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THE DULCIMER AS ACCOMPANIMENT FOR THE FIDDLE AND OTHER INSTRUMENTS

 

The revival of the dulcimer has, of course, witnessed the instrument being used in ensemble with other instruments. For a long time it was largely mainly a solo instrument, the other instruments being used to accompany the dulcimer. In the last forty years of this revival, its function has varied, yet the old tradition that I want to discuss here remains unknown and forgotten.

Virtually everything I originally learned about the dulcimer began at home, from my father and uncle.  I looked in books but found very little.   As I played more and more in public during the 1970s, I was eager to learn about the tradition, and listeners became my chief source of information.  For the vast majority, whether in Michigan or elsewhere, the instrument was completely new.  In a few years, I could account for the small number of active players.  But regularly someone in the crowd, usually elderly (or at least much older than I), would describe having seen one or having known someone who played.  Over the years enough of these incidents accumulated for me to provide a pretty good picture of the American (or at least one regional American) dulcimer tradition.

The typical player I heard about was a rural male (although female players were not uncommon) who played the dulcimer and frequently other instruments, usually the violin, but sometimes also the mouth organ, banjo, piano, etc.  He typically played only a limited number of tunes on the dulcimer (though again there were exceptions) and used it mainly as an accompanying instrument.  For example, he might play a lot of tunes on the fiddle but mainly play accompaniment on the dulcimer.  One common pattern was for siblings to play together.  Another was two young men, working, say, as farm hands, who played together at informal parties for other young people to dance. 

In my book The Hammered Dulcimer: A History (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001) I have gone into some detail about the manufacture of the instrument during the period from about 1845 to 1880.  I noted that many of the purchasers at this time seemed to regard the instrument as a cheap piano, and, in fact, some of the manufacturers called it the “piano-dulcimer.”  Farm families bought it as an affordable luxury in the same way that more genteel, wealthier families bought pianos----as a symbol of culture that their daughters might cultivate.  Unlike the piano, however, which required formal instruction, the dulcimer was an easy instrument which one could learn without a teacher.  Thus many of the original owners of these manufactured dulcimers were women, born around 1840 or 1850, and some continued to play until their last years in the early 20th century.

But in an area stretching roughly from the western edge of the Adirondacks in New York State, south to northern Pennsylvania, westward through the northernmost tier of Ohio, into the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, through northwestern Indiana, up into parts of Wisconsin and Iowa, then gradually fading in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Nebraska, the dulcimer style in the latter part of the 19th century and in the early 20th century shared the characteristics of the “typical” player I described above.

It is hard to pinpoint the beginnings of the dulcimer-fiddle ensemble in America.  Certainly it had begun by the end of the first half of the 19th century. Stephen Bennett (1811-1894), a shoemaker and farmer of Albion, Orleans County, New York, and recalled by Bruce Wight, of Batavia, New York, in a 1925 letter to Henry Ford, as a “famous dance fiddler,” gave lessons during the winter of 1850 to Bruce’s uncle Perry Wight (1831-1862) on both violin and dulcimer and showed him how to make the instrument as well.  Bennett moved not long after to Bethel Township, Branch County, Michigan, where he continued to make dulcimers. At the Branch County fair in 1854, he exhibited one. he had made.  At least one dulcimer bearing the stenciled inscription “S. Bennett” has turned up in that area.  Wight saved Bennett’s manuscripts of tunes with right and left-hand marks for striking, as well as a dulcimer “second” part.  (Acc. 285, Box 581, Benson Ford Research Center; James W. Kimball, Sackett’s Harbor: Nineteenth-Century Dance Music from Western New York State [Rochester, N.Y.: Sampler Records Ltd., 1994]). Clearly the style was common in Western New York by 1850, and it followed migrants as they then traveled westward, mainly towards Michigan and Wisconsin.

The small taverns dotted along the road between Pontiac and Lapeer, Michigan, after the Civil War, featured music, usually violin and dulcimer, to draw the teamsters hauling lumber.  The violin and dulcimer, played by J. Wesley Phelps (1830-1916) and Albert Race (1845-1895), was the core of the group that played for the dances outside of Detroit that Henry Ford attended as a youth.  In 1926, when the fiddler Jep Bisbee played in Ludington, Michigan, local organizers hired Civil War veteran Dan Shoup to play the dulcimer with him, even though he hadn’t touched it in many years.  In Wisconsin, an ensemble of violin, dulcimer, and bass viol was common in some places before the Civil War.  Perhaps the style that developed in New York was merely one example of a style that, although obscure and fleeting,  in earlier years was spread over a wider area.  For example, in 1878, a writer visiting Appling, Georgia, could evoke the Revolutionary period by describing an entertainment at a mansion where “violin and dulcimer strike up the measured symphony of the stately minuette [sic].” 

