Chuck Poling is featured in the current KALW newsletter,
which gives, among other details, a sketch of his life in Woodrow
Wilson High school, which he attended in the mid-1970s. (“To say that
Woodrow was a tough school is like saying Napoleon had a bad day at
Waterloo.”) Now that KALW is located in what was Woodrow Wilson High,
Chuck’s working there now is sort of a return to his alma mater, but
Chuck and Monica Oakes
have moved from San Bruno, California to the town of Riverside in the
Okanogan Valley in central Washington state. They are sorely missed by
attendees at the every-other-Friday song swaps and jams in San
Francisco. Please visit when you're up that way!
Shirley Baker has moved into Eden Villa, an assisted
living facility at 2750 Geary (near Masonic Avenue) in San Francisco
94118. Although the address is on Geary, the entrance is around the
corner to the right on Wood Street. Visiting hours are 10:00 to
7:30. Her phone number remains the same (415-673-6816). Calls, cards
and visits are most welcome!
SFFMC member and friend, died February 1 this year at the Coming Home
Hospice in San Francisco. Her generous heart and cheerful helpfulness
known and loved by many in SFFMC and beyond, died following a brief
illness at his home in Pioneer, California on February 25th. He spent
two years as a conscientious objector working with migrant workers in
and near Fresno, and, through becoming a regular attendee at the many
folk music events held at Sweet’s Mill during that time, became friend
and companion to fellow California musicians. His music lives on
through his many recordings.
Howard Larman, for over 30 years co-host
with his wife of the popular folk radio program “Folkscene” on station
(90.7), died in April of complications related to a car accident last
June. The tremendously important and influential “Folkscene” program
will be continued by his wife Ros Larman.
FolkAlley.com is a listener-supported 24-hour online music
service featuring folk, traditional, Americana, Celtic,
singer/songwriter, world, and acoustic music. It was launched in
September 2003 and is produced by WKSU-FM in Kent, Ohio. Along with the
hosted music stream and real-time playlist, the web site also offers a
blog, music news, folk links, information on musicians, new releases,
exclusive artist interviews, and more. WKSU is a service of Kent State
University, host of the Kent State Folk Festival, the nation’s second
longest folk music festival on a college campus.
The Folk Alley playlist is created by senior host Jim Blum and
Folk Alley Music Director Linda Fahey, and features a distinctive blend
of the best of singer/ songwriter, Celtic, acoustic, Americana,
traditional, and world sounds.
WKSU-FM went on the air more than 50 years ago as a service of
Kent State University. A National Public Radio affiliate, WKSU airs the
best in classical music and public radio entertainment programming.
Folk music has also played an important role in WKSU’s broadcast
history, thanks, in part, to Kent, Ohio’s long-standing connection with
the folk community, including hosting the Kent State Folk Festival for
over three decades.
Registration is free. Folk Alley is listener supported and is a
registered 501(c) (3) non-profit organization through Kent State
University. FolkAlley.com receives financial and in-kind support from
WKSU-FM. Listeners may donate at any time, including during seasonal
History of the Dulcimer
Everyman that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute,
harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall
fall down and worship.”
It is no wonder that King Nebuchadnezzar's decree was opposed,
for the sound of the dulcimer makes one feel much more like dancing
than “worshipping.” In fact, the modest revival of dulcimer playing in
America seems due in large measure to the delightful manner in which
dance tunes can be played on it. The hammer dulcimer is capable of a
range of tones from a sort of music-box sound to powerful and
percussive piano-like effects which can stand out in any band.
Although the plucked dulcimer (also called Appalachian or
mountain dulcimer) shares the same name, the two instruments differ
considerably in form, sound, evolution, and manner of playing. Both
have strings stretched across a neckless soundbox, which identifies
them in certain classification schemes as belonging to the zither form.
The plucked dulcimer relies on the shortening (fretting or stopping) of
strings to produce many pitches with one or few strings. Guitars,
banjos, and fiddles work in this way. The alternative is to have one
string or course of strings tuned to each desired pitch, as in the
harps, piano, psaltery, and hammer dulcimer.
