“Mark Nelson skillfully uses a mountain dulcimer, Swedish hummel and Hungarian cittera to transport us across oceans and eons of time.” – Come For to Sing
The Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer is a small, sweet-voiced stringed instrument whose origins are lost in the mists of time. Prior to the folk music revival of the 1960’s, few outside the hills and hollers of the Southern Highlands had ever heard this most personal of musical instruments. Balladeer Jean Ritchie first took it to the concert stage, and in short order musicians as diverse as Richard Farina and the Rolling Stones fell for its charm. Want to learn more? Visit Everything Dulcimer.com, the on-line source for, well, everything about the dulcimer.
Although it is considered a uniquely American folk instrument, the dulcimer has numerous relatives in Europe. Folklorist and musician Ralph Lee Smith has traced the instrument directly back to the German scheitholt which arrived on our shores with pre-Revolutionary German settlers. Over the years, the instrument evolved from a simple folk zither into its now-familiar hourglass shape.
Prior to the First World War, dulcimer-like instruments were found in many parts of Europe: examples include the Epinnette des Vosge (France); Langeleik (Norway); Hummel (Sweden) and Cittera (Hungary).
In the early 1970’s Mark was one of a handful of free-spirited musicians who created a whole new vocabulary for the Appalachian dulcimer. He created a driving flatpicking style, playing the dulcimer with a force and passion seldom heard before. This led to a first place win at the National Mountain Dulcimer Championships in Winfield, Kansas in 1979, appearances at festivals, colleges and coffeehouses across North America and Europe, and a recording career spanning over 20 years.
In addition to recording numerous ground-breaking CDs, Mark has written several best-selling instructional books for Mel Bay Publications, including Favorite Old Time American Songs for Dulcimer, The Complete Collection of Celtic Music for Appalachian Dulcimer, and Scottish Airs and Ballads for Appalachian Dulcimer. And watch for his new books: Hawaiian and Polynesian Music for Appalachian Dulcimer and The Complete Collection of Old Time American Fiddle Tunes for Appalachian Dulcimer.
Here are some of Mark’s favorite dulcimers.
A very sweet old-time dulcimer made from highly figured walnut, set up as a three-string. Mark won it in Winfield in 1979. It’s a peach!
A large ten stringed Swedish instrument. Mark’s was made by Brian Mumford of Santa Barbara way back in 1972.
A wonderful Rosewood instrument with dog-paw inlays that’s seen a lot of miles. In the late 1980’s Mark installed a custom bridge and electronics to create the first ever MIDI dulcimer. This unique instrument, combining the timeless sounds of the Appalachian dulcimer with modern synthesizers and samplers, can be heard extensively on the CD autumn. Photo soon.
Folkcraft Custom 5 String
David Marks built this Weissenborn-shaped instrument as an experiment. Little did he know it was exactly the instrument Mark had been looking for to express his love for Hawaiian music. He calls it da kine, hear it on Ke Kukima Polinahe, and The Water is Wide.
Dubbed the Pink Thing by members of The Tex Pistols (The State Garage Band of Oregon), its a six-string screamer in a faux-snakeskin case. More than one producer has been blown away upon discovering that the blazing lead guitar they heard on the session was actually… a dulcimer.