Category Archives: history

“Music Confounds the Machines”

“Music Confounds the Machines”

tboneburnettby Steve Eulberg

Focusing on the challenges that artists face in the current digital and mechanistic day and age, T Bone Burnett gave the keynote address at the AmericanFest in September of this year.

I found these words echoing in my soul:

“Music is to the United States as wine is to France. We have spread our culture all over the world with the soft power of American music.  We both have regions- France has Champagne, we have the Mississippi Delta.  France has Bordeaux, we have the Appalachian Mountains. France has Epernay, we have Nashville. Recorded music has been our best good will ambassador. The actual reason the Iron Curtain fell, is because the Russian kids wanted Beatles records. Louis Armstrong did more to spread our message of freedom and innovation than any single person in the last hundred years.  Our history, our language, and our soul are recorded in our music. There is no deeper expression of the soul of this country than the profound archive of music we have recorded over the last century.”

This is my experience of the power of music to bring people together across the divides of background, experience, age, culture, gender.

I see it six days a week in my Music Together classes with preschool children and families who speak languages from Korea, Russia, Greece, China, Serbian, Japan, Israel, India, Pakistan, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, Germany, Australia, England, Canada and the USA (and probably several more that I can’t even identify!)

But what confounds the machines and the census takers is what T Bone said, which is the reason for what we pursue in music:

“Art is a holy pursuit.

Beneath the subatomic particle level, there are fibers that vibrate at different intensities. Different frequencies. Like violin strings. The physicists say that the particles we are able to see are the notes of the strings vibrating beneath them.

If string theory is correct, then music is not only the way our brains work, as the neuroscientists have shown, but also, it is what we are made of, what everything is made of. These are the stakes musicians are playing for.”  (read the entire address here: keynote address)

These are certainly the stakes that I am playing for.

What experiences do you have to share which relate to these descriptions?


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Posted by on November 8, 2016 in history, lessons, subscriber news


Historical Music Printing

Historical Music Printing

renaissancemusictypesetby Steve Eulberg

Now, for a taste of History!

Luís Henriques has posted a terrific video that illustrates and describes the challenge and results of printing music using a printing press in the Renaissance.

Understanding the challenges of musical notation in the printing process can help us better appreciate the tools that are available to us today as we produce original music, arrange music for playing with friends and create tablature to translate our ideas for playing on dulcimers.

Stay tuned for more explorations!

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Posted by on November 3, 2016 in history, music theory


Introducing a New Instructor!

Introducing a New Instructor!

DulcimerCrossing is excited to welcome Aubrey Atwater AubreyPoster_sm(of Atwater-Donnelly) to the instructional team.

Aubrey teaches mountain dulcimer, from the Jean Ritchie family tradition.

Visit the Teacher Page and watch her introduction video.

Or, visit the Live Events page and watch the highlight video of her recent Premium Concert Window Show.

Subscribe here, to have access to all of her lessons!



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Neal Hellman Featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Neal Hellman Featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Episode #014 The Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast features DulcimerCrossing teacher Neal Hellman


Wayne Jiang and Patricia Delich host this informative conversation with players of the mountain dulcimer across the country and across genres.  This edition features samples of music from several of Steve’s recordings:

Neal Hellman has played the mountain dulcimer for more than 40 years and is the founder, director, and one of the primary artists on the Gourd Music record label. Gourd Music recordings are known for lush arrangements often pairing the dulcimer with folk and classical instruments. With music by Gourd Music artists.

Neal Hellman

• Durango from the CD Oktober County Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Kim Robertson, celtic harp; Bruce Abrams, guitar; Joe Weed, mandocello

• Slumber My Darling from the CD Dulcimer in the Mix (available as download only in iTunes) Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Kim Robertson, celtic harp; Barry Phillips, cello

• Ninety Pound Catfish from the CD Autumn in the Valley Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Paul Hostetter, banjo; Carl Rey, harmonica; Shira Kammen, violin; Todd Phillips, bass

• Come Life, Shaker Life from the CD Dulcimer in the Mix (available as download only in iTunes) Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Shelley Phillips, oboe; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; William Coulter, guitar; Barry Phillips, cello and shaker

• La Mort De Coucy from the CD Oktober County Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Kim Robertson, celtic harp; Shelley Mathewson Phillips, English horn; Marti Kendall, cello

