THE DULCIMER STRING INSTRUMENT

DESCRIPTION - PRODUCTION - PLAYING - USAGE

ORIGIN, MYTH AND LORE - ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

A lilting lullaby to a baby or a sick child, a wailing lament for a lost love, a goodhearted ditty jesting at life or a friend, in all these and more, the haunting notes of the Dulcimer rise from the North to claim a unique place among the musical instruments of Santharia. This three to six string instrument, which was invented by the Kuglimz people sits on the lap of the player, and is strummed with one hand while the other holds down the sting to fret it. It is general oval or teardrop shaped, or slender double bulge shape, although begging instruments are often simple triangle shapes. Depending on the size of the Dulcimer, and of the person playing it, it stands roughly waist height on an adult male when stood on one edge.

Description. The Dulcimer is shaped like an oval, a very elongated teardrop, or a double bulge shape. When stood on its end, it reaches to the waist of a human player (slightly less than one ped depending on height.) Because it is a folk instrument, and not one in wide use by the elite, there are no standardized measurements. However a look at a fairly typical Dulcimer yields the following dimensions. At its widest, it measures about thirteen nailsbreadths. The soundbox is four nailsbreadths deep with a raised piece running the length about two nailsbreadths high by two wide, upon which rest the strings, made either from steel or the stretched intestines of a horse or cow, or sometimes a slain warg. It is played by laying it on the players lap and strumming the strings, while the left hand frets the notes. Return to the top

Production. Dulcimers are crafted by the Kuglimz of Northern Sarvonia, especially along the borders of the Injerín elves and the Ashz'oc. Crafting is usually done by older and more experienced Dulcimer players during the long Northern winter months when the sun rarely shows its face, and people must spend much of their time indoors. Sometimes, a new instrument will be sold to a trader, or a visiting stranger, but older ones are never sold, but are passed down to a newer younger player. This is because they believe that an instrument absorbs some of the spirit of the player (see Origin, Myth and Lore) Thus it is accounted extremely rude to play another's instrument without their permission. In some Southern coastal towns it is accounted a matter of some pride to have a genuine handmade Kuglim Dulcimer, especially if it has been handed down through a couple of generations. It ranks somewhere between genuine silver table-settings and portraits of ones ancestor in a portrait gallery. Strangely enough, this is even (or perhaps especially) true with those who never pick it up, and do not have a musical bone in their body.
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Playing. When playing the Dulcimer, the player usually sits crosslegged or on a low stool, with the Dulcimer resting on their lap, the rear towards the right hand, the left hand resting on top near the frets. Occasionally, when performing for a group, a player will rest the Dulcimer on a table or empty chest of drawers as this enhances the resonance and volume. It is true that some play the Dulcimer on it's side like a guitar or lute, but this is a southern style adopted by people who are not familiar with the Dulcimer, but were trained on the guitar.

Usually, the bass and middle string are played open, producing the characteristic drone, while the first and second strings which are tuned to the same note are barred and picked together to sound out the melody. A feather from some large bird is usually used as the pick, though other things are sometimes used for different effects. For barring many different items are used. Many casual players simply use a stick or piece of metal, or, if they are male, one of their bloodrings which they are wearing on their index finger. It is known, however, that different metals used for barring produce different tones, just as different types of picks do. Many serious students of the Dulcimer therefore save up money to buy a gold ring for the smooth tone, or a silver one for a light airy tone, etc.

Sometimes, especially when playing in a more elven style, the Dulcimer is chorded, with the thumb and fingers of the left hand. When playing a lament or lullaby, the strumming is done near the base for the characteristic sad, mellow tune. Jigs and other fast songs are plucked toward the first fret for clearer, brighter notes. The Bass string is tuned to the low Ey, with the other three strings tuned a major fifth above it. Because the Kuglimz rely on their aural tradition, most songs are taught one on one being demonstrated on an instrument. When a song is written down, they use a stylized diagram of a Dulcimer, with numbers to show what fret is held. When not cording, only one line is shown as the two melody lines are tuned identically and played together. See diagrams.
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Usage. Primarily, the Dulcimer is used by the Kuglimz people of Northern Sarvonia. There it is played either for oneself or for ones family, although occasionally it is played for outside groups on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, and the Taug'alth'ho. It is played also by the Injerín elves living in their southern and eastern border towns. In "civilized" lands, where occasional wanderers from the North have introduced it, it is regarded as something of a rustic instrument, lacking polish and sophistication, but its lonesome beauty has won it some adherents among those who believe in a return to a simpler lifestyle.
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Origin, Myth and Lore. Due to the lack of written records, the precise origin of the Dulcimer cannot be accurately determined. The Injerín researchers have narrowed it down to a period between five and seven hundred years ago; there is a story of a young Kuglimz man whose villiage on the corner between Kuglimz, Injerín, and Ashz'oc borders was destroyed by orcish raiders, and the man left for dead. The story says that he was found by an Injerín patrol pursuing the orcs. He was taken back to their post where he was cared for by an apprentice healer there. As he recovered, he came to love her but since he could not speak her language, he could not tell her of his love. Therefore, he crafted an instrument, the first Dulcimer, from a pear tree cut down by the orcs, (or in some versions, broken by a storm that came up as he wept of his hopeless love for her). He named it Avathcin Telar, which is Styrásh for beautiful music, after her. Using this, he communicated his love toward her in song, but his singing was so passionate and beautiful, that he realized he had placed his soul into the Dulcimer.

The Kuglimz believe that an instrument partakes some of the spirit, or to use the magical word aura, of the player. They say that, "As Lier'tyan placed the essence of the dreamer into the world, and it brought forth life, so when we bring life to noise to make song, we invest our spirits as well." Some very old Dulcimers, passed from generation to generation, are said to play the players. When he found that his soul was in the Dulcimer, he gave it to his beloved. Her family was angered, and sent him back to the wild before he was healed, where he was promptly captured by the orcs. His beloved secretly followed him, having come to love him as well, and using his Dulcimer, she sang a song of love and hope so beautiful that it put the orcs to sleep, and they were able to escape. They went through many other trials before they could live happily ever after, including attacks of wild wargs, blizzards, and vengeful family members. The name of the Dulcimer is taken from this song, The "Uas Telor", or "Together Song". No Injeran records substantiate this, but it is true that many Kuglimz living along the border and in the town of Narooth do show Sylvan features.
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Acknowledgements. Those who researched this entry would like to thank F'ash the Archivist for the great assistance he gave in researching this instrument, as well as fellow researchers from the library of Elin'dor, for answering records questions. Finally we would like to thank the many Kuglimz citizens living here who kindly answered questions of everyday life. Return to the top

 Date of last edit 8th Frozen Rivers 1669 a.S.

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