By JOHN KIENER
“The dulcimer is an Appalachian instrument,” explained Jacob Simpson from the Heritage Alliance recently. Simpson wants residents and visitors to know more about the instrument thought to have been created by the Scots-Irish immigrants who immigrated to the area in the 18th century.
Simpson, the exhibits coordinator at the Heritage Alliance, is uniquely qualified to talk about the traveling exhibit the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum is hosting about Dulcimers through early June. The exhibit coincides with the 4th Annual Jonesborough’s Dulcimer Days from Monday, May 13, through Sunday, May 19.
The exhibit looks at the history of the instrument while focusing on the craft of dulcimer making. It features luthier Ernest Combs from the Vilas community of Watauga County, North Carolina and also includes a hands-on dulcimer where visitors can try to play the instrument. A dulcimer is a fretted member of the zither family. A zither is an instrument with strings attached over a sound box but no discernible neck like those found in the guitar, fiddle, and banjo.
Simpson was reared near Mount Airy, North Carolina, which, like Jonesborough, is a tourist destination. Visitors from around the country arrive each year to look at the community which was the inspiration for the long-running Andy Griffith television series. The show aired on CBS in the 1960s and can currently be viewed on reruns. The site of the series was the fictional town of Mayberry. Today Mayberry Days is held each year in Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy. Simpson worked summers and after graduation from North Carolina State University at the Mount Airy Museum, which produced this dulcimer exhibit now on display at the Visitors Center. The exhibit is part of a larger traveling display titled “The Luthier’s Craft: Instrument Making Traditions of the Blue Ridge.”
The multi-panel presentation explores and documents the traditional arts of fiddle, guitar banjo, and dulcimer making in Southern Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. A luthier is an instrument maker.
Simpson said he expects “Jam sessions throughout town” during Dulcimer Days. He said the Alliance staff “will be working with local craftspeople and musicians to bring the exhibit space to life and to provide community activities with music and talks.”
Panels in the exhibit at the History Museum explain the dulcimer’s history, detail how a dulcimer is constructed, feature a section about the hammered dulcimer and talk about the craftsmen who build the instruments.
A schedule of activities for Jonesborough’s Dulcimer Days, hosted by the Town of Jonesborough, includes the following: on Monday, May 13, there will be an Opening Concert in the Mockingbird Music Room at 210 Spring Street from 6:30 until 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, activities from 1 to 4 p.m. will include Fox Street Dulcimer Appearances. At 6:30 p.m., there will be a Parlor Recital. These are small audience concerts in historic homes. People interested in attending the concerts are asked to call (828)553-7543 for more information.
The Wednesday, May 15, programming will feature Main Street Dulcimer Gatherings and the 6:30 p.m. Parlor Recital. On Thursday, May 16, from 1 to 4 p.m., the Boone Street Dulcimer Troubadours will perform.
Friday, May 17, features a full day of activities including Jonesborough Dulcimer Friends at the Christopher Taylor Cabin, 124 W. Main Street, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. The dulcimer performances will continue at Music on the Square with Joe Collins beginning at 7 p.m.
Another complete day of events begins on Saturday, May 18, at 9:30 a.m. with Dulcimer Workshops at the Mockingbird Music Room. The workshops continue until 3 p.m.. At 3:30 p.m., a Root Beer Garden at the Eureka Inn Courtyard, 127 W. Main Street takes place. Another Parlor Recital will be held at 6:30 p.m. Old Hymns and Sacred Music will be sung at the Embree House Historic Farm, 142 Matthews Mill Road, in Telford from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 19th.
On Thursday, May 23, at 6 p.m., Jim and Cheri Miller will be featured at an evening of dulcimer history and music. The event will be held at the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center. The program will begin with a look at the early evolution of the dulcimer from its European roots to the instruments played at the present time. Then Jim and Cheri will entertain the audience with a selection of traditional Appalachian songs and tunes.
The Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum is located in the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center and Old Town Emporium and is operated by the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The Heritage Alliance is dedicated to the preservation of the architectural, historical, and cultural heritage of the region and to providing educational experiences related to history and heritage for a wide range of audiences. For more information, please call their office at (423)753-9580 or contact the organization via email at [email protected]