Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dulcimer Dreams

I've wanted a dulcimer for many years. I spent my adolescent years on both sides of the Blue Ridge (first in Charlottesville, Virginia, then in Knoxville, Tennessee), and my family spent a lot of time in those mountains camping, going to festivals, enjoying the culture. When I was young, a dulcimer seemed like an outrageous expense.

In 2005, my spouse and I started buying musical instruments, as if soon there would be a ban on new instruments. That time period corresponded with my mother-in-law's long, torturous death by American Medical Industrial Complex. I knew about Kubler-Ross's stages of death, but she never mentioned the musical instrument buying phase.

I didn't buy a dulcimer then, because we live in South Florida, and the dulcimer is not a popular instrument here.

And to be honest, my track record with buying an instrument and teaching myself to play is not good. My husband and I bought matching mandolins for our thirteenth wedding anniversary in 2003; yes, some women want diamonds for a present, but I prefer creativity prompters. One Christmas, my husband bought me a ream of paper in every color that Office Depot had. I thought that was the best present ever. Yes, I'm an office supply geek too.

Anyway, we bought mandolins, and I had trouble right away. I couldn't tune the darn thing, while my husband, with his many years of violin lessons, took to the instrument right away. There I am, painfully plinking notes, and he's doing magical things with the instrument. I tried not to see it as a metaphor for our marriage.

Through the years, I've gravitated to dulcimer players, during the rare times I've seen them. They've assured me that their instrument was easy to play.

Meanwhile, my husband has returned to the violin, and he's really enjoying playing bluegrass and mountain music. I'd love for this to be an activity we can do together, but I can't learn the violin. Lately, I've been thinking about a dulcimer. It would go nicely with his fiddling.

When we were near Asheville a few weeks ago, I made a half-hearted effort to find one, but none of the nearby music shops answered their phones. Earlier this week, back at sea level, I thought, I wonder what I might find on Craig's List.

Low and behold, there was a dulcimer for $40. Last night, I bought it. I figure that if I really take to the instrument, I'll buy a better one later.

This one has a lovely tone, even though it's not made out of the most exotic wood. We got it tuned and last night, we figured out which fret matches which musical note. By the end of the evening, I was able to pluck out a tune or two. Hurrah.

Tomorrow, I'll post some pictures of the violin and the dulcimer meeting each other.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Oh, K! I love this post. I love that your husband bought you a ream of paper in every color the office store had, and I love the mandolin story. I can't wait to see the dulcimer.

One question: you refer to your husband's violin when you refer to him playing bluegrass. When does one refer to it as a fiddle? I've never figured that out. Or is it just dialect?

Kristin said...

My husband calls it a fiddle when he's playing bluegrass, country, or folk. Other times, like when he's doing something with a church group, it's a violin.

I think it has to do with the musical tradition, and one's personal preferences. The violin for classical modes, the fiddle for popular? That's always seemed to be how the linguistics worked for that instrument, in my limited experience.