Unusual instruments in Honolulu

I just heard Ian Capps’ interview on Hawaii Public Radio about this weekend’s upcoming Early Music Hawaii concerts with Ciaramella, and thought perhaps you had questions about some of the unusual instruments that will be played. The concerts will be Saturday, March 10th at 7:30 pm at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, and repeated on Sunday, March 11th at 2:00 pm at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity, in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.

Members of the group include: Adam Gilbert (shawm, recorder, bagpipe, dulcian), Rotem Gilbert (shawm, recorder, bagpipe), Malachai Komanoff Bandy (shawm, viol, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipe), Aki Nishiguchi (shawm, recorder, cornamuse) and Jason Yoshida (vihuela, guitar, percussion).

I found a great website called Musica Antiqua of Iowa State University which not only shows pictures of people playing these instruments but also includes audio samples. Here is the picture of the shawm—and you can see that it is being played outdoors, so it must be pretty loud!

Medieval shawm

At great feasts they are to play upon shagbut, cornetts,shawms and other instruments going with wind. Richard Brathwaite, 1621. Click here for an audio sample of an alto shawm.

Hurdy gurdy

Another unusual instrument will be the hurdy gurdy, considered an ideal instrument for dance music. It is a stringed instrument, played by turning the crank on a wheel and pushing on keys attached to the strings.

You can hear a sample of this instrument here.




I bet you didn’t know what a dulcian is either—in fact we have a stop on the organ called “dulzian,” which we consider a reed stop. The dulcian (also known as curtal) was used as an outdoor band instrument and came in several sizes, based on a double bore principle: “Two parallel holes drilled in the same piece of wood and connected at one end by a U-curve allowed an instrument to sound twice as low for its apparent length as one with a single bore.” It could also be muted to sound softer and sweeter by inserting a cap onto the bottom.

Here is a picture from the Iowa State University website of a man playing a dulcian, and you can hear a sample of this instrument by clicking here.

Lastly, the cornamuse which will be played by Aki Nishiguchi, and is similar to a crumhorn “but quieter, lovelier and very soft,” as described by Praetorius. “The cornamuse was clearly described by Praetorius, and is yet a mystery in these modern times, because none have survived to the present and because of the confusion of instrument names at the time. Different names which were used for similar instruments and similar names used for different instruments. The name cornamuse from the Latin cornamusa commonly meant bagpipe as in the French cornemuse. The use of the name dolzaina, from the Latin dulcis(sweet), is thought to be the same or a similar instrument to the cornamuse, and yet the name is often intermingled with the dulzan or dulzian of the curtal families. These two names were sometimes used in the same sentence, as in an ensemble consisting of dolzaina, cornamuse, shawm and mute cornett.”

The cornamuse

You can hear the cornamuse here.

Ciaramella brings to life Medieval and early Renaissance music from historical events and manuscripts. Praised for performing intricate fifteenth-century counterpoint “with the ease of jazz musicians improvising on a theme,” its members are united by the conviction that every composition conceals a rich story waiting to be unlocked through historical research and speculative performance. 

Ciaramella ensemble for 15th century music

It’s a concert not to be missed! (and I’m soooo sorry I will be away this weekend in Seattle).

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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