4 Unusual, yet Fun, Instruments
We all know about the instruments of the orchestra, from stringed instruments, to brass, to percussion, but other more unusual instruments exist, which, although often played solo, can be just as much fun to play.
- The Theremin is unusual in the way that its operator produces the notes. Rather than produce sounds from passing a bow over various strings, or covering up various wind holes, the notes are produced by the operator moving their hands close to the instrument’s two antennas. The instrument, which dates to 1920, was invented by Russian physicist Lev Termen. It has featured on the theme to the Midsomer Murders television series. It is perfect for the haunting sounds required and produces an enchanting sound in the hands of Celia Sheen. To think of its equivalent in the orchestra, The Theremin has been likened to a glissando being played on a violin. As a result of Robert Moog, an electronic enthusiast, who began building them in the 1950s, when he was still in high school, they still exist today. Their fun element exists in the fact that their player can only view its notes as an invisible space. To the untrained player, their early renditions are likely to resemble something unrecognisable as any known melody.
- The Glass Harmonica, also known as the glass armonica, would seem an inventive way to make music with wine glasses, as a series of rotating glass bowls produce the music as its player touches them with wet fingers. Although originally used by its inventor Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, to play Scottish tunes, Virtuoso composers, such as Beethoven and Mozart, were known to have incorporated the instrument in the arrangements of their pieces. This conjures up imagery of party guests finding a different use for their drinking vessels, after the wine runs dry. The first musician to play an instrument constructed of glass vessels (a glass harp) was Irish musician Richard Pockrich. He would literally rub his finger against the rims to produce his musical tones.
- If you happen to be visiting America, hidden away in the Luray Caverns of Virginia, USA, exists The Great Stalacpipe organ, which is known to be the world’s largest musical instrument. It is enclosed within a cave spanning 64 acres and can be heard for a range of 3.5 acres. Unlike a conventional church or theatre organ, it does not use pipes. Instead, soft rubber mallets strike stalactites of varying lengths and thicknesses. For many, the mere thought of this organ will take many of us back to our science lessons, when the teacher attempted to explain the difference between the stalactites and stalagmites, which are the mineral deposits that form in caves. The difference being that Stalactites appear inverted from the ceiling, and stalagmites rise from the floor.
- Native to Australia, the Digeridoo has a long wooden pipe which produces its sound. Traditionally, its body is formed naturally by termites which will hollow out entire trees. It was Indigenous Australians who can claim to be the first to create an instrument out of these abandoned, primarily eucalyptus branches. To produce the sound, its player will continuously vibrate their lips, which then produces a continuous drone not unlike that of bagpipes. It is a difficult technique to master, involving a breathing technique referred to as ‘circular breathing’. All good fun and amusing to watch.
Whether or not these unusual instruments are fun to play, may depend on how quickly they could be learned. According to studies, to reach any level of excellence on the Theremin, would take us at least 10,000 hours of practise.