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And they played by ear...

During the immigration era, many of the Scandinavians settled in the states of Minnesota, North & South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Many brought their Psalmodikons with them or they built them after they arrived. Eventually the Psalmodikons fell by the wayside and replaced with better and more modern instruments.

In the late 20th century, there was a renewed interest in the old folk instruments. It was during this time that there was a revival of the “near-forgotten” Scandinavian Psalmodikon. Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to find any history about the Psalmodikon and many could not remember their ancestors owning or playing the Psalmodikon. There were a few museums that might have an old Psalmodikon, but it was usually tucked away in a glass cabinet with no explanation on how to play it or what it might sound like. (In those days the word “psalmodikon” was not even listed in the dictionary or the encyclopedia.)

Some folks were lucky enough to find an old family Psalmodikon and they noticed that sometimes the frets were marked with letters instead of numbers and thus they could follow the music as written in the church hymnals. Others had an advantage that they probably played other stringed instruments such as a fiddle or maybe they “played by ear” that would enable them to quickly catch on to playing the slow melodic music of the Psalmodikon.

Harlis Anderson, of North St. Paul, MN, who had always “played by ear” had an easy time of learning to play the Psalmodikon. He had a small notebook, and on each page, he would jot down the title of the song and on the line following, he would write the first few numbers to remind him of how the song started and the remainder he would play by memory.