The Galax Dulcimer Club provides dulcimer instruction plus ensemble and solo playing opportunities in a supportive atmosphere.
Galax, Virginia, the “World’s Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music” has a long and distinguished association with the mountain dulcimer. The Galax Dulcimer Club is dedicated to preserving and promoting the dulcimer tradition in and around Galax.
The Mountain Dulcimer was a “highway baby”. It was born somewhere in Virginia, along either the Great Wagon Road or the Wilderness Road, just prior to the Revolutionary War. Inspired by the German schietholt, Scots-Irish settlers adapted the German instrument for their own use. A scheitholt’s drone strings were reminiscient of the drone of a bagpipe, so the sound fit right in with traditional Irish and Scottish music. Over time, changes were made to the instrument; the frets were extended all the way across the width of the fretboard and curved sides were adopted. In Virginia, the instruments tended to be teardrop-shaped; in Kentucky, the instruments tended to be hourglass shaped. The modified scheitholt became known alternately as the mountain dulcimer, lap dulcimer, or Appalachian dulcimer.
Southwestern Virginia has a rich dulcimer tradition. Estate records from 1780 to 1860 in Virginia’s Roanoke and New River Valleys list more dulcimers (39) than any other instrument except the fiddle (103). The oldest mountain dulcimer on record was built by John Scales in nearby Floyd, VA in 1832. After the Civil War, dulcimers were replaced by banjos as the primary folk instrument, and after WWI the guitar also became popular. Over time, interest in the dulcimer faded away.
In and around Galax, though, the dulcimer-building and playing tradition was carried on by the Melton family, whose influence on the development of the instrument is unparalleled. Because of the Melton family, there exist specific playing and dulcimer-building techniques known as “Galax style”. Today, the dulcimer tradition is carried on by local builders such as Jeff Sebens, Tom Barr, and others.
Our club embraces the Galax style but we incorporate all playing styles into our club activities.
The local history of the instrument is well displayed in the Museum of the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax (off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 213.
Here’s a clip of Galax-style performer and teacher Phyllis Gaskins playing the “Waldorf Reel” with the Highlander String Band: