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What is the hurdy gurdy?

The hurdy gurdy is not a pipe organ played by organ grinders with monkey sidekicks.

It is a fine stringed instrument similar in sound to a violin but with a drone accompaniment. I often say it sounds like a bagpipe violin!

A crank turns a wheel that is rosined, which then rubs on strings that are cushioned with fine cotton/silk wool. In addition to having a drone string(s), a chromatic keyboard is activated with sideways finger pressure, which acts to shorten the strings. It is this sideways pressure that “frets” the string and also requires a downward tip of the gurdy to move the key off the string once it is released. Only one note of melody can be played at a time, no chords. If this were not enough, one drone string is design to be “buzzed” when another string is tightened. Thus, it can pulse a rhythm when “English” is applied to the turn of the crank. For this reason the instrument very commonly played at French dances, where it’s loud and bouncing rhythm is just perfect to set feet moving.

Christine uses the instrument for more evocative music appropriate for memorial and funeral services. It adds just the right touch of “southern fiddle sound” to many spirituals and hymns.