BROOKSTON, IN -- Rensselaer's Marvin Hayes has
found he can spread music and goodwill, and have a great
time, by making dulcimers.
"I like the music, and I love the people who buy them
and play them. I teach them for free," he said.
Hayes, a former heavy equipment operator, started
making the folk instruments three years ago, on the
example of his friend, Charlie Alm, a retired industrial
arts instructor from Lafayette's public schools. Alm has
made dulcimers for 25 years.
Working in Alm's wood shop in Brookston, Hayes has
now made 11 mountain dulcimers, four-stringed instruments
somewhat bigger than a computer keyboard, and
has started making his first two hammered dulcimers.
Hammered dulcimers are larger, about a three feet long
trapezoid, and are played with tiny wooden sticks, or
"We can make them out of walnut, cherry, or oak, and
lately, redwood," Hayes said.
A hammered dulcimer, historically the first instrument to be called a
dulcimer, has 113 piano key pegs, and
58 strings, tuned in groups of three, Alm explained. The
35 pounds of pull on each of a hammered duicimer's 58
strings adds up to 2,000 pounds of force stretched across
the instrument's thin wooden panels; Hayes and Alm
"That adds up to just over a ton of pull, and therefore
it needs braces on the inside," Alm said.
Mountain dulcimers are an American Appalachian
invention, with roots in German and English zithers and
stringed instruments, the men said. Mountain dulcimers
are played flat on a musician's lap, by strumming four
strings on a set of intermittent frets, they said.
Dulcimers were first seen centuries before other more
popular instruments in Western Civilization, Alm said.
"They were known in ninth century Iran. In China,
they studied it the way people in our culture study violin," Alm said.
thing they refuse to make is a decorative dulcimer. "We see people who
want them just to hang on the
wall. We won't make one for them," Alm said. "We want people to play
them," Hayes said.
Alm, who published "The Hammer Dulcimer Book:
How I Build the Things," said he takes his time and
creates each instrument at a leisurely pace.
"We don't take any orders that have deadlines. They
gotta figure it takes eight weeks to make one," Alm said.
Hayes said he has found recordings of dulcimers used
for almost every kind of music, including folk, bluegrass,
country, and blues.
"You can play anything on them," Hayes said.
Copyright © 2005 Charlie Alm