Saturday, March 10, 2007

Citaras, zithers & salterios

Zithers are traditional plucked or hammered string instruments originally found in the middle eastern and mediterranean tradition. They are built on flat trapezoidal shaped boards, with strings on one of their sides. In Chile the most common zither were of germanic style with a fretted board on one of their sides similar to guitar to play melody whereas the remainder free board has strings as a harp to play harmony; using a pick on the strings while the zither rest on the knees or on a table. This version most common in Chile, was reintroduced by german colonists in southern Chile where they established through the later part of the XIX century.
Generic names used to call these instruments in Chile are dulcimer , cítara or salterio.
Now, a little on the recorded story of these instruments in Chile. In June 28th 1864 German Loechner offered teaching and zither's sales in an ad published at El Ferrocarril newspaper. In those years there was even the Club de Cítara in my hometown, Valparaíso.
Later on, Federico Albert Faupp, perhaps the first chilean german ecologist who helped to save the town of Chanco from being covered by dunes did surprised the chilean society in Santiago when along with his son Tótila performed a zither concert at the Santiago's Teatro Municipal in 1920.
Later recordings where zithers are found start to show up at: Casa de Canto by Margot Loyola, CHI: RCA, 1966, di (LP) CML-2455 , with José Luis Peña (2ª voz) and Federico Voss (cítara). Lately, and perhaps better known are the recordings by Pancho Aménabar, who plays a modified version of the original persian santur or salterio with 120 strings, playing with two hammers this true ancestor of the piano, címbalo and clavicordio.
Another type of plucked zither proper of arabic folk music, the qanum is used by the Grupo Oriente from Santiago.
There are a few groups using old fashion zithers in Chile. One of them is In Taberna, and Miriam Gisella Ebert from the medieval band Calenda Maia, both from Santiago. The singer Magdalena Aménabar plays zither with her Coro Sacramentino. The cantautor Joe Vasconcellos used the zither sound in the song "Induce", recorded in the CD Transformación (Emi Odeon Chilena 1997), through oriental rhythms where the zither sound is striking.
Even folk rock bands such as Los tres have used a zither played by Cuti Aste in "Te Desheredo" & "Pájaros de Fuego". Thanks to John McCutcheon initial introduction, the Inti Illimani folk band has used a hammered dulcimer in their latest recordings (Pequeño Mundo) and its leader Jorge Coulon has played it in shows for years. I also met once the hammered dulcimer player John McCucheon in a festival and I did lived through many folk sessions with hammered dulcimers while living in the States. On the other hand, somebody had given me an old zither many years ago, so this sound have been long following in my mind so these days I do keep two of these instruments: An american style diatonic 11/12 hammered dulcimer and a custom modified chorded zither, a 21 chord autoharp. Both are traditional instruments for folk music in the northern hemisphere so here in Chile people ask always about them because these axes are just barely known by very few people but its sound is what really appeals to me and make wonder to many.