Where does the distinctive instrument hail from?
"There's a bit of controversy," Tish said. "There are some etchings and drawing of the bowed psalteries in the 10 and 12th centuries, and the Gregorian monks in the 10th century put the bow to the plucked psaltery that's in biblical times."
In the 1940s, she said, a German fellow, his violin sales waning, brought back the bowed psaltery in its current form to get children interested in music again.
"It worked. It brought a lot of people back to the violin. Even today, Southern Illinois University uses our bowed psaltery as a starting instrument for their teachers as well as 'to-be-teachers' that are going to go on to the violin. They have a much higher success rate of children actually staying in music, rather than being thrown on a violin and run screaming."
Tish first took up the psaltery after arthritis in her hands made guitar playing difficult. Part of the instrument's wide audience includes people who want to finally learn an instrument without a daunting learning curve to start, music therapy classes, children and musicians hunting for another instrument.
"I won't call it a simple instrument to play," she said, "but it's rather easy to get started with, so people that maybe have arthritis or have had a stroke and were a musician in a previous life can now get music back.
"We also have a market of people that will make a statement -- 'I want to play something before I die!' -- and the bowed psaltery fits that. Or they just want a different sound in their repertoire."
On the other hand, anyone who has played the psaltery knows that poorly bowed notes can sound like alley cats screeching in the night.
"A psaltery is easy to learn to play and get music out of and make it enjoyable for the family and everybody," Greg said, "but to master it does takes some time and some finesse. And that's the catch."
The Westmans performed in a bowed psaltery quartet on "Mountain Stage" a few years ago. Afterward, many remarked that it was the first time the instrument had been heard on the show, which was incorrect, according to Greg.
"I can guarantee that it maybe it was the first time that four were played on stage," he said.
While the instrument is unfamiliar to many, some people might have one of its precursors collecting dust in their attic or as part of their collective family history.
"On 'Antique Road Show' they'll talk about the pre-1940s psaltery," said Greg. "Back in the 1910s and '20s, Sears and Roebucks sold, in essence, bowed psalteries. They didn't call them bowed psalteries, they called them ukelins, pianolins -- a cross between the piano and the violin, depending on how it was tuned. They sold that bowed psaltery in the 1910s and '20s door to door by the hundreds."
Don't expect to cash in, though, he cautioned.
"People will call us up today and say, 'Oh, my grandfather passed away. I found this in the attic. It's brand new in the box. What's it worth?'
"I always say, 'Well, they made three different versions. What does it say inside?' And they say, 'Oh, it's the $48.95 one.' 'Well, that's what it's worth.'
"And they'll go, 'Yeah, that's what it's worth -- but what's it worth today?!' And I say: '$48.95.' Because they had made so many of them."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.