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Dulcimers and Such

Mike Harding | 11:57 UK time, Friday, 20 March 2009

While I was wobbling round the highlands of West Virginia last week I spent some time looking for a small hammered dulcimer for my grandsons Felix (4) and Toby (6). I believe in starting them young because it was on my seventh Christmas morning that I dug in the pillowslip and found, alongside the Rupert Annual and the rubber dagger, a Hohner Sonny Boy mouthorgan.

It was something of a tradition in our family that the boys got mouthorgans for their seventh birthdays; both my uncles, Harry and Bernard were good mouthorgan players; Harry in particular had a really good vamping style. Anyway, I did my best to find a 'beginner' dulcimer for the small chaps but failed. I was looking for a dulcimer in particular because it is one of the sweetest of instruments and unlike the fiddle or trombone, it doesn¹t sound bad while you are learning. A bum note on a hammered dulcimer sounds a little like a wind chime; a bum note on a violin sounds like a tom cat with its bits caught in a door.

So, if anybody knows where I can pick up a small two octave hammered dulcimer suitable for small hands then please email me via the website. And remind me, by the way, to dig out some tracks by Sue Harris (Benji Kirkpatrick's mum) for the programme; she's a fine hammered dulcimer player very much in the English tradition. And while I¹m on about it ­ I must try and get hold of a recording I've got somewhere of Jumbo Brightwell at the Eels Foot made back in the sixties ­ he's a great old player; and there's another recording I've got of two Irish musicians McHugh and Carroll on uillean pipes and hammered dulcimer, it's called The Long Finger and has got some exquisite playing on it. I must play it for you.

Ah - so much great music, so little time.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thank you for sharing...I learned of a new instrument...sounds very interesting! My two young sons are playing the recorder and violin.

    Katy Resume Creator

  • Comment number 2.

    Do you really need to be hammered to consider buying a dulcimer, Mike?

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Mike, you are mistaken about Jumbo Brightwell being a dulcimer player, he was a singer only, but a good one. Folk music has been revived at his pub, the Eastbridge Eels Foot. The two other East Anglian players of which there are recordings were Billy Bennington and Billy Cooper. Here in Suffolk, the best known player of the old school is Reg Reader of the Old Hat Band. His grandson is going to be better than him any day now and I also play hammer dulcimer (and autoharp), mainly with JY Kelly Band.
    Folk sessions in Norfolk and Suffolk are alive and kicking and there's even a new Morris side - Rumburgh Morris - to contradict the predictions of the Morris Ring, which created a bit of a hoo hah recently. They've got the problem of not allowing women in, though they couldn't quite bring themselves to say that.
    The place to find out more on dulcimer makers and players is Nonsuch, which is THE British organization.
    All the best, Bernard Duffield


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