Cornwall - 1977
Author: Albert d'Ossché
Date/Studio: 1977 Biscuit City, Denver, CO
Engineer: N.C. Bull
Producer: Laura Benson
Original Release: Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project (BC1314
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
Albert and I spent a lot of our lives proving that the dulcimer could play any kind of music, that it wasn't limited to traditional styles. Concomitant with this quest was another, exploring the authentic voice of the instrument. How did it fit into world music?
Indeed, the dulcimer does adapt well to many kinds of music but the non-chromatic voice of the dulcimer also provides avenues to composition and voicing that other instruments do not have. Two factors create this: it is essentially a three-stringed instrument and its nature reflects that of a modal, 7-tone scale. These days the dulcimer has begun to acquire chromatic frets and more string courses.
Without these evolutions however, simply put, the historically traditional dulcimer can create partial chords that imply majors and minors, suspensions and diminishes without actually having enough notes in the chord to say clearly what chord it is. One always has to go to the root key of the tune and then identify the “suspect” chord in the context of all the others in the progression.
In Cornwall, Albert's first instrumental composition for dulcimer, he discovered this intuitively. He let the voice of a partial chord lead him to the next one. He let “weaker” chords hang in the air just a little longer to let them find their weight in the piece, then he would rush through the next several as he subtly readjusted the tempo for having let a previous one hang for a heartbeat or two.
That's the key-- a heartbeat or two-- not something you can easily teach. The gentle yet haunting result is what he called, “An etude for one of the last two covered bridges in the state (Connecticut).”
In the summer of '72 we were living in a house in West Cornwall, CT. The front yard overlooked the Cornwall bridge, a functional, pioneer-elegant 172' red spruce structure that spanned the Housatonic River. That corner of the tri-state area (CT, NY, MA) had been a second home to Albert for many years. Old college friends hailed from nearby Sharon, CT. Lifelong musical friends like Jake Bell and Gary Higgins lived in the surrounding communities. Both he and I had taught special interest classes in dulcimer building, photography and filmmaking at the nearby Barlow School in Amenia, NY.
Albert had a keen sense of history. His undergraduate degree from UNC was in Russian History but he was steeped equally well in American History. His mother, Daisy, was on the Board of the Corcoran Museum in Washington DC. His grandmother, Greta Kempton, was the the only woman to have painted an official portrait of a president of the United States, Harry Truman. When I met him he had a press pass to the vice-president's box in the US Senate building. That sure impressed a country boy.
He had a sense of the passage of time. That bridge was more than a bridge; it was a reflection on all of the dramas played out over the years in that very storied part of the county-- not an artifact from the past, but living proof the past is always with us. He thought like that. That day, his sense of history coupled with his capacity for nostalgia and his earnest dedication and fascination as he sought to fathom and master the mysteries of the dulcimer, a timeless tune was born.
I can say that now because I have had the opportunity to be present over this past half-century as this simple, graceful tune has become a part of many new players' repertoire. Many don't even know who wrote it. Like the bridge, it is outliving its builder. I teach it at a workshop I call the Authentic Dulcimer-- simple chords, simple melody and a hard-to-define sense of Grace.
The PDF tabs are from Albert's solo version performed on the Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project.