Cyndi Lauper slays on the Appalachian Mountain dulcimer
December 5, 2017 7:18 AM   Subscribe

My favorite thing discovered on the internet research rabbithole is how Cyndi Lauper is widely-regarded by Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer enthusiasts as one of the finest straight-up performers on the obscure instrument.
Says @JMMcDermott. Proof: True Colors, Time after Time, Fearless.
posted by MartinWisse (69 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
CONFIRMED: THIS IS AMAZING
posted by saladin at 7:27 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


I respect Lauper and all, but just because she plays the dulcimer doesn't mean she's one of the finest. I'm gonna need a citation because those videos don't indicate any sort of virtuosity.
posted by cloeburner at 7:28 AM on December 5 [5 favorites]


I live in east Tennessee and am slowly learning how to play the mountain dulcimer. There are some folks who play current music on the dulcimer, and I hope more people follow their lead. After all, the old standards that everyone plays were current at some point during it's history!

T-Pain on the dulcimer!
"Fight Song"
posted by haileris23 at 7:31 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


The Mountain Dulcimer’s Identity in 20th Century Folk Revivals


Growing up in New York City, Cyndi Lauper was inspired to teach herself the mountain dulcimer by her father Fred, who played xylophone and slide guitar...Lauper grew more serious about her dulcimer playing in the mid 1990s, seeking out esteemed player David Schnaufer in Nashville for lessons.
posted by blob at 7:34 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


The campfire stories I've heard about Cyndi Lauper and the dulcimer say that she studied with David Schnaufer for a relatively short time and got really good, really quickly. So, maybe not a virtuoso, but definitely talented.
posted by haileris23 at 7:35 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


Yeah this is lovely and all but I'm not sure I'm seeing her slay anything. She's strumming it and it's nice and she's a perfectly competent player and the instrument suits her songs well and all. But slaying? Bit of an overstatement there.

Still though, this is really nice and I'm glad you posted it. Weird to think that strange lady from MTV who was like a pro wrestling sideshow at one point is now this really lovely performer reworking some of her older songs. I love to see people grow like that, and it's nice when they drop all the extra silly MTV stuff and you can really focus on how nice the songs are.
posted by bondcliff at 7:36 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Not seeing how Cyndi Lauper playing a dulcimer is some kind of "wow, she's really grown!" anecdote when she has been a talented performer and songwriter for decades (and not just a "strange lady" or an MTV "sideshow," contra the previous comment).
posted by blucevalo at 7:48 AM on December 5 [34 favorites]


Curious now about the extent of dulcimer virtuosos...it seems like it's designed for playing simple chords to back singers.....do people shred on it? Here's a video of the above mentioned David Schnaufer playing it solo, it's very nice
posted by thelonius at 7:50 AM on December 5 [5 favorites]


I'm having a good bit of mental fun imagining mountain dulcimer slaying during a rendition of Time after Time.

Your favorite Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer player sucks too, apparently ...
posted by a complicated history at 7:52 AM on December 5 [10 favorites]


Seriously, I bet Yngwie could play way more notes.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:54 AM on December 5 [12 favorites]


We cashed in our Sorry We Ripped You Off Ticket Credits from Ticketmaster for the Cyndi Lauper/Rod Stewart tour that came through Chicagoland last summer. Stewart was a gross old lounge lizard, but Cyndi was magical. She closed with "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (of course) set to a montage of women and girls at last year's Women's March with "Girls Just Want to Have FunDAMENTAL RIGHTS" signs. She was very proud and kinda touched.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:58 AM on December 5 [27 favorites]


and not just a "strange lady" or an MTV "sideshow," contra the previous comment

She was literally featured as a sideshow in many pro wrestling events in the 1980s. I'm aware that she's been Not That for decades, which is kind of the point of my comment. She was not taken very seriously when she first came out with Girls Just Want To Have Fun and it's nice that she didn't vanish into the world of one hit wonders, like so many others because she's obviously talented.
posted by bondcliff at 8:01 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


i hadn't realized she was the first woman to win the Best Score Tony solo (for Kinky Boots).

Cindy! <3
posted by dismas at 8:05 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


My father built me a dulcimer from scratch about 40 years ago. I got pretty decent with it, then meant to replace the strings and time got away... 30 years ago or so. I need to seriously get new strings and see if I can remember anything for it.
posted by Miss Cellania at 8:11 AM on December 5 [5 favorites]


Seriously, I bet Yngwie could play way more notes.

