A Hymn for our time in the Wilderness…
As we travel along this road in our modern Wilderness, many of us have found comfort and solace in music. Our “stay-at-home” has provided time for exploring music in ways which we may not have experienced during a busier period in our lives. The simple, quiet music of the mountain dulcimer can be soothing for some; here is a hymn from our guest bedr… uh, temporary recording studio: Jesus Loves Me
Read on for a little history of the mountain dulcimer, which is an American instrument, born in the hills and “hollers” of Appalachia….
As immigrants entered our country from Germany, Ireland, Scandinavia, and other home countries, many arriving at the port of Philadelphia, they often began a journey of resettling in communities where they found similar families and similar heritages. In the 1700’s, this often involved moving further west or south, and settling in areas where land could be purchased. The path traveled by these settlers, and their horses and wagons, passed through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, and it was here that the mountain or lap dulcimer was born, along with a style of playing that incorporated music of their home countries. Ballads, love songs, lullabies and hoe-downs all are part of this musical heritage.
Beloved instruments from their home countries were usually not brought along; exceptions may have been small ones such as the violin, the fretted zither, scheitholt or German Hummel. So new instruments were created, modeled from these instruments from “home,” often made from materials that could be easily found on a homestead or farm. By the mid-1700’s mountain dulcimers were being made in “Old Virginia” (what is now Virginia and West Virginia) and by the mid-1800’s, a variation of this instrument had evolved in Galax, Virginia, made by the Melton family of musicians.
Mountain dulcimers usually have three or four strings, and are often played in a “drone” style, with two strings acting as the drone, with melody played on the upper one or two strings. Musician Jean Ritchie brought the mountain dulcimer from her home in the hills of Viper, Kentucky, to New York City as a social worker in the 1950’s. This began a growth of interest in traditional music and, as a result, a resurgence of the dulcimer, which is still continuing to be played today.