The Tennessee Music Box

Share tidbits of dulcimer history, or history of the songs we play on them

The Tennessee Music Box

Postby razyn » Thu Nov 06, 2008 1:36 pm

This dulcimer form gets mentioned pretty frequently, but if we've ever had an ED thread devoted specifically to its history, I haven't hit upon it. Depending upon how you define your search, you can get anywhere from about four hits to seven or eight thousand. The great majority tend to be on forums other than this history one. Recently, for example, there has been some relevant activity on the Making Dulcimers and Jam Session forums.

And on this forum, I have just suggested something a bit revisionist, on Thud's thread about "Dulcimers in 1900s Minnesota." What if a Civil War soldier of Scandinavian background (presumably a Union soldier) brought the psalmodikon to the Tennessee Valley? I've held this theory for years -- a few decades, in fact (after I saw my first half dozen psalmodikons, in 1981). But I never realized that it might actually be plausible. That realization has overcome my preferred state of inertia, and led me to start this topic. Here's a bit of background, that I dropped into a little fracas I was having last winter with the kindly and gentle Berimbau, on a popular thread I started [Zitter to dulcimer in the Cumberland River Valley]:

razyn wrote:This gets into what one might mean by "the dulcimer's actual development." My contention is that it "actually" developed very differently, at different times and places. (The TN Music Box is another example, better known through the efforts of Sandy Conatser -- but if you read her footnotes, especially in the reprint of the 1998 Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin piece she co-authored with the late David Schnaufer, you will find her quoting my correspondence, some of it from the early 1960s.)
[snip]
I may even get around to putting out another example or two, *not* from the Cumberland River valley. Like, How the Hourglass Shape Began. And, Taking the Music Box to Church.


I actually did get off the dime and write that Hourglass essay. But I never did the other one (about the Music Box), in part because my ability to upload photos to Photobucket has been compromised. (I have to use my wife's computer, a nuisance to us both.) I'll just fold that discussion (the church part) into this thread, eventually.

Meanwhile, the aforesaid Conatser/Schnaufer article is available in a Web form, recently cited in the ED Making Dulcimers forum:

http://home.usit.net/~sandyc/mb.html

Not to flog a dead horse or anything, but note that (apart from actual instruments, with reminiscences and photos from the families of their owners) the earliest secondary or critical sources cited are my personal correspondence (from 1963) with Gerald Young and Rebecca Pevahouse; a 1971 article by me in The Magazine Antiques; and a 1973 paper by a student of mine at Vanderbilt, Donna Roe Daniell. [I'm identified in the article as "Dr. Richard H. Hulan," one of my aliases.] Donna Roe had discovered (and mapped) much of the information about the Goodman family, primary commercial suppliers of this form. She was led to them by interviewing the daughter of an original Goodman customer, Miss Ida Sharp -- one of (I believe) only three traditional TMB players documented while they were yet able to play. I drove Donna to see Miss Ida, whom I had met the previous summer while doing some architectural history work in Savannah, TN.

I'm just saying. I didn't discover the TMB, or anything; but I was working on this patch pretty actively, longer ago than anybody else who's been writing about it (and is still alive). Actually, my introduction to the form came via the photo of one of Henry Steele's instruments (the one farthest to the right, on p. 7) in John Putnam's little 1961 dulcimer instruction book, from Berea. John was my friend, from the winter of 1957-58 until his untimely death about 25 years ago. His booklet isn't cited by Conatser/Schnaufer, though Henry Steele is, in fact, discussed in their NEXT oldest secondary source -- the Flemish one, of 1976, by Hubert Boone. I've never seen this work, but Greg (Banjimer on ED) has it, and has sent me copies of some pages.

That's kind of a long-winded and perhaps immodest introduction, of the kind most tactfully left to somebody else. I have overcome my usual self-effacing humility to establish the fact that, if I offer a crackpot theory of the origin of the TMB form, it is a highly informed, and academically credentialed, crackpot theory. I already offered it, in a way, yesterday on Thud's Minnesota thread:

razyn wrote:
KenH wrote:Your father was in Brackett's Battalion of Cavalry or the First Regiment of Minnesota Infantry, both of which saw serious, long term service in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, etc. Daddy either "consorted" with a local girl whose family had a 'dulcemore', or otherwise (make up your own less racy story if you want!) brings home a 'war trophy'


I kinda skimmed over this the other day when you posted it. But, actually, I've always thought there was a hint of the psalmodikon in the ancestry of the Tennessee Music Box (not its historical name). The First MN Inf didn't serve in that area, nor really in the dulcimer-using parts of VA; but Brackett's cavalry certainly did. They were stationed in the prime TMB country, and other dulcimer country of Middle TN, for nearly two years, starting in Feb. 1862. Even in my home county. Garrison Fork (of Duck River) includes some of my childhood swimming and fishing holes. Confederate units from there, including some ancestors and uncles of mine, engaged your guys all through that period.