Please refer to him by his full name.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:12 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Getting your song ("Time After Time") covered by Miles Davis and Willie Nelson is some pretty good cred, too
posted by thelonius at 8:12 AM on December 5 [7 favorites]


Hmm, my impression of Cindi Lauper was she had monster hits in the 80s, got really into the Pro Wrestling scene for some reason, and then moved on, apparently to focus on accoustic mountain dulcimer performances? I don't think she was ever a one hit wonder or a side show, more of a giant pop star who, like most pop stars, lost some popularity over time, but who has held her own with charting songs and work on composing a hit musical.
posted by latkes at 8:14 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


I'm curious too what virtuoso mountain dulcimer would be. I'm 100% ignorant but it seems like a much simpler instrument than banjo picking or complex guitar chords. Wikipedia says "In traditional play, fretting is achieved with a "noter"—typically a short length of dowel or bamboo —on the melody course, while the middle and bass strings ring as unfretted drones." Do dulcimer players generally only fret one string and let the others ring free? There's nothing wrong with simple, I'm not saying it's bad. If anything I'm aspirational.

Random video example shows a pretty simple style. OTOH that David Schnaufer video has a lot more going on, it's more like banjo picking.
posted by Nelson at 8:19 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Her dulcimer playing is good enough. It's good enough for me.
posted by prize bull octorok at 8:21 AM on December 5 [21 favorites]


I hate it when I go to Autoharp Center and all the dulcimer players are so loud I can't even hear myself
posted by thelonius at 8:32 AM on December 5 [29 favorites]


I'm curious too what virtuoso mountain dulcimer would be.

The one time I saw a guy play a dulcimer he had it strapped to him and was playing it kind of like a slide guitar. Really fast. It was kind of cool. I'm pretty damn ignorant about the instrument myself, but it was really neat seeing someone play it like that.

We need a dulcimer mega-post. That would slay.
posted by bondcliff at 8:32 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


Reading this headline immediately spun me into an amazing Cyndi Lauper / Buffy / Kung Fu Hustle mental mash-up. And I like it.
posted by meinvt at 8:34 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


The Digital Library of Appalachia has some cool historical records of the dulcimer being played and discussed, if you're curious.
posted by slipthought at 8:41 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Cyndi's great, but not the first giant pop star who shines on her dulcimer.
posted by TwoToneRow at 8:47 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


Curious now about the extent of dulcimer virtuosos...it seems like it's designed for playing simple chords to back singers.....do people shred on it?

This guy shreds on it! I can't even remember how I originally came across this album but it's a lot of fun.
posted by capricorn at 8:47 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


Also, if you want to see some pros (and amateurs) play for real, put a visit to the Old Fiddler's Convention on your bucket list.
posted by slipthought at 8:48 AM on December 5


She was not taken very seriously when she first came out with Girls Just Want To Have Fun

As the above comments show, some things haven't changed.
posted by happyroach at 8:55 AM on December 5 [12 favorites]


Today I learned that the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer is considered obscure.

Yes, I am from WV, why do you ask?
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 8:55 AM on December 5 [10 favorites]


Need more dulcimer in your 80s pop? Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
posted by bassomatic at 9:01 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


One thing I love about Cyndi Lauper is that, when Bob's Burgers decided to do a parody of The Goonies, they were able to actually book her to do a parody version of "The Goonies R Good Enough" even though it's literally called "Taffy Butt" and the whole thing is basically one big butt joke.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:08 AM on December 5 [7 favorites]


Taffy Butt was the first thing that came to mind when I read the secret butt letters of Jesus thread.

Also I have been wanting to make a mountain dulcimer for a while and now I REALLY want to...
posted by elsietheeel at 9:13 AM on December 5


another thing to like about cyndi lauper is she can do the blues - and if you don't think so, there's no denying the band she's got, although they sound more new orleans than memphis to me
posted by pyramid termite at 9:14 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


When I heard Girls Just Want to Have Fun, my first reaction was 'oh my God, what a genius!', and so she is.
posted by jamjam at 9:14 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


Also I have been wanting to make a mountain dulcimer for a while and now I REALLY want to...

Stewmac has a kit!

another thing to like about cyndi lauper is she can do the blues

One gets the feeling she could do anything. I could imagine her fronting a metal band. In fact I'd be surprised if there isn't video out there of that happening.
posted by bondcliff at 9:16 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


She pretty much can do anything. Her new(ish) record is very solid old school country & western.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:28 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


For me there's nothing satisfying about making something from a kit...but I have all the necessary woodworking tools to start from scratch and I realize that's probably not most people.

1. When I was seven we did a class project where we recorded facts about us. I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up, my favorite movie was the Road Warrior (complete with crayon picture of the Toadie's fingers being cut off by the Feral Kid's boomerang), and my favorite song was She Bop.

