Early September means the annual Halsway nyckelharpa meeting. This year Marwyn attended as a non-participant (i.e. groupie!) and enjoyed the concert and sessions (and catching up with her Swedish). I enjoyed the workshops and wished I could have been at all of them – the guest musicians were Josefina Paulson and Torbjörn Näsbom, with Vicki Swan also teaching some fascinating stuff (as well as organising the whole thing).

Moraharpa – top view

One feature was the increased number of gammelharpor (old style instruments) and their relations – not from the original period, but built recently (including my kontrabasharpa). The photo of Vicki’s Moraharpa (I thought it was Scott’s – they come from the same maker!) is one of several (along with measurements) I took – now I wonder what a future project could possibly be?

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Finally, now I have a proper setup for sound recording, I made a recording of the kontrabas nyckelharpa. This is “Polska från Hälleforsnäs”, solo at the start and end, but with two other tracks overlaid, thickest in the middle. I think that there it sounds almost like a Breton pipe band – but then it is a drone instrument.

The video has photos of the construction – with one taken at Halsway in September 2017 (thanks Linda Hall) of two kontrabasharpa players – me and Vicki Swan.

We had our home Yule Session yesterday – we played about 40 tunes using various combinations of fiddle (4), guitar (2), cello, ukelele, lever clarsach (2), piano, whistle (2 at least), three-row nyckelharpa, erhu, kontrabas nyckelharpa, 80 bass accordion … I think that’s it. It was a tremendous amount of fun! Many thanks to everyone who attended, musicians and those who fed and watered them ? and took photos.

harp and harpa
The nyckelharpa resting beside the lever harp

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Here’s the kontrabasharpa with its new tailpiece. I think it looks somewhat smarter than it did before.

Many thanks to lots of people for useful suggestions: Boris Koller, Kjell Lundvall, Magnus Holmström and Bo Nilsson. What’s not obvious: the tailpiece has a removable extension so it will go in the box, and the drone string is gut – an ancient violin D string from my youth, that cost me 2/3 or 2s 3d (that’s two shillings and threepence in old money), or about 11p in today’s coinage , and there is a very thin leather strip on the keybox to reduce key rattle.

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I had to take all the strings of the kontrabasharpa off, of course, to fit the new tailpiece. This gave me the opportunity to do other little jobs. I wanted to stain the tailpiece black, and thought it would also look quite good if the keybox sides are also stained. I also added a thin strip of fine leather (thanks Kjell Lundvall!) on one of the key retaining strips, to help prevent key rattle. This image also shows the tailpiece extension added, to give a longer rest for the elbow. It’s an extension because a long tailpiece won’t fit in the box I use! Thanks Magnus Holmström for this suggestion, and also for tricks on how to set up the keys properly.

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The tailpiece on the kontrabasharpa was originally designed to be somewhat over-engineered, as I had no idea how strong it really needed to be, or what I could get away with. Also I still have no certainty as to what the wood is that I used to make it! However (a) it works fine and is certainly way too heavy, and (b) it looks a bit ugly as well as heavy. Something more delicate is called for, and we’ll hope it doesn’t break.

piano wood

So there it is – another bit of recycled piano ready for some serious shaping.