Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Appalachian Byzantine

UPS dropped off my new mountain dulcimer yesterday, which I obtained by using some gift cards given me for my recent birthday. The particular brand I bought, Apple Creek, is apparently known for its extreme variability in quality (something I learned only after placing the order!), but mine seems to be in good order, good enough for me to learn on, anyway.

One of the things about the dulcimer which interested me presents a fascinating intersection of cultures which is just the sort of thing I like to post about here. For those not familiar with the mountain dulcimer, its traditional fretting is modal rather than chromatic (you can look up those terms if you like), which places it more firmly with most ancient musical forms. When I first read that about the dulcimer, I thought to myself, Hey, you're already doing modal music in church. I bet this thing would sound cool doing Byzantine chant tunes. And sure enough, it does. (Some people play Turkish music on it with great success.)

There's a para-tradition in the East of Byzantine chant being performed outside church settings with musical instruments, usually the oud or bouzouki. I'm very much of the opinion that my new acquisition should now be added to the list! (And just to add a further touch of authenticity to this intersection of cultures, my dulcimer with the very American name happens to have been made in Romania.)

The mountain dulcimer (also called the Appalachian dulcimer or lap dulcimer) is an instrument native to the Appalachian mountains, although it is probably based on zither-related instruments from Europe. It is billed as one of the easiest string instruments to learn, so in the space of just a few hours of noodling around with it, I was able to get it to play "Christ is risen" in Byzantine mode plagal one (which is roughly the Aeolian mode on the dulcimer). Mind you, I'm not very good at this at all yet. (This is perhaps the most my left hand has ever been called upon to do!) But I already love this thing.

7 comments:

Josephus Flavius said...

Glad you've returned to posting. Reminds me of my old neighbors who used to gather on the front porch and play the banjo or during our pan-Byzantine picnics in Texas when the folk music is accompanied by an accordion. Maybe you'll post a sample?

Fr. Andrew said...

I may post a sample at some point, but right now, I'm as neo as neophytes get. Perhaps when there's something worth recording. :)

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to have found your beautiful blog, which I have taken the liberty of linking from my own. From time to time I will probably highlight some of what you write. I hope you don't mind.

Thank you for your writing.

david+ said...

I remember playing and then building a lap dulcimer while living in WVa many many moons ago. The sounds they produce can be quite haunting... a wonderful avocation!

Justin said...

A beautiful instrument. And what a beautiful place for an Orthodox Church. I have family in the hills of the VA/TN border. Perhaps one day they will be Orthodox as well.

Fr. Kevin Gregory said...

I made one of those once. Still plays...

Fr. Andrew said...

Fr. Gregory,

Fr. Noah has one, too, and Fr. John Dixon may be getting one. We should start a diocesan clergy brotherhood folk band!

:)