So, sure, your character may have brought home some kind of dulcimer; but he may also have left behind an instrument from home. With a fretboard atop a rectangular box, and the tuners at the right (the picking end) -- instead of where everybody else in Dulcimer-America puts them. Turning that psalmodikon into a TMB wouldn't have taken much more than adding a couple of drones, and omitting some frets, to bring it in line with the older tradition of zitter-derived instruments, already established there in the Tennessee and Cumberland valleys.

Ken H, do you know of any roster info indicating that there were any Swedes or Norwegians in Brackett's unit?


And it goes on from there. There were at least five Norwegian-born soldiers in Brackett's cavalry battalion, operating in the Tennessee River Valley for varying periods -- most of them from Feb. 1862 until May or July, but one of them for nearly two years (until December, 1863). [There may also have been Swedes in the unit; my source only tracked Norwegian Americans.] Any of the above might have had a psalmodikon, and might have left it (or the idea of it) in the area in which -- as far as we know -- the TMB form arose almost immediately after the Civil War. For any who may wish to map these Tennessee wanderings of the Minnesota Norwegians, I'll paste in the service data on Brackett's Battalion of Cavalry, from the online source Ken Hulme provided:
____________________________________________
Brackett's Battalion Cavalry

Companies "A," "B" and "C" organized at Fort Snelling, Minn., as 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies, Minnesota Light Cavalry, September to November, 1861. Ordered to Benton Barracks, Mo., November, 1861, and attached to Curtis Horse, an Independent Regiment of Cavalry, which was later designated 5th Iowa Cavalry. Assigned as Companies "G," "T" and "K." Duty at Benton Barracks, Mo., until February, 1862. Moved to Fort Henry, Tenn., February 8-11. Served unassigned, Dept. of the Tennessee, to November, 1862. District of Columbus, Ky., 13th Army Corps, Dept. of the Tennessee, to December, 1862. District of Columbus, Ky., 16th Army Corps, Dept. Tennessee, to June, 1863. 1st Brigade, Turchin's 2nd Cavalry Division, Army of the Cumberland, to October, 1863. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Cumberland, to December, 1863. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army Cumberland, to January, 1864.

SERVICE.--Engaged in patrol duty during battle of Fort Donelson, Tenn. Expedition to destroy railroad bridge over Tennessee River February 14-16. 1862. Duty at Forts Henry and Heiman, Tenn., until February 5, 1863, and at Fort Donelson, Tenn., until June 5, 1863. Moved from Fort Henry to Savannah, Tenn., March 25-April 1, 1862. Moved toward Nashville, Tenn., repairing roads and erecting telegraph lines April 3-6. Advance on and siege of Corinth, Miss., April 29-May 30. Acting as escorts to Telegraph Corps, Lockridge Mills, May 5. Occupation of Corinth May 30, and pursuit to Booneville May 31-June 12. Duty at Humboldt until August, 1862. Scouting and protecting railroad. Action at Fort Donelson, Tenn., August 25. Cumberland Iron Works August 26. Expedition to Clarksville September 5-9. New Providence September 6. Clarksville September 7. Scout toward Eddyville October 29-November 10. Expedition from Fort Heiman December 18-28. Fort Donelson February 3, 1863, Duty at Fort Donelson until June. Moved to Murfreesboro and Nashville, Tenn., June 5-11. Scout on Middleton and Eagleville Pike June 10. Expedition to Lebanon June 15-17. Lebanon June 16. Middle Tennessee or Tullahoma Campaign June 23-July 7. Guy's Gap, Fosterville, June 25. Guy's Gap. Fosterville and Shelbyville, June 27. Occupation of Middle Tennessee until September. Moved to McMinnville September 6-8, and operating against guerrillas until October. Operations against Wheeler and Roddy September 30-October 17. Garrison Creek near Fosterville and Wartrace October 6. Sugar Creek October 9. Tennessee River October 10. At Maysville until January, 1864. Expedition from Maysville to Whitesburg and Decatur November 14-17, 1863, to destroy boats on the Tennessee River. Outpost duty on line of Tennessee River from south of Huntsville to Bellefonte, Ala., November and December, 1863. Veteranized January 1, 1864. Battalion moved to Minnesota January 7. Detached from 5th Iowa Cavalry February 25, 1864, and designated Brackett's Battalion, Minnesota Cavalry. Duty at Fort Snelling, Minn., to May, 1864. March from Fort Snelling to Sioux City May 2-25. Sully's Expedition against hostile Indians west of the Missouri River June 4 to November 10, 1864. March to Fort Sully June 4-15. March to Fort Rice June 28-July 7. Pursuit of Indians to the Bad Lands July 19-28. Battle of Tah Kah A Kuty or Killdeer Mountain July 28. Passage of the Bad Lands of. Dakota Territory August 3-18. Action at Two Hills, Bad Lands, Little Missouri River, August 8-9. Relief of Fiske's Emigrant train September 10-30. At Fort Ridgley, Minn., until spring of 1865. Sully's operations against Indians May to October, 1865. Patrol duty from Sioux City to Fort Randall, Headquarters at Sioux City, October, 1865, to May, 1866. Mustered out June 1, 1866.

