Who, or, rather, What? The Dulcimer
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
David Schnaufer is not the only main character in Pluck; so is America's first folk instrument, the Mountain Dulcimer. It was not planned that way on my part; from the beginning, the dulcimer elbowed its way into the story to take its rightful place. I'll never look at the instrument the same way again. It's a marvel.
If you're new to the dulcimer, you'll learn about one of its distinguishing characteristics in Pluck: the drone. In his essay, Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music, Marcus Boon writes about the sound known as the drone:
Drones are everywhere in the natural world, in beehives, cicadas, the ocean, the atom and crowds of people. Stringed and electronic instruments produce the drone sound … Can we experience eternity right now, in sound? In India, one way of saying drone is “Nada Brahma” – “God is sound”, or “sound is God”. What we call music is ahata nad – “the struck sound”, but behind, inside this sound is anahata nad – “the unstruck sound”: the sound of silence.
You can hear the drone quite clearly in this clip from the 1965 t.v. program, Rainbow Quest, hosted by Pete Seeger. Jean Ritchie, the mother of folk music, plays "Shady Grove" on the mountain dulcimer. I love this clip because of that drone, but, also, because it's a stellar example of how folk music is passed down from generation to generation, and demonstrates the vitality of the human connections that make culture alive across time and space.
Read more about Rainbow Quest here: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/01/-em-rainbow-quest-em-pete-seegers-strange-magical-1960s-tv-show/283406/. Watch this episode in its entirety here.
Now, listen to how Jerry Garcia and Dave Grisman picked it up in 1996 (Jerry Garcia was a folk musician long before his Greatful Dead came to be.)
In the clip below, listen to Dave Haas, a former student of David Schnaufer's, use the drone in 2014. Dave makes a special appearance in Pluck by contributing his insights on David's teaching; you'll also read about a one-of-a-kind performance video that Dave shot of his mentor.
If you'd like to learn more about the wonderful Dave Haas, visit his website at davehaasmusic.com.
If you're new to Jean Ritchie and/or Pete Seeger, google them by name; they're everywhere on the internet.