• Canarios from the CD Autumn in the Valley Neal Hellman, dulcimer; William Coulter, guitar; Shelley Phillips, recorders; Barry Phillips, percussion

• Pleasant Hill from the CD Emma’s Waltz Neal Hellman, dulcimer; William Coulter, guitar; Barry Phillips, cello; Shelley Phillips, English horn; Robin Petrie, hammer dulcimer; Susan French, violin

• Mountain Medley (June Apple) from the CD Autumn in the Valley Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Paul Hostetter, banjo; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; Todd Phillips, bass; Joe Weed, violin

• Robertson’s Unreel from the CD Oktober County Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; Danny Carnahan, fiddle, mandola, and guitar

• Mountain Medley (The Last of Smith) from the CD Autumn in the Valley Paul Hostetter, banjo; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; Todd Phillips, bass; Joe Weed, violin


Gourd Music
Neal’s YouTube Channel  
Gourd Music books
Pleasant Hill

Click on the image above (or


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Erin Mae Lewis featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Erin Mae Lewis featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Here is another resource for mountain dulcimer players!

HeartsofDulcimerDVDcoverWayne Jiang and Patricia Delich, the producers of the Hearts of the Dulcimer DVD, have created a regular Podcast, called Hearts of the Dulcimer.

The most recent episode (#007) features our own DulcimerCrossing teacher,  Erin Mae Lewis, not as a Bond girl, but as the Secret Agent of Dulcimer herself! ErinMaeHeartsofDulcimerPodcast

Each episode features several explorations of the dulcimer, its history, its players, its past and its future.

This episode features the playing of Erin Mae, together with her sister, Amber (from their duo Scenic Roots) and a surprise jam session with Steve Eulberg at the Kindred XL Gathering in Jughandle, California August 2014.

How can you listen and subscribe to this podcast?

1. Click the photo of Erin playing, or follow this link to the Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast page.

2.  Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes

3.  Listen to the Podcast on

Subscribe to to explore Erin Mae’s lessons!


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Don Pedi featured in an article

Don Pedi featured in an article

DulcimerCrossing Instructor, Don Pedi is featured in this article on the facebook page:See Again Sunday:  (From Humans of Central Appalachia)

“When I moved back into the mountains, I moved back in with people who had lived there for generations. My neighbors to this day still plow with mules and horses.”

Don Pedi, Renowned Old Time Mountain Dulcimer Player; Born in Boston, rambled around until he found his home in the mountains; Marshall, North Carolina:

“I got interested in traditional music through the folk revival in the sixties, Bob Dylan and all that stuff. There was a big festival in Newport, Rhode Island. I went to see Bob Dylan and all these kind of folks and ended up seeing these tradition musicians from out of the mountains. (After that) I just rambled around for a while. Met some fellows in Colorado and moved back to Asheville (NC) with them to play.

I’ve lived most of my life in Appalachia. When we came in to North Carolina from Tennessee, across them mountains my whole energy shifted, like something settled in my soul. I felt like I was home for the first time in my life. That was 1973.

Learning to play the mountain dulcimer, I saw somebody do it, Richard Farina and his wife Mimi Farina, Joan Baez’s sister. They told me about Jean Ritchie. He had gotten his dulcimer from her. I went down to that Newport festival and saw her (Jean Ritchie) and these other traditional players and got real interested in that kind of music.

When I moved back into the mountains, I moved back in with people who had lived there for generations. My neighbors to this day still plow with mules and horses.

I just play the dulcimer. I don’t read a lick of music. I just play the dulcimer.

(Music in the mountains) is a source of pride, a source of self-betterment. It’s a history. These old songs talk of actual events. These songs are about real events that took place. That’s how they documented and kept the stories alive. A lot of the older music that came over from the British Isles, they kept that going and then it changed and developed into our music. (Mountain Folk) kinda shed the ornaments of that music and added the rhythms of African American music and Native American music. That’s how we got our version.

The importance of it is and the differences of it, after World War II is when I see that it really changed. I realize the Bristol Sessions were 1927 but people were still playing pretty much traditional stuff. Some of the old time traditional musicians are still around but most of them are dying off now. There are pockets of people preserving the music the way they learned it from earlier generations. By this time, once bluegrass started, after World War II and the beginning of the folk revival it began to change. Musicians started to get themselves out of the way of the piece. My innovation is that I play them on the dulcimer, these fiddle tunes and such, but I’m not changing the tunes. Jean Ritchie for example, her innovation was to play counter melody to her voice because that just suited her.