Perhaps this style of playing accompaniment, called “chording,” was invented anew in New York’s “Burnt Over District,” but I doubt it.  More likely, it was brought to America from Europe.  But from where?  The only evidence of dulcimer playing associated with dancing in Colonial America or in the early republic comes from German communities in South Carolina and southeastern Pennsylvania, both of which are outside this core region. There was a sizeable immigration of German Palatines into the Mohawk Valley in the 18th century. However, migration or immigration into western New York State in the early 19th century was primarily from New England and eastern New York.  The 1850 census shows that in western New York the largest countries of foreign birth were Ireland and England.  Most of the Irish immigration was recent, due to the Potato Famine.  German immigration was relatively small. 

There is evidence for the dulcimer being associated with fiddles in England as early as 1662, when the diarist Samuel Pepys mentioned seeing it “among the fiddles.” Joseph Addison, in 1709, describes young London lawyers “mightily taken with the union of the dulcimer, violin, and voice” at taverns at midnight.  During the 18th century, the instruments appeared together in street music, and in the early 19th century, fiddle and dulcimer accompanied dances in Sheffield.  On the whole, however, although the fiddle-dulcimer ensemble was common enough, it seems not to have been widely popular in England during the early 19th century. 

In Ireland, however, it was a different story.  Between about 1770 and 1830, it obviously was very popular, especially in the more anglicized regions around Dublin and in Ulster.  There are many reports of it being played with the fiddle at balls, both at gentlemen’s country seats and in the cities.  The establishment in Dublin, in its “State Music,” even retained a dulcimer player with an annual salary so he (and the other instrumentalists) could be on call for state balls.  Although fiddle and dulcimer is the most typical combination seen in these references, bagpipes or another fiddle were sometimes added, and more fashionable balls in the Napoleonic period might also include French horns, cello, and tambourine, in addition to the basic fiddle and dulcimer.  Then, after 1830, the popularity of the dulcimer declined to the point where, by 1900, it was rare. 

Whether the style came to rural New York state from England or Ireland is probably not something that can be conclusively documented.  Perhaps a single immigrant and dulcimer maker used it at balls and dances in the early 19th century and popularized it.  In any case, it was one of many dulcimer accompaniment styles in European tradition.

Other such styles had separate origins.  In the Alps, the Hackbrett ("chopping block") arose in the 15th century and accompanied the fiddle that survives most notably as Appenzeller Streichmusik.  In Galicia (eastern Poland and western Ukraine), both Jews and Gentiles took up the instrument in the 16th century, probably as accompaniment to the ensemble of two fiddles of Byzantine origin then in use. This seems to have been the origin of the Ukrainian troista muzyka on the one hand, and, via Jewish musicians, of the Bohemian Jewish ensemble of the 17th century. The latter influenced the instrumentation of the wedding music of the Germans who settled near the Volga River in Russia and the Hungarian Gypsy orchestras and later those of Romania.

The Gypsy musicians of Eastern Europe are professionals, handing the trade down from father to son.  This was also largely the case with German Musikanten, who, in some places in the early 19th century, had to purchase licenses which would allow them to legally continue their trade, largely to play at wedding festivities, which could last for several days.  In England and Ireland, some dulcimer players regarded themselves as professionals, even if they played on the streets, as well as at dances and to accompany puppet shows. 

In the United States, professional musicians (with rare exception) did not use the instrument.  Professionals, outside of the small number of mostly European-born music masters and theatre musicians in cities, consisted mainly of free and enslaved black fiddlers.  In the period from about 1800 to 1830, they were frequently accompanied by tambourine players.  This was the typical ensemble in New England and eastern New York when country dances were all the rage in the early 19th century.  Then, as cotillions (early square dances) increased in popularity in the 1820s and 1830s, a different kind of ensemble, associated with cotillions, grew in popularity.  Some consisted of black musicians, but more were white, and eventually many were immigrants, mostly from Germany.  These ensembles, originally called “cotillion bands,” later “quadrille bands,” and, finally, after the Civil War, “orchestras,” traveled distances to play at larger balls held at hotels in the wintertime, especially on holidays.  Such ensembles wore sharp, formal clothes and prided themselves on having the latest music, even if they did not always read well. 

The key feature of these ensembles was not the addition of brass and reed instruments, although that was a typical feature.  It was the presence of the second violin, which, with its double stops, played an accompanying role in the ensemble.  The size of these ensembles varied, but at a minimum there would be a lead and a second violin.  The third instrument would probably be a bass (or bass viol or cello).  Then clarinet, cornet, and other instruments might fill out the ensemble.  In urban areas, the leader might offer to contract for as many as twelve musicians, depending on the occasion.  By 1900, publishers catered to these groups by issuing dance music in stock arrangements for large ensembles that would work equally well for three or four parts.

