A Random Thing: What The Heck is a Hurdy-Gurdy?

So I’m a musical guy.  I like myself a good piece of music.  I’ve been playing music since I was 6.  I’ve always thought that my knowledge about music and instruments was pretty good.  That is, until I learned of something called the hurdy-gurdy.

I came across the hurdy-gurdy while researching a professor.  Pretty random, I know, but that’s how it happened.  I had never heard of the hurdy-gurdy before.  Naturally, Google came to the rescue.

I was reminded that I, like many other people much older than me, have already heard the term “hurdy-gurdy”, from Donovan‘s song “Hurdy Gurdy Man”.  For those who don’t know, Donovan is from the time of LSD music.  Woodstock and mid-era Beatles.  Apparently, George Harrison met Donovan while they were both in India.  Donovan had already started writing the song when Harrison offered to some lyrics.  The lyrics he offered were apparently connected to the philosophies of the guru they were studying under.

That’s a nice diversion, but it doesn’t actually elucidate what a hurdy-gurdy actually is.  A little more searching revealed that it was a strange music instrument that originated in either Europe or the Middle-East.  It’s kind of a combination of the accordion, violin and piano, and produces a droning sound similar to that of the bagpipes.  Sounds pretty nifty, eh?

Well, I wasn’t impressed.  I’ve heard the bagpipes, and while the words “overwhelming” and “annoying” come to mind, “nice” is something that does not.  However, I’m a nice guy.  I thought maybe that after I listened to some playing of it, I wouldn’t feel so bad about it.

Here’s Matthias Loibner, hurdy-gurdy master, playing a tune.

Well that wasn’t so bad.  It definitely has the feeling of a dance or jig, or perhaps a scene from Lord of the Rings, or perhaps a dance at Hogwarts.  Although that rather frequent screeching that occurs was annoying as hell, just like a remember the bagpipes were.

I did a little more searching and found this tune, oddly titled “Break Your Crank”, probably due to the fact that the hurdy-gurdy is played via a the turning of a handle or crank.  Here’s Guilhem Desq playing the electric hurdy-gurdy.

It’s a bit of an improvement, in the sense that the screeching is somewhat overshadowed by the added electrical aspect of the instrument.  That being said…


Seriously, what is with that face he’s making?

The last thing I found that piqued my interest was this piece called “La Libellule et le Baobab”.  It sounds like an almost experimental hurdy-gurdy song.  Check it out.

It thought it was interesting, although the screeching came back from time to time.

Well, that was it, really.  I saw this weird hand crank instrument with a mini-keyboard attached to the side and thought, “Well, good gracious me, what do we have here?”  And here I am, a little more knowledgeable from the experience.  Hopefully you gained something from it too.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

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