by Craig Harris
The strings of the hammered dulcimer come alive with melody and percussive rhythms through the playing of Sam Rizzetta. The founder of multi-dulcimer group, Trapezoid, in 1975, Rizzetta has continued to creatively explore his multi-stringed instrument as a soloist since 1979.
In addition to maintaining a busy schedule as a performer and composer, Rizzetta has become one of the foremost designers and builders of hammered dulcimer. His instruments, which have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute and the National Folk Festival, are noted for their expanded tonal range and exquisite sound. Rizzetta, who resides in West Virginia, has continues to teach in the dulcimer department that he helped to launch in 1974
SAM RIZZETTA – CRAFTSMAN & MUSICIAN (long bio)
Over the years Sam Rizzetta’s performances, recordings, and craftsmanship have introduced many people to both hammer dulcimer and fretted or “Appalachian” mountain dulcimer, and his joyful and versatile music leave good feelings wherever he plays. Sam’s playing has been heard at numerous festivals as well as at the National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, on National Public Radio’s A Prarie Home Companion and Mountain Stage, and on public television. And his many design innovations have helped to define the contemporary hammer dulcimer.
Onstage, the tone of Sam’s dulcimers combine with his heartfelt and ornamented playing style for music that has been called “resonantly sensual magic.” Reviewers say his music defies attempts at categorization. A Rizzetta concert may blend classical, folk, gospel, new age, oldtime tunes, ragtime, original music, and other surprises. Of his performance, the National Dulcimer Symposium Journal says, “Sam Rizzetta was just plain awe inspiring! We were privileged to be watching a master player in peak form.” Frets Magazine wrote, “He builds instruments of awesome power and puts them to good use.” “Probably the best dulcimer I’ve heard,” says West Virginia’s Tamarack Center. The New York Times concurs; “songs and reels played with lively charm. …delightful.”
In 1975 Sam created the influential group Trapezoid as a hammer dulcimer quartet, and they made some highly acclaimed, landmark recordings. Since 1978 Sam has performed solo, made 12 solo recordings, and written four books of original music for dulcimer.
Sam has designed and handcrafted musical instruments since childhood, and his dulcimers and guitars have long been prized by musicians. Rizzetta dulcimers have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Folk Festival and featured in Fine Woodworking Magazine. Starting in 1974, Sam taught for many years at the Augusta Heritage Center. He has been featured at many other music heritage workshops, and for many years he wrote the Technical Column for the Dulcimer Players News. Sam designs dulcimers for the Dusty Strings Company, and, along with friend and collaborator Nicholas Blanton, continues to build custom and experimental instruments. Many of Sam’s design innovations have become essential to the modern dulcimer and are enjoyed by almost all of today’s players, performers, and builders.
Sam has recently been nominated for a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship for lifetime achievement in the arts.
Sam’s father, Pasquale, played violin and accordian, and his uncle Earl Nott was a great banjo player. So, Sam fell in love with traditional music and stringed instruments at an early age. He experimented with building banjos and guitars as soon as he could use tools. Chet Parker of Grand Rapids, MI was an early hammer dulcimer inspiration. In 1968 Sam met West Virginia hammer dulcimer player Russell Fluharty, Kentucky mountain dulcimer player Jean Ritchie, and dulcimer innovator Howie Mitchell. Later Sam moved to Randolph County, WV and was influenced by his neighbors like guitarist Blackie Cool and fiddler Woody Simmons, as well as by traditional musicians and instrument customers who visited from distant parts of the world.
Sam Rizzetta – Bucks and Does
Label: Flying Clouds Music
Hammer and mountain dulcimers; cheerful mountain music.
01 Fanny Poer
03 Bucks & Does
04 High Falls of Cheat
05 Cobra Waltz
06 Volcano Strut
07 Mother Trucker
08 Cuckoo’s Nest
09 Norwegian Waltz / Dolly Sods
10 Snowy Breasted Pearl_Rickett’s Hornpipe
11 Peekaboo Waltz
12 Good For the Tongue / Rambling Pitchforks (or The Fisherman’s Widow) / Sonny’s Mazurka / The Royal Paulownia Hornpipe
13 Paul’s New Dulcimer
14 Sweet Hour of Prayer / Angels We Have Heard on High
15 Carolan’s Farewell to Music
When You And I Were Young, 1989
Christmas In The Air, 1991
In The Garden, Hymns For Hammer Dulcimer, 1992
Ocean’s Edge’, 1993
Flowing Waters, 1993
Saving Trees, 1999
Dulcimer Boogie, 2000
Peace Of Christmas, 2003