholt was made of wood, long and skinny.  It is the forerunner of the dulcimer.  The Germans brought it with them when they immigrated and also when they moved from Lancaster down to the Appalachian Mountains.  Then, in the middle of the 1700s, the Scotch/Irish go down to the Appalachians too.  There, because the scheitholt alone was not loud enough for their taste, the Scotch/Irish put it on a box.  From there the shape changed to a teardrop first, and then, after 1800, into an hourglass shape.

All the strings are tuned to the same note.  To play, a colonist would have broken off a small branch and used that as a noter and then used a turkey quill to strum with.

What do you want people to remember about your music and instrument?

That it is really easy to play!  You don’t have to know how to read music.  The music is all written in tabs, similar to some guitar music.  The dulcimer is so easy.

When you think Appalachian music, you’re really thinking of colonial music, which can date from the 11th-15th centuries.  I play a lot of old time music from the 1600s.  I do play some from the 18th century, but it’s all folk music.  That music predates the lyrics and the same goes for folk music from the 1960s.  Those songs are not from the ‘60s but instead come from Child Ballads from the late 19th century.  Sometimes I will play the music, but not sing the lyrics, since they came from much later.  For example, “Danny Boy” is historically accurate music, but the words came much later.  It was originally called “London Dairy Air.”  Once you dig into the music and its history, you will figure all this out.

Are there any interesting facts/common misconceptions surrounding it?

The most common question I get about it is: “What is that?”  But an interesting fact about it is that it is not a city instrument, it would be found in the country.  It is probably something you would make yourself and then played on your back porch.  You would play folk music on it, and the dulcimer was used to compliment your voice.  The music was brought with the immigrants, and remembered from their past.  This is what would happen in the country.  If you wanted to have a dance, you would use bones, spoons, even jawbones to make a rhythm.  You used what was around you.  The main thing to remember about the dulcimer is that it is a German instrument and it mainly comes from the Appalachians.  It is a true American folk instrument.

What in particular can we look forward to seeing at your booth this Chadds Ford Days? 

I always bring an extra dulcimer with me for someone else to play.  I bought a tiny one, restrung it, and use it mainly for kids to play with.  But anyone can play it at Chadds Ford Days with me.  It’s really cool, I think.  I bring a 6-string one, which is much louder, to play in the outside air.  I bring the little one for people to try out.  I also bring a scheitholt and spend half my time talking about the history connecting it and the dulcimer.

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