Regiment lost during service 4 Enlisted men killed and 1 Officer and 6 Enlisted men by disease. Total 11.
___________________________________

So much for the plausibility part. I have no evidence that these specific Norwegians carried a psalmodikon to the Tennessee Valley. But there ARE several documented soldiers from the psalmodikon-using population who were stationed, at length, in the most relevant part of the Tennessee Valley during 1862 and 1863.

Psalmodikons, and early Tennessee Music Boxes, are rectangular (unlike almost all other dulcimers); and they have their tuning mechanism at the player's right (unlike almost all other dulcimers).

Questions? Comments?

Dick
Last edited by razyn on Sun Nov 09, 2008 3:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby KenH » Thu Nov 06, 2008 5:27 pm

Dick - I like the way you think. ;) That's at least as plausible a reason why/how the TMB is rectangular and has 'backwards' tuners; as the idea that the TMB developed out of some migratory PZ zitter, which is also (mostly) rectangular but has a distinctive head; or that it was independently developed by some Tennesseean who never learned to bend wood or sand it thin.
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Postby razyn » Thu Nov 06, 2008 6:15 pm

KenH wrote:Dick - I like the way you think.


Awww, shucks.

And I have you to thank for posting that useful link to the service records of MN military units.

There are several photos of old TMBs in the Conatser/Schnaufer article. And there's a four page gallery of psalmodikon photos on their web site:

http://www.psalmodikon.com/index.htm

Edited 11/13/08 -- I have now posted a 24-page historical article on the psalmodikon in America, by Ardith K. Melloh, on a separate ED thread. It includes a number of other pictures. Here is a link to that thread:

http://everythingdulcimer.com/discuss/v ... hp?t=17937

Here's one I already posted elsewhere, so I don't have to jump through any hoops to upload it to Photobucket. It's the instructions (in Swedish) for making a psalmodikon -- a single string model, but some had two or three strings. Note that the tuning knob is at the picking (actually, bowing) end of the scale. A standard psalmodikon was chromatically fretted; but some came equipped with several long slats marked for a gapped scale ("transpositional sticks") that were laid behind the string(s), to show the player where the notes of the diatonic scale were -- in several different modes.

This set of printed instructions is an appendix to an 1846 hymn book. Our theoretical Union soldier might have left behind his hymn book (easier to carry, and to lose, than a psalmodikon). But it's unlikely that a Tennessean who found it would get much out of these instructions.

http://i197.photobucket.com/albums/aa14 ... odikon.jpg

Dick
Last edited by razyn on Thu Nov 13, 2008 6:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Thud » Thu Nov 06, 2008 8:48 pm

Dick, thanks very much for starting this thread! You've got me curious about the music box as well, I really want to learn more about it.
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Postby Frimp » Thu Nov 06, 2008 11:53 pm

Intriguing speculations, to be sure. I can see how it all might fit together.

I'm kicking around the idea of building another Goodman-style music box (or "Wonderful Harmonica") as described in the Conatser/Schnaufer article. Went so far as to buy some pretty poplar chunks at Lowe's, then re-read the article where it said the wood used was 3/8" to 1/2" thick. Mine is 1/4" and 1/2" thick. Hmmm... Maybe I can return it?

