Monday, April 06, 2009

John Rea and the Hammer Dulcimer

I've been trying to find an old notebook of mine - about 15 years ago I did a wee bit of research in the BBC Archive down at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. I listened to an old radio interview with John Rea, the famous dulcimer player from Glenarm. I can't put my hand on the notebook at the minute, but to paraphrase, John said that all he grew up with was Scottish music and Scottish tunes, "...until the big book of O'Neill's came out and then everything went Irish..."

Here's a very interesting thesis about the hammer dulcimer in Ireland, in which John and some other Co Antrim players are mentioned.

Here's another wee bit of info about John and other Antrim players.

A Myspace page listing some of the Antrim players

Finally, John even has a page on Wikipedia

Here's what a hammer dulcimer sounds like:


UPDATE - I found my notebook!

“The Dulcimer Man – John Rea”

Radio Ulster Broadcast recording from 1977, 40min, held in the recordings archive of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. To summarise:

• some dulcimers were known around Glenarm and Ballymena
• in 1924 John Rea’s uncle made a dulcimer
• Rea’s uncle played the dulcimer while his father played the fiddle
• sycamore and oregon pine gave the best tone
• hammers were made from bird cage wire
• played jigs, reels, hornpipes, highland music and strathspeys
• “Scotch music” was the most popular in the North of Ireland before Irish music was popularized “…before O’Neill’s big book came out…”

Partial Transcription:
“Could you tell me what a Strathspey is and what a Highland is?”

John Rea:
“They’re Scotch music. They go something like a hornpipe but they’re very common in Scotland. Years ago it used to be very common music in Northern Ireland – here was Scotch music, but then when the radio came in and tape recorders and one thing and another, and then that big book of O’Neill’s coming out… well I’m speaking for my own part o’ the country where I know, I wouldn’t speak about any other part o’ Ireland, but in the country where I was rared it was mainly Scotch music when I was a young lad. We had Irish jigs and reels right enough, but nothing like what it is now – but you had no other way of learning them unless you knew somebody – some aul hand that had handed the music down…”

About Scotland, especially Renfrewshire, Rea said:
“ …there were some of them said there were dulcimers over there round Scotland but they hadn’t heard them played for a long time. Some of the elderly men were tellin’ me about hearin’ dulcimer players in Scotland…”