Unknown quadrille band

Quadrille band with dulcimer, c.1860, perhaps Utah (owned by California antique dealer in 2007; photo of original ambrotype courtesy of Richard Hulan)

Occasionally quadrille bands used a dulcimer. The music that accompanied a “prom” at the Mukwonago House near Madison, Wisconsin, in 1859, consisted of two violins and dulcimer. In 1866, Heath’s Cotillion Band advertised in the Smethport, Pennsylvania, newspaper McKean Miner that it consisted of four pieces, violin (presumably two of them), clarinet, and dulcimer and would play at balls and parties.  In 1911, Dan Camp recalled that Payne and Whitmore’s band, active during the 1860s in the Waukesha, Wisconsin, area, consisted of first and second violin, clarinet, and bass viol, but introduced on several occasions a dulcimer, remarking, however, that “it was a job to keep the thing in tune and it besides was unhandy to carry ‘round the circuit in the rig we had.”  Around 1880, in Adams, Jefferson County, New York, the “Happy Band” consisted of first and second violin, dulcimer, flute, and bass viol. The group that played for the dances at the roadside hotels outside Detroit that Henry Ford attended in his youth certainly was a professional one. 

However, the dulcimer was mostly found in rural areas associated with amateur musicians. Players might be members of a large family, who played with each other regularly, where the patriarch of the family had purchased a dulcimer with the intention that it be used by his children.  Or the player might be a young farm laborer who learned it in order to be able to accompany a fiddler for dancing in the neighborhood.  Public performances might be at a house party or at a party at a local Grange hall. Thus from about 1870 until World War II and later, the typical venue for the instrument, when it appeared outside the home, would be at small, rural halls, community centers, and local fairgrounds.

Unknown group

Group with two fiddles, guitar, and dulcimer, place and date unknown (purchased by Fred Petrick from dealer in Portland, Oregon)

The players represented here by recordings made between about 1950 and 1980 are those whose families acquired the instrument in the Civil War period or later and preserved the tradition long enough for us living in the 21st century to enjoy it today. The revival began in the late 1960s and 1970s with little influence from the old-timers, and it gradually progressed well beyond the level of the Civil War-era boom. Nevertheless, we need to hear and understand the older music in order to gain a greater understanding of the instrument's place in American musical history.

 

LIST OF AMERICAN ENSEMBLES WITH DULCIMERS

 

The list below has been compiled from a variety of sources: local histories, newspapers, and word of mouth. No list of this sort can claim to be comprehensive; its purpose is merely to suggest a regional style and the geography and history of that style. When the dulcimer player also played the violin, I assume that he was able to play second on the dulcimer.

Pennsylvania

Frenchville, Clearfield Co.:  Emile Cowdin, violin, George Hay, dulcimer, at a dance, 1878.
Amity Twp., Erie Co.: Hibbard D. Swan (1860-1928), played fiddle and dulcimer; daughter Kimmie accompanied him on dulcimer at a fiddlers’ contest at North East (1920s).

Moose Park, McKean Co.:  Roland C. Freer (1861-1941) played fiddle and dulcimer, also performed Punch and Judy shows.
Smethport, McKean Co.:  Heath’s Cotillion Band, 4-piece group, using violin, clarinet, and dulcimer, advertised in 1866 for balls.
Ulysses, Potter Co.:  William M. Hann (b. c.1859-1931+), played dulcimer and violin.
Millville, Sullivan Co.:  Frank Watts (1876?-1937), played dulcimer for dances at hotels.

Herbert and Ada Bradley at Pennsylvania Folk Festival, 1938

Herbert and Ada Bradley at Pennsylvania Folk Festival, 1938

Liberty Twp., Tioga Co.:  Ada Bradley (1876-1952), accompanied her brother Herbert (1872-1966), who played violin; they played at the 8th National Folk Festival in Washington, D.C. (1939).
Farmington Twp., Warren Co.:  Leah Sherman (b. 1905) played with brother Floyd (violin), sister Verna (guitar), and mother, Mrs. Roy (piano) at a picnic in Preston’s Grove (1927).
Freehold Twp., Warren Co.  Lewis B. Sherman (b. c.1876) played with C. S. Chapman (violin) and Mrs. Ernest Faust (piano), at his wedding reception in Lottsville (1927).

New York

Jesse Martin, 1926

Cherry Creek, Chautauqua Co.: Ethan Wilcox (b. 1862) played dulcimer with J. L. Clark, violin, at an Oddfellows' lodge program (1902-1903).

