Yesterday I got back from a wonderful course at Halsway taught by Vicki Swan. It was a lot of hard work but fantastic fun. I have lots of playing improvements to work on, and lots of new tunes to learn. This year will be remembered as the year of the scaffolding!Also posted to:
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.
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.
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.
It didn’t take long to cut out the new tailpiece shape with hand saws, but I had a sore shoulder for a week or two afterwards!
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.
So there it is – another bit of recycled piano ready for some serious shaping.
A privilege to play kontrabasharpa in the largest gathering of players of the instrument in the UK – many thanks Vicki Swan! Having heard what Magnus Holmström can do with my kontrabasharpa, I now need to start playing it more and talking about it less
The “näcken” is a Scandinavian water sprite who plays the fiddle or nyckelharpa, luring people to a watery grave. I found one on our recent trip to Sweden. Here’s the video:
I simply had to have a go at making a bow. I’d saved a bit of branch from the tree trimming last Autumn, and once it was properly dried out I shaped it and added a frog, adjustable with a bit of silver wire in grooves on the stick.
The hair comes from an old fiddle bow – but I must really get hold of some black hair to make it look really traditional!