Dmitri Yevstifeev picked up two wooden hand-made mallets capped in leather and struck his dulcimer, producing a warm sound appropriate to the piece he was playing — J.S. Bach’s “Prelude in C Major.”
The mallets, along with other instruments, were made in his rented room at a home in Newhall, which serves as the musician’s residence, instrument workshop, studio and rehearsal space. They were no ordinary mallets, either, having been made out of wood from New Zealand and leather from an exotic animal Yevstifeev would rather not disclose.
Next to his door was a workbench with violin frames and other projects Yevstifeev was working on. He likes the concept of making everything — from the instrument itself down to the music played on it.
“My idea is to eventually be making music on an instrument that I’ve made, writing music that I wrote,” said Yevstifeev. “There’s a completion to that. I don’t know, there’s something to that.”
Strewn about his room were guitars, fiddles, a keyboard, the dulcimer and other instruments that are at his disposal. Yevstifeev said this allows his creativity to have multiple avenues.
“The tunes that I write are different when I write them on different instruments, like I come up with different ideas when I’m on different instruments,” said Yevstifeev. “I’ll come up with something completely different when I’m playing a violin, than when I do when I’m playing on guitar. So, often I’ll create an idea on one instrument and try to move it to another instrument.”
Yevstifeev is an eclectic multi-instrumentalist. Although classically trained at Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, his music spans different genres — drawing heavy inspiration from folk music he grew up listening to in Rochester, New York.
However, Yevstifeev draws inspiration from just about anywhere. While busking —- a term for performing on the street — in Old Town Newhall, he composed a Roma-Jazz piece titled “Junction,” which was inspired by having to stop his performance as loud trains would occasionally pass through.
“Busy people walking by and then punctuated by a train going by,” said Yevstifeev. “The train would go by and I would put down my violin and wait, because nobody could hear me. So this has a bit of a feel, you can kind of hear the Doppler effect [mimics the sound of a train passing by] in the music.”
While this piece was written on his acoustic guitar, Yevstifeev has a sentimental connection to the instrument in the center of the room —- the dulcimer. His biggest musical influence came from his grandmother, Mitzie Collins, who was a multi-instrumentalist, most notably known for her compositions on the dulcimer — an instrument that takes some skill to master.
“It’s a versatile instrument. The only limitation that it has, which you can fix, you can get dampeners on the sides,” said Yevstifeev “The strings keep ringing. So, if you hit the wrong string, it’s gonna keep going unless you [dampen] that.”
Collins insisted that Yevstifeev learn music at an early age. When he was 5, Collins would play a game with her grandson while riding in the car called “dropping the needle.” The game would require one to name a random piece of music and correctly label the key it was in.
“That’s actually something they test you on in music conservatory,” said Yevstifeev. “So I had very good preparation.”
Many musicians face the same issue once they leave school —- figuring out how to make money from their craft. But Yevstifeev does just fine. When not at home, making instruments, writing music, busking or recording, he takes on contracts to perform on cruise ships for months at a time —- a rather lucrative gig for any musician.
“Generally contracts last like four months long,” said Yevstifeev. “So I’ll be gone for four months and then I’ll come back and do a bit of work here. And then they’ll call me and give me contract options. ‘Hey, do you want to go work in the Caribbean for four months?’”
While the need to make a living is always a necessity, Yevstifeev said it’s only that — a necessity.
“I am more motivated by artistry. I am not very money-motivated. I see so much [expletive] art out there. So much of it. I’m sorry, it pisses me off,” said Yevstifeev. “There’s not enough people making an attempt to make real art, not like art that only I could make. There is art. There’s music, there’s art that only I could make, I’m the only person with my own experiences… So if things are tight sometimes, honestly I don’t care. It’s more important that I’m making the art that I want to, than it is for me to be wildly successful.”
In addition to making music and crafting instruments, Yevstifeev also contributed to music in film and television. To learn more about Yevstifeev and his crafts, visit bit.ly/3YL5AHU.