Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 8 February 1878

A dose of mountain dulcimer history throughout the year

Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 8 February 1878

Postby dbennett » Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:34 am

William Aspinwall Bradley (1878-1939) was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Bradley was a poet, art director, and literary agent. Bradley married Grace Goodrich in 1903.

When America entered World War I in 1917, he joined the War Camp Community Service (WCCS) which helped soldiers find “better sources of entertainment” such as libraries, community dances and dinners for citizens and soldiers, they arranged citizen and soldier sport leagues, patriotic song rallies and social, supervised gatherings where young women would be present, to bolster morale in the men without impropriety.

Bradley authored several publications, among them "Garlands and Wayfarings", 1917; "Old Christmas and Other Kentucky Tales in Verse", 1917; "Singing Carr", 1918. The last two are based upon Kentucky folk-tales and ballads gathered by Bradley in the Cumberland Mountains.

Bradley wrote regarding English ballads in the southern Appalachians, in the May 1915 issue of Harper's Monthly Magazine, page 912-913, ‘Song Ballets and Devil’s Ditties’:

“The singer frequently accompanies himself on banjo, fiddle, or dulcimer. This last is the traditional instrument of mountain music. Like Coleridge’s Abyssinian maid, the Kentucky girl is also a ‘damsel with a dulcimer,’ or rather she was before this odd and yet elegant instrument, which descends directly from Elizabethan England, and which looks not unlike a very slender and short-necked violin, began to disappear.

“It is strung with three strings, which are sometimes of gut, though generally of wire. Two of them are always tuned in unison, while the third is an octave lower.

Occasionally the dulcimer — or ‘dulcimore,’ as it is called in the vernacular — is bowed, but more often it is plucked, the performer holding it lengthwise in his lap, producing the notes by pressing the string nearest him with a bit of reed held in his left hand, while his right hand sweeps all three with a quill or a piece of not too flexible leather. The two strings that are not pressed form a sort of bourdonnement, or drone-bass accompaniment, like a bagpipe. The tonal quality is very light — a ghostly, disembodied sort of music such as we may imagine to have been made by the harp in the ballad of ‘The Twa Sisters,’ although this instrument is formed, not from the bones of a drowned girl’s body, but from thinly planed and delicately curved boards of native black-walnut. Those which, like mine, are made by an old man who lives in a cabin at the mouth of the Doubles of Little Carr are pierced with four little heart-shaped openings... Alas, not only the dulcimer, but the ballad itself is beginning to disappear from the mountains."
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