I Play Hammered Dulcimer Now..

It’s not what you know, it’s who. Two weeks ago I was talking in the hallways of SAE QANTM to lecturer, Fay Daunt and told her that I was taking part in making Utangard, a strategy game based on feudal Viking tribes. Fay then let me know that she was an accomplished performer, specialising in medieval re-enactment and could help me with the soundtrack to Utangard, for she has connections in the re-enacting scene and has now borrowed some typically medieval-instruments that are somewhat rare to the general public. The viking-buffs out there may say that the chronology of the medieval and viking eras are not exactly inline, to this I would agree with you, however, the instruments Fay has organised were known to have been in both eras and it’s the way you play the instruments that give the feel of time period we are going for. Here is a list of what we have for the traditional instruments that will be used in Utangard;

  • Celtic Harp
  • Hammered Dulcimer
  • Percussion
Your humble-blogging-host plays the Celtic Harp
Your humble-blogging-host plays the Celtic Harp

The Celtic Harp is tuned Diatonically.

Hammered Dulcimer
Hammered Dulcimer

The Hammered Dulcimer has a timeless quality to it, tuning the instrument also felt timeless!

Traditional Percussion
Traditional Percussion

There are many misconceptions about the vikings that are perpetuated today and one of the most humorous ones, to me, is the fact that they wore a lot of silks, imagine walking into a village and seeing the community draped in smooth coloured silks, not exactly the fur-covered, horn-wearing image many of us have when thinking of vikings.

As with the clothes misconception there may also be a musical misconception and unless you are a musicologist, it is hard to say exactly what instruments and what style of music were used (that being said, with some research on our old friend google, we can find a trail of breadcrumbs that may lead us closer to the truth). More of a mystery than the instruments themselves, is the style of music they played. Vikings had no system to notate the music they played and the earliest written pieces that we find today are from the assimilation into christian culture, using an early version of the western musical-notation system. Like us, the vikings would have different music to suit different occasions and even had a form of the good old job-site-radio, a musician playing ‘work’ music to make the day more enjoyable! For more on this topic CLICK HERE.

So because of the speculative nature of viking music, we as composers are almost bound to stereotypes, slaves to the music that has been produced in movies or television, driving the misconceptions. In fact, it is safe to say that many people could listen to the closest form of the music they played and say “nah, it doesn’t really sound like viking music”. lol.

Yesterday, I became familiar with the instruments and tuned them (the dulcimer took a while to tune, smiley face) and next week I will be recording them. I am intending to compose to what I feel is a nice balance between what the stereotype is and what I think the music may have been like. To do this I will probably do some method-acting method-composing and get decked out in a costume, fill up an animal-horn with mead and go for it!

Until we meet again, here is a snippet of the sound the Hammered Dulcimer makes. It was my first time playing a Dulcimer and was recorded with a Zoom H4n, so the quality of musicianship and recording is not really reflective of what the finished product will be, but gives you a good idea of the sound I will be going for. 🙂

Thanks for reading!




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