BillyRadd Music

Monday, July 4, 2011

Pass the Psaltery, Please

It's my first handmade instrument purchase and truly a thing of beauty.

This particular beautifully crafted bowed psaltery was built by skilled craftsman Dave Lucas who, with his wife Paulette, are the resident instrument makers at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park near Birmingham, Alabama, where they can be found on many weekends from March through November demonstrating and selling their instruments. Visitors are welcome anytime in their craft cabin to view their instruments and sit a spell while listening to live demonstrations of the bowed psaltery. 

I met Dave and Paulette last weekend while they were demonstrating their psalteries at the 22nd annual Summertime Arts and Crafts Show presented by Mountain Artisans at the Ramsey Center on the beautiful Western Carolina University campus at Cullowhee, North Carolina, located about one hour southwest of Asheville.

According to their website, the psaltery is a musical instrument with origins dating back at least 4000 years.  It is recorded in the Bible in both the Book of Psalms and the Book of Daniel.  The psaltery is played by holding the instrument in the bend of your arm and pulling a bow across the individual strings.

Dave started making bowed psalteries several years ago after Paulette bought one and fell in love with the instrument.  He has now made over 5000 with a special collector’s psaltery made each time he reaches a thousandth mark. The bowed psalteries that Dave makes are either 24 note double back or a 36 note standard back “tenor”. They are fully chromatic stringed instruments and extremely easy to learn to play.
Paulette gave me a personal lesson when I made my purchase at the craft show. She has also written three instructional music books that come with the purchase of each psaltery so that anyone, regardless of their musical background, is able to play it right away.

Dave makes all of his psalteries by hand from scratch.  Made from various hard woods such as walnut, birch, oak, cherry, maple and mahogany, each psaltery is unique with no two exactly alike. Dave’s psalteries can be easily identified by the individualism that he gives each psaltery from decorative scrollwork applied above or around the sound holes to floral and nature designs hand painted by Paulette.

I'm looking forward to learning to play this bit of hand crafted history and plan to use it soon in recording the new theme song for Anita's Diabetes Menus DVDs that I am producing with my wife, Anita.

Paulette and Dave Lucas with their psalteries

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