Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 October 1879

A dose of mountain dulcimer history throughout the year

Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 October 1879

Postby dbennett » Thu Oct 19, 2017 5:22 am

Emma Bell (1879-1919) was born in Evansville, Indiana to Benjamin Franklin and Martha Ann Mirick Bell. Both her parents were school teachers.

Emma's early childhood was spent in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, then Red Bank, Tennessee. When she was eleven her family moved to Walden's Ridge (now Signal Mountain), Tennessee. There she grew up and made friends with the children of the mountain area and there in 1898 she met and fell in love with a young mountain native, named George Franklin (Frank) Miles. They eloped and were married in 1901. Emma and Frank had five children.

Emma was a pioneering ethnographer, writer, poet, and artist whose works dealt with the culture of Southern Appalachia. She illustrated her own books. Emma and Frank struggled financially and often relied on her income from her writing and art crafts to keep from going hungry.

In 1904 Emma sold her first poem to Harper's Monthly, and then her work appeared regularly in national magazines as well as articles for local newspapers. Also published in 1904 was her article, “Some Real American Music” in Harper's Monthly. In November 1905, The Spirit of the Mountains was published which was a study of Southern Appalachia life. Her first published story appeared in Harper's in December, 1908.

Grace Toney Edwards wrote in, One Hundred Years of Spirit from Emma Bell Miles, "One of Miles' recurring motifs in both genres is the "dulcimore," her preferred spelling for the musical instrument whose name was likely pronounced "delcy-more," accented on the final syllable, on her Walden's Ridge mountaintop. At least five of her creative works carry the word' "dulcimore" in their titles: two are poetry collections"— Chords from a Dulcimore (self-published and hand illustrated poetry chapbooks, 1912); Strains from a Dulcimore (book collection of poetry)..."

For two months in 1914 Emma worked for the Chattanooga News and was able to pay all of the family's bills.

In 1915 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died at the age of thirty-nine on March 19, 1919, near Chattanooga and was buried in Red Bank, Tennessee.

In 1930, a collection Emma's poetry, journals, and short stories was published in "Strains from a Dulcimore".
Miles Emma Frank.JPG
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Last edited by dbennett on Thu Oct 19, 2017 4:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 October 1879

Postby dbennett » Thu Oct 19, 2017 5:23 am

Chords from a Dulcimore (1912)
Emma Bell Miles

Man's a maker in the mountains; but what else remained to do?
She who loved and watched him wondered if he never would be through.
He had squared the cabin's house-logs, hewn the puncheons for its floor,
Riven out its oaken roof-boards smoothed the lintels of its door,
Mortised every beam and rafter, yes, and comforted his bride
With a maple bowl and piggin, for her kitchen was her pride.
Chairs and baskets, even a broom woven of hickory splints, must come;
"Now we speak o' weavin'," said he, "I must set ye up a loom."

Then he found and felled a cedar, for a paddle and a churn,
And a door-latch of a cunning only those who knew might turn.
Chests to hold the housewife's homespun, and a spurtle that would stir
Hominy or apple-butter without risk of scalding her.
Last he made of ash a cradle, working lovingly and long,
Till the rhythm of its rocking filled the four walls like a song-
"Swings as even as a rhyme! Never any chap of mine
Shall be rocked the way a black snake travels, - one end at a time!"

Still was something left unfinished, - she could see it in his face,
When the firelight bathed in scarlet all the woodwork in the place.
Something of himself lay deeper, something waited unexpressed,
Something, when it should be uttered, proving perfect, truest, best.
As she swung the heavy batten through the web she spun and dyed,
Still she marveled at his making: - now what could he want beside?
But he chose his staunchest tree, making sure the grain was free
Of all flaws and knots and wind-shakes; this, the crown of all must be.

Soon a vase-like curve grew gracious from the solid, stubborn oak,
Rounding delicately, smoothly, as he carved and rarely spoke.
Swift and sure his crafty fingers touched upon the seasoned wood,
Still perfecting tone and timbre till his judgment found it good.
Neck and head and bridge he gave it, and a bar adown its length
Where three strings by three pegs tauntened strained upon its rigid strength.
Then he held it to his ear, saying softly, "Listen here!
Hit's the roarin' of the storm-wind in the pine-trees that you hear!"

So at last it found voice for him, as its tunes began to tell
Tales of bygone raid and foray, and the high-pitched hunting yell;
Sounds of all the life about him, tones that chuckle in strange glee,
Even echoes left from flutings of the vanished Cherokee.
Followed folk-leider and love-plaint, falling minors gray as rain,
Word of wind to midnight forest, mysteries of grief and pain.
"I can't sing a note, - not me! Made hit only to get free
Of a sort of tormentin', everlasting quare idee!"

She it was who crooned a ballad as the cradle slowed and stilled,
He could string and smite the dulcimore whose vibrant hollow filled
All the house with rhythms rollicking, till neighbors at the door
Shuffled glad unconscious feet upon the puncheons -"Clear the floor!"
Or when winter wild and woeful locked down on the mountain lands,
Shadowy melodies he played them till the baby clapped its hands.
Thus they gained the better part; so the native craftsman's art
More than violin or banjo sang the wild song of his heart.
Miles Emma Bell1.jpg
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Re: Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 October 1879

Postby dbennett » Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:28 am

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Re: Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 October 1879

Postby dholeton » Thu Oct 19, 2017 7:17 pm

I read "The Dulcimore" by Emma in Michael Murphy's "The Appalachian Dulcimer Book". Michael's book was published around 1976 and was one of the books I obtained shortly after I obtained my first dulcimer. It's a great story and if people don't have Michael's book, attached is a link to an online version.

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