For the most part, the ballads and the old fiddle tunes people played them like they had learned from previous generations, often times family members. What changed with the folks revival and with bluegrass is that it now became ‘my performance of this piece, what can I do to change this and make it different?’. To me, the older way is what I cherish and preserve.

I’ve carpentered, cooked, whatever it took to support my art habits. I do visual art and things but music is pretty much my livelihood.

I think culture has to do a lot with your positioning, like class. I came up kinda poor, working people and when I moved down here I moved in with people who worked the land and got by. A lot of my neighbors were tenant farmers when they were younger. I have nothing against having money. I wouldn’t mind having more but it becomes a different way of looking at the world.

The word hillbilly? It depends on how you take it, how it’s presented. I’m proud that somebody calls me a hillbilly. It’s a lifestyle that I embrace.”

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Posted by on December 8, 2015 in history, subscriber news


Tags: , , , , Blog Year 2014 in review Blog Year 2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks for reading and commenting and sharing this blog with others who love dulcimers!

Let us know  if there is something you’d enjoy reading about or find particularly helpful for your playing!


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Some Copyright Issues for Dulcimer Players of Music

Some Copyright Issues for Dulcimer Players of Music

by Steve Eulberg

May I offer a few musings on a recent conversation that has been seeded and is taking root in my brain?

Like many dulcimer players, I am just giddy when I discover that I can quickly play my favorite Jim Croce or John Denver, or Elton John or Blood Sweat and Tears tunes on the dulcimer I love!

And….I get very confused when I am told that I have to respect copyrights when I want to share this music with others.

Copyright Laws were created to protect the intellectual property of people who create things.  As one of those creators, I am grateful for that protection, which, according to the laws, is provided, whether or not the copyright is registered.  However, to defend one’s copyright effectively, registration with the Library of Congress is the best help.

Mechanical Licenses have been set up by Congress so that once something is created (e.g. a song is written) no one else can profit from that creation unless the owner of the copyright is compensated at a rate set by Statute, which is why it is called a statutory rate.  As a composer, I am tickled whenever someone requests a Mechanical License to record a piece I have composed.  I believe this is how Carole King probably imagined her career as a song-writer when she rented a studio in NY and began hammering out hits.  (The singer-songwriter model came a bit later.)

This all assumes that the composer of a piece of music is known, and holds the copyright.

Folk music is the music that has weaved its way, or seeped its way into the culture of a people and has been passed on by generations (usually by Oral/Aural transmission) and has survived because it has been embraced by people who learn and sing and play it, continuing the process.  This music is considered to be in the Public Domain.

Piano Sheet Music was the first “mass media” that enabled the distribution of the songwriter’s creations and was popular in the 1800s-1920s.  It was pretty clear that the creators (or at least the publishers) of the music were compensated by the sale of the sheet music.  And the way that the music was passed on was by learning to play it.  But there was no way to “capture” a performance–yet.

Radio in the 20th century has played a large role in this transmission process, as David Brose, the Folklorist and Ethnomusicologist at the John C. Campbell School in NC likes to demonstrate.  (A great many of us Boomers learned our “folk” music aurally from the radio, or from LPs.  Shoot, the Rolling Stones learned alot of their early blues music by wearing out both the needles and the LPS of their favorite African American blues artists!)

The first radio was live, but then with the advent of recordings (Wire, 78s, 45s 33-1/3s, Cassette, 8-Track, CD and mp3s) the performance of music could be “captured” and “exploited” almost endlessly.

The Performing Rights Organizations- PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) were created to protect the rights of and pay the creators of the music that was broadcast on radio.  (Disclosure:  I am a member of BMI and while my checks are not large, I am very grateful when they arrive!)

The Internet is the changed the transmission of recorded music in some never-going-back kind of ways.

File sharing (ripping CDs and sharing the music with one’s “friends”) turned into the piracy of sites like Napster which sought to give music away to anyone who had an account.  After the closing down of their original site, they have re-opened as a site that does compensate music creators (at a very low rate, but better than many!) for the download or streaming of the music they administer.

Streaming and Download Sites such as iTunes, Amazon.comSpotify and Pandora are just a few of the services that offer ways to listen to music which also compensate music creators (but at vastly different rates from each other!)

