Saturday, February 15, 2014

update from Gary Plazyk | University of Chicago Folk Festival – Sat 2/15/2014 Hurdy Gurdy workshop / demonstration

University of Chicago Folk Festival – Sat 2/15/2014

Hurdy Gurdy workshop / demonstration

Mel Dorries, Vince Nichols, and I (Gary Plazyk) presented the fourth hurdy gurdy workshop / demonstration at the University of Chicago Folk Festival ( ). We had an audience of between 40 and 50 people, and our one-hour program was well-received. I'll include an outline of the presentation that worked for us; you are welcome to use it as is or as a starting point for a program of your own.

We began with the group playing "Are You Sleeping?" [key of C] together once, then three times as a round, to get people's attention and focus them on us. We then took turns talking about the following topics and then playing a tune or two, alternating talking and playing. We finished with a question and answer (Q & A) session, and then invited people to come up and see the instruments up close.

Description of the instrument
• like a mechanical violin with a keyboard
• wheel & crank
• keyboard
• but wait, there's more: drones
• but wait, there's more: sympathetic strings
• but wait, there's more: buzzing bridge

More about the instrument
• takes a lot of fussing and adjustment (high maintenance instrument)
• rosin & cotton
• tangents
• problem sounds: cats fighting, musical knife sharpener

But where's your monkey?
• in English, there are other instruments with the same name
• barrel organ (preprogrammed tunes like an ice cream truck)
• Jack-in-the-Box toy
• other cranked music boxes
• other languages have more descriptive names
• Some hurdy gurdy buskers have been known to bring along a small dog or marmot (woodchuck or groundhog)

Different designs in different cultures
• simple begger instrument
• French style
• Hungarian style
• played for dancing, played with bagpipes to lead wedding procession
• used in compositions by Vivaldi, Schubert, others
• the electric guitar of their day
• banned from some towns because of the noise

The sad story of the Hurdy Gurdy girls
• German girls recruited to entertain with hurdy gurdy at sales shows
• girls shipped to California in Gold Rush era (1850s)
• saloons in American west in 1800s called "hurdy gurdy houses" (Twain), although some dispute as to which "hurdy gurdy" was meant
• unsavory reputation

Hurdy gurdy sightings
• Spencer Tracy in the 1937 film Captains Courageous
• Donovan's 1968 song "Hurdy Gurdy Man" – no hurdy gurdy in recording, but it brought name awareness
• Sting at the 76th Academy Awards in 2003
• Tom Hanks in the 2004 film Polar express

Modern hurdy gurdy revival
• refurbishing old instruments
• design features in new instruments
• modern groups incorporating hurdy gurdy
• annual get-togethers in states of Washington and Indiana

Accessories and props useful in the presentation:
• Set up a clock or cell phone with a large time display in sight on the floor to keep track of the time; the U of C workshops are scheduled from the top of the hour until 50 minutes after, allowing 10 minutes for one group to pack up and the next group to set up.
• I like to bring a small portable speaker/amp (I use a Pignose), a microphone stand, and a microphone for whoever is speaking; our presentation room is fairly large.
• I made up a binder containing pictures of hurdy gurdies: photos of instruments and copies of art containing hurdy gurdies.
• about a dozen printed copies of the Wikipedia Hurdy Gurdy article to give to people that might not have Internet access
• business cards listing the national and Chicago hurdy gurdy group mailing lists

Things I would do differently next time:
• I'd spend a little time having each presenter introduce themselves, give a brief description of their instrument, and talk about when they first saw a hurdy gurdy and what kind of music they play on it.
• I'd spend a bit of time on the history of the instrument, its development from a folk instrument to a fashionable prop in the French court, to its displacement by more modern instruments, to the repression of street musicians in Russia in the late 1800s and near-eradication by the Soviets in the 1930s (250-300 players "lirnyky" rounded up and executed).
• Due to unavoidable problems, several people that normally play hurdy gurdy as part of a musical group were unable to attend. At past workshops, we have had a variety of playing styles demonstrated accompanied by guitar, banjo, penny whistle, and accordion. I think if you can arrange at least some pieces to be played as part of a group, it makes the instrument seem less of an historic curiosity and more of a real living instrument.
• I'd mention that there are many YouTube videos – just search [hurdy gurdy]
• If video projection facilities were available, I think it might be nice to have a slide show running continuously showing pictures of hurdy gurdies on a screen in the background.
• I'd suggest stopping after 35 to 40 minutes to leave time for questions and "meet the instruments".
• I'd state a firm "Thank you, goodbye" at 50 minutes, and say conversations can be continued out in the hall or in another room, to give the next group time to set up and start on time.
• Above all, if time is short and it's a question of talking or playing, PLAY! People are primarily there to hear the instrument!

Questions we were asked:
• What does it sound like? (from someone coming in for the next workshop while we were doing Q & A)
• Was there any music written specifically for the hurdy gurdy?
• Is there special musical notation for hurdy gurdy (drones, buzzing bridge)?
• What wood is used on the instrument?
• Where can you get one?
• How much does a hurdy gurdy cost?
• Where can you learn to play one?
• Is it hard to play?
• Can you play a hurdy gurdy with other instruments?
• Do many people play them?
• Where can I hear one?
• How does the buzzing bridge work?

Tunes that we played (the ones I can remember):
• Are You Sleeping? / Frere Jacques
• Amazing Grace
• several original compositions
• Brillig
• Two An Dros ("Stomp")
• Elenke / Pease Bransle
• Cuckoo
• Horse's Bransle
• Chypre

Check with Ann Dorries ( ) for photos of the event.

-Gary Plazyk, 2/14/2014

The #HurdyGurdy Weekly :|: #HGWeekly :|:

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