Category Archives: Instruments

Gumleaf redux

Herb Patten, an Elder of Koori, painter, and outstanding gumleaf player, has preserved this indigenous tradition by performing everywhere from pubs and parties to national television and the Sydney Opera House.

Patten (above) has enabled anyone to participate in this tradition with his book/CD set How to play the gumleaf (Sydney: Currency, 1999; RILM Abstracts 1999-14755). Patten’s book includes practical tips on how to select a suitable leaf and develop proper lip technique, and his demonstrations include popular and old-time songs along with the calls of several indigenous Australian birds.

Below, Herb Patten holds forth.

BONUS: Now there’s no need to imagine hearing John Lennon’s Imagine on a gumleaf.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Curiosities, Instruments

Dürer’s bathing musicians

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Das Männerbad (ca. 1496–97) includes a portrayal of two men playing recorder and rebec in a public bath.

The artist’s meticulous attention to detail shows clearly that the recorder is a flûte à neuf trous (drilled to give the player a choice of left or right little finger, the unused hole to be filled with wax).

In the bath, singing is probably more widely practiced than instrumental playing, and indeed, wooden instruments might not take too kindly to the humidity; some people might be more attracted to drinking while bathing, like the gentleman to the musicians’ left.

This according to “Musical ablutions” by Herbert Hersom (The recorder magazine X/1 [March 1990] 20–21; RILM Abstracts 1990-30337).

Today is Dürer’s 550th birthday! Below, music by Ludwig Senfl, who worked at the court of Maximillian I around the time that Dürer was employed there.

More posts about iconography are here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance

The female harp

The harp in its winged-maiden form was the standard symbol of Ireland in the eighteenth century, and with the rise of Romantic nationalism the harp was increasingly personified as a female symbol of Ireland and her struggle for political independence.

The iconography of the harp in the context of the United Irishmen of the 1790s formed the basis for the Romanticization of the harp symbol and the female personification of Erin (Ireland) in the poetry of Thomas Moore. While more realistic forms of the Irish harp emerge in nationalist iconography of the nineteenth century, Moore’s imagery inspired paintings and other illustrations of the harp as a woman by artists including Robert Fagan and Daniel Maclise.

This according to “The female harp: The Irish harp in 18th- and early–19th-century Romantic nationalism” By Barra Boydell (RIdIM/RCMI newsletter XX/1 [spring 1995] 10–17; RILM Abstracts 1995-5656).

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Above, Maclise’s The origin of the harp (1842), inspired by Moore’s poem of the same name. Below, Michelle Mulcahy plays The mountains of Pomeroy, Martin Hardiman’s jig, and The lark on the strand on the Irish harp.

Related article: The female accordion.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Politics, Romantic era

Iberian women and square frame drums

The Iberian double-skinned square frame drum known as the adufe, the pandeiro quadrado (Portuguese), or the pandera cuadrado (Spanish) is played almost exclusively by women, and is a legacy from the medieval period.

While Spanish and Portuguese women play various round-frame drums, the square drum has particular roles in several aspects of secular, religious, and ritual life. The songs women sing while playing the drum reflect their thoughts, concerns, and circumstances.

This according to “‘This drum I play’: Women and square frame drums in Portugal and Spain” by Judith R. Cohen (Ethnomusicology forum XVII/1 [June 2008] 95–124; RILM Abstracts 2008-2708).

Today is International Women’s Day! Below, Vanesa Muela demonstrates.

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Filed under Europe, Instruments, Women's studies

Didjeridu playing and sleep apnea

 

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome are two highly prevalent sleep disorders caused by collapse of the upper airways. The most effective intervention for these disorders is continuous positive airway pressure therapy, which reduces daytime sleepiness and the risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in the most severely affected patients. For moderately affected patients who complain about snoring and daytime sleepiness, however, continuous positive airway pressure therapy may not be suitable, and other effective interventions are needed.

A didjeridu instructor noticed that he and some of his students experienced reduced daytime sleepiness and snoring after practicing with this instrument for several months. A randomized controlled experiment confirmed that regular didjeridu playing is an effective treatment alternative well accepted by patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.

This according to “Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: Randomised controlled trial” by Milo A. Puhan, et al. (BMJ CCCXXXII [December 2006]; RILM Abstracts 2006-51373). The article won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Above and below, traditional uses of the didjeridu.

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Tepsijanje—singing by the pan

 

Singing by the pan, a women’s folk tradition known as tepsijanje (“panning”), was documented in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Ottoman period.

Recent research has shown that tepsijanje is still popular, especially with Muslim and Roman Catholic populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a rare example of a nonmusical object—in this case, a cooking pan—functioning as a musical instrument.

This according to “Examples of an interesting practice: Singing along the pan” by Jasmina Talam, an essay included in Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis. II (Münster: Monsenstein und Vannerdat, 2011 251–56; RILM Abstracts 2011-49486).

Below, two examples of tepsijanje.

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Filed under Curiosities, Europe, Instruments

“Wooden laughter” in the opera house

 

For much of the 18th century there was a clear divide between the music of the upper and lower classes in Austrian society. However, by the late 1790s, a time when Europe’s ruling classes were under threat in the aftermath of the French Revolution, there is evidence to suggest that folk instruments previously associated with the lower classes—including the hurdy-gurdy, zither, tromba marina, and a peasant xylophone known as the Hölzernes Gelächter, (“wooden laughter”, above)—were played in aristocratic settings.

Austrian Composers wrote operas, concertos, and chamber pieces that included parts for folk instruments; some of these works were even dedicated to the Emperor Franz II and the Empress Marie Therese. The setting of these works, compositional practice, and the design of the instruments themselves enabled the music of the lower classes to be adopted by the upper classes, perhaps to evoke a sense of place and national identity during a period of great political change. These practices paved the way for folk music to influence composers later in the 19th century.

This according to “‘Wooden laughter’ in the opera house: The appearance of folk instruments in Bohemian and Austrian high society at the turn of the nineteenth century” by Sam Girling, a paper included in Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis VI (Berlin: Logos-Verlag, 2019 83–100; RILM Abstracts 2019-12296).

Below, the Hölzernes Gelächter in action!

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments

The theremin turns 100!

 

 

After the electronic oscillator was invented in 1915, revolutionizing the radio industry, the Russian inventor Léon Thérémin used this technology to develop the first fully functional electronic musical instrument; originally called the etherphone, it became widely known as the theremin.

Without touching the instrument, the player controlled pitch through relative proximity of the right hand to a vertical antenna, and volume through similar movements of the left hand in relation to a horizontal antenna. The instrument employed a heterodyne, or beat frequency system, and boasted a range of three to four octaves.

On the invitation of Lenin, Thérémin travelled throughout Russia, demonstrating his instrument, and toured Europe in 1927, causing excitement in Germany, France, and England. Later that year, Thérémin travelled to the U.S., where he remained until 1938.

In 1929 he sold his patent to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which made and sold 500 instruments. Leopold Stokowski collaborated on a fingerboard version, which he used with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1929 to 1931. Thérémin performed with the New York Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra, and presented several coast-to-coast broadcasts. He returned to the USSR in 1938.

This according to The theremin in the emergence of electronic music by Albert Glinsky, a dissertation accepted by New York University in 1992 (RILM Abstracts 1992-424).

The theremin is 100 years old this month! Above and below, the inventor in action.

BONUS: A brief presentation of further historical and technical information.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Science

A 3D-printed concertina

 

In an interview, Edward Jay described his invention:

“My concertina is almost entirely fabricated on a 3D printer, meaning that it’s made of mostly plastic. In the prototype, only the reeds and bellows are made in the traditional way, though I am quite close to fabricating these on a 3D printer too.”

“3D printing has been around for a while actually, but only recently has it become more accessible and affordable. For example, the printers I am using now cost £800 each. But 3D printers aren’t exactly quick; to give you some idea of speed, each part on my instrument can take between 1 and 12 hours each to print. So having a farm of printers beavering away can speed things up significantly.”

“That said, it takes just 2 days for 3 printers to print all the parts for a single instrument, which I think still is a significant edge on the time required to fabricate all the parts using traditional methods. Actually, I understand it takes something close to 3 months to make a new traditional concertina—as long as my entire prototype development period.”

“Interestingly, I’ve somehow managed to create a concertina sound, I believe, due to my material choice, because 3D plastic is hollow! If you didn’t know, early concertina insides were made of balsa wood, or similar woods, woods that were chosen rather for their lightness than their integrity, which I believe in part gave traditional concertinas their signature sound.”

“This is not a toy at all. Every part of it is engineered properly; the stresses and strains, the tension forces, and so on, everything has been accounted for. So it won’t break. This concertina is very solid.”

Quoted in “Concertone Instruments: Interview with Edward Jay” by Kait Gray (Concertina world 480 [January 2020] 37–45; RILM Abstracts 2020-3864).

Below, Jay demonstrates his concertina; his website for Concertone Instruments is here.

More posts involving concertinas are here.

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The Siena piano

 

A legendary instrument whose sonorities reputedly have no equal anywhere, praised by musicians such as Liszt and Saint-Saëns, the Siena piano is surrounded by an aura of mystery due to its astonishing history.

Its soundboard was supposedly made of wooden pillars from the ancient Temple of Solomon in Israel. Stolen by German soldiers during World War II, it was discovered half buried in the sands of the African desert.

The instrument was saved from destruction in the nick of time and restored by an Israeli craftsman; subsequently it aroused enormous media attention before being largely forgotten.

This according to La légende du piano de Sienne: Récit instrumental by Florent Ploquin (Plouharnel: Menhir, 2017).

Below, Marisa Regules performs Debussy’s Estampes on the Siena piano.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Romantic era