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Dulcimer Group Plays for July Third Tuesday Event

The Union County Museum launches its 2019 Third Tuesday series July 16, 7 p.m., in the Little White Church, the museum’s historic venue across Main Street from the museum in Union. The group performing is Dulcimer Delirium, whose program will consist of demonstrations, a look at the museum’s zither, and playing of tunes and singing.

Formed in 2019, Dulcimer Delirium is a group of local musicians who enjoy playing a range of music on the mountain, or lap, dulcimer. All the members have experience on other instruments and found the dulcimer to be adaptable to many playing styles and genres of music. The group includes people from a wide variety of professions and has no designated leader.

“We prefer to use consensus in choosing the repertoire and in arranging the tunes to our satisfaction,” explains Sharon Porter, a group member. “Some of our instruments were hand-built by luthiers Jerry Nolte, recently from Cove; Janita Baker of Santa Margarita, California; Dan Cox of New Tazewell, Tennessee and Ron Ewing of Columbus, Ohio. Other instruments were made by the McSpadden, Gold Tone, and Folkcraft companies. Dulcimers are a bit like potato chips…‘betcha can’t buy just one!’”

Dulcimer background: No one knows who built the first dulcimer, but the instrument arose in the early 1800s from the community of Scotch-Irish immigrants to the Appalachian region of the United States. It is curious that the instrument has no apparent ancestor in the immigrants’ home countries of Ireland and Scotland. Some say the drones of a dulcimer harken to the bagpipes of Scotland, but this is pure speculation. The dulcimer is a descendent of the zither family, drawing from the Norwegian Langeleik, French Epinette, Swedish Hummel and German Scheitholt. It goes by various names and nicknames including dulcimore, hog fiddle and, in Appalachia where it may be made from barn siding, Tennessee music box. It is truly an American-born instrument.

The dulcimer was first used as a parlor instrument as the sound is quiet and suited to small home settings. Virtually no recordings of the dulcimer exist from earlier than the late 1930s. The instrument experienced a renaissance in the 1950s with the folk revival movement led by Jean Ritchie, a traditional noter player* from Viper Kentucky, who brought mountain music to New York City. For the evening performance, Dulcimer Delirium will demonstrate the various styles of playing, show some variants of the instrument itself and play a range of repertoire from old time mountain music to modern day tunes.

*A noter player uses a small dowel in the left hand to press on the string to make a pitch, kind of like using a finger but the slides you can make produce a distinctive sound. Often a turkey feather is used instead of a pick in the right hand.