Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nathan Hicks Dulicmer


The photo (click to enlarge) is Nathan Hicks with his dulcimer c. 1935 from the front of "Beech Mountain Ballads" published by G. Shirmer in 1936. The mountain folk pronounced it "dul-ci-moor." This is probably my grandfather's dulcimer or another one just like it. It's a three string made circa early 1930s with the heart shaped cut-outs on the top. My father keeps it in the original bag with my grandfather's initials M.M. on it.

My grandfather Maurice Matteson used to play it in his ballad bagging concerts, so I figured I'd look at this dulcimer when I visited my folks during Christmas. When my father pulled it out of the bag I could tell the strings were very old- I'd say sixty or seventy years old. The frets are very short and can only be used to play one string- which is the bass string!

I couldn't tune the strings up without fear of damaging the instrument so I tuned it to G (melody string) then the second string G unison with the top string G an octave higher. It worked.

So I tried playing it- first with my finger to fret the strings, then with an emory board stick and lastly with half of an wooden clothes pin. The clothes pin worked the best. I didn't have a pick but I got one from Bob Hitchcock, my brother-in-law. I figured why not play some of Nathan Hicks songs and record them at Bob's little home studio. Kara Pleasants, my niece, loves to sing and Zach, my nephew, played the violin.

So I wrote out a couple of Hicks songs in G for Zach and we practiced a bit then recorded them the next morning. They did a gr8 job, so did Bob making the recording.

Here's one ballad: George Colon (collected in 1933 from Nathan Hicks):