Some of the Santoor players are using single-finger damping techniques virtually identical to the damping needed for wire-strung harp, so I think the solution is to learn from their practice. Cut the major power source for the harmonics and you cut the harmonics, maybe not so quickly as full-hand (or even full-arm) damping, but still enough. Some are even finger-picking/damping with the left and hammer in the right, but looking at them it seems they're taking the pragmatic line that if it works for you, the piece and the set...
Dick Glasgow, boss of the EuroDulcimers site, has http://irishdulcimer.com/
which is the authoritative reference to what's actually going on over there.
Thanks for Dick Glascow info. This was mentioned in the last "HD in Irish sessions" discussion thread back in August.
Are you a santoor player, or have you adopted these damping techniques to your own HD playing? Would love to see a video of this! Or hear about it in more detail, like when do you use it in an Irish session, in what sorts of tunes, and how frequently.
I could certainly envision it being used with wonderful effect in slow airs or O'Carolan tunes.
As I said, the hand damping technique you describe sounds interesting and whets my curiosity, but I still don't see how one would apply it as an HD player playing a medley of reels (or jigs, etc) in a fast Irish session. ESPECIALLY when I'm leading the session: then it's my responsibility to play the melodies loudly and clearly so everyone can "click into" the tune. Hand damping, in my imagination, would have the potential here to just interrupt the flow of the music. And in Irish dance music, keeping the beat is one of the most important things to focus on. Here, a hammer dulcimer can be really helpful, given it's percussive quality. Also, many Irish sessions happen in loud, noisy pubs, where you can barely hear the music even when folks are playing with gusto. Any HD sustain issues are likely to be obliterated by the noise and the other loud instruments.
I also don't quite see how it would silence the criticisms of those who just don't care for the sound of an HD in an Irish session. Or really why one would necessarily want to employ this technique--except perhaps occasionally for special effect (since I haven't heard/seen the possible benefits of doing it yet) or in slow airs, and I rather like the sounds that emanate from an HD played with tact, artistry and an appropriate amount of restraint in the context of an Irish session.
To me, the sustain thing isn't a burning issue. In fact, it's not much of an issue at all--unless some members of a session are upset by an undamped HD. I think this criticism of an HD not being a "suitable Irish session instrument" is often just a smoke screen by folks who don't like the sound of the HD in general, and as an excuse to keep HD players intimidated so as not to join in some Irish sessions. In other words, an excuse to keep out what are perceived as "the musical riffraff."
I am aware that some people are more sensitive to sustain than others. If this is the case in a particular session, then there are some pretty easy (if not always used) ways to cut back on sustain BEFORE the hammer hits the string--as I mentioned earlier in this thread. This seems to me to be a lot easier than trying to control it AFTER a string has been hammered. I don't use mechanized dampers for this same reason--you'd have to keep your foot on the pedal all of the time, which simply isn't practical for 3 or more hours of playing in a typical session.
If one REALLY is concerned about sustain, try felt hammers and the "tape-on-the-bridges near the pinblocks" idea. That'll REALLY cut sustain. Of course, you probably won't be able to hear yourself either. Dusty Strings makes a couple of sets of double sided hammers which have felt on one side and kangaroo skin on the other. The felt side damps the heck out of whatever you're playing, and the kangaroo skin does a good job of cutting the high overtones yet does less muting than the more usual leather hammer coverings do.
Where sustain could be a burning issue, I suspect, is if you had several loud hammer dulcimer players in one Irish session, and all of them were playing very vigorously with "hard" hammers at the same time, and not quite in sync. Then I could easily sympathize with complaints from other players about too much sustain, but the problem would also be the potential "out of syncness" of multiple HD players as well. However, in my 3 decades of going to Irish sessions, I've actually only heard this problem occur on a couple of occasions--and this was when the HD was intended to be the primary instrument, since the Irish session was at an HD camp.
On the contrary, I've been to quite a few Irish sessions over the years where there has been (to me) piercing penny whistling or fiddling, as well as way too loud banjo playing and overly bombastic bodhran beating, not to mention blasting pipe playing.
So, I think that ALL players of ALL instruments would do well to figure out how to restrain and soften their playing. AN IMPORTANT PART OF PLAYING IN ANY ENSEMBLE SITUATION IS TOO MODULATE YOUR OWN VOLUME SO THAT YOU CAN CLEARLY HEAR--AND ENJOY--THE PLAYING OF OTHER MUSICIANS. If you can't clearly hear other players, then you're likely playing too loudly! Making music with others is like having a conversation with friends--or potential friends. If you completely dominate the conversation with your own chatter, you probably won't get to experience and enjoy as many wonderful conversations. Same goes for HD playing (or the playing of other instruments). FOR ALL PLAYERS OF ALL INSTRUMENTS, LEARNING TO LISTEN WHILE PLAYING MUSIC IS EVERY BIT AS IMPORTANT AS LEARNING TO PLAY!
Some Irish sessions have evolved rules of etiquette that include: only 1 bodhran or guitar PLAYING AT A TIME. Others suggest that only 1 guitar or bodhran LEADS at a time, and that any others may play softly in the background. This sort of principle could reasonably be applied to HD as well. ESPECIALLY if an HD player doesn't know the tune--or the version of the tune--being played, and is obliviously and loudly banging around trying to find the notes.
It's not a case that HD players represent some sort of musical scourge to Irish sessions that must be discouraged at all costs--except perhaps in the minds of purists who are simply: a) not aware of the HD being an historical Irish instrument (and more so than a number of others commonly found in sessions today), b) not used to hearing it, and c) therefore are unwilling to overlook it's possible excesses in the same way they are willing to overlook less than sensitive and not-too-musical playing by the players of other more popular instruments. As Paul Gifford noted in the last "HD in Irish sessions" discussion thread, the sustain issue is a matter of subjective perception and contemporary Irish musical revival fad and fashion. It has less to do with being true to Irish musical tradition or historical musical authenticity.
Any other HD players who like to play in Irish sessions have anything they'd like to contribute?