This combination lecture and hands-on learning class will uncover the history and music of the autoharp. No autoharp necessary!
Because the Autoharp found utility in the U.S. in religious service, it consequently outsold all the other so-called 'novelty' instruments of its day, roughly 1875 - 1920. It is one form of what used to be called 'guitar-zithers', and belongs to a big family that we will explore. The modern term for that family is 'Fretless Zithers', distinct from the fretted Hungarian zither familiar to us from the Third Man Theme. Familiar to us from the playing of Maybelle Carter, Bryan Bowers and your third grade music teacher, has a history in the U.S.A. going back to the 1860s. Versions of it popped up in Europe before that in the form of contrivances designed to shutter certain strings while keeping others open. There were a thousand variants, all classed as 'Guitar-Zithers', and looked down on by classical players. They were all designed, built, sold and played by working class people, mainly of northern European descent, both in Europe and America, and sometimes were found in homes of people of color as well. Josh White's mother, a deeply religious woman, had one, and my friend Jim Brewer, bluesman from Mississippi, played blues on one.
This class will explore the range of Autoharp music from as early as we can find to the present day. Instructor Andy Cohen has asked Katherine Rhoda to be your guide to the Fretless Zither section of the class. Here is what she writes about herself and her zithers:
You've seen them at flea markets: many-stringed, play-by-number, with decorative decals and creative playing mechanisms. Mass manufacture spawned an outpouring of musical invention. The many resulting instruments, some ridiculous, some sublime, and all marketed as the ultimate in DIY music making, were sold door-to-door and in popular catalogs. Explore the whimsical world of vintage fretless zithers with Katherine Rhoda as she presents the Marxophone, tremoloa, ukelin, violin-guitar, Apollo harp, dolceola, Harp-O-Chord, autoharp, and more.