Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: June 2008

early bagpipe

Of Hammered Dulcimers and Bagpipes

early bagpipeYears ago I read somewhere that the dulcimer mentioned in the bible might not have been an early form of the hammered dulcimer. The writer thought that the instrument referred to as a dulcimer in the bible may have in fact been a bagpipe.

When searching Google Books for the word “dulcimer” I came across “Eastern Arts and Antiquities Mentioned in The Sacred Scriptures” circa 1840 and found the following:

“DULCIMER – The Hebrew sumponjah, mentioned Dan. iii. 10, is the same word as the symphonia of the Greek, which instrument is described by Servius as a sort of bagpipe; a description which is in remarkable conformity with the Hebrew writers, who say that the sumponjah, which in our translation is rendered dulcimer, was a bagpipe, consisting of two pipes thrust through a leathern bag, and affording a melancholy sound. For this cause some writers conclude that the dulcimer was the bagpipe ; and the known antiquity of the instrument, and the fact of its existence still in the East, favours the conclusion.

The oriental bagpipe, at the present day, is a most primitive instrument, both in its materials and its construction. It is composed of a goat’s skin, usually with the hair on, and in the natural form, save that it is deprived of the head, tail, and legs, after the same manner as an oriental water bottle : the pipes are usually of reed tipped with cows’ horns, slightly curved. The instrument is of the pneumatic kind. The wind is communicated to the pipes by compressing the bag under the arm, the mouth piece of each pipe being fixed in the bag. Its compass, in an European-made instrument, is three octaves.

ancient harpOther instruments have been offered as the dulcimer of Scripture, but none has a greater mass of probability in its favour than the bagpipe.”

Whether or not this is true in no way affects my life in any significant way, musically or theologically.

The bagpipe has been around for a very long time but so has the hammered dulcimer in one form or another. From what I have read the Persian santur has been around for at least 2000 years. I could imagine that simple forms of the santur may have existed at an earlier time, perhaps a simple hand-held zither or harp that was struck with a stick.

You be the judge!

Now if only someone could figure out if the kazoo is truly of extraterrestrial origin!

My Favorite Smoothing Plane

Chinese style planeI discover which tools are my favorites by how often I find myself reaching for them. When working with hardwoods the smoothing plane I most often reach for is this Chinese style smoothing plane. I have several similar planes in a variety of sizes but this is the one I keep closest to the bench.

It is made of some type of rosewood and has a high blade angle of around 60 degrees. It also has an extremely tight mouth. This style of plane leaves a surface virtually free of tear out on just about any hardwood, even highly figured maple and cherry.

Some of the Chinese planes I use had the brand name of Mujingfang on the box and others did not. They were all realtively inexpensive with the largest costing around $50 a few years ago. The smaller ones cost under $20.  A number of tool shops were carrying them a few years ago and a few places still carry them.

Learning to use this style of plane took some time. Like all wooden planes it occasionally needs to have the using a Chinese planesole flattened and there is a little trial and error to adjusting the blade with a hammer. The challenge was to get used to a completely different style of grip. At first I found the plane hard to control and my hands would feel cramped after a short time.

I’m glad I kept trying to use this plane.  I eventually adjusted my technique and I now find  it very comfortable to hold and the grip and stance give me the power I need to push a high angle plane. The higher the blade angle the smoother the blade will cut through difficult wood but it also take a lot more power to push.

If you come across one of these I’d suggest you give it a try.

rabbit band

Back Home and Back In The Shop

The trip to St. Louis was a lot of fun. It was great to spend time with my friend Robert and the concert went very well. I played dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, harmonium, whistle and sang. Robert sang and played dulcimer, electric dulcimer, ukulele, cajon, an amazingly large and sonorous bass crystal bowl and a lot of other percussion instruments.

If there had been three of us it would have looked like this:

rabbit band

I also left a dulcimer on consignment at Music Folk while I was there.

Now I’m back home working in the shop. Sometimes working in the shop looks like this:

Doug planing

I’ve also been playing a few gigs, tweaking the masters for the CDs and working with my friend Robin on the covers.

More news to come as the story develops.


CD Pre-Release Fun!

I leave tomorrow for St. Louis. I’ll be doing a house concert with my dear old friend Robert Fishbone. Robert’s talents are many and sometimes not easy to define. He is a musician, story teller, performance artist, keynote performer and speaker and entrepreneur but in essence his talents are something more than the sum of those parts

Robert is also the friend who helped me figure out that it was really time to leave the job I had as the showroom manager at Elderly Instruments and get back to being a musician and luthier. I thank him profusely on the good days!

And this past weekend my friend Robin Zahir came for a visit. Robin is a photographer and designer with the eyes and heart of a poet. He is also one of the finest people I know and is deeply in my heart. He took lots of pictures and will soon be designing the covers for the two CDs. You’ll be seeing his beautiful photographs here and there on these pages in the near future.

So with finished masters in hand I decided to make some pre-release copies of the CDs to bring with me to the gig in St. Louis. Burning high quality CDs at home is no problem. And hey, you can go to any office supply store and get labels and inserts and a program to make your CDs look fairly professional in the comfort of your own familiar dwelling.

thinkingThat is, in theory, what I have been attempting to do tonight.

It took me about four hours to design some fairly nice covers and labels using a few of Robin’s photographs.

And after the printer trashed a few dozen or so inserts, and after my wonderful wife took apart and reassembled 25 or so CD cases we noticed that right there on the front cover I proudly displayed that this album contained Hammered Duclimer Instrumentals!

Yes, that’s right, Duclimer!

And it’s late and I have a long drive tomorrow and I was going to do the setup on two dulcimers before I left but instead I will be going to the office supply store for more labels and printing inserts and assembling CDs.

But enough whining. Here’s an old picture of a woman in a spectacular chicken costume.

lady in a chicken costume

Life is good.

Woodworkers – Keep Your Nose Clean!

Woodworking is often a dusty business. There is sawdust that gets through the mask or the quick sanding job that seems to justify not taking the 10 seconds it takes to put on a mask. My shop also has a certain amount of dust that is almost always present and this often gets stirred up and released into the air. This leaves my nose and sinuses to do the work of filtering out the dust.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.

I also have seasonal allergies that can clog up my sinuses and leave me feeling as if in a fog. This is not a good state to be in when working.

neti potNasal irrigation has helped provide a lot of relief from the above symptoms. It has helped me and maybe it will help you. The basic procedure is to use some type of device that lets you pour salinated water through your nose.

Please keep in mind that I am not licensed to do anything to anyone nor am I offering medical advice. I am just suggesting that you look at the following articles that may help you keep your nose clean in regards to all the stuff you inhale in the shop and the environment in general. Some of the articles will suggest devices, formulas to make the proper saline mixture, etc.

The Mayo Clinic has an video explaining a method of nasal irrigation. I imagine the folks at the Mayo clinic know what they are talking about.

NPR has an article and audio piece on using a traditional nasal irrigation device called a neti pot. This is the method I use.

And finally, Wikipedia has an article with links that can help you learn more than you ever wanted to know about keeping your nose clean.

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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