Joining the sounds of fiddles, mandolins, guitars and drums at Northwest Fiddlefest 2011 was another instrument, one a lot less known: a hurdy gurdy.
The hurdy gurdy is an instrument that has always fascinated David Burda, who was thrilled to acquire his very own six years ago.
Since then, he self-taught himself how to play the melodious instrument whose roots trace back to the 1100s.
“I heard it on a CD and I just loved the sound,” Burda said.
The Internet, it turns out, is a wonderful thing so in a short period of time he had landed himself the instrument that was cool for two reasons, he said. One, he could now play the instrument that so fascinated him and two, once he learned how to play it he could bring it to the streets and do what he always wanted to do while grow up: busking.
“I thought a hurdy gurdy would be an excellent instrument for busking because most people haven’t seen or heard one before or who don’t know what it is,” he said.
In fact, it was while busking in Vancouver that he got the chance to leave the beaten track and travel up north to Smithers.
Originally from Germany, he decided to apply for a work Visa to come to Canada for one year and for the past year has been seen on many a Canadian street, playing his ever faithful hurdy gurdy.
Overall, busking is about location, he said. Even if you’re playing the best music, if you’re in a bad location you won’t make any money doing it, Burda said. Yet somewhere else, you could be off your game that tiny little bit and it won’t matter.
“There’s no rule, that’s one of the fascinating things about busking,” he said. “It’s unpredictable, you never know what’s going to happen.”
And his original estimation that it would turn out to be very popular was very true, he said.
“Sometimes I only have to tune it and people are already fascinated,” Burda said.
While playing in Vancouver he began chatting with Walter Bucher, who helped organize this year’s Fiddlefest event. From there, Burda earned himself an invite and is thrilled to be in the Bulkley Valley.
For those who don’t know what a hurdy gurdy is, the earliest records indicate the instrument originated in northwest Spain from 1100 A.D., Burda explained. Often it was used for sacred music in monasteries before organs were invented until it was picked up by wander minstrels who would take the tunes across Germany, France, Italy, England and throughout Europe.
“The minstrels brought it to the villages, then they used it for weddings,” Burda said. “You find lots of old paintings or descriptions of people getting drunk at weddings and listening to hurdy gurdy music.”
It’s only been just recently that the instrument has been forgotten, practically extinct, although some manufacturers do still make the hurdy gurdy.
“I’ve travelled all over Europe with this and it existed in almost every country, at least in central and western Europe, but people won’t believe it,” Burda said. “If I play in Canada, people ask if I invent this instrument myself. When I say no, it’s a hurdy gurdy then they ask if I made that up.”
Even so, it’s quite the honour to keep this old tradition alive as he’s travelling and doing what he loves: busking, and sharing the tunes he so fell in love with one fateful day while listening to a CD.