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Steve Lane  “The Hurdy Gurdy man ”

Mr Lane gave an amusing and informative talk which he not only illustrated with pictures of Hurdy Gurdys but demonstrated and played three examples of the instrument.


Steve has lived in Stokesley for 30 years & is a prominent member of the Stokesley Wine Society. Although he has always been interested in folk music and played guitar & sang as a hobby, his job before retirement was as a chemical engineer at ICI.


The first misconception he corrected was that a Hurdy Gurdy & a street piano are the same. The only similarity is that a handle is turned to produce the note. In a Hurdy Gurdy the strings, made from gut & coated in rosin, are stretched in contact( via a pad of cotton wool) with a wheel, which when turned has the same effect as continually bowing a violin. The melody strings have keys which ‘stop’ the strings to vary the note, or a constant note can be sounded, similar to the drone on a bagpipe. In fact, to produce a pleasing note the instruments have to be manufactured to close tolerances, particularly the roundness of the wheel.  Only a few expert makers exist & a modern instrument costs between £2,000 & £4,500.


The Hurdy Gurdy has had a chequered history, it was originally, in the 10th century used to play religious music with one player to turn the handle while a second played the keys. Technology improved ;more strings were added; a lute back increased the volume of sound; improved keys allowed tuning & rapid note changes in both major & minor keys. Also, it evolved to become an instrument for one player.


These changes were recorded in, for example, stone carvings on cathedrals, such as at Santiago de Compostela & Beverley Minster, & in the triptych paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.  The hurdy gurdy became popular in Italy & southern France to accompany dancing.  Its status improved so far that it was played at the court of Louis XV1& music for it was composed by well known composers.  After the French Revolution its popularity waned & it became the instrument of street musicians, vagabonds & beggars. However, in the last few decades it has undergone a dramatic revival as an instrument to play folk music or accompany folk songs.  Modern instruments are innovative with longer keyboards, larger sound boxes & even electric pick-ups.


The various styles of music were demonstrated by Steve on the 3 Hurdy Gurdys he expertly played.

A vote of thanks was proposed by David Houston.