The psalmodikon is beginning to interest me as well, as is the zitter. I probably won't be satisfied until I build at least one example of each to mess around with and hang on the wall!
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Postby KenH » Fri Nov 07, 2008 9:31 am

Frimp - it depends on how much of a "replica" you wan to make. Nothing wrong with 1/4 and 1/2. I'm not sure Lowe's has 3/8" thin stock.

The first Psalmodikon I built was a hollowed out length of 2x4, with a soundboard top added. I used a 1" diameter Forstner bit to do the hollowing; much the way I make a hollow-body for an Northern European Lyre or Baltic Psaltery.
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Postby razyn » Fri Nov 07, 2008 10:20 am

Frimp wrote:I'm kicking around the idea of building another Goodman-style music box (or "Wonderful Harmonica") as described in the Conatser/Schnaufer article.


I still have Donna Roe's term paper from the Southeastern Folklife Institute, an Anthropology class that I taught during the summer sessions at Vanderbilt in 1973-76. Donna (her married name is Daniell) took some measurements of Miss Ida Sharp's instrument, the one that is self-identified as "The Wonderful Harmonica." I'll try to get that scanned and posted, before long. I can also measure my own -- which was attributed to John Pevahouse by his daughter, but may well be another Goodman harmOnica.

Digression: If you call the Tennessee Music Box a harmonica, remember that it's pronounced with a long O. It may not be a coincidence that this has the same vowels and accents, and some of the same consonants, as "psalmodikon." Switching between the liquids R and L is common, as is switching between D and N -- especially in imitation of an overheard word from an unfamiliar language. And the last lettah of a word's not that import'n in southern vernaculah; droppin it's a common phenomena. So, really, only the first letter is substantially different, between these two words.

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Postby Paul Gifford » Fri Nov 07, 2008 11:11 am

Just to add a little to the discussion re the "harmonica":

I don't think it's altogether credible, but I was told in 1980 by a black guy who grew up in St. Louis that his mother played a (hammered) dulcimer, but called it a "harmonica." Put this in the "for what it's worth" category.

Then there is "harmonicon." That has some interesting associations, and I don't recall all of them without looking up notes. But "harmonicon" was used in the early 19th century as a word for sort of experimental instruments in England. The "wood harmonicon" was what was later called a xylophone. There was an Englishman named Turner who toured around Britain and the U.S. in 1842, giving performances on dulcimer, wood harmonicon, and "rock harmonicon."

The glass harmonica (musical glasses) or "grand harmonicon" was used by a Baltimore maker in the 1820s (see http://www.chrysler.org/wom/wom1200.asp).

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Postby KenH » Fri Nov 07, 2008 6:02 pm

There's "harmonium" too.

I happen to knwo one of the few people who play a Glass Harmonica. Lady named Lynn Dryer, in Prescott, AZ. Beautiful (and expensive) instrument. Hers is 3+ octaves if memory serves. At one type we talked about doing an album of duets using the two oldest American instruments.
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Postby KenH » Fri Nov 07, 2008 6:03 pm

There's "harmonium" too.

I happen to knwo one of the few people who play a Glass Harmonica. Lady named Lynn Dryer, in Prescott, AZ. Beautiful (and expensive) instrument. Hers is 3+ octaves if memory serves. At one time we talked about doing an album of duets using the two oldest American instruments. Dulcimer and Glass Harmonica sound really nice together.
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Postby mrchips » Fri Nov 07, 2008 6:21 pm

As if I didnt already have a list of stuff to make yall got me all baited up on trying a psalmodikon now. :lol:
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Postby berimbau » Fri Nov 07, 2008 7:02 pm

Well I think that Dick is really on to something here, and find his research here most compelling. That is except his reference to me as "kindly and gentle," whereas 'm really quite a *&^$%@#.
Anyway, yet another organological trait which might link the Tennessee Music Box to the psalmodikon is the occasional use of a bow to sound each of these instruments. Although we usually encounter the box dulcimer as a plucked chordophone, and the psalmodikon as a bowed instrument, it would be easy to understand how these techniques may have changed to accommodate different needs in various musical contexts.
Incidentally Dick, I am rather taken with the box instrument, and in no way harbor any concept that the hour glass form is in any way superior to it. But then I am a Bo Diddley fan, and fondly recall his rectangular axe.


Paz y Musica,


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