CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in the later 20th century

Update, 1976-2002

The thesis on which this web-site is based was written 30 years after the end of the second world-war; the student revolution of 1968 and the taking on by the establishment of the main ideas of the hippie culture left a clear mark on people's general view of the world: artificial barriers were gradually breaking down; people began to stay together in their relationships because they were good for one another rather than because of economic and social pressures; Americans realised that even having an atom bomb they couldn't win the Vietnam war; 'multimedia' meant 100 people putting on a live show in which music, dancing, drama and film could play equal parts, and 'interaction' referred the way that group dynamic worked; it was possible to write a thesis which addressed itself equally to both university academics and to traditional players; it was possible to work as a Music Fellow at a new technological university at the same time as writing a thesis which would be examined at Oxford.

But now another 25 years gave passed, and we have yet another world view, and even the concept 'post-war Britain' is horribly dated: after decades of cold war it was suddenly possible to knock down the Berlin wall, European communisim was suddenly seen to be unworkable, Russians wanted to break out of the Soviet Union and join Europe and NATO; 'multimedia' now means one person sitting alone at their computer bringing forth a variety of pre-recorded texts, pictures, movies and sounds, and 'interaction' means excercising a range of options which someone he will never meet has previously branded onto an unalterable medium; ordinary people sudenly have the possiblility - technically and financially - to be interconnected world-wide via e-mail and the internet, and now China has entered the world trade market with quality products.

So how does this affect the study of dulcimers?

Perhaps the single most obvious difference is the sheer quantity of material:

The Nonsuch Dulcimer club has several hundred active members, and does a brilliant job with encouring new players with its workshops like those at Launde in Leicestershire, its newsletter and its web-site. Together Nonsuch and the Halsway Manor Society have had two residential mid-week meetings at the Manor. Ian Clabburn runs beginners workshops with a score of schools-girls and a dozen dulcimers, two schoolgirls per instrument; Fred Woodley, Sally Whytehead and others have a continuing 'make and play' workshop.

The Cimbalom World Association holds regular congresses, to which large numbers of people travel from all corners of the globe. You can even hear a Greek sandouri playing its Leitmotif all the way through a BBC video portraying Hercule Poirot on Rhodes.

There's a new accuracy in tuning, which is wonderful for the ear of the listener. At the same time it's tragic for the ear of the player, who now doesn't listen while she is tuning, but instead watches a dial on an electronic gadget: she knows her instrument is in tune because the machine told her it was, not because she has experienced how it sounds and made dozens of decisions based on judgment and experience.

Of course some people became interested in dulcimers simply because they needed a little niche which wasn't populated by too many people; many of these find that there are now too many dulcimer-players around and have simply given up in favour of other pursuits which still attract few enough devotees to be esoteric, whether it's learning to shoe working-horses, travelling on the canal system which no-one knew existed between Moscow and St. Petersburg, or exploring internet domain names with a Jan-Mayen-Land suffix.

Life has continued for me in other directions than those in which the dulcimer took me, particularly those concerned with using renaissance musical thinking to bring about well-being and human harmony, using the sensuous appeal of the harp, the leadership qualities of the harpsichord, and the harmony of human voices in consort. That means there hasn't been any question of trying to keep up with all the dulcimer developments in the world since 1976: for today's student, entering the keyword in an internet search tool will produce far more effective results than reading anything I might write.

So here's what I saw in 1976, without any further ambition to update things to the early 21st century.