Moment: Hammer dulcimer music in nature

Moment: Hammer dulcimer music in nature

June 15th, 2015 by Doug Strickland in Local Regional News

Staff photo by Doug Strickland Musician Dan Landrum plays the hammer dulcimer on a rock in Suck Creek on Friday, June 12, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The hammer dulcimer is a precursor instrument to the piano.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Water bubbles past a lone figure perched atop a boulder in Suck Creek. Hands work two light hammers quickly across the strings of a wooden instrument and generate a lilting, percussive melody that echoes through the green gorge.

The song, joyful and majestic, was written to be played at a wedding in Africa. The instrument's gentle sound is something akin to a harp played only on its higher register mixed with piano.

Its composer, musician Dan Landrum, said he first fell in love with the hammer dulcimer because of its sound. Not possessing quite the volume or power of a piano, the hammer dulcimer is an anachronistic precursor to its later cousin, Landrum said.

Designed sometime after the harpsichord, which creates sound by plucking strings, the dulcimer is a percussive instrument with a greater dynamic range. It is made up of a hollow wooden sounding board stretched with strings that are struck much like a piano's strings. The difference is that the musician strikes the strings with hand-held hammers, not mechanically with keys.

Landrum said he likes to play outside, particularly when he is composing music. "The sound of water is amazing," he said, and the peace and absent Internet connection help keep him focused on his work.

"A lot of the music that I've written has to do with trying to follow along with what I see happening in nature," Landrum said. The music isn't necessarily descriptive about nature. It is more of an expression of Landrum's reaction to what he sees in nature, he explained.

One of his songs, called "Entertaining the Fish," was even written while he was playing inside the Tennessee Aquarium when no visitors were around.

As the final notes of his song on Suck Creek are struck and the melody fades against the babble of the water, Landrum smiled. "That one was pretty much perfect," he concluded.