Malcolm Dalglish said he learned this traditional folk song from a janitor at the Madison, Indiana, jailhouse. He says he added the verse about “the little boy pickin’ out hickory nuts” in memory of a friend who recalled seeing squirrels eating hickory nuts when he was a boy. In this segment, Dalglish explains the history of the hammer dulcimer. The hammer dulcimer is a trapezoid-shaped box with more than 100 strings. It is played using two small mallets. The hammer dulcimer is known to have been played as long ago as 2,000 BCE, making it one of the oldest stringed instruments in the world. It can also be considered an ancestor of the piano, since it introduced the idea of striking a string with a mallet.
Malcolm Dalglish is a choral composer and director and player of the hammer dulcimer, spoons, bones, and chin music. He played the hammered dulcimer in the score for the 1981 film Tuck Everlasting. He who presents programs of original folk choir and dulcimer music, stories, mime, rhyme, rhythm, and song, and also has a music camp for young singers called Ooolation! He lives in Bloomington, Indiana. Find out more about Dalglish and his music at the Malcolm Dalglish and Ooolitic Music Website.
1. Compare the way animals are described in this song to the animals in “Derby Ram” and “Foo Boo Woo Boo John.” Using this song’s form and rhyme scheme, have students write lyrics about animals they have seen.
2. Explore the dynamics in the song by having students open their arms wide when the dynamic is loud (forte) and close their arms in front of them when it is soft (piano). Tell them to open their arms slowly if they hear a crescendo and close them slowly if they hear a decrescendo.
3. Consider bringing in an artist who plays hammer dulcimer to show students the instrument and play additional music.