Tennessee Tech Dulcimers

David & Karen Bennett
30 July 2016

As you may know Karen and I are always on the lookout for places that have dulcimers on display. Recently we learned there are vintage Appalachian dulcimers on display at the Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee. These mountain dulcimers are housed in the Bryan Fine Arts Building.

Obviously Karen and I had to make a day trip to Cookeville and prepare a dulcimentary about the collection. So on 29 July, a fairly rainy and cool day, we took Flat Uncle Eddie on an excursion to TTU to see what we could see.

At this point I’d like to thank Candace Osteen in the Department of Music for inviting us to Tennessee Tech and making the dulcimers available to view and examine.

There are several groupings of photos as part of this dulcimentary so don’t stop at the first set! For each set of photos you can click on the first image and then advance through the gallery. Press “Esc” or on the little x at the top left of each gallery to exit that gallery

The dulcimers we wanted to see are housed in the Bryan Fine Arts Building, home to the Music and Art departments. The facility is named for Charles Faulkner Bryan who was the head of the Department of Music from 1936 to 1939. In addition to student artwork on display are also items from the Charles F. Bryan Folk Instrument Collection including several Appalachian dulcimers that belonged to Mr. Bryan.

Charles F. Bryan (1911-1955) was a composer, musician, music educator and collector of folk music. Mr. Bryan also served as the president of the Tennessee Folklore Society. Besides teaching at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (it was named University of Dixie before that), now named Tennessee Technological University he also taught at Indian Spring School for Boys in Alabama. Bryan died in Pinson (not prison!!), Alabama.

From Wikipedia: “…Bryan was “a pioneer in the study of American folk music” who created in his students “a sense of value for the folk ballads and hymns of Appalachia”.

There is a historical marker honoring Bryan in front of the Warren County Courthouse in McMinnville, Tennessee that reads:

Charles Faulkner Bryan – 1911-1955

A native of Warren County Charles Faulkner Bryan was a pioneer in the study of American folk music. Through his talented efforts, this distinctively American form of musical expression gained worldwide fame and appreciation. He worked closely with the people of the Southern mountains and coves in the study of this music, but his work earned a permanent place of honor and distinction in the highest ranks of academic and scholarly achievement. Presented in his memory by a grateful community.

Arriving at the Bryan Fine Arts Building Karen and I began our dulcimer excursion.

Dulcimer #1  Homer Ledford

Dulcimer #2

Dulcimer #3 The Rose

The following dulcimer can be found on page 29 of Ralph Lee Smith’s recently released 2nd Edition of The Story of the Dulcimer.

Dulcimer #4

Dulcimer #5  Oriana

Dulcimer #6:

Karen & I both thought this dulcimer looks like Noah’s Ark

While we were viewing the instruments on display we met Judy Sullivan, Associate Professor of Music at Tennessee Tech University. She brought out and played her Warren May dulcimer that she said was nearly 40 years old. She also showed us her cardboard dulcimer that she uses to show her students how simple an instrument the mountain dulcimer can be to make and play.

Dammit the Dog: There are several versions to the story but basically it goes like this… back in the 1950s when a dog blocked his path, either Tennessee Governor Gordon Browning or University President Derryberry yelled, “Dammit, get out of here.” To excuse the profanity, he added, “That’s the dog’s name, isn’t it?” Sometime later, upon the demise of the dog, the students thoughtfully placed a tombstone for Dammit next to a working fire hydrant across from Derryberry Hall.

On the way back home as we passed through Tullahoma, on our way to Lynchburg and eventually home, we saw and crossed over a bridge named after Paul and Louella Pyle. Paul Pyle was a regional dulcimer builder and author of several mountain dulcimer books in the 1970s.

As we made our way back home Karen and I stopped at the Bar-B-Que Caboose Café on the square in Lynchburg for iced tea and dessert. Our waitress noticed the “Athens Dulcimers” logo on my shirt and pointed out to us that there was a mountain dulcimer behind us and above our head. The funny thing is we had been scouring the other walls looking at the various musical instruments to see if they had any mountain dulcimers on display and didn’t see any.

Here’s a video of Ralph Lee Smith entertaining the crowd a couple years ago at the Bryan Fine Arts Building when TTU celebrated the centennial anniversary of folk musician Charles Faulkner Bryan’s birth.

To see more of our “dulcimentaries” go to https://athensdulcimerclub.wordpress.com/dulcimentaries/

I found an article by Ralph Lee Smith about this collection in Dulcimer Players News that you can read on-line
Spring 2012  Vol.38  No. 2  pages 78-80
Tales and Traditions by Ralph Lee Smith
Charles Bryan’s Remarkable Dulcimer Collection


The End!