The bowed psaltery can be traced back to at least 1600 A.D. The strings are strung across a sound box, most often triangular in shape allowing each string to extend a little farther than the one before it, so that each can be played individually with a small horsehair bow. It is also possible to play with a bow in each hand which allows for the addition of harmony notes to complement the melody. The result is a sweet, Medieval-type sound (many a video example can be found online).
What I see as one of the best parts of this particular instrument, is that it is very approachable and easy to learn. So much so, that the contemporary bowed psaltery became popularized as a tool for music education in primary schools by German music teacher, Edgar Stamer.
So where does the Folk School come into this story?
We have a bowed psaltery class coming up this Weekend! There are 2 spaces left.
Bowed Psaltery with Ivan Stiles, August 1-3, 2014
This enjoyable class will lead you through the basic of playing the bowed psaltery. Single-bow techniques for more flowing melodies will be followed by double-bow techniques for the addition of harmonies and playing rapid melodies. No knowledge of written music is required, but students must bring a psaltery of triangular design. Level 1- No experience required. Register on our website.
Ivan Stiles performs nationwide and is known in autoharp circles across the country as an autoharpist of unique ability; not just as a performer, but also as a recording artist, instructor, author, and co-founder and co-editor of Autoharp Quarterly magazine. In addition to the autoharp, he plays the Appalachian lap dulcimer, bowed psaltery, and musical saw. Ivan has given concerts and workshops since 1980 at such places as the Walnut Valley Festival, Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering, California Traditional Music Society, Augusta Heritage Center, Swannanoa Gathering and the John C. Campbell Folk School. Ivan was even inducted in the Autoharp Hall of Fame!
Here is a video of Ian in concert, check out 26:40 to hear the bowed psaltery: