Friday 25 November 2011

Please can I keep it? It followed me home...

I was feeling a little unfocused and restless yesterday so decided to go for a walk after lunch.

I wandered past the charity shop on Leytonstone High Road, as I sometimes do, and decided to have a peek inside.

I came home with a musical instrument. This is why I shouldn't be allowed out of the house unsupervised...

At first glance, it just looks like a box.

A box with strange protrusions and fittings, mind, but a box all the same.

But this is what happens when you get it open!

The "lid" goes all the way vertical...

...then folds backward. Release the little metal tab at the top...

...and you get a bellows!

The bellows are operated with one hand while the other plays the 3/4-size keys.

I don't have enough hands to play and pump and hold the camera.

Brother James's Air by artsyhonker

From what the internet tells me, this is a very simple portable harmonium. More complicated ones have drone stops which, when activated, sound a drone note constantly, and some also have couplers or even separate sets of reeds to give various different textures.

I'm quite pleased with this: I finally have a keyboard instrument that can play more than one note at once which fits on my bicycle. The fact that it doesn't require electricity is an added bonus. I think it will be really good for folk music and some bits of community music, and it suits me a lot better than trying to learn the guitar would (though that is still on the wishlist). But to be honest, I probably would have bought it anyway; I have a soft spot for weird and wonderful instruments, even if they're not all that practical.

There are a few very low and very high notes where the tuning is a bit of an issue, and I'm wondering exactly what is involved in maintenance of an instrument like this. It looks like flathead screwdrivers are required for taking it apart, but I haven't done more than give it a superficial dusting.

(Some of the alignment is messed up in this post, but to fix it I would have to re-upload all of those pictures, so I'm not going to. Sorry. It's staying crooked.)


Anonymous said...

It looks to me a bit like the kind of instrument often used to accompany Hindu worship and other Indian music. I hope you will be very happy with it. Should be very useful.

Kathryn Rose said...


Yes, I think the portable harmonium is often used in Indian music; I meant to put that in the main body of the post but left it out in haste.

Alyce said...

I'd have bought it if I'd been there! Way cool.

Samantha said...

Tuning will be a little tricky. The sound is made in the same way as in a harmonica, by air being pushed (or pulled) past reeds in close fitting slots. Tuning the reeds is done by filing/weighting them, but the really tricky part is setting them back in the slots where the fit is, naturally, going to be very close.