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How music creates bridges across cultures:unusual instruments used in world music
We automatically connect with the usual instruments when the topic of music is discussed and the piano, cello, violin, saxophone and so on come forth to occupy our minds. Many of us have been given lessons in these well-known instruments and make wonderful music with them.
The creativity of the human being, however, is difficult to challenge. He uses a variety of materials to bring music to audiences the world over. Indeed, some of the instruments I am about to introduce in this article are examples of simple and pure creative genius.
Indeed, music has a force that can motivate and unite people. It is universal and can be an expression of positive humanity.
Instruments used in world music
Other than the usual piano, violin and cello, there remain some undiscovered musical instruments all over the world that produce sounds to enthrall and motivate. The sounds they produce will literally be music to the unaccustomed ears.
Aeolian harp recorded on a beach
The Aeolian Harp is a musical instrument that is played by the wind. Essentially a wooden box that is a sounding board, It has strings stretched across two bridges to produce sound. These can be tuned to different pitches. These are now made of metal used to craft monuments and put on a windy hilltop so that it can produce its best.
The sound is largely dependent on many factors, including the nature of the wind and type of strings used. Crescendos and decrescendos are sounded exactly like those produced by a harpist. It produces an almost mystical sound. The percussive aspect, like that needed to play the wind chime, is absent.
History of the Applachian Dulcimer
Belonging to the zither family, the appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument that is played in the Appalachian region of the United States. Full-toned and diatonic, its body is as long as the fingerboard.
It first appeared among the Scottish immigrant communities in the Appalachian mountains.
No true mountain dulcimers exist earlier than 1880, when J. Edward Thomas began building and selling them. It was used as a parlor instrument that was best suited to small home gatherings. It was rare in the first half of the 20th century.
It made a reappearance in the 1950’s when folk music was revived. The dulcimer was re-introduced by Jean Ritchie, a musician from Kentucky who brought it to New York in the 1960s. Other musicians like Richard Farifa began to introduce the dulcimer to a wider audience.
Playing the boobam or tubular drum
The Boobam is a percussion instrument that belongs to the membranophone family. It is made up of an array of tubes with membranes stretched on one end and the other open. The tuning largely depends on the length of the tube.
These tubes were originally made from lengths of giant bamboo. Membranes were usually made from goat or calfskin but plastic is mostly used now. The name Boobam was coined in Mill Valley, California and refers to Bamboo spelt sideways.
The instrument was used extensively bey Harry Partch, an American composer who developed a system of music that depended on the use of exotic instruments. He called on musicians David Buck Wheat and Bill Loughborough to build some of these instruments for him.
Together with businessman Jak Simpson, they founded the Boobam Drum Company. Jazz percussionist began adding the boobam to their pieces. Their unique sound inspired acts like the Kingston trio. Nick Reynolds of the trio eagerly included them on his percussion solo, O Ken Karaga.
Muddy Waters-Cigar Box Guitar Box Blues
Cigar Box Guitars/fiddles
A cigar box guitar is a primitive chordophone that uses an empty cigar box as a resonator.
Typically, it has a wooden slat and two to three strings.
The early cigar boxes were fairly cumbersome, so it was not until after 1840 that lighter cigar boxes began to be used as the resonators of instruments in Jug Bands and for the blues. These were used by musicians living in poverty and who could not afford an instrument. This was especially so in the years of the Great Depression.
The use of the Cigar Box Guitar has been gaining in momentum. Modern ones have resonator pick up cones added to it.
The Bandura refers to the Ukranian plucked string folk instrument, which combines the elements of the the zither and lute. Musicians who play the bandura are known as bandurists.
The earliest mention of the Bandura dates back to 1441, when Bandurist Taraszko played in the court of Polish king Sigismund III. Special schools for blind musicians or bards were established, known as the kozbars. By the 18th century, the bandura had formed into a lute like instrument with 4 to 6 strings. It is a diatonic instruments.
In the 20th century, the bandura was used to raise Ukranian ethnic awareness. Blind kozbars began to disappear and the subject was brought up for discussion at the XIIth Archeological Conference in Khariv in 1902. The bandura became popular among students and young people. Restrictions were placed in order to control the rise of Ukranian self-awareness until they were lifted in World War 2.
Today, music conservatories offer courses majoring in the bandura. It is possible in the Ukraine to obtain degrees in Bandura performance and pedagogy.
This refers to a family of instruments ranging from the highest to the lowest pitched, used in Russian folk music. All of them have three sided bodies, fir tops and backs made of 3 to 9 major sections. It is played with the fingers or a plectrum.
It comes in the following sizes:
the most common being the prima balalaika.
The most common way to play it is to fret notes on the lower string, using a plectrum commonly referred to as a pick by guitar players. Bass and contrabass balalalikas rest on the ground because of their large sizes.
Balalaika orchestras were formed during the Andreyev period. Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev arranged music for balalaika orchestras. It has a sound not entirely Western European. Balalaika ensemble groups were formed during the tbaime of the Soviet Union, which were deemed proletarian (working class) and progressive. Musicians and buskers often play solo on the balalaika.
The cimbalom is a hammered dulcimer, a large trapezoid instrument with metal strings stretched across the top. Popularized in Hungary, it is found in many Eastern European nations.
It is played by striking two beaters against the strings. The beaters are arranged in groups of three and are tuned in unison.
Dating back as far as 3500 B.C., the cimbalom was played by the peoples of the Mediterranean under different names. It was popular among the Romani Gypsies and popularized by V. Josef Shunda, who began producing it in 1874. It became popular within the Austro Hungarian empire, and was used widely in Moldovian and Romanian
Modern cimbaloms from Shunda’s time onward are fully chromatic and can explore semi tones. A more portable version was produced in the Ukraine in the 1950s.
The bonang is an instrument used in the Javanese gamelan. It is a collection of small kettles or pots placed horizontally onto strings in a wooden frame. Each is tuned to a specific pitch in the appropriate scale. The lower pitched kettles have a rounded head.
They are played with paddled sticks.
There are three types of Javanese gamelan:
This is the highest of them and uses the smallest kettles. It utilizes the fastest rhythms of the gamelan.
This is the mid range bonang and is pitched below the penurus. It covers two octaves and is the most important instrument in the gamelan ensemble.
This is the lowest pitched of the instruments and is usually reserved for more serious repertoire.
The parts played by the penurus and barung are elaborate, making the bonang an instrument that gives a piece of music a defining quality.
First Look Inside
The kalimba, also known as the thumb piano, like the xylophone belongs to the bar percussion family. An instrument common in the Congo and Zimbabwe regions of Africa, it consists of a wooden board with metal bars of varying lengths affixed. The longest tines are typically in the center, with shorter (and thus higher-pitched) tines arranged alternately in ascending order towards both sides of the instrument. It is held in both hands to pluck the tines simultaneously.
It is bent at a certain angle to produce overtones, with chords being produced when adjacent tines are played. It was played braveling musicians or girots who entertained villagers with songs and stories. The sound of the kalimba was thought to bring down spirits to Earth, attaching spiritual importance to the girot and his instrument.
The first Kalimba to go out of Africa was one produced by a man named Hugh Tracey. He was largely responsible for bringing people the realization that the kalimba was not a toy but an instrument capable of real music.
These days, the kalimba is used together with electronics in modern music. Musicians like Sascha Lino Lemke use the kalimba with special microtonal tunings and a custom made computer program in his performances.
Another instrument from Africa, the Kora is played in Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and The Gambia. It is a harp built from a large kalabash and covered with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck. The skin is supported by two handles running under it. Regarded as a cross between a harp and a lute, the strings run in two ranks, making it a double harp.
The sound resembles a harp, but when played traditionally resembles the flamenco. Only the thumb and index fingers are used to pluck the strings in different rhythmic patterns while the other fingers secure the instrument by holding onto the hand posts.
The instrument was also played by girots or traveling musicians and storytellers. A traditional player is also known as a Jali. Koras typically feature 21 strings. These days, the ones manufactured in Senegal sometimes feature additional bass strings as well.
Human creativity is evidenced in how we express ourselves musically. This expression, though with instruments unique to each culture, is the same the world over.
Love in Any Language Sandi Patty
Which of these instruments did you like hearing?
How music brings the world together and can make a difference
Music is a universal language
People the world over use music to communicate. It is something that everyone the world over can understand and appreciate, although we speak different languages.
Mihalo Antovic, a linguist and researcher at case Western University, suggested that conceptualizing music brings people all over the world together. He performed a study of children from Serbian Speaking and English speaking homes. He also included seeing impaired children.
The children were exposed to short musical sequences with opposing high and low, long and short tones. The children were asked to verbally describe what they heard. These children had no formal music education.
In his final results, all these children had a subconscious notion of what these tones were and could differentiate high from low tones. It suggested that human beings have identical musical concepts.
Everyone can move to music
The musical philosopher Nietzsche once said, “We listen to music with our muscles.” All of us the world over know how to keep time, tap our feet and move to music. The responses to music the world over are similar.
Saltwater Julian Lennon
A powerful force to bring important messages across and raise awareness
Music is often used to bring to the world important social messages and unite people for important causes. Legendary singers and musicians have often used this tool to put forth these ideas and raise awareness of important issues.
Examples of songs with clear social messages to make the world a better place are Imagine by John Lennon and of course, the songs Heal the World and We are the World by Michael Jackson. John Lennon’s son, Julian, recorded Saltwater, which is a song with clear message to cherish our environment.
We may have different ways and different instruments to bring music to the world. The appreciation of it, though, is the same no matter which part of the world we go to. No matter which part of the world we are in, music has the unchallenged power to bring different individuals together.
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