Rural Missouri - March 2011 - (Page 11)

photo courtesy of Donald Graves John Mawhee, left, was a Cherokee Indian who settled in Missouri after the Civil War. He built “walking cane” dulcimers, named so because he’d sometimes carve a cane handle on the top instead of the more typical scroll. In this undated photo, he accompanies the Gann sisters who each play a dulcimer he built. The sister on the right holds the same instrument that sits in Donald Graves’ lap in the photograph to the right. For the past decade, 68-year-old Donald Graves has built walking cane dulcimers in the style that his great-grandfather, John Mawhee, originated in the mid- to late1860s. Here, he poses with one of Mawhee’s instruments, built in 1896, and one he built recently. Like his great-grandfather, he still whittles the scroll and heel with his pocketknife, and he uses baling wire for frets and piano wire for strings. One of Mawhee’s instruments, built in 1906, had “When you play, you can hear the fiddle playing Mawhee incorporated a handle at the top of his been damaged, allowing Donald to see its internal in it,” he says. “You can hear the banjo.” instrument and placed a large nail at the bottom, construction. He used this as a template for his first In addition, John Mawhee’s vigorous style of creating a cane to help steady his gait. walking cane dulcimer. Donald hand-carved the playing the instrument varies greatly from the way “Folks would look down the road, see him comdulcimer’s scroll and heel, its internal sound posts most dulcimers are played today. Rather than noting and they’d say, ‘Well here comes that old Indian and its bridge. The bottom and sides were cut out of ing the strings individually with the fingertips of with his walking cane,’ and he’d come up and play a hardwood such as wild cherry; the top was made the fretting hand and strumming with the other, a them a tune,” Donald says. “So it got the name ‘Infrom a soft wood such as yellow pine. hardwood “noter” is used to depress the dian walking cane.’” Like Mawhee, he used baling wire for first string only. A turkey quill — made After the war, Mawhee settled in Missouri around the frets and No. 19 steel wire — the of a feather from the left wing of a Marshfield, perhaps bringing the first dulcimer to the same as piano wire — for the strings. wild turkey — is used to strum all three state. He’d travel around, sharing his love of music To listen to some traditional In the 10 years since his father’s strings together. — and his unique instrument — with those he met. dulcimer music, visit the passing, Donald has built seven dulciFor more than 40 years, Donald and “If he met you and he liked you, he’d stay with online edition at mers. He does not sell them. Instead, his two sisters, Daisy Dame and Vivian you,” Donald explains. “He’d make you one of these he has given them to family members, Owens, played in a family band with dulcimers and teach you his way of playing it. Then, including his grandchildren. Two of their father — who not only played you’d wake up in the morning, and he might be them, 14-year-old Brili Graves and 17-year-old Ryan the dulcimer in this manner but also built a handful 10 miles down the road doing the same thing with White, both of Lebanon, are currently learning to of the instruments himself. When Bill passed way, somebody else.” play the instrument under his tutelage. Donald was moved to carry on the family’s musical Donald says no one is certain how many “In“This is real exciting to me, for them to think legacy. dian walking canes” John Mawhee built during his enough of me to want to learn to play,” says Don“I said to myself, ‘Now if Mawhee could whittle lifetime, or how many actually doubled as a cane. At ald, who with the support of his wife, Diane, has that out with a pocketknife, so can I,’” he says. “So I one point, the family was able to document around battled colon cancer this past year. “It means more started after my dad passed away in September 2001. a dozen or so instruments. Both the Missouri State to me than anybody would ever know.” By December, I’d already whittled me out one of Museum in Jefferson City and the Ralph Foster Brili and Ryan both agree the music they’re learnthese heads, or scrolls.” Museum at the College of the Ozarks in Point Looking to play with their out have an example of grandfather — old story Mawhee’s work in their songs, ballads and gospel collections. songs — is quite different In addition to its disfrom the contemporary tinctive teardrop shape, music they enjoy with the dulcimers built by their friends. However, John Mawhee feature the quality time they only three strings — four spend together is somestrings are more common thing these teenagers today — made of No. already appreciate. 8 piano wire. He used “For him to make us baling wire to create the these instruments and instrument’s frets. teach us these songs, it What is even more shows us how much he unique about the walkloves us,” says Ryan. ing cane dulcimer is how It’s a love that has it’s tuned and played. been passed down from Rather than tuning each generation to generation string to a different key, through the music. the walking cane’s first “When I play, I go two strings are tuned in back in time,” Donald unison, and the third says. “Sometimes, I can string is tuned a fifth hear Dad playing and below, creating a drone singing while I play and string. While this style sing. It takes me back, of tuning is uncommon and I’ll forget where I’m today, Donald says it alat. The more I play it, the lows the dulcimer player One of Donald’s greatest joys is sharing his love of the dulcimer and old-time fiddle tunes with his grandchildren more I enjoy it.” to accompany himself. Brili Graves, left, and Ryan White. The teenagers represent the sixth generation of the family to play the instrument. MARCH 2011 11

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2011

Rural Missouri - March 2011
Docent of the Walking Cane Dulcimer
Out of the Way Eats
Mail Bag
The No-Dig (And Less Sweat) Gardening Alternative
Grow a Delicious Landscape
A Recycled Craft
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
The Gainesville Gunner
Around Missouri
Top Apps for Rural Missourians

Rural Missouri - March 2011

Rural Missouri - March 2011 - Docent of the Walking Cane Dulcimer (Page 10)
Rural Missouri - March 2011 - Docent of the Walking Cane Dulcimer (Page 11)
Rural Missouri - March 2011 - Docent of the Walking Cane Dulcimer (Page 10)
Rural Missouri - March 2011 - Docent of the Walking Cane Dulcimer (Page 11)
Rural Missouri - March 2011 - Docent of the Walking Cane Dulcimer (Page 10)
Rural Missouri - March 2011 - Docent of the Walking Cane Dulcimer (Page 11)