Frewsburg, Chautauqua Co.:  Jesse R. Martin (1854-1939); played on a raft at Warren in 1880 with two fiddlers; played for dances in 1920s around Jamestown with fiddler Charles G. Locke of Salamanca.
Harmony, Chautauqua Co.: John Hitchcock (1841-1899); played for dances with Merritt Barnes, fiddle, and Silas Taylor, bass.
Harmony, Chautauqua  Co.: Glen Gunton (1882-1948); played with brother John Gunton (1878-1954), fiddler, though they played both instruments.
Harmony, Chautauqua  Co.: Marcus Wells (1917-1961) played dulcimer with father Merle Wells (1878-1953), a fiddler who also played dulcimer; they played for dances as late as the 1940s.
South Alabama, Genesee Co.: Sebastian Cabot (1836-1908) played dulcimer with uncle Perry Wight (1825-1862), a fiddler who made dulcimers.
Elba, Genesee Co.: Hubert Griffen (1859-1948) played dulcimer (also banjo) with brother Lewis Griffen (1868-1949) for dances when young; still played together in 1938.
Adams, Jefferson Co.:  Clarke W. Oatman (1859-1901); played dulcimer in the “Happy Band,” consisting also of 1st and 2nd violins, flute, and bass viol.
Adams, Jefferson Co.:  Louis F. Brown (b. c.1871), wife Ethel (Hibbard) Brown (b. c.1886), played violin with dulcimer accompaniment at a Red Cross ice cream social (1918).
Syracuse, Onondaga Co.:  Addison E. House (c.1851-1933), played at country dances and socials throughout Oswego County, usually accompanying brother, William House, who played violin; the duo, with Addison’s wife on piano, played at a family reunion (1932).
Medina, Orleans Co.:  Marion M. Eccleston (b. c.1844), fiddler and dulcimer player, played at fiddlers’ contest at Medina (1926).

Ohio

Luther Battles and group

Luther Battles (dulcimer) with Art Groetegoed (bass), Keston Peters (violin), unknown (violin), at Chardon Maple Festival (1955) (courtesy of Luther Battles)

Colebrook, Ashtabula Co.:  The music at dances above J. C. Rodgers’ store after 1906 was generally fiddle and dulcimer.
New Lyme Station, Ashtabula Co.:  Frank Alderman (1857-1939), played at the Geauga County Maple Festival (1934).
Hambden, Geauga Co.:  Luther Battles (1889-1985); played dulcimer with fiddle and bass/tuba at the Chardon Maple Festival and at the Apple Butter Festival in Burton until 1971.
Washington Twp., Henry Co.: Clara Weirich (1872-1911) played dulcimer with brother Bill Weirich for dances around Colton (late 1880s).
Ridgeville, Lorain Co.:  Orchestra at dances included dulcimer (1887).
Tiffin, Seneca Co.: Albert Cromer (1865-1914) played dulcimer with brother Virgil Cromer, who played fiddle, mandolin, and harmonica; they played at Ohio State Fair in 1910s.

 

 

Michigan

Allegan, Allegan Co.: Cora Torrey (1864-1944), played dulcimer with husband Eri B. Torrey, fiddler, at dances at Trowbridge Township Grange hall, 1920s.

Saugatuck, 1948

Old-timers playing for dance at Saugatuck, Michigan, 1948. Their identity is unknown, but it could be the Keirnan brothers, who lived 8 or 10 miles away (photo by Bill Simmons, from Shorpy)

Ganges Twp., Allegan Co.: Harry Keirnan (1882-1967), played with brother Thomas W. Keirnan (1878-1949) at dances at the I.O.O.F. Hall in Glenn.
Baltimore Twp., Barry Co.: Albert A. Woodmansee (1875-1938), played with cousin Harry A. Woodmansee, a fiddler, at Grange dances; he also played in a four/five-piece group, also playing fiddle and drums.
Berrien Co.:  ---- Martin accompanied James Dewey, 76, a fiddler, at a PTA program (1935).
Benton Harbor, Berrien Co.:  Arthur C. Woodley (b. c.1878) played it with Janet Woodley Holt, violinist, at PTA program (1934).
Grand Junction, Berrien Co.:  L. Barnes and Gardner furnished music with violin and dulcimer at a wedding anniversary (1940).
Three Oaks, Berrien Co.:  Perry M. C. Mann (1829-1915) and James H. Nash (1837-1918) played alternately on violin and dulcimer together in the Civil War era; their sons “Ed” Mann accompanied Wade Nash, violin, at pioneer reunions (1927, 1930).
Leroy Twp., Calhoun Co.:  William Clark’s seven children all played the fiddle and two the dulcimer, for dances, concerts, and just playing (1926).
Westphalia Twp., Clinton Co.: Jim Hayes, also played violin and five-string banjo; played with Louie Trierweiler (1920s).
Westphalia Twp., Clinton Co.: Alfred Platte (1883-1960) played dulcimer with Ed Lehman, fiddle, and Mr. Lehman, guitar.
Chester Twp., Eaton Co.: Edna G. Towe (c.1891-1959) played dulcimer, banjo, and traps with Floyd Towe, fiddler, for dances.
Hamlin Twp., Eaton Co.: Clyde Jefferies (1865-1890) and later (after his death) Wilbur Post (1867-1914) played dulcimer with Eli Saumns, a fiddler, for kids’ dances.
Littlefield Twp., Emmet Co.: Martin E. Crump (1875-1949), played dulcimer at square dances at homes and country schools, with Rob Gilbert, violin, and Maud Gilbert, his wife, on banjo, or Arthur Smith, a fiddler who played for Henry Ford.

