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Keeping in tune

Webster City resident has hobby building musical instruments

August 18, 2014
Carrie Tagg (editor@freemanjournal.net) , OurHomeTownWebsterCity.com

Dean Branyord, of Webster City, became interested in the dulcimer after attending music festivals in Mountain View, Arkansas, and getting a taste of the Ozark Mountain culture.

"My wife [Alma] and I used to go dancing quite a bit," he recalled. "It's quite the entertainment place. I saw people playing and building them down there. That is where I got interested in them."

The mountain dulcimer is a fretted string instrument, popular in southern regions of the nation. "They were brought here by the immigrants years ago, especially to the mountains down south," Branyord continued. "They started reproducing them and now they are quite popular."

Branyord, originally of Radcliffe, has a background in woodworking, and was employed by Raven Mill and Lumber Company in Webster City, starting in 1949. "I worked there about five years and then Uncle Sam called and I had to leave for a couple years," he said. "I got my job back, worked there for another five years and then went to work on my own." The Webster City resident continued to work in the carpentry and cabinetry trade independently for almost 40 years. He built a shop behind his house for the winter season, where he also pursued hobbies of woodturning, carving, and building musical instruments.

The 88-year-old man had only one gripe about the dulcimer. "They are only in one key," he said. "So if you are playing with a group, you have to do a lot of waiting until it is your turn to play."

Rather than sit out a spell, Branyord built a dulcimer that rotates to play in five different keys. "I suppose I've had it for 15-20 years," he mused. "If the group says that they are going to play in the key of C, I can hurry up, lock it in, and play it. I have five keys on her and each one is tuned different. I just thought this would be the easiest way to play it as they are all separate."

The wood worker had fun putting the instrument together. "I wasn't sure when I got done what I would have here," he laughed. "But if I were a bit younger, perhaps I should have patented it."

The cylinder-shaped dulcimer was made with birch, maple and walnut woods, and Branyord bought parts for the instrument in Stillwater, Minnesota. He has also made an assortment of other musical instruments, including a banjo, hammered dulcimer, and a dulcimer right out of his own garden.

"One year, I grew some gourds. I picked one off the vine and let it dry out all winter. I cut the top out of it, and made a dulcimer with it. I've seen other instruments that old-timers had made when they didn't have anything else but the stuff that they had on hand," he said. "I also built a banjo that I gave to my nephew. I had thought I would plunk at it for fun, but at my age, I should have started learning how to play about thirty years ago."

The music aficionado has strummed the dulcimer, as well as played his accordion and button box with area friends over the years.

"I used to go down to the old depot [Illinois Central Railroad Depot], where our group would do our wood carving," Branyord said. "We would have jam sessions there every Friday night. I'd say on average on a Friday night, we would have anywhere from 10 to 15 players."

Fiddlers, banjo players, and other instrumentalists would play at area nursing homes and outdoors at the West Twin Parks band shell, many times improvising the music as they went along. "We even played out in my shop a few times," Branyord recalled. "One time, they called us The Amazements because it was amazing that we could play. I also played in Fort Dodge with a group that called themselves the Button Box Boys. We played at the Hickory House at noon on Sundays for quite a long time."

Branyord isn't sure why the dulcimer isn't more of a popular musical instrument in Iowa, but it's pretty well known in other areas of the country.

"It's best if you go down south," he said. "Where hillbilly country music is popular, like Branson Missouri or Mountain View Arkansas."

Although he hasn't played his favorite old-time country music on the dulcimer in a while, Branyord plans on getting back into the groove in the near future.

"I used to play it a lot, and it was a lot of fun," he said. "But I'm thinking about getting back to it this year."

 
 
 

 

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