Caroline Phillips

Hurdy-gurdy for beginners

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0:11

Now, since this is TEDGlobal, who can tell me what this is called in French? I see you're all up on the history of hurdy-gurdy — "vielle à roue." And in Spanish, "zanfona." And in Italian, "ghironda," okay? Hurdy-gurdy, or wheel fiddle.

0:28

So, these are the different kinds and shapes of the hurdy-gurdy. The hurdy-gurdy is the only musical instrument that uses a crank to turn a wheel to rub strings, like the bow of a violin, to produce music. It has three different kinds of strings. The first string is the drone string, which plays a continuous sound like the bagpipe. The second string is a melody string, which is played with a wooden keyboard tuned like a piano. And the third string is pretty innovative. It's also the only instrument that uses this kind of technique. It activates what's called the buzzing bridge, or the dog. When I turn the crank and I apply pressure, it makes a sound like a barking dog. So all of this is pretty innovative, if you consider that the hurdy-gurdy appeared about a thousand years ago and it took two people to play it; one to turn the crank, and another person — yes — to play the melody by physically pulling up large wooden pegs. Luckily, all of this changed a couple of centuries later. So, one person could actually play and almost — this is pretty heavy — carry the hurdy-gurdy.

1:51

The hurdy-gurdy has been used, historically, through the centuries in mostly dance music because of the uniqueness of the melody combined with the acoustic boombox here. And today, the hurdy-gurdy is used in all sorts of music — traditional folk music, dance, contemporary and world music — in the U.K., in France, in Spain and in Italy. And this kind of hurdy-gurdy takes anywhere from three to five years [to order and receive it]. It's made by specialized luthiers, also in Europe. And it's very difficult to tune.

2:28

So without further ado, would you like to hear it?

2:30

(Audience: Yes.)

2:32

Caroline Phillips: I didn't hear you. Would you like to hear it? (Audience: Yes!)

2:34

CP: Okay. There I go. I'd like to sing in Basque, which is the language spoken in the Basque Country where I live, in the region in France and Spain.

2:47

(Music)

2:56

[Basque]

3:41

(Music)

4:32

Thank you.

4:34

(Applause)

4:36

This is a song that I wrote based on traditional Basque rhythms. And this is a song that has a kind of a Celtic feel.

4:46

(Music)

5:26

Thank you. Thank you.

5:28

(Applause)

Caroline Phillips cranks out tunes on a seldom-heard folk instrument: the hurdy-gurdy, a.k.a. the wheel fiddle. A searching, Basque melody follows her fun lesson on its unique anatomy and 1,000-year history.

About the speaker
Caroline Phillips · Musician

Caroline Phillips' rich, soprano voice conjures up the far-and-wide cultures of the world, especially the sound and language of the Basque Country.

Caroline Phillips' rich, soprano voice conjures up the far-and-wide cultures of the world, especially the sound and language of the Basque Country.