More Curious Musical Instruments For Your Pleasure

Hi, well I am still wandering around the deeper and odder depths of Youtube to see what I might stumble upon, and this time I have come up with a rich haul of musical oddities, well, not so much musical oddities as odd musical instruments, which of course means that the music is also rather odd.

I enjoy finding musical instruments that people invent for one reason or another, mainly I suppose because they desire a particular sound that no existing instrument is capable of giving them, and some of them are truly weird.

The first one is an enormous instrument called The Earth Harp, which is the invention of a curious bloke called William Close, obviously a man with one hell of a broad vision to life.  I shall offer you two videos of this instrument, the first being from that tedious show called “…..  Has Talent”, as in this video he gives a short explanation of the instrument, and then plays it to universal acclaim.  The second video is someone else playing the Earth Harp at a TEDeX talk, so the instrument is properly explained, mostly in the “about under the video window if you watch the video on Youtube, rather than the somewhat showy approach used in the  “America Has Talent” version.

I apologies for the long run in before we actually hear the instrument, but such is the way of such shows…  Also for some reason whoever uploaded the video changed the format, so everyone is short and fat.. odd.

So here we go…………….

So, now you know roughly what it is all about, here is a different person playing it at a TedeX talk…

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Palast Orchester – Ah, Those Weimar Days……

I came across this rather fine German band the other day, purely by accident, as so often is the case on the Internet. In this case a very happy accident.

This is a full size dance band who go under the name Palast Orchester, specialise in recreating the music and sound of the 1920’s and 30’s, as represented by German music of that tumultuous period, and which is being remarkably successful all over the world – Nostalgia anyone?

Before discussing them to any degree, I thought it best to offer you a typical example of their work to whet your appetite somewhat, so here goes with their version of this Weimar classic.

By the way, in spite of its appearance, this video does work OK, just click on the red arrow and off it will go.

This video gives you pretty well all the elements of this bunch of German musicians (well, except for the violinist, who is an Italian).  In passing I would mention that for some reason whilst the band is essentially made up of men there is always the one woman in the band, the violinist, the current one (in this video) being Cecilia Crisafulli.

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Images To Inspire Great Stories

Every so often I find that I have collected a pile of curious images that I use to spark ideas in my head for my writing, and I also like to share some of them with you guys, to see if you can use them to help you either to write yourself, or as resources for your students to help them get started with their writings.

So, here are a new load of weird and strange images, each of which can certainly be used to spark ideas.


I particularly like this one, it has such a yearning feel to it… I know it is actually very banal, but there has to be a story lurking in it somewhere…  What is he thinking?  Why did he go to sea?  Is he approaching some important point in his life?   And so it goes, such an image has so many stories in it.

Or to go to the other extreme, from yearning to downright silly, here is one that any Dutch people will certainly recognise at once, a room full of Sint Nicholas’s.  For the non-Dutch among you, it should at the very least give rise to strange thoughts about gatherings of imitation bishops, a fancy dress party in which every one accidentally wore the same costume… and so on.. no end of ideas in this one I feel.

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Black Sabbath And Traffic – Worlds Apart!

Back when I was working as what was known as a “Lighting Roadie” – which means I was one of the guys who rigged the lights and then worked on a follow spot during rock tours and Festivals, I toured with a number of very different bands.

Basically in those days we roadies were mainly self-employed and were hired to work on a particular tour or Festival, in other words we did not work for the bands directly, but for the lighting company (in the case of lighting roadies) who employed us for that tour or event.  So I found myself working with a pretty wide range of bands, some good, some great and many bloody awful to work with.

At those opposite ends of the spectrum there are two bands who stand out, Black Sabbath at the bloody awful end, and Traffic at the truly great end.

Black Sabbath:

I worked on the European section of their 1974 World Tour, which was the start of that huge tour.   So I was involved in the rehearsals for the tour, which took place on the stage of a cinema in London (can’t remember where).  This was all rather odd, as we rehearsed during the day there, and the owners of the cinema also rented the auditorium out to all manner of other people, so you had the ridiculous situation of a bunch of Heavy Metal Rockers on the stage, rehearsing their music with the stage curtains closed, and in the auditorium, a bunch of 6 year old kids having a “kiddie’s Disco” or something similar at the same time.


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The Many Faces Of Bach’s Toccata And Fugue

At some point about 1740, it is thought that Bach wrote what has become perhaps his most famous work for the organ, the extremely well known Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – well many people think that he wrote it, an equal number it seems are convinced that he did not write it.  Perhaps it was written by Shakespeare?

However that may be, and to be honest, I don’t really care who wrote it, as it is simply a very enjoyable piece of music, which for me is all that matters. It has been interpreted by no end of musicians in an amazing range of styles and on all manner of instruments.   I suspect that it has been subjected to more versions than just about any other piece of music, some good, some superb, and some – of course – God awful.

I have a number of different versions of this work in my music collection, and as I was listening to several of them the other day I thought it might be fun to have a look and see how many differing versions I could find, and I was amazed at what I found…  Everything from organs, through banjos to Heavy Metal versions, all good in their way and enjoyable to a greater or lesser degree – depending on one’s musical tastes I suppose.   Mine are extremely catholic (please note the small “c”) so I like pretty well all the versions that follow.

So, to set the scene, here is a performance of the standard version, on a church organ thus…

Splendid stuff I think you will agree.  Such power and emotion in this extraordinary piece of music.  I particularly love the second section where the organ runs happily up and down the keyboard…   Such happy music.   And then the sudden surges of the amazing power of a full size church organ.. Breath-taking stuff.

But, as I indicated above, there are many other versions of this piece, and some by their very nature are much less powerful, but still have the emotions of the original version, this one for example.  I know that it has a sound a bit like an organ, but it assuredly is not one.

I love the ethereal sound of the glass harmonica, such a purity of tone and that vibration… goes straight through me, but I do have a very serious sound system with speakers more than capable of reproducing all those clear sounds…  I am also always very impressed by the mere fact that anyone can play that collection of glasses, how the hell do they manage it?

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Serious Music Isn’t Always Serious……

Generally when people think of classical music (should that be Classical Music?) they do not immediately think of it as being funny in any way.   Nope, it is a serious matter, to be listened to in an almost religious silence, and unless you happen to live in China, no applause between movements or at the end of solo passages…    A serious matter is serious music!

Well, happily, this is not always the case.  There have been no end of people who have taken the piss out of serious music in the most enjoyable fashion imaginable.  And without in any way showing disrespect to the original piece of music in the case of pastiche performances of other people’s music, or in the case of people such as Hoffnung, the music that is written especially for his concerts, such as the Symphony for Orchestra and Vacuum Cleaner that was written for the first Interplanetary Festival.

Actually, most of the music that was played in those superb and anarchic concerts was rewritten classical stuff, such as the following two videos taken from that wonderful series of concerts.

In the first one, be patient…

or this wonderful bit of silliness.

It is well worth your while to get hold of the recordings of the entire concerts, as they are so wonderfully silly, but affectionate at the same time…

I am not quite sure what to make of this strange video, a Western Clown conducting an orchestra in Shanghai, and playing some Mozart on a bit of hose….   Not sure if it is funny, weird, or good….  But anyhow, here it is for your delectation…

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The Tuba – The Gentleman Of Instruments.

While I was friends with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band many years ago, I purchased Vivian Stanshall’s Tuba from him as he wanted to buy a Sousaphone as he felt it had more character than his Tuba, and I was tired of playing a trumpet.  I still have it with me – it has followed me from country to country as I have moved around the world, and whilst I no longer play it in any sort of a band, I do enjoy the occasional “Hurumph” through it.

I disagreed with him strongly about the Sousaphone having more character than a tuba, whatever that might mean, as I consider the tuba to be one of the Grand Old Men of musical instruments – the other being the double bass of course.

So with this in mind, as I was wandering the dark and dusty corridors of Youtube the other day, hunting for weird and wonderful instruments, I obviously came across a lot of tuba players, both serious and funny – all of which I duly noted down, with a view to sharing some of them with you here in due course.

And I feel that perhaps that moment might well have arrived, so without any more ado, here are some splendid examples of people taming the tuba for your amusement and pleasure.

When one thinks of the tuba, one’s mind goes straight to that wonderful English eccentric, Gerard Hoffnung, who made the tuba his own in a number of ways, both by playing them, and by his cartoons of them.   So to start us off, here he is.

This is a quartet of tubas giving us their version of a piece by Chopin…. Such delicacy of touch and emotion…

This wonderful performance shows clearly what a subtle and gentle instrument the tuba really is.  A sort of loving Grandfather of an instrument.  Capable of being both smooth, gentle or abrupt and growly at need..

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