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About Ken
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2004 Unicoi PICS

Tune from St. Andrews
Simple Gifts 3-parts



History of the Bowed Dulcimer
(by Ken Bloom):

The idea of bowing the dulcimer is a very old one and is easily traceable back to at least the 18th century. Before the Civil War, this technique was common. There are examples of older bowed dulcimers in the Mercer Museum in Pennsylvania with their original bows. I have also had reports of others hanging on walls in West Virginia. There are also accounts that tell us there were areas of the country where the instrument was only played with a bow. The evidence is still spotty but this manner of playing seems to have continued right down to the modern era. There is a picture in Jean Ritchie's first dulcimer book of a lady playing her dulcimer with a bow.

I was first aware of the technique back in the 70's and used to do it with some regularity on my first dulcimer. Since the bridge was flat, it was only possible to bow the low or the high string and so the technique was a pleasant effect but wasn't very versatile. When I used this old approach with some fiddle tunes, it occurred to me that I could certainly build an instrument that would make much better use of the bowing technique as well as have an instrument that would sound much better. This led me on what turned out to be about a four year quest In Search of the Bowed Dulcimer



Ken Bloom (guitar, bandura, concert zither, banjo, mandolin, domro, balalaika, fiddle, clarinet, saxophone, recorder, Irish flute, Northumbrian Pipes, vocals)

Ken Bloom has given solo concerts all over North America since 1974. These have included appearances at many major Folk Festivals and clubs in the U.S. and Canada. In the past he has been a regular performer at the Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Owen Sound, Philadelphia, and Mariposa Festivals as well as appearing in major venues across the country and appearances on A Prairie Home Companion. More recently, his appearances have been closer to home. His North Carolina presentations include: The Stokes Stomp, Hiddenite Center, Turkey Festival (Raeford), Red Springs Highland Games, Mt. Airy Storytelling Festival, and many others. These programs include the traditional music of this country as well as Celtic and Eastern European selections. He usually uses Concert zither, Northumbrian-smallpipes, guitar, clarinet, bowed dulcimer and Minstrel banjo, but he will often include other instruments and traditions as well. He tries to introduce audiences to unfamiliar sounds in an entertaining way and expand their musical view of our ever-shrinking world. Ken has been a featured instructor in a new venture coordinated by Lois Hornbostel, "PLAYING THE BOWED DULCIMER" for the past two years at the Western Caroline University Mountain Dulcimer Week which will also be offered in 2005.

Instrument Building:
For the last twenty two years, Ken has been building a wide range of instruments for people. These include those instruments not commonly available from other sources. He has done a tremendous amount of research on these and, wherever possible, has consulted with native builders and players. Click here for a list of instruments Ken has built.

Living History:

Ken also participates in 18th century Living History events, providing period music on period instruments, as well as acting as Sergeant for the Royal Highland Emigrants, 84th Foote. He has presented these programs at National battlefields, Living History sites, Highland Games, and schools all over North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Many of these presentations focus on the role of Scottish Highlanders in the 18th century. this interest in history has led Ken to go back and reconstruct many of the instruments of the time and research the music that would have been played on them. This includes the gourd banjo and a detailed study of early antecedents of the mountain dulcimer. Ken's bowed dulcimer is the result of some of these studies.

Click on the thumbnails for a larger view; double-click on the right arrow for more pictures


Ken Bloom at Renactments as Sergeant for the Royals Highland Emigrants, 84th Foote








Hi everybody,

   I hope the winter isn't treating you too badly. In Pilot Mountain, we are blessed with less snow and warmer temps than most other places in our area. I wanted to first of all remind everyone to make their reservations at the hotel for Pilot Mountain before the end of February to take advantage of the discount. I have received two registrations so far but I figure most folks are holding off until around now to send them in.
   I also wanted to comment on the state of bowed dulcimer playing now and how that will affect how I do the classes both in Pilot Mountain and in upcoming seminars like Dulcimerville and Common Ground on the Hill. We have now moved into the enviable position where we have truly advanced players, a large body of people I would call intermediate, and a nice influx of beginners and a few returning players. I will continue to do the big classes as I have in the past, taking a tune and separating it into three parts in the same manner I have in the past. Happily, at Pilot Mountain and Dulcimerville I have the opportunity to do a truly advanced class where I can discuss technical concerns for those more experienced players and hopefully push them out of their comfort zones. I was able to do this at Winter Weekend with good success. I have made quite a few discoveries myself with regard to fingering and in my effort to be able to play in all keys and I'm anxious to pass this info on. Everyone is welcome to attend the advanced classes but just know that I will be focusing on those there that are ready to try these techniques.
   The greater body of bowed dulcimer players fall into the beginner and intermediate categories. I classify an intermediate player as one who is very comfortable playing in first position and not at all bothered by moving into second, third, or higher positions and who's bowing has some ease and grace to it. Most of you out there fall into this category. The ones in the beginner category are those just starting out or those who take playing the bowed dulcimer to be something less than a religious devotion. It is, after all, suppose to be fun! At least I think it is. I am constantly heartened by the enthusiasm of both new and experienced players as my enthusiasm for the instrument has only increased over the years and continues to do so.
   I am also pleased that there has arisen the need for more than one instructor to do programs at dulcimer festivals. Marsha Harris will be doing more and more of this I'm happy to say and she will also be helping out the beginners during the big classes at Pilot Mountain. Thank you Marsha!
   I have also hit another landmark in that I have my first two orders from overseas, one from England and one from Australia. I have had inquiries before but these are first two actual orders. I hope that more will follow. One other development I think it good to mention is that I am making more instruments for younger folks, teenagers! Yes, Brittany, you are no longer alone, and there is beginning to be interest from more classically oriented musicians.
   All in all, I'd have to say, in a world fraught with strife and conflict, the bowed dulcimer seems to be slowly making its way up and spreading to those looking for a sound in their lives that brings more joy and comfort. I look forward to seeing many of you here in The Little Town That Time Forgot. Stay warm and keep those bows moving!


ANOTHER NOTE FROM KEN:  My very best wishes to all you bowed dulcimer people out there and all the ones who will soon be joining us as well. If the last two weeks are any indication, it would seem our little family will be growing in the New Year. I am excited about all the upcoming events for this year. Just a quick mention: We have Winter Weekend in Lake Junaluska in about a week and a half. The Seventh Annual Pilot Mountain Bowed Dulcimer Festival will be held the second weekend in April. Dulcimerville this year will be especially great for bowed dulcimer people as I get to teach three bowed dulcimer electives! Taking place in early June this should be a great event.

     I will be doing Common Ground on the Hill up in Maryland this year and I hope that many of you will take the opportunity to attend this unique event.  This is a wonderfully interesting venue that offers a huge range of classes, not only in music but in craft, philosophy, dance and so on. Check out their website.
   I hope you all have a convivial and safe New Years and let's get together and make those bows sing!












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