2. My actual favorite Cyndi Lauper song of all time is the theme to Pee-wee's Playhouse.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:31 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


Thumbs up from me. Who cares if she "slays?" She's a really impressively diverse and creative *musician,* which is the highest compliment any musician can offer another. I'd love to jam with her. She seems to find joy in her art.
posted by spitbull at 9:44 AM on December 5 [9 favorites]


Do people shred on it?

Sorta.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:47 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Thanks for a great post, and great comments.

I bet there is more than one half-old lady out there (apart from me) who thinks Cyndi Lauper slays. Period.
posted by mumimor at 10:15 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


I unironically and unabashedly love Cyndi Lauper. She's an excellent singer and it makes me sad that she still all too often gets stuffed in the kooky 80s pop star pigeonhole.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:18 AM on December 5 [7 favorites]


She was not taken very seriously when she first came out with Girls Just Want To Have Fun

As the above comments show, some things haven't changed.


You can be a serious musician without being a virtuoso. One of my favorite musical duos is Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck (who are, incidentally, married to each other). It's patently obvious that Fleck's banjo playing is on a higher plane than Washburn's (who astoundingly, just picked up the banjo a decade ago or thereabouts and is just bursting with talent). I love each of their solo careers, and if anything I love Washburn's work more, and they're both serious musicians.
posted by gurple at 10:21 AM on December 5


As the above comments show, some things haven't changed.
You can be a serious musician without being a virtuoso

Well, the post framing ("slays", "one of the finest straight-up performers") led people to expect something extraordinary, I think, as opposed to someone strumming chords while they sing.
posted by thelonius at 10:40 AM on December 5


the post framing ("slays", "one of the finest straight-up performers") led people to expect something extraordinary

Yes, and that's a shame. It doesn't do anyone any favors to present competence as virtuosity. Cyndi Lauper's an amazing musician, but I suspect she'd be as confused by that framing as some of us are.
posted by gurple at 10:42 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Having struggled for many years to attain competence, I don't look down on it :)
posted by thelonius at 10:44 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


the post framing ("slays", "one of the finest straight-up performers") led people to expect something extraordinary

Yeah, that and I think my recollection of how MTV promoted Cindi lauper in the 1980s, as sort of a comical Madonna (again, my recollection, not my opinion) seems to have caused some to see that as a criticism. That is not the case, I have nothing but respect for the woman, as most of the rest of my comment made clear, and have since forever. Maybe we can get off this derail.
posted by bondcliff at 10:49 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


none of Cyndi Lauper's enemies were struck down dead by her dulcimer playing; to say she was "slay[ing]" is ENTIRELY inaccurate, I have FLAGGED this post
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:03 AM on December 5 [16 favorites]


This has been my go-to Time After time.
I like her dulcimer better in this one.
posted by MtDewd at 12:25 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Cyndi Lauper's phrasing/accent/tone combination is positively singular. No one sounds like her. No one.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:06 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


I use "Time After Time" as one of my checks on like Youtube sites that teach songs.......if they have that, and they say the verse goes F to C, they are providing poor quality information (or at best, simplified versions of songs for beginners); it's F6 (a normal F chord plus the D on the 3rd fret of the B string) to C. Very important! The F chord does not have the same plaintive quality that the F6 has; also, that D note is really prominent in the melody and it would clash a bit with the normal F chord. It probably would sound OK, but it's not how the song goes.

I went back and watched the old MTV video for it a few months ago and I was just weeping like a child by the end of it. The dulcimer version is, well, sweet.
posted by thelonius at 2:19 PM on December 5 [3 favorites]




I don't have an opinion on Lauper's virtuosity, but her father-in-law was a scholar of folksongs and ballads, so I don't doubt that a lot of this stuff has been in her blood for years.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:53 PM on December 5


I continue to be amazed by Cyndi Lauper. The mere fact of playing a dulcimer entails slaying, so all you haters can haud yer wheesht.

Robert Force is there if you want intricate noodly stuff on the dulcimer.
posted by scruss at 3:18 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Cyndi's great, but not the first giant pop star who shines on her dulcimer.

I wonder how many tunings Mitchell found for it
posted by thelonius at 3:38 PM on December 5


If you're into woodworking, building a dulcimer from scratch is a fun project, even for a beginner. It's just a box with strings, and you don't have to fuss with getting the neck perfect, because the issues with tension are simpler than with a guitar.

If you're a non-musician with a weird desire to plunk around a stringed instrument, mountain dulcimer is swell place to start. The frets are diatonic, so it makes you play in key. (They're usually tuned to A or D, I think;)

The limitation is that it's difficult to modulate or play songs in different keys. Concert performers like Cyndi or Joni will usually play a few songs on dulcimer, and then switch instruments before the audience gets bored with the same key. For those of us who like drones, the droneyness is a feature.

