A Damsel on a Dulcimer

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

-Coleridge, "Kubla Khan"

There's more than one kind of dulcimer, but we have them both here where I grew up.  The first is the hammered dulcimer, an instrument known around the world in various forms; the other is the Appalachian dulcimer, or mountain or lap dulcimer, which is a stringed instrument played across the lap.  

The hammered dulcimer has the strongest sound.  Here's an example of a Gospel tune being played by a student at East Tennessee State University -- where, as it happens, both my mother and father went to school.

The instrument is medieval, at least, and so we see it in other forms.

The Appalachian dulcimer seems to be a simpler form, which comes from a poorer culture that tried to maintain the instrument with less wealth and technical skill.  It still manages to do some interesting things, but the character of the instrument is entirely different.

Let's try a more direct comparison, and one more to the advantage of the mountain instrument.

The instrument is featured in this piece as well, although it is played but little.  Still, the piece itself is worth hearing through.

Many of you will recognize the song they are singing in that last link.


Mike H. said...

And also its more complex brother the Yangqin (Yangchin) of China.

They're all beautiful instruments.

Mark said...

I am probably a philistine, but I cannot get very excited about Wildwood Flower played on a dulcimer.

Here is a Carter Family version. Skip the first minute of dreck, but it is great.

justincostume said...

good article, beautiful voice.