Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    Hurdy-gurdy: contemporary destinations
    Nowotnik, Piotr ( 2012)
    The aim of this dissertation is to bring the fact of presence of a relatively unknown musical instrument – the hurdy-gurdy – to reader’s attention while focusing on the musicality of the instrument and its constant evolution throughout the history to modern times. The hurdy-gurdy is often considered a musical oddity – a novelty – often misunderstood due to its inaccurate etymology and – oddly enough – suffering a stigma of marginalisation which originated from outdated social class divisions throughout our history of culture. Those who decided to uncover the true past of the instrument often had to confront problems of a logistic or economic nature – e.g. the hurdy-gurdy is not easy to acquire, to build or to purchase. Those conditions though lead to the creation of a special bond with the instrument, which I as a composer, researcher and hurdy-gurdy player, find unique and very rewarding; a bond which I could not successfully form with any popular and widely available musical instrument. While enthusiasm and dedication is necessary to become a competent player, the appreciation of the past of the hurdy-gurdy is very satisfying and inspirational adventure taking aspiring players through the sounds and musical idioms which are not easily found in popular streams originating from past three centuries of popularized tradition. By presenting the current status quo of this instrument, I am aiming at delivering an accessible compendium of information and insight into the plethora of potential musical application for the hurdy-gurdy, – with respect to currently available instruments, performed and recorded music and areas for further experimentation and development. In doing so, I decided to utilise descriptive analyses of samples of existing music representing different artistic approach to the instrument; interviews with selected players and makers and my own personal experience with technical aspects of the hurdy-gurdy. Knowing the instrument without hearing its traditional oeuvre and playing it for the first time without knowing ‘what to play’ is probably one of the most important moments in one’s own discovery of a new world of sounds. While the chronological brief included in this work addresses a wide historical scope, the main objective is to present the hurdy-gurdy as an able and adequate instrument for music students today, amateur and professional performers and enthusiasts alike, as well as for musicologists. The chapters discussing technical solutions allowing the hurdy-gurdy to be adequately incorporated into contemporary styles of music and its idioms require an intermediate level of understanding of musical terminology and physical aspects of sound-production, conductivity of the sound waves and a basic level of knowledge on instrument maintenance and handling. A certain level of knowledge on electrification, amplification, recording and MIDI equipment is advised yet not critical for an understanding of this dissertation. The existing knowledge about the instrument suffers from inadequacies in its scope – historical treaties are lacking musical application for contemporary player and many modern-day enthusiasts of the instrument are often limited in perceiving their instrument as a passable tool for contemporary improvisation and musical experiments. I therefore believe that this dissertation will encapsulate the majority of the aspects of the instrument and shed a wider light on its presence in musical culture.