Wikipedia says "In traditional play, fretting is achieved with a "noter"—typically a short length of dowel or bamboo —on the melody course, while the middle and bass strings ring as unfretted drones."


The noter is for old-style playing, it's kinda like a slide almost, but not quite. Cyndi plays without a noter, fingertip fretting for some added chord colors.
posted by ovvl at 3:47 PM on December 5 [6 favorites]


I think Brian Jones was the first big pop star to strum a dulcimer on the song Lady Jane. (The melody for this song was also the inspiration for Neil Young's introspective dirge Borrowed Tune);
posted by ovvl at 4:16 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


none of Cyndi Lauper's enemies were struck down dead by her dulcimer playing; to say she was "slay[ing]" is ENTIRELY inaccurate, I have FLAGGED this post

You didn't see the bloodbath that was happening just off camera.
posted by biogeo at 5:08 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


I rather liked Cyndi Lauper's cover of "Back in Your Head" from Tegan and Sara's The Con X: Covers. They apparently toured with her back in the day.
posted by lumensimus at 5:16 PM on December 5


I saw Cyndi Lauper open for Rod Stewart earlier this summer, and she was great. Fantastic show, and great dulcimer playing on a couple of songs. But as good as she is, she shouldn't be the flag-bearer of the mountain dulcimer world. She's good, yes. But great, I don't know.

The mountain dulcimer has a living, breathing tradition of great music, both originally written for it, and other pieces arranged for it. I love seeing it used in a rock context, I don't want to take anything away from Cyndi. But there is so much good music being produced on mountain dulcimer. Here is a sampler:

Jessica Comeau

Wild Mountain Thyme
Saltarello
Cantiga

Stephen Seifert

In the Garden
Carrol County Blues

Bing Futch

O Holy Night
Red-Headed Lover

Dulcibard

Green Stubble Fields of Autumn
Planxty Irwin
Basse Danse

BGeldz

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

Aaron O'Rourke

Bach's Cello Prelude #1 in G
posted by scivola at 7:27 PM on December 5 [10 favorites]


I remember that Richard and Mimi Farina got instant folk cred by more or less mastering and dragging out of total obscurity the mountain dulcimer.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:51 AM on December 6 [2 favorites]


Bach's Cello Prelude #1 in G

Youtube is choked with crappy versions of this on bass guitar, many of which sound like the Youtuber has never heard either Bach or a cello. It comes off sounding like an exercise from a Paul Gilbert shredding instructional VHS.
posted by thelonius at 4:14 AM on December 6 [3 favorites]


Youtube is choked with crappy versions of this on bass guitar

Oh god this is my new favorite garbage Youtube shithole to wander down. So, so bad. And so many are dressed all fancy! This is the best. The perfect example of playing the notes, not the music.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:31 AM on December 6 [2 favorites]


John Pattitucci recorded it. So maybe he is to blame. But, as far as I know, the notion of using cello music to practice electric bass came from Jaco Pastorius, who also spent quite a few years getting a Bach organ piece together.
posted by thelonius at 5:13 AM on December 6


Sigh. I love the bass, but it doesn't surprise me in the least that YouTube bassists would shame the instrument by putting out a bunch of bad Bach covers in a misguided attempt to prove that no, really, it's totally a viable solo instrument you guys.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:18 AM on December 6 [2 favorites]


yeah a couple of people have done it well, but solo bass is usually dreadful and would only appeal to you if your main interest is bass superchops
posted by thelonius at 6:03 AM on December 6


> If you're a non-musician with a weird desire to plunk around a stringed instrument, mountain dulcimer is swell place to start

Yep. Beginners might find the ergonomics of a Seagull M4 or a McNally Strumstick better.
posted by scruss at 6:48 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


Breathless framing or not, this was a really cool post. I learned about the mountain dulcimer, which I now sorta wanna build. And Cindy Lauper is all kinds of awesome.
posted by Harald74 at 7:06 AM on December 6 [3 favorites]


I play an equally obscure instrument, the Irish Uilleann pipes. Interestingly as no one really makes cases for them many people, myself included, use a mountain dulcimer case.
posted by misterpatrick at 9:59 AM on December 6 [3 favorites]


misterpatrick, I only know about the Uileann Pipes from a very old U2 song, Tomorrow. It's one of my favorite songs from their early years though, mostly because of the pipes.
posted by bondcliff at 12:04 PM on December 6


You know how some musicians cover another musicians' song, and they do such a fine job of it that it is reasonable to suggest that they have rightfully stolen the song from the original creator?

Yeah... Eva Cassidy's version of Time After Time is like that.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 4:22 PM on December 6


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