Just outside of Lancaster, PA is the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. A few years ago I had the opportunity to examine all the Pennsylvania German zithers in their collection of which there are four. Three appear in A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers. One other was acquired since L. Allen Smith published the Catalogue. This a representation of the the fourth zitter. The main difference is that the original uses a large bent nail for the bridge while chose to use a piece of oak wood. The other difference is that I used blued zither tuning pins rather than the variety of screws used in the original. On the left is my creation and on the right is the original. I made mine from poplar and stained with homemade walnut stain. It is finished with brush on lacquer.
Thanks Bobby and Ken. You raise a good question, Ken. It may have to do with the "tradition" of the the people in eastern Pennsylvania or the style of music they played or both. These instruments are better suited to slower music as there is a longer distance for a strum or bowing. I think the raised fret board and three strings of the mountain dulcimer allow for a "faster" style of play which may have appealed more the Scot/Irish tradition rather than the Germanic tradition. Of course, this is just conjecture. I have no solid evidence on which to base these speculations.
Dan, yes, they do. I think I have a photo of it somewhere. I will need to search my photos to see if I can find it. I took a bunch of photos for Ralph and think it might be among those.
KenL, your zitter is just wonderful! I'm thinking that repertoire determined more than anything else the kind of instruments each region or culture produced. Were not the Penn German zitters used more for accompanying hymns or music that would be acceptable as 'modest'? I can't imagine a zitter like this one being used to play boisterous or fast fiddle/dance tunes, but maybe that's just my own conclusions based on what i've read over the years here and there.
Lisa, I think you're onto something there. It seems zitters (as well as dulcimers/dulcimores) were private instruments, meant to be played quietly, only at home, as a solo, and to accompany the human voice. Hymns would figure prominently in the repertoire.
More than likely the zitter was used as a personal or family instrument. From some of the material I've read it is suspected that most of the music played on this instruments was hymns and folk tunes. Other than on zitter that had a list of music in the case with it, no one seems to have left lists of the music they played. I hope to spend some time this summer in archives and libraries doing some research on this. I had hoped to start this month but health problems with a relative took that opportunity away.
I would think as well that the zithers and the dulcimores of by-gone days were indeed personal instruments played in the home, on the porch etc for family and friends and used for hymns and folk songs. Perhaps at a smaller church or other small venue. I doubt the ancestors of old ever considered fast fiddle tunes or lively reels as something to play on their zithers and dulcimores. Personally, I still like to consider the dulcimore a personal instrument for personal enjoyment and sharing with family and friends.
Years ago I was fascinated by Jean Ritchie's writing about her father Balis and how he played his dulcimer at home. According to Jean, Balis always tuned CGG (and he used to describe it, listing the strings from high to low, as: "bim, bim, BOM"). He kept his dulcimer hanging on the wall and would take it down after work was done or at some quiet time to play by himself. Jean wrote something about the many children knowing better than to gather around paying too much attention to him playing, because if there was too much of a focused 'audience', he would quietly get up and put it away again. So they learned to listen casually, pretending to not pay much attention. I seemed to get the impression that Balis relaxed about this a little in his later years as more members in the family were playing music more often at family gatherings, but I could be wrong about that. Maybe I based that assumption on photos of an older Balis with his dulcimer in his lap and the family gathered around during reunions when the children were grown.