Now there are sync licenses (anytime one’s created music is used as a soundtrack to video–like a Youtube collaged of photos, for example.)

With the ubiquitous presence of electronic devices (iPods, mp3 players, phones, tablets and computers), there is a hungry appetite for more creative content which is leading to much discussion about both preserving the rights of those who create the music, and provide for their fair and adequate compensation for the use of their creation.

But how does this affect me, as a dulcimer player?

You are free to play any of the music you love, whenever and whereever you wish!  (Well, the middle of the night beside your sleeping partner might NOT be the best choice.)

If you play in a public performance, it is the responsibility of the venue where you are playing to have appropriate licenses in place.

If you wish to record someone else’s music which they have released to the public, you need to compensate them in accordance with the Statutory Rate with a Mechanical License, as listed above. This can be done in an agreement directly with the owner of the copyright (often, but not always the composer), or it can be accomplished through an agency like Harry Fox Agency, which administers copyright permissions for the ones they have a relationship with.  This process is fairly clear.

If you wish to publish (in writing) an arrangement you have created of their music, you need to obtain their permission.  There is NO Statutory Rate for this and different people, companies have different rates and requirements.  This process is very murky, and many copyright holders are not familiar with this arrangement (in my experience.)

If something is in the Public Domain, then neither of these sets of permission are required.  HOWEVER, a great many songs which are assumed to be in the Public Domain are actually protected by a copyright. It is always more difficult to prove that something is NOT claimed under someones copyright, but searching the Harry Fox, BMI and ASCAP databases are a good first step.  Simply reading or writing “traditional” on a piece of music may not be sufficient.

disclaimer:  The author is not an attorney and can offer no legal advice. The contents of this blog post are from his own research and experience and are offered as guidance.  Your mileage may vary.


Posted by on May 7, 2014 in history, lessons, subscriber news



Koto–the Japanese Cousin of the Mountain Dulcimer

Koto–the Japanese Cousin of the Mountain Dulcimer

by Steve Eulberg

Koto1I thought I had caught a glimpse of this long, distinctive instrument while passing by one of the Private (Guerilla) Showcases on the music floor of the Delta Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, but it wasn’t until I was rewarded by meeting its owner in the hall in the early evening (before all the craziness of the late-night schedule of “concertettes” begins) that I was certain.

It WAS a Japanese Koto, in the hands of (and nearly as tall as) a Londoner who, after exploring his music degree with saxophone, turned toward ethnomusicology and studied Balinese Gamelan for a year before settling on Koto as his primary performance instrument.

Jonah Brody (from the East end of London, England) was with Sam Lee and Friends at the North American Folk Alliance for Music and Dance Annual Conference in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) Feb 19-24th.

Jonah had never seen a mountain dulcimer before so I gave him a short demo and had him hold the cousins beside each other for this photo!

Later that evening I scouted around until I found where he was performing with the band and I was able to capture a bit of an amazing amalgam of world sounds (Indian Tabla–<drums>, Cello, Fiddle, Japanese Koto and Scottish Folk song) that I’m sharing with you here.

Our imaginations CAN run wild!

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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in history, mountain dulcimer


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Lance Frodsham Plays Epinette

by Steve Eulberg

On my recent tour of the Pacific Northwest, I was able to finally meet Lance Frodsham of Vancouver, Washington.  Lance is a teacher and performer of the mountain dulcimer with several recordings and books of music for dulcimers published by Mel Bay.  He is also one of the coordinators of the annual Kindred Gathering (which celebrated its 37th gathering in the Pacific Northwest this past August!)

Lance and I have corresponded but had never met face to face, or had the opportunity to jam.  We fixed that right off, then he pulled out this epinette des vosges (a 6-string French ancestor/cousin of the mountain dulcimer.)  This one had been built for him by Christian Toussaint in France.

Epinette scroll head

Epinette tailpiece detail

The fretboard is diatonic beneath the paired the melody strings, but chromatic beneath the “middle string” which allows Lance the opportunity to play a mixed mode tune with the major (Ionian) melody on the melody strings and move to the middle string to play in the parallel minor mode (Aeolian) for the second part of the tune before returning back to the melody strings to repeat the A section again.

The extra strings provide wonderful, resonant drone accompaniment.  This was a real treat, thanks, Lance!