REO stag dance

Autoworkers at the REO plant in Lansing enjoyed weekly stag dances to the sound of two fiddles, dulcimer, and bones (1919)

Argentine Twp., Genesee Co.:  Lewis C. Sturgis, Jr. (1860-1940) accompanied brother Mark Sturgis (1854-1934), a fiddler, as well as most other contestants, at fiddlers’ contest in Flint (1926).
Gaines, Genesee Co.:  Wilbur J. Niles (b. 1871) was to assist fiddlers at a picnic in Flint (1919).
New Haven Twp., Gratiot Co.:  William Andrews (1880-1947) played dulcimer with his father Frank (1856-1942), a fiddler, and a sister who played banjo.
Lincoln Twp.,  Huron Co.:  Lavina Kennedy (1874-1959) played dulcimer with her brother, a fiddler.
Alaieddon Twp., Ingham Co.: Archie Barnes (1877-1966) played dulcimer and fiddle; his sister Elizabeth (Barnes) Palen (1876-1960) accompanied his fiddling on the dulcimer.
Meridian Twp., Ingham Co.: Carlton Sherman (1865-1936) played dulcimer with Fred Sherman, 1st violin, and Ed Hardy, 2nd violin, for dances at the casino at Lake Lansing (early 1900s).
Lansing, Ingham Co. Two fiddlers, dulcimer, and bones accompanied stag dances every Friday night at the Reo Motor Car Company factory (1919).

Albert Dougherty's Old-Timers

Lew Doughterty's Old-Timers (c.1930) (thanks to Will White)

Lansing, Ingham Co. Lew Dougherty's Old-Timers, who appear to have played on the radio as well as for weekly "modern and old-time" dances at the Old Spinning Wheel Dance Hall, near the State Capitol, consisted of ten people, whose instruments included two violins, two banjos, dulcimer, bass, and others (c.1930).
Portland Twp., Ionia Co.: Alton Barnes (1880-1963), learned from his father, also played fiddle; played dulcimer with brother William C. Barnes for many area dances. In 1926 they called themselves the "Skunk Hunters' Band."
Springport Twp., Jackson Co.: Homer Wilbur (1881-1949); played with various fiddlers at dances (late 1930s).
Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Co.:  Edgar Divers (c.1859-1928) played with fiddler Bird Kelly at fiddlers’ contest (1913).
Grand Rapids, Kent Co.:  Dulcimer and two fiddles provided music at dance at poultry exhibit at West Michigan State Fair (1909).
Cohoctah Twp., Livingston Co.: Dillus Stoner (b.1872) played at dances; Byron G. Smith (b. c.1858), played dulcimer with a fiddler in the 1910s-1920s.
Ludington, Mason Co.:  Dan Shoup (c.1841-1932) accompanied Jep Bisbee and Mrs. Bisbee for dances at Oriole Hall (1926).
Buck School District, Mason Co.:  Mr. and Mrs. R. Schmiedeknecht played dulcimer and violin duets at Patrons Day program (1935).
Aetna Twp., Mecosta Co.: John G. Weeks (1844-1915) played dulcimer with wife Martha, who played the fiddle.
Austin Twp., Mecosta Co.:  William Amick (1860-1949) played with an old fiddler on the radio for Henry Ford.

Fish and Render, 1899

Lewis Dunlap (guitar), A. Otis Fish (violin), Curtis Render (dulcimer), 1899 (courtesy of Ed Render)

Geneva Twp., Midland Co.: Curtis O. Render (1874-1950), played dulcimer and accordion with A. Otis Fish, fiddle, and Lewis Dunlap, guitar (c.1899).
Mount Haley Twp., Midland Co.: Artie Brooks (1883-1959), played dulcimer and banjo with family orchestra.
Cedar Creek Twp., Muskegon Co.:  Anson Vanderboegh (b. 1871) played dulcimer with brother-in-law Rob McKie, fiddler (c.1900).
North Muskegon, Muskegon Co.:  William B. Raynor (b. c.1843) played with Stephen A. Aldrich, violin or 1st violin, Benjamin F. Yeomans, 2nd violin; and Mrs. A. H. Eckerman, piano or organ, at G.A.R. and Grange events (1907-1914).
Ravenna Twp., Muskegon Co.: Wesley Anderson (1881-1971), his brother Charles (1884-1936) played fiddle and dulcimer, as well as brothers Everett (1891-1981) and Glenn (1895-1959).
Brooks Twp., Newaygo Co.: Thomas A. Johnston (1853-1930) played fiddle and dulcimer for dances, at halls, schoolhouses, for lumberjacks’ parties, played fiddle with daughter Ada (1889-1985), who accompanied him on dulcimer.
Ferry, Oceana Co.:  John Frost (1868-1937) played with brother Ben, violin, at pioneer picnic at Pentwater (1934)
Richmond Twp., Osceola Co.:  Louis H. Walker (1867-1955) played with Nelson Louks, a fiddler, at Pomona Grange and house parties.
Allendale, Ottawa Co.:  Daniel Gunn (1872-1957) played dulcimer and violin, son Howard played violin, wife seconded on piano.
Crockery Twp., Ottawa Co.:  Claus Borchers (1896-1990) played with August Hasted, fiddler, at dances at West Crockery Grange hall in 1919.
Spring Lake Twp., Ottawa Co.:  Lawrence Ralya (1897-1979) played with brother Harold (1907-1989), violin, at parties (c.1930).
Swan Creek, Saginaw Co.:  Minnie (Schomaker) Nehmer (1878-1958) played for dances with a fiddler (1930s).

