Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 13 October 1917

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Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 13 October 1917

Postby dbennett » Fri Oct 13, 2017 5:38 am

Stinson Behlen (1917-2004) was born near Wilson, Texas.

Behlen wrote in his autobiography, “THIS IS THE LIFE STORY OF A PIONEER WEST TEXAS COWBOY, ME: STINSON ROBERT BEHLEN, “...I was born at high noon on October 13, 1917 during the Great War and during the great flu epidemic... My grandfathers and grandmothers from both sides of the family came to America in 1880 from Europe: Sweden, Holland, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. My stock is from hard working family folks, all being very musical dating back to the early 1390’s. One was even a German court violinist for a German King centuries ago. Some were musical instrument makers...”

Before he went in to making instruments full time Behlen worked as a cowboy in the early 1930s. In 1939, he went to college in Lubbock studying Music Education and Engineering. He said, “It sure has helped whenever I became a dulcimer and accordion and other stringed instruments craftsman...” In 1940, he started selling cars until 1941 when he was call for service in the U.S. Army and served in Europe, rising to rank of sergeant.

Behlen was the proprietor of Southern Highland American Dulcimers in Texas building concertinas, accordion, mountain and hammered dulcimers, fiddles and guitars. He started building dulcimers and accordions full time in 1964 and as of 1992 he estimated that he had built over 5,000 mountain dulcimers.

In reading his autobiography and other writings from him one gets the sense that he was quite vocal and sure of himself on life in general and especially on the origins and history of the mountain dulcimer.

In the February 1975 issue of Dulcimer Players News (DPN) he sent a Letter to the Editor outlining his views on the history and origins of the dulcimer. In it Stinson stated that he came from a long line of instrument makers dating back to the 16th century. His feeling was the evidence points towards Germany and the year 1518 as the birth of the dulcimer as we know it (known there as Citeras or Scheitholzes). Stinson said he gets burned up to read so much misinformation about the dulcimer, and said, “...anyone can go to the Original German Museum in Ludwigsburg, W. Germany to find the whole life history of this instrument, or go to your local library and read the Panums book of musical instruments of the 15th and 16th centuries.” He also wrote, “One of my Great-Grandfathers, Von Fredrick H. Behlen, came to America and made dulcimers in N.Y. in 1838. He made a few there but stopped because there was not popularity for them.”

In another Letter to the Editor to DPN published in the January-March 1992 issue he wrote in part, “I am amazed at how many styles and forms of playing the mountain dulcimer there are, but as a dulcimer maker for over forty years, I’m still from the old school of playing-- the simplest form like my grandfather and great-grand-father all played-- plucking with a small pick or quill. Yet there are dulcimer players who finger pick by walking all up and down the fretboard, but you can’t hear what they are playing. I’ve won several bets, that I could play the “Bonaparte’s Retreat” on a strumming dulcimer; oh, it’s so easy, and you don’t need minor tuning either...” He went on to write, “My great-great-great grandfathers came from the border of Holland and Germany... [Dulcimers] were then known as “Balk Scheitholze” with the fretting pattern no different from what it is today...”

Mark Biggs wrote in his book, Complete Dulcimer Handbook, published in 2003, “...As I said at the beginning of this section there is no complete agreement about the origin of the mountain dulcimer. Mr. Stinson Behlen, a maker of dulcimers for 38 years with a long family history of being dulcimer luthiers, assures me positively that the first dulcimer was invented on the German-Dutch border in 1518 and known as the “Nordish Balk”. To date I have been unable to substantiate his assertions. And so being a dreamer and a “Show me” Missourian, I continue to cherish the perhaps mistaken belief that the mountain dulcimer is in fact one of the few true American instruments.”

Stinson has said that he made a dulcimer for Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. There has been much discussion on both defending and refuting this claim and you can do a search on that site to see the discussions.

Stinson Behlen died on 22 March 2004 in Slaton, Lubbock, Texas.
Behlen Stinson1.jpg

Behlen Stinson2.jpg
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