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

Dulcimers in revival folk music

Three duos and one quartet have recently added the dulcimer to an already multiple list of instruments featured in their music.

John and Sue Kirkpatrick play chromatic button-accordion, anglo-concertina, oboe, and occasionally recorders, and Sue took up the dulcimer when she was pregnant, because it presented fewer problems to the foetus than the oboe;

Peter and Chris Coe and Geoff and Penny Harris also use the dulcimer in addition to their normal guitar, melodion, concertina etc. Dave Richardson, of the Boys of the Lough, apparently uses the instrument for occasional spots in concert, but not as a normal part of the instrumental ensemble. Apparently all these players concentrate on playing the melody, either for instrumental solos or for simple song accompaniments. Bernard Ellis of Herefordshire and John Davies of Cardiff are making dulcimers within the folk music movement, although Mr. Ellis has recently begun looking to a new market and his instruments are also sold in the Early Music Shop, Bradford.

As far as is known the initial stimulus for all these people was an old instrument - in Bernard Ellis' case, the Georgian santir illustrated in Engel and elsewhere - so that they were recreating a style of building and playing in isolation from the living traditions. As an example of the unfortunate effects of such isolation, I may quote Mr. Ellis' first dulcimer, which was strung with overspun guitar strings, formidably expensive and producing very dull sound. There seems to have been a little more contact with living traditions recently, however; the Coes have got to know Bill Fell of Birmingham, and since the LP of John Rea was recorded by a colleague of Dave Richardson, it seems likely that the latter knew about the Ulster tradition. His recorded example, however - the Jenny Lind polka - shows no trace of stylistic influence from Northern Ireland, for he plays simply the melody, with occasional thirds on the strong bests. The effect is rather reminiscent of the Bavarian Hackbrett music of today, technically faultless, but having none of the embellishments or flourishes that characterise the playing of one for whom the dulcimer is a major life-force.