Amidon and Bartlett

Henry L. Amidon (left), Samuel G. Bartlett, Francis J. Ramsenthaler, of the Owosso area, January 1926.

Hazelton Twp., Shiawassee Co.:  Henry L. Amidon (1866-1950), played violin and dulcimer with his own old-time orchestra, active in 1930s-1940s.
Shiawassee Twp., Shiawassee Co.: George Bert Coon (1881-1937) played dulcimer with father Frank Coon (1852-1939), a fiddler.
Columbia Twp., Van Buren Co.:  Alva Merrifield (1865-1937) played dulcimer at house parties, accompanying one or two guitars or piano, fiddle, and accordion.
Van Buren Co.:  Ayers Eli Abernathy (1871-1937) played dulcimer at dances with brother Wilbur, who played violin.

Welcom and Allan Toms

Welcom Toms and son Allan (c.1910) (courtesy of Melva Ridgeway)

Greenwood Twp., Wexford Co.: Welcom Toms (1871-1960) played the fiddle and dulcimer and played with his son Allan (1897-1969).

Indiana

Coolspring Twp., LaPorte Co.:  Emil Paschack (1879-1941) played dulcimer with his brother, a fiddler.
Galena Twp., La Porte Co.:  Anna Taylor (1881-1959) played with husband Nelson Taylor (1877-1964), violin, and Joe McKie, Sr., piano, for square dancing at a party in Three Oaks (1952).
New Durham Twp., La Porte Co.: Lizzie (Stabno) Shreve (1880-1959) played with her fiddler husband, A. Harrison Shreve (1871-1951) at a PTA program at Hill's Corners School, 1931

Kankakee Twp., La Porte Co.:  Dennis L. Culveyhouse (1880-1958) played with George Wilcox, violin, and Edward King, banjo, at Three Oaks pioneer’s day celebrations (1933, 1935), and with Wade Nash instead (1933).
Wills Twp., La Porte Co.:  Howard Wiltfong (1891-1972) played with violin player Louis Rosenbaum at a men’s community club meeting at Wanatah (1938).
La Paz, Marshall Co.:  Jesse Willis (b. c.1871) was to furnish music for a dance in Elkhart (1894).
Valparaiso, Porter Co.:  Otto Ogden (1888-1973) played with Valparaiso string orchestra (2 violins, 2 guitars, and fife/cello) at Kiwanis weekly luncheon (1939).
Liberty Twp., St. Joseph Co.:  Henry C. Schrader (1869-1962) played the dulcimer and fiddle; his sons Delbert and Harold played together; they moved to Turner, Arenac Co., Michigan, between 1910 and 1915.

Wisconsin

Rice Lake, Barron Co.:  William McDonald (b. c.1854) played at a fiddlers’ contest (1927).

Jim and Archie Cross, 1918

Jim and Archie Cross, 1918 (courtesy of Judy Witt)

Dekorra Twp., Columbia Co.:  Franklin E. Cross (1871-1966), dulcimer, James C. Cross (b. 1879), violin, also Archie (1881-1944), played in a family dance orchestra made up of violin, dulcimer, and bass viol.
Dekorra Twp., Columbia Co.:  Bennie Olson (1868-1952) played at dances (c.1937 and before)
South Scott, Columbia Co.:  Violin and dulcimer played at dance (1898).
DeForest, Dane Co.:  Edwin Boehm (1887-1964), made a lot of dulcimers around 1910; played violin with various dulcimers at house parties, including Emil E. Meixner (b. 1892)
Madison, Dane Co.:  Dulcimer accompanied fiddler Samuel Cartwright at a Moose lodge “old folks party” (1919)
Middleton Twp., Dane Co.:  Freda (Goth) Burmeister (1869-1954) and husband Otto (1871-1955) played violin and dulcimer at 50th wedding anniversary (1941)
Knapp, Dunn Co.:  Tommy Nelson, played with a fiddler
Menomonie, Dunn Co.:  Ragna Holten (1891-1978) played dulcimer with husband Otto Holten (1892-1982)
Kingston, Green Lake Co.:  William F. Shaw (1867-1947) played for barn dances, housewarmings, weddings, with one or two fiddles and cornet (early 1890s)
Finley, Juneau Co.:  ---- Bright played with ---- Oleson, fiddler, at New Years Eve party (1903)

