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The hurdy gurdy, known in France as the vielle a roue or vielle for short, is an ancient instrument which is undergoing a modern renaissance in Europe and America. First, to dispel a popular misconception: the hurdy gurdy was not played by the organ grinder or his monkey. They used a large music box operated by a crank . Today's hurdy gurdy is roughly the same as those built in the Middle Ages. It has three to six strings which are caused to vibrate by a resined wheel turned by a crank. Melody notes are produced on one string, or two tuned in unison, by pressing keys whi ch stop the string at the proper intervals for the scale. The other strings play a drone note. Some instruments have a "dog", "trompette" or "buzzing bridge". A string passes over a moveable bridge, which by a clever movement of the crank in the open hand, can produce a rasping rhythm to accompany the tune by causing the bridge to hammer on the sound board. The instrument is held in the lap with a strap to hold it steady. The case can be square, lute back, or flat back with a guitar or fiddle shape. Forms o f the vielle a roue existed not only in France, but in Germany, Italy, Britain, Russia, Spain and Hungary.
The earliest known form of t he vielle a roue was called an organistrum and bore little resemblance to the modern one. It was so large that one person turned the crank and another played the keys. The wooden keys were arranged in various ways depending on whether secular or religious music was to be played. The organistrum was only capable of playing slow melodies and simple harmony because of the hard key action. It's main use was in the medieval church.
In the middle of July « Le son continu » brings together lovers of traditional instruments, music and dance in the grounds of the Château d’Ars, close to the town of La Châtre in the region of central France known as Berry (Dept 36-Indre). At the heart of the event is an exhibition of hand-made instruments with more than one hundred craftsmen presenting their hurdy-gurdies, bagpipes, accordions and other acoustic and ethnic instruments.