The name dulcimer comes from the Latin and Greek words dulce
which combine to mean “sweet tune.” The meaning and the biblical
connections no doubt made the word attractive to those who named the
Appalachian dulcimer. All evidence seems to indicate that the
Appalachian dulcimer dates back no more than 200 years and that Bibles
refer to the hammered type. The true hammer dulcimer is a close
relative to the psaltery, the chief difference being that the psaltery
is usually plucked and the dulcimer is usually struck. Early varieties
were rather simple, having relatively few strings, which passed over
bridges only at the sides.
The versatility of the dulcimer was greatly increased by
clever placement of additional bridges. Treble courses pass over the
side bridges and also over a treble bridge usually placed between the
side bridges so that the vibrating lengths of the strings are divided
in the ratio 2:3. This results in two notes from each string in the
ratio of a perfect fifth interval. Other ratios have occasionally been
used. Many dulcimers have another bridge added near the right side to
carry bass courses. The bass courses pass high over the bass bridge and
low through holes or interruptions in the treble bridge. Likewise, the
treble strings are raised at the treble bridge and pass low through the
bass bridge. Thus, the treble strings may be struck near the treble
bridge without danger of hitting bass strings, and bass courses can be
played near the bass bridge without running afoul of treble strings.
This arrangement triples the number of notes possible without any
increase of size or consequent increase in distance from the player.
Dulcimers of this sort began appearing in Europe during the 16th
century and remained rather popular up to the 18th century.
The ancient origins of the dulcimer are undoubtedly in the
Near East, where instruments of this type have been made and played for
perhaps 5,000 years. Santir and psanterim were names early applied to
such instruments and are probably derived from the Greek psalterion.
Today the dulcimer is known as the santouri in Greece and as the santur
From the Near East, the instrument traveled both east and
west. Arabs took it to Spain where a dulcimer-like instrument is
depicted on a cathedral relief from 1184 A.D. Introduction into the
Orient came much later. The Chinese version is still known as the yang
ch’in, or foreign zither. Though its use in China is reported to date
from about the beginning of the 19th century, Korean tradition claims
association with the hammer dulcimer from about 1725.
Although the early keyboard string instruments could have been
derived from either psaltery or dulcimer, it seems logical that the
dulcimer provided much of the inspiration for the piano. The dulcimer
is capable of considerable dynamic nuance; a wide range of effects from
loud to soft can be achieved, depending on the manner in which the
player strikes the strings. Harpsichords were quite limited in this
quality of expressiveness and the clavichord was severely limited in
volume. The pianoforte was the result of attempts to overcome these
restraints, and the solution was to excite the strings with leather or
felt hammers as on the dulcimer. One early form of the piano even bears
the name of a 17th-century Prussian dulcimer, the pantaleon.
The most elaborate of dulcimers is certainly the cimbalom,
developed around the end of the 19th century in Hungary. This
instrument is a mainstay in the music of the Hungarian gypsies and is
used as a concert instrument. The cimbalom is equipped with a damper
mechanism and has a range of four chromatic octaves. Most other
dulcimers are tuned to a diatonic scale with ranges of two to three
Dulcimers were reasonably common domestic and concert
instruments in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries. No
doubt they were first brought to the colonies from England where they
were used in the street music of the time. Portability and simplicity
made the dulcimer much more practical than the piano for many settlers.
These attributes probably led to its association with the lumber camps
of Maine and Michigan. It is still referred to as a “lumberjack's
piano” in the North. As names for the dulcimer go, however, the
American appellation “whamadiddle” must be ranked as the most colorful,
with a close second being the German term hackbrett, literally
It is interesting that in this era of folk instrument
revivals, the Appalachian dulcimer, which never had a very widespread
distribution in the past, is getting considerable attention from urban
performers, while the once well-known hammer dulcimer has faded into
relative obscurity. Occasionally, old dulcimers can be found in the
Appalachians, Maine, New York, and in various parts of the Midwest.
Several dulcimer factories were thriving in western New York
during the 1850s and 1860s. They employed salesmen who played and sold
their instruments as far away as Missouri and into the southern states.
Michigan has continued to nourish a persistent tradition of dulcimer
hammering, and a club of players has been organized there. One
Michigander, Chet Parker, has been recorded, and his fine playing of
old dance and popular tunes is well worth hearing