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World Music CD of the Month

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The Participant Observer Music CD of the Month is Territoires by La Vent du Nord. With 10 CDs released Le Vent du Nord is Québec Canada's leading group in the progressive francophone folk movement. Translated into English, the group's name is "The North Wind". Their music blends traditional Québécois music (music from Quebec) with more contemporary world music influences. Led by Nicolas Boulerice, who plays the vielle a rou (aka hurdy-gurdy), also known as a "fiddle-wheel".* The remainer of the instruments played include two violins, piano, basse, mélodéon (diatonic button accordion), bombardes (shawms) and pieds (foot stomping/percussion). The solo vocals are accompanied by multi-part harmonies but several of the tracks are instrumental. Most of the music is high in energy and all the vocals are in French. The 13 tracks of Territoires revolve around 13 "Territories" real, imagined and metaphorical.


Hurdy Gurdy

About the Hurdy-Gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy is a four to six-stringed instrument in which sound is generated by a hand-cranked wheel rubbing against tensioned strings. The strings can be individually raised and lowered and numerous "keys" can be fingered that press individual wooden pieces against individual strings to create a melody. The one to three remaining strings are drones (called bourdons) playing the same notes continuously. Lastly there is frequently an entirely separate string known as the trompette which is a higher pitch drone string that reacts to the force of the cranking creating a buzz and a percussive slap that can create a sharper rhythm.

The hurdy-gurdy was developed from the 3-stringed instrument known as an organistrum, much larger than a hurdy-gurdy which needed two people to play, one to turn the wheel, the other to press the keys for the melody notes. Originally an instrument played in Catholic churches to accompany choral numbers and Gregorian chants, it was replaced by the newly invented pipe organ 200 years later as a liturgical instrument (although the precursors to the church organ were invented much earlier. Interestingly enough the organistrum pre-dated the invention of the violin by several hundred years. Eventually the organistrum morphed into a much smaller instrument that could be played by a single musician giving birth the the hurdy-gurdy.

The use of the instrument spread throughout most of Europe and became a folk instrument favored by the lower classes coming to be known by some as the beggar's lyre. Under Louis the X1V the hurdy-gurdy became popular among the social elite as the king demanded more "youthful" art to be produced.

"Hurdy-gurdy the name bestowed in the 18th century name is thought to be either onomatopoeic or derived from the older English vernacular, "hurly-burly", denoting busy, noisy, boisterous activity. Since the beginning the instrument has taken many design forms, has had many other names (vielle à roue, vièrlerète/vièrlète, , bauernleier, ghironda, zarrabete and sanfona to name but a few) depending on where in the world it was played and even today there is no such thing as a "standard" hurdy-gurdy and variations abound.

Special note: If you survived the '60's you might remember the Donovan tune "Hurdy Gurdy Man" a haunting tune about "singing songs of love". However the droning instrument heard on the song is not a hurdy gurdy, it is, instead, a four-string Indian tambura given to the singer by the late George Harrison.
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