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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The dulcimer and the harp

Newly divorced in 1973, one of my first acts was to contact a shop in North Carolina and see if a Mr. Sams dulcimer was still available.  Jim Sams lived near Asheville, North Carolina and made dulcimers. They were sold in a little shop for a very reasonable price.  Less than a hundred dollars, I recall.  I thought they were beautiful to see, as well as listen to.  My husband pronounced them a waste of time and money and we left.   The owner of the shop remembered our visit and even said, as our conversation progressed, “I wondered if you might be fixin’ to be done with him.”  They had several Sams dulcimers and we worked out an arrangement in which I paid for the dulcimer “on time.”  I was more than a year paying it off, and when the dulcimer arrived it had a note that it was one of the last dulcimers Mr. Sams made and she had held it back for me.  He made stands for them, too, but I was too late to buy one of them.

I could play songs on my dulcimer if someone else tuned it for me.  That was my sister, who lived with me for a few years back then.  I was really good with Moon River.  After Jan moved Mr. Sams’ lovely dulcimer had a place of honor in my living room and was played a few times by people who understood stringed instruments.  I sent it to live with Beth years ago.  Some day it may encounter someone who can play Moon River.

I can’t remember anything about the three men who made the harp.  Can you imagine browsing an art show early in the morning and encountering a fully stocked harp booth.  I knew I needed one just to support the audacity of three men who believed they could sell harps at an art show in the Midwest.   I selected the least expensive harp available and spent the weekend scheming how to find the money.  It was close to Beth’s birthday, and that became my excuse.

When I brought it home I handed it to Tom, who makes music on anything.  He could not play it.  In a flash I called Christina, Beth’s friend since childhood.  At the time Christina lived very close by and was just embarking on a career as a lawyer.  Best of all, Christina, a gifted musician, has a master’s degree in harpsichord.  Maybe the degree is music theory, but Christina and harpsichord are synonymous to me.  Christina arrived promptly, announced the harp first rate, and tuned it.  She gave Tom a two minute lesson in the theory of plucked instruments, and he could play it.

That’s how my daughter got a birthday present to keep dusted.   Some day it may encounter someone who can play Moon River.

Christina at the harpsichord.  A long, long time ago.


  1. You certainly have a lot of experience with a lot of musical instruments. The only instrument I ever had was an accordion which I never mastered.
    It would have been a waste of time anyway--how much call is there for accordion players unless you're in a polka band?

  2. I can play the radio and I am good with a CD. I do sing when I am alone. And that is the extent of my musical talent ...

  3. the instruments are pieces of art

  4. I agree with mybabyjohn/Delores!

  5. Another talent I do not have. I love to look though. Thank you.

  6. What a beautiful instrument. And an interesting tale!

  7. It's nice to hear about these various instruments. We once had a harpsichord but couldn't play it. How dumb is that ?!

    It was nice to try though.

  8. Your orchestra is growing! Now all you need are players! Wonderful story!