Sweet Dreams of Sweet Sounds
I have always wanted to learn a musical instrument, just something that I could play for my own pleasure. There were no plans to play in a group, band or professionally, I just wanted to be able enjoy the sound of my soul made into sound the ear could hear. The journey started in my youth with attempts at guitar and then whatever kinds of instruments were available through the public school system I attended. Attempts were made to learn to play the recorder, the french horn, a saxophone, the clarinet, the flute and finally the electronic keyboard over the years of schooling, but nothing seemed to stick except the flute. The problem with this was that they were seriously expensive and I just couldn’t swing that kind of money.
I finally settled on hand drumming around 20 years ago and managed to acquire a small clay belly drum from the fair trade store to start with, then I got a wonderful sounding Djembe for my birthday around 10 years ago that I enjoyed playing immensely.
Unfortunately I was diagnosed a few years after finally finding the drum of my dreams with a skin condition on my left hand that left the skin thin, easily damaged and therefore prone to severe pain at the slightest pressure. As the years passed it got worse and the last time I tried to drum, my hands swelled up and the skin started to split from the pressure of the swelling. My hand drumming days were done and it was hard to accept, but it was not something I could just ignore anymore, so now it was time to decide what to do as far as finding something to replace it. Due to health issues, I decided to screen instruments for my tolerances to the activity required to play them and see if could find a fit. Strummed strings were out due my hands [the skin can no longer develop and hold the calluses needed to play them therefore making it painful to do so], bowed string were out due to the strain on the neck, shoulders and back to hold them as well as the hand issue, drumming was drummed out, piano didn’t tinkle my tune, none of the brass tooted my horn, a few of the woodwinds whistled a maybe tune, but nothing really sparked the song in my soul.
Then just as 2014 was coming to a close, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was selling her hammered dulcimer. It was a beautiful instrument; the sound is part harp, part harpsichord and all wonderful. It only requires little wooden hammers to play it and they are held lightly, so no stress on the thin skin of my hands and no suspended arms in awkward positions to strain the muscles either. My only concern was if I could afford to buy it, there was some money saved, but would I have enough? When I contacted her, she had two other interested parties ahead of me in the list of inquiry, but after a few messages back and forth she agreed that if the other folks stepped down, then she would accept my offer. Within hours there was a message back from her, the dulcimer was mine. She could deliver it to me in a week and a half if I was ok waiting to get it, which worked out for me as it gave me the needed time to arrange to free up the savings to pay her.
Huzzah! My new year has started with the acquisition of my sweet new instrument. Sadly it had been sitting unused at its old house for so long it was a pale greyish white with dust and dirt and badly out of tune. This poor thing needed cleaning and care before I could even consider retuning it and beginning the process of learning to play.
So the first round was the dusting and then gently scrubbing the wood clean of the remaining dirt. This process required 4-5 concentrated hours of cotton swabs and cotton pads held with a long nosed clamp, lightly dampened and carefully inserted between the strings to get the worst of the dust and dirt off.
*Here it is partway through the dusting, I forgot to take a before picture, but you can still make out the layer of dust on the bottom right corner.*
hen out came an old tooth brush, a clean cloth and plain water to scrub it a little bit more thoroughly. It was its natural medium brown wood colour again and looked so much cleaner now, but it needed to dry completely as I had one more thing to do before the cosmetic clean up was finished.
*Here it is after the full clean up was completed*
Day two was the lemon oil treatment, the wood was treated with a varnish on some parts, but the sound box panels were untreated and a bit on the dry side, so a double coat of oil there and a thin coat everywhere else that wasn’t varnished was applied. The dulcimer was left out for the rest of the day to let the oil soak in before carefully wrapping her back up and tucking her safely away for the time being
*Doesn’t she look all shiny now?*
Now that the dulcimer has had its clean up, next comes the turning and tuning to get her singing properly. There is a book and DVD that came with it to help me figure out how to go about that, I’ll just need to take the time to do a thorough read of the book and watch the disc. I have thought that I should name her [the dulcimer], perhaps something like Lucy, Dulcie, Eloise, Calliope or Winnie. The naming of an instrument is not uncommon as many famous personalities name their instruments, so I am in good company if I do as well, it would only be a matter of deciding what it will be.
Oh yes, I will have to take a refresher course in the reading of music too. It seem after all these years of not needing to read sheet music I seem to have pretty much forgotten everything [or so it feels]. Yet another stage in my journey, but I shall manage one way or another…