My dad had been talking about it for years, ever since we got Microsoft Musical Instruments bundled with Windows 95, really. But in the past year, he did it. He built a hurdy-gurdy.
The hurdy-gurdy is one of my very favorite instruments. Do you remember The Mummer’s Dance, by Loreena McKinnitt? It’s the instrument that plays the melody at the beginning. It’s bizarre… and oh, I do love instruments with drones!
To play it, you begin by turning a crank in the bottom of the instrument.
This turns a wheel that the strings all touch. The friction from the turning makes them sound. All at once.
Then, you play keys–just like a keyboard–to play the melody on two of the strings. Another one or two of the strings just play the same tone all the time; that’s the drone. Bagpipes have drones, too. Even some very old viols had them, but they aren’t made anymore.
Here’s a peek at the inner workings of the keys. My my.
At least one of the drones (dad is such an authority on this stuff that I’m hedging what I say) is set to buzz loudly. The person playing the hurdy-gurdy controls the buzz, by way of cranking technique, to create a background rhythm for the music.
Some hurdy-gurdys are large and meant to be held in the lap while you play. As it became a favorite instrument with travelling minstrels, though, it can also be strapped on to the body, for perambulatory playing. Here’s dad getting himself into the harness…
And here he is trying to get the darn thing tuned. The pegs work entirely by friction, rather than being on worm screws as the strings of most modern string instruments are. This makes it hard to tune, and hard to keep in tune.
How about that? Proof that my mother isn’t the only one with mad skillz, in the family.