Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Magic of Musical Instruments

Ever since I was a child I have felt the magic of musical instruments. They just have a kind of numinous aura: they speak when you pick them up or touch them! Not all of them, of course. You can't actually pick up a piano and if you pick up a tuba it does not have quite the same magic.

I suppose I am mostly talking about the kind of instruments that were always kicking around our house. My mother was mostly a fiddler so there were a few violins in cases hidden behind the easy chair and under the couch. But there were also guitars, mandolins, banjos, an octophone and even an upright piano, though that felt more like a musical piece of furniture.

But string instruments, they definitely have the magic. Because, when you pick them up, they thrum with tension. The slightest tap or movement can set the strings moving and with them a sound. There is an energy, a dynamic, to string instruments even when they are not being played. The strings of a classical guitar, when tuned up to pitch, exert a torque of about 125 lbs on the bridge.

String instruments speak to you as you touch them. Nothing else in the house does--well, ok, the radio (we didn't have a tv), but that kind of "speech" is all too mundane. No, the speech of string instruments is like the speech of oracles: obscure and veiled in mystery.

To many guitarists their instruments have a personality: B. B. King's Gibson was always Lucille and she even has her own entry in Wikipedia.

Click to enlarge
He even wrote a song for her:

My guitar is named Hermione, not after the character in Harry Potter, as I named her in 1983, when she was built, long before the books were written. No, she is named after the daughter of Helen of Troy, said to be even more beautiful. Instead of the face that launched a thousand ships, my Hermione is the sound that launched a thousand concerts:

And here she is with Leyenda by Isaac Albéniz:

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