Sun 4 Dec 2005
On an interesting small street leading into Place des Vosges named Pas de la Mule (this was a step used to get up on mules or horses, now gone) is a little store simply named Andre Bissonnet. The owner came from a family of butchers which once operated out of this store. He, however, is a musician with a love of ancient musical instruments. In fact, inside the window, up above, is a metal bar which meat used to hang from, now holding various horns. I always look in the window when I pass as it is full of musical instruments that I either don’t know or they are very oldsand made of wood and painted beautifully. One day I looked in and he opened the door and invited me in. He normally opens in the afternoon for a couple of hours, starting at two. I asked about a couple of instruments and he played them for me. One of them was the hurdy gurdy. For some reason, I have heard this name before. I think in an old song. Here is a description of the hurdy gurdy:
To describe the hurdy-gurdy is a challenge; one might call it a sort of mechanical violin. It is strapped to the midriff of the player, who can be seated or standing. Whereas a fiddler draws a bow across a violin’s strings, a hurdy-gurdy player uses the right hand to turn a crank, which is attached via a metal shaft to a wheel (usually of wood) mounted within the instrument. As the wheel turns, its edge, which is coated with rosin, rubs against the strings causing them to vibrate: a continuous circular bow. This steady bowing action, when applied to the drone strings, helps create the hurdy-gurdy’s bagpipe-like sound. The player’s left hand, like that of the fiddler, produces the melody. Instead of pressing strings against a finger board, however, the fingers press sliding keys which cause the melody string(s) to be shortened and therefore to increase in pitch.
Anyway, he played it for me, using a violin bow on the right side, and playing a small keyboard on the other.
Here he is playing the hurdy gurdy. His store is number 6.
And here is a shot of the nearby Place des Vosges that I changed in photoshop.