“Bittersweet” Magazine Articles About Mountain Dulcimers

By David Bennett

Recently on everythingdulcimer.com I’d seen some references to dulcimer articles in Bittersweet magazine. So I followed the links and did some additional Internet searches and here’s what I’ve found:

 Bittersweet has been described as a “Foxfire of the Ozarks” after a similar project begun in Georgia in the early 1970’s.

Bittersweet was begun in 1973 at Lebanon High School (MO) by English teacher Ellen Gray Massey and a group of interested high school students…in a special English class dedicated to preserving the crafts, lore, legends and personalities of the Ozarks… The goal of the publication was to learn all aspects of running a business and at the same time, learn about the Ozarks, its geography, crafts, lore and the people who live there… Articles touch a wide range of subject areas. Included are such diverse pioneer craft and industry as wooden toy making and rope making. There are biographical profiles of Ozarkers’ reminiscences of life and recreation. Agricultural topics range from sheep shearing to bee keeping… From 1973 to 1983, the Bittersweet project collected 476 taped and transcribed interviews, published 482 stories and took over 50,000 photographs documenting traditional Ozark culture.” (Excerpted from Bittersweet Summer 1979, “A Look Behind the Cover” by Rebecca Baldwin http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/index.html)

 Wondering what the background of why the name “Bittersweet” was chosen for the name of the magazine I e-mailed Ellen Massey, the teacher mentioned above, and I received this response from her daughter, Ruth (Note: Ellen Massey passed away the weekend after I posted this blog post):

 “Bittersweet is a vine that grows wild in the Ozarks as well as elsewhere. It is frequently found growing in fence rows. The vine typifies the character of the Ozark people in that they are hardy with a hidden beauty. Also the word is descriptive of Ozark life, bitter and sweet.”

Though Ruth did not say so I suppose another usage of “bittersweet” is perhaps reminiscing about the good old days, or learning about the old ways of doing things, can be bittersweet.

The table of content for all the issues of Bittersweet are available on-line at http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/toc.htm

 Following are links or excerpts specifically pertaining to mountain dulcimers:

 Volume I, No. 2, Winter 1973

Three very good articles that are too long to excerpt:

a. MUSIC of the OZARKS SOUND SHEET http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/wi73o.htm  

b. Modernizing a Mountain Art http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/wi73j.htm

c. Playing The Modern Dulcimer by Jim Baldwin http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/wi73k.htm

Volume I, No. 3, Spring 1974 The Editor …After our second issue came out we have received a considerable amount of mail, much of it about our dulcimer story. Although we enjoy all responses the greatest satisfaction comes from hearing the people we write about commend the accuracy and style of our writing. Here is a portion of the letter from Mary Catherine McSpadden of The Dulcimer Shoppe.

“We loved the dulcimer articles. The writing about the shop and our methods was the most accurate we have read–you did a fine job of listening, understanding and writing. We’re glad you came to visit us. Having the record of authentic old-time dulcimer playing included in the magazine was a stroke of genius. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing the ‘Indian Walking Cane’ played!” http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/sp74m.htm

Volume II, No. 1, Fall 1974 EDITORIAL REVIEW “Dear Ms. Massey: Thanks for the four issues of BITTERSWEET–it’s wonderful stuff. We always felt that there should be such a magazine about the Ozarks… Your magnificent drawings and photographs certainly set things out in plain sight. Your treatment of the dulcimer and the johnboat are the best I have seen…”

          Vance Randolph, Fayetteville, Arkansas http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/fa74f.htm

Volume II, No. 3, Spring 1975 Introducing Our Staff:  THREE EDITORS:

Jenny Kelso, Suzanne Carr and Jim Baldwin http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/sp75f.htm

Volume II, No. 4, Summer 1975 Reflections of a Foreign Student on the Ozarks by Doris Brelowski “To come to the Ozarks must be an unique experience for anyone from another part of the United States. But for me who comes from northern Germany, it is not only an experience, it is also an adventure…I learned about some crafts which I did not know even existed any more, such as making baskets of split oak and apple-head dolls. Just recently I learned how to make and play the mountain dulcimer, a folk instrument of the Applachian and Ozark regions…” http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/su75a.htm

Volume VI, No. 2, Winter 1978 Bittersweet Country “…Although I certainly have a biased opinion Bittersweet Country is great. Our first book about lore, crafts and people in the Ozarks is a collection of stories that have first appeared in our magazines. Personalities, how-tos, recipes, advice, old-time cures, dialect–in general, terrific reading…

…Would you like to build your own johnboat? The kids on the Bittersweet staff built one themselves and then wrote about it.

What about a mountain dulcimer? You can become acquainted with one and then learn to play it from our step-by-step directions…” http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/wi78a.htm

Volume IX, No. 3, Spring 1982 OLD-TIME FIDDLING: A TRADITIONAL FOLK ART WITH FOUR OZARK MUSICIANS “…Young boys learning the fiddle sometimes had to play it over a feather bed to protect it in case they dropped it. Sometimes boys had to demonstrate their interest on a less valuable instrument. As a young boy of about seven, Bill Graves wanted to play his father’s fiddle, but his father was afraid he would hurt it. Instead he let him play the homemade mountain dulcimer his grandfather made. When Bill got older, he learned the fiddle and has been playing ever since…” http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/sp82e.htm

Volume X, No. 4, Summer 1983 UNDER DOGS OF THE OZARK FORESTS “…Because of dogwood’s pleasing features, it is used in yards as a lawn ornament. The hard wood has been used for many items from shuttles in looms, mountain dulcimer noters and violin necks…” http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/su83f.htm


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