Enchanted by the Hammered Dulcimer

Max ZT, musician on the hammered dulcimer

MUMBAI, October, 29, 2012 – Internationally acclaimed musician Max ZT joined Asia Society India Centre for a demonstration of the hammered dulcimer, while exploring the rich history of the instrument, its journey across Asia, and his other influences from India, Africa and the US that have shaped his performance. The hammered dulcimer is traditionally held to have been invented in Iran/Persia roughly 5,000 years ago, and been brought to Europe from the Middle East during the Crusades.

While studying compositional and improvisational techniques in Senegal, Max said he found similarities between West African music and Indian classical music- “The most amazing similarity… is the way the two are composed. They take a very basic structure and then each person adds their own influence to it.” In Senegal, Max played an instrument similar to the Cora, a predecessor to the Harp. In India, he studied the santoor under Guru Shivkumar Sharma.

Speaking about raag, or musical moulds, in Indian classical music, Max said “My Guruji Sivkumar Sharma(‘s) version of any raag is different from any other person’s version of the same raag. It’s the most self involved and selfless music at the same time. The idea is to get so far away from the structure that you don’t notice it.” Indian classical music, he felt, is more structured and academic in its approach. He expressed his amazement at being able to play musical notes that are many years old and craft them into his own melodies. Each raag, he explained, is unique and belongs to the individual playing it. At the same time, it makes the listener and the player feel selfless.

Talking about the difference between the hammered dulcimer and the santoor, he said, “the santoor has many things that the dulcimer does not have. It is easier to do chromatic scales on the santoor. The dulcimer is modal. It is very structured and stuck in these different modes. It gives you 6 Ds and 1 E flat. Coming from an Irish background where everything was on the same line and aligned, I try and incorporate the Senegal way of distinguishing between the right and the left hands.”

Max shared that he had built the dulcimer he was using from an old piano in Chicago, and was now in the midst of creating another dulcimer. He showed how the range of notes available on a dulcimer differed depending on the number of strings it held, and demonstrated how he has been trying different tuning techniques to stabilize his instrument. “There are fifteen or more styles in the world, and mine resembles the Persian style of the instrument which is more Trapezoidal in shape.” Max first saw the instrument at the age of six at a Folk Festival near Chicago, and was immediately taken by it.

This programme was presented in partnership with