Illinois

Fulton/Schuyler/McDonough Counties (Flat Woods area):  The dulcimer seems to have been fairly popular at the turn of the 20th century, due mainly to the efforts of Daniel L. Van Antwerp (1848-1925), a native of Rome, Michigan, whose family settled in Vermont, Fulton County, Illinois, in 1860,  where he made the instrument, as well as violins, and sold them to local customers.  There were more players than those listed here.   Although they used the dulcimer with the fiddle at local dances, “chording” seems to have been unknown. Thanks to Bill Robinson for much of this information.
Manfred Asa Trone (1878-1968), of Scab Holler, Bader, Schuyler County, Illinois, played with a fiddle, sometimes guitar, rarely a banjo, at school exhibitions, town halls, and church socials (thanks to Dennis Trone).
Chet Skiles (1900-1977), of Browning, Schuyler County, played dulcimer with Oscar Robinson, a Southern Baptist preacher and fiddler, of Skab Holler, and Jack Brierton, guitar.
Lawrence R. Robinson (1890-1949), of Vermont, Fulton County, played dulcimer and fiddle with Charlie Cook, who played the same instruments, at dances in the Modern Woodmen Hall and other area halls and houses (Monty McKinney).

Iowa

Turkey River, Clayton Co.:  William A. White (1871-1915) made three; son Martin (1900-1983) played dulcimer with brothers Reuben and Dewey on fiddle and bass at parties and dances, at Millville Hall
Spirit Lake, Dickinson Co.:  Henry Baxter played with his dulcimer for dances, with Ira Farr, the Vrelland boys (1880s)
Luxemburg, Dubuque Co.: Peter Goetzinger (1863-1946) played  dulcimer in an orchestra
Sycamore, Fremont Co.:  Stanley Hopkins (1859-1934) led orchestra consisting of three violins, dulcimer, and organ, at school entertainment (1896)
Waubeek, Linn Co.: T. Berton (Bert) McCann (1878-1936) actively playing with fiddler at Grange dances in 1930s
Fairfield Twp., Palo Alto Co.:  Fred G. Domek (1885-1982), played dulcimer at dances at the age of 13, also violin and guitar; played with Jim Conway, fiddler (1958)
Lost Island Twp., Palo Alto Co.:  George Spaulding played dulcimer with Dick Jackson, violin, and Pete Donlon, cello, for dances in 1880s

Minnesota

Wood Lake Twp., Yellow Medicine Co.:  Ella B. Rhode (b. 1894) reminisced that her two uncles, who played violin, and aunt, who played dulcimer, would come to visit, and she would chord on organ.

Utah

Roosevelt, Duchesne Co.:  Ammon B. Reynolds (1853-1916) played dulcimer with Bill Taylor, violin, at dance (1906); he sometimes accompanied Henry Howard, accordion (Salt Lake County)
Ashley Valley:  Raymond Reynolds played the dulcimer with Dick Beeler, accordion
Kanosh:  Ezra Ramsey played the dulcimer at dances; other instruments were bass viol, violins, cornet, and piano
Provo:  Henry V. W. Smith (1855-1926) played  with brother, using violin, dulcimer, and piano

North Carolina

Happy John Coffey

Happy John Coffey and his brother Roba (photo by Hugh Newton; North Carolina Collection, Univ. of N.C. Library at Chapel Hill)

Caldwell Co.: John Wesley ("Happy John") Coffey (1877-1967) made and played a rectangular dulcimer he called a "mountain harp," playing with his fiddler brother Roby Columbus Coffey (1881-1964). This is a rare example of the instrument being used in the Southern Appalachian region; it was once more common to the east in North Carolina. "Happy John" was a regular feature in the 1940s and 1950s at the "Singing on the Mountain" gospel festival on Grandfather Mountain, at which this photograph was taken.

 

Recordings

 

1. [My Love She's But a Lassie Yet] played by Lewis Swan, violin, accompanied by Jack Swan, dulcimer. Recorded by Lewis Swan, about 1972, at Corry, Pennsylvania.

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2. Rickett's Hornpipe played by Lewis Swan, violin, accompanied by Jack Swan, dulcimer. Recorded by Lewis Swan, about 1972, at Corry, Pennsylvania.

