The cello as a percussion instrument

Romanian Garon
Romanian Gardon player (photo by Jack Campin)

This is going to be a quick post as I have to go teach this afternoon and then rehearse with the IU Southeast Orchestra tonight.  But I had come across what’s called a “pogo cello” just a bit ago.  The wikipedia entry for the instrument states:

The pogo cello was created in the 1950s in Brooklyn, New York by a chemist, Mack Perry, the husband of a music educator, Sylvia Perry. Perry patterned it after a similar instrument called a bumbass (boombas, boomba, or boom bass) also known as a stump fiddle (or stumpf fiddle). Pogocellos were manufactured in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway, New York and in New Jersey. The pogocello was sold in the United States for decades as a musical instrument for children, but many adults also bought them for themselves.

Pogocellos have been seen in marching bands in Iowa and in the Mummers’ parade in Philadelphia, PA on New Year’s Day. Similar instruments may be found today in Australia, Czechoslovakia and in Sweden (a Devil’s fiddle or Devil’s stick) and in other countries, for example at Oktoberfests. They have been played in blues, soul, bluegrass and other kinds of musical groups. Television show host, Garry Moore, played one on his show in the 1950s. Since 1975 the Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society, an American traditional music group which plays Celtic, French Canadian, Appalachian, nautical, and other kinds of folk music, has featured a pogocello made by woodcarver Rita Dunipace, and pogocello player David “Doc” Rosen.

A great video describing and demonstrating the instrument:

Continue reading “The cello as a percussion instrument”

Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: “What If the Cello had Originated in Azerbaijan?”

Chaganeh player in Azerbaijan
Chaganeh player in Azerbaijan

For the Silk Road Ensemble musicians, hearing the ethereal voice of Azerbaijani mugham singer Alim Qasimov put their years of conservatory training into serious question.  As they delved into the mugham, they each wondered, “If this is how music should be played what have I been doing all these years?”

The quote above is from the liner notes to Kor Arab (otherwise known as Kor Ərəbin Mahnısı) which is track ten on the Silk Road Project CD, Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon.  The music was written by Fikret Amirov and the lyrics by Hüsayn Cavid.

Since I spent some time thinking about the origins of bowed string playing a couple of days ago I knew that I really wanted to say something about this instrument which I had just discovered while writing the post about origins.

The chaganeh is one of the few examples of world bowed strings that really closely matches the physical set-up of a cello and I was just thrilled to see a picture of it at the Wikipedia entry for kamancheh as I was writing the post mentioned above.  The kamancheh itself is an upright bowed spike fiddle as is the chaganeh, but as you can see from the photo above, the spike of the chaganeh is long enough, and the body of the instrument is big enough, that a musician can sit in a chair and play it upright and held between the legs.

As noted in the Wikipedia entry, the instrument is said to come from Azerbaijan, but with the little time I’ve had to look it up, I have come across other references stating the chaganeh originated in Iran.  Until I know more about the instrument I’ll simply say it’s of Central