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This is My Life

This is My Life

by Phil Boulding

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly 6, #2, 1978

I have been building instruments for nearly seven years now, starting in the basement of my parents house in Boulder, Colorado, fresh out of high school, building guitars. I had only the aid of Sloane’s book, a spare-time guitar maker friend, and the experience of working with a cabinet maker for a while. Things were very slow for the first 2 years, until I got introduced to dulcimers — especially the hammered dulcimer. As soon as I started building and playing these, (it didn’t take me long to learn, as I have been playing most of my life) what appeared to be a hobby turned into a livelihood, which took another year to get on its own feet. That’s when I moved to Seattle (November ‘74) and as far as I know, I was the first hammered dulcimer builder here. Since then this heart-warming little instrument has blossomed and flourished in this city, mostly thanks to street players in the Market and Pioneer Square.

Then about 1 1/2 years ago, a secret and long submerged inspiration began to surface — my love for the harp. I began taking lessons then, and shortly thereafter began building small 3-octave harps of various designs and styles. Only just last week did I finally graduate to my first large Irish Minstrel Harp, nearly 5 octaves worth, with an exquisite sound. I used my imagination to figure out how to extend the soundboard like they do in some of the larger concert harps. The rest of it is pretty much patterned after the minstrel harp in Gilds Jaffrenou’s book, Folk Harps. Pictured in my first attempt as a Romanian Cymbalom (a successful one at that!) which I designed and build in collaboration with Ian Mihai, a master of the concert cymbalom from Romania who came with 2 others to teach their music at the University of Washington here. Since I have very little connection with the University, I was very fortunate to be introduced by a student-friend. The concert cymbalom is what I would consider to be the ultimate hammered dulcimer — nearly 5 octaves in range, fully chromatic, with a very unusual arrangement of half-steps. It also features a damper mechanism, a necessity for the Romanian style music, on such a loud and ringing instrument. My instrument was scaled down approximately 3/4 size, ranging 3 1/2 octaves; patterned after the concert cymbalom temporarily in use at the university. A magical-majestic sound, the music of which I am still a novice. I am more in command of the traditional Irish music on the diatonic hammered dulcimer (along with some contemporary arrangements).

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