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3. [Ring, Ring the Banjo] played by Lewis Swan, violin, accompanied by Jack Swan, dulcimer. Recorded by Lewis Swan, about 1972, at Corry, Pennsylvania.

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Luther Battles and Keston Peters

Luther Battles and Keston Peters (1955)

4. [Smash the Windows] played by Keston Peters, violin, accompanied by Luther Battles, dulcimer, and unknown, tuba. Recorded probably about 1960 by at Burton, Ohio.

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5. Golden Slippers played by Keston Peters, violin, accompanied by Luther Battles, dulcimer, and unknown, tuba. Recorded probably about 1960 at Burton, Ohio.

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6. Waltz played by Keston Peters, violin, accompanied by Luther Battles, dulcimer, and unknown, tuba. Recorded probably about 1960 at Burton, Ohio.

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Barnes and Palen

Archie Barnes and Elizabeth Barnes Palen (1950s) (from Okemos Historical Society scrapbooks, Meridian Township Public Library)

7. Miner's Quadrille played by Archie Barnes, violin, accompanied by Elizabeth Barnes Palen, dulcimer. Recorded in 1957 near Okemos, Michigan. Taped in 1966 by Charles Delamater for the Okemos Historical Society.

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8. Old Maids' Waltz played by Archie Barnes, violin, accompanied by Elizabeth Barnes Palen, dulcimer. Originally recorded on an acetate disc in 1957 near Okemos, Michigan. Taped in 1966 by Charles Delamater for the Okemos Historical Society.

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Bigford Hober

Bill Bigford, Bill White, and Al Hober, Pewamo, Michigan (1980)

9. Haste to the Wedding played by Bill Bigford, violin, accompanied by Al Hober, dulcimer, and Paul Gifford, guitar. Recorded at Pewamo, Michigan, September 28, 1980. Mr. Hober called this tune Finnegan's Wake. Neither Bill nor Al had played together before, even though they didn't live very far from each other. I was playing one night with Bill in a bar in Portland when a customer came up and told me about Al.

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10. [McLeod's Reel] played by Bill Bigford, violin, accompanied by Al Hober, dulcimer. Recorded at Pewamo, Michigan, September 28, 1980. Neither knew the name of this tune; Al also played the melody of the tune on the dulcimer.

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11. Waltz played by Bill Bigford, violin, accompanied by Al Hober, dulcimer, and Paul Gifford, guitar. Recorded at Pewamo, Michigan, September 28, 1980.

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12. On the Road to Boston played by Paul Gifford, violin, accompanied by Pete Seba, dulcimer, and Will White, guitar. Recorded in Ravenna Township, Muskegon County, Michigan, September 4, 1981. Pete Seba was 98 years old and had lived in the same house since he was a teenager. Al Hober was a former neighbor of his, and their style of playing was very similar. The tune was one that Hober played on the mouth organ.

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Peter Reames

Peter Reames (1973)

13. Tune in 6/8 played by Peter Reames, button accordion, accompanied by Eleanor Sorenson, dulcimer. Recorded at Original Dulcimer Players Club meeting, Interlochen, Michigan, May 1973. Eleanor was his granddaughter, and she played exactly the same way her grandfather did.

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14. Turkey in the Straw played by Peter Reames, button accordion, accompanied by Eleanor Sorenson, dulcimer. Recorded at Original Dulcimer Players Club meeting, Interlochen, Michigan, May 1973.

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15. Peek-a-Boo Waltz played by Peter Reames, button accordion, accompanied by Eleanor Sorenson, dulcimer. Recorded at Original Dulcimer Players Club meeting, Interlochen, Michigan, May 1973.

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Examples of "Chording"

 

Frank Stevens

Frank Stevens at his barber shop (1973)

1. Frank Stevens, recorded at Sand Lake, Michigan, October 1971. Keys of D, G, and C.

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2. Fenton Watkins, recorded at Birmingham, Michigan, 1976 by Bill Webster. Key of A.

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3. Pete Seba, recorded at Ravenna Township, Muskegon County, Michigan, September 4, 1981. Key of A in 6/8 and then 3/4 in G.

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4. Peter Reames, recorded at Original Dulcimer Players Club meeting, Midland, Michigan, September 25, 1971.

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5. Delbert Schrader, recorded at Original Dulcimer Players Club meeting, Midland, Michigan, September 25, 1971.

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Elgia Hickok and Bill Bigford, 1966

Elgia Hickok and Bill Bigford, after the latter won a contest at Muskegon (1966)

6. Elgia Hickok, recorded at Original Dulcimer Players Club meeting by Eugene A. Cox, Barryton, Michigan, September 28, 1963.

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7. Allan Toms, recorded at Original Dulcimer Players Club meeting by Eugene A. Cox, Barryton, Michigan, September 28, 1963, demonstrating 2/4 chords in F, B flat, C, G, and D minor. He tuned his dulcimer a full step lower than usual, allowing him those.

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