wordsfromanneli

Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.

The Old Zither

56 Comments

No, it’s not an autoharp, but it looks like one and is played similarly. You might notice that the strings on the left half of the instrument are thicker (thus deeper-sounding). These are the chords that would be strummed as the harmony to the melody which is played on the thinner strings on the right half of the zither.

I remember my father playing these chord strings, often in an oom-pah-pah rhythm, but not necessarily always so. Using his thumb, he’d play a thicker light-coloured string once for “Oom” and stroke the three strings to the left of it twice for the “pah-pah.”

This would be timed to go with the notes of the melody played with his right-hand thumb which wore the “pick” you see beside the zither, just above the big tuning key.

This zither came with us to Canada in 1953, packed in its box, along with music sheets printed especially for the zither. The music sheet would be inserted under the strings and lined up so the heavy line lay under the C-string. That way it was easy to pluck the strings marked by a dot on the paper.

You would start at the top of the page and basically follow the line to the next dot and play each dot as you came to it. In this way, even a beginner could play a passably good version of the song. Of course, you could play tunes without the crutch of these music sheets, or even make up your own sheets if you had a favourite song.

But what about the accompanying chords? Even those are made easy. Each of the five chord sections are numbered, as you can see in the first photo, the numbers going from the middle to the left side from 1 – 5, and with the letters of the chords listed as well. Those same numbers show on the music sheet, so you can know which chord to strum with which notes on the melody.

This zither has a lot of history. It had a lot to do with how my father met my mother. Basically he serenaded her with it. Later when they married and had children, the zither was still a part of the family.

I have such fond memories of evenings when I lay in bed and (before the days of TV), my dad would bring out the zither and he and my mother softly sang their old folk songs in the semi-darkened living room. It was the most beautiful music I had ever heard and I still hear it in my mind, mixed with those tender emotions of love for my parents.

I borrowed the story of how they met, and the role the zither played, in my novel Julia’s Violinist. It is a fictional book but I wanted to include the zither in the story, so you can find it there is you ever choose to read that novel. Just click on the image of the book cover at the side of this page.

Author: wordsfromanneli

Writing, travel, photography, nature, more writing....

56 thoughts on “The Old Zither

  1. This is a beautiful story and memory for you, Anneli! I’m happy that you have these beautiful memories of your youth and parents. I have never seen an instrument like this, it’s beautiful. πŸ₯°πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦β€οΈ

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  2. This zither looks very much like a Finnish zither, kantele in Finnish. Our kantele is bigger, I think. A beautiful story of your parents.

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    • That’s very interesting to know. Thanks for that.

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      • Are you sure your parents have no connection to Finland, because Anneli is a Finnish name, very famous about 1950.

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        • I’m sure. But I know that they named me after a character in a movie that was popular at the time. In this movie “Anneli” was always late for any appointments and her boyfriend got tired of always having her show up late so he broke it off. Then he started to have second thoughts while she booked onto a flight to somewhere. The plane crashed and everyone was killed. The boyfriend was distraught. Then she turned up “out of the blue” and he said, “I thought you were dead. Your plane crashed.” She said, “I missed the plane. I was late.” So of course they got together and lived happily ever after. Now, in real life, I have made it point to always be on time, and I just have to take my chances when I’m flying.

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  3. What a fascinating story, and what a wonderful instrument! πŸ™‚ That reminds me, isn’t the title melody of “The Third Man” played on a zither?

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  4. Lovely story and instrument. Do you play?

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  5. I loved the zither and listening to our father play it. He was quite adept at playing his little songs and our mother had such beautiful voice. Funny, just in the last week or so, I’d wondered where it ended up. Nice to see it is still in use and appreciated!

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  6. It looks so nicely weathered and from you description a treasured possession.

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  7. What a treasure. Thank you for sharing this lovely story, Anneli.

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    • Thanks for reading it, Jill. At first I thought, it’s just an old instrument, but the more I talked (wrote) about it, the more things I remembered that make this zither precious to me. I feel bad that it’s so worn, but it did see a lot of use over its life of probably close to 80 years.

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  8. What a lovely instrument. Do any of your kids play it? I got a gorgeous mandolin from my grandfather. He and I played together, him on the banjo, me on the mandolin, but I can’t convince any of my kids to play it. Darn.

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  9. I enjoyed reading about your zither; it felt quite nostalgic. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. I love to listen when someone plays the zither, itΒ΄s a beautiful instrument. Thanks for sharing these memories.

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  11. Fascinating. Learned something today!

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  12. Anneli, no wonder you borrowed your parents wonderful story about their meeting and the major part the zither played in their lives. Wonderful post about a most amazing instrument. My uncle and aunt have and play one and I’m always in awe. It felt like magic how they knew where the notes were so I was particularly fascinated by the sheet music placed underneath the strings to show where to play them! Still, it looks very tricky! πŸ˜€

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    • The sheet music under the strings makes it much easier for beginners, but it’s quite possible to play without the sheets after you get used to it. I’m happy to hear that your aunt and uncle have had these experiences with the zither too. It has such a beautiful sound.

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  13. Lovely instrument and lovely story- and your image of listening to your parents play and sing when you were younger made me misty!

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  14. What a lovely memory, Anneli. My dad had a zither too, though he never really learned to play it. I do remember my parents and their friends singing at the piano. It’s interesting and a little sad that people (at least those I know) don’t do that anymore.

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  15. What a lovely memory and a reminder of how music can bring people together. Playing instruments and singing with friends and family has been important for generations and yes, it is a shame that most of it has been displaced by the TV. I was in a very remote village in Saskatchewan some years ago when an elderly couple invited me and a friend for dinner and sure enough, they brought out a fiddle afterwards – my friend won a lot of respect for tuning it and knowing a few notes!

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  16. What lovely memories and a really unique and individualized family heirloom. Very very sweet story.

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  17. This is just wonderful, Anneli! I love your memory of listening to your mom and dad at night softly sing their favorite folk songs while you were in bed. Priceless!

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  18. Such a curious instrument. I enjoyed learning about the zither, Anneli, and espec. the sweet story about your parents, and you.

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    • Thanks, Jet. I think in spite of its many benefits we miss out on a lot with our modern electronic music. The family closeness is harder to find. Busy times, everyone communicates with their gadgets instead of face to face. My mother told me that in her childhood home, the children all played some instrument as they got older, and those who didn’t play a violin or a trumpet or the spoons, made sure to sing along and add their voices. It sounds like they had warm family times together. It would be a good thing for modern families to bring back but I know it’s not going to happen.

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  19. Hello Anneli this is a wonderful story you have written about your zither.
    These instruments are still very common in the Alpine region of Germany (Bavaria) and in the Vogtland.
    Here you can play them in clubs and at folklore events. On a journey through Bavaria
    In a workshop, I looked at how such zithers are still being built in complete manual work.
    I’ll see if I can still find this travel photo, then I could
    post once.
    The melody, played by a zither, went through the film ” The Third Man ” around the
    whole world. You definitely know this film music.

    Liked by 1 person

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