churchill fellowship



The dulcimer is used, in one form or another, in many counties around the world; and in the year 2000 I spent three months travelling in Hungary, Romania, Iran and China as a Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, working with local makers and players of dulcimer-type instruments - the cimbalom, santur and yangqin. My aim was partly to learn some new techniques, especially as a maker, in places which had a long unbroken tradition - in the late 1970‘s, when I first started making dulcimers, the tradition of dulcimer making in Britain had died out, and the few remaining East Anglian players (East Anglia is the stronghold of dulcimers in Britain) were using old instruments, often handed down through several generations within a family. But most of all I just wanted to spend time working with my counterparts in these very different places, and see whether our shared special interests and skills would be enough to break through the barriers of culture and language, and let me find out what the ordinary people of these countries - (which had all regarded, at one time or another, as potential enemies) were really like. 


During my journey I spent two weeks working very successfully with cimbalom maker Nagy Akos in Budapest, even though neither of us spoke the other’s language, and lived with him and his family for a week, at a small town about an hour‘s drive from the city. I also worked with santur maker Darius Salari in Tehran, who made me very welcome, and built for me, as a present, a special hybrid dulcimer/santur - he even took me for a short holiday, with his wife and family, at a resort on the Caspian Sea. In China, I spent time with yangqin makers in the musical instrument factories of Beijing and Shanghai, where they make western instruments such as pianos alongside traditional Chinese instruments such as the pi pa and yangqin; and met many players, composers, teachers, students and school children who all shared a passion for the instrument, and were amazed to hear that Britain also had its own version of the yangqin. It was a fascinating journey, and I am still trying to make time to finish writing a book about it all, because I was treated with more trust, friendliness and hospitality than I could ever have imagined, especially in Iran; and I had so many experiences that it is important to me to share. For instance, during a day-long bus-ride from Esfahan to Shiraz, in southern Iran, I had a long conversation with a young Iranian Army sergeant sitting next to me, who was just finishing his national service and going back to university; and he said something which seemed to sum up the whole experience of my journey - ‘Governments argue, but people everywhere have very much in common.’ 

Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust
Silver Spear Instruments
Jonathan Letcher
Ridge Farm
Bishop’s Castle
+44 (0)1588 650 416