A Florida-based musician who first gained attention as a dulcimer-playing rocker returned to Denver this week to lead workshops on what he calls the easiest string instrument to play.
The original dulcimer is a European instrument on which the strings are struck with a small hammer. The mountain, or Appalachian, variety that Bing Futch plays is the American re-creation of the European dulcimer and is played like a guitar – one hand strums and the other hand applies pressure to control the notes.
The American version, Futch said, was created by immigrants whose instruments were either left behind in Europe or destroyed on the trip across the Atlantic.
“It was basically built from their memories of the instruments they played when they were back home,” Futch said. “(The European instruments) are all forbearers of the mountain dulcimer, (which) is nothing like them. It’s not like they left out pieces or bits but they created exactly what they needed to play the music from their original countries.”
Futch said the American dulcimer “spoke to” him when he first heard it played in the late 1980s.
“I thought it sounded old as the hills, very barefoot in the dirt,” he said. “I fell in love with the sound of the instrument, the drones of it. The ease of play certainly wasn’t a bad selling point, either. There was something very unique about it in a landscape full of guitars, fiddles and pianos.”
In 1999, he formed the rock band Mohave and caught the attention of Stephen Seifert, a student of the late David Schnaufer, widely known as the best dulcimer player in the world.
“He reached out and said, ‘You’re playing dulcimer in a rock band. That’s kind of cool. How come you don’t do dulcimer festivals?’” Futch recalls him asking. “I had never heard of a dulcimer festival. Thanks to him I got plugged into the scene about 2006, went to one workshop for about a week and suddenly found myself teaching at festivals. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Futch insists that the dulcimer is the easiest string instrument in the world to play. Even people who say they don’t have any musical ability or experience can learn, he said
Futch led workshops April 18 at the Munday House and Historical Center, followed by a concert for participants.
To find out more about Futch and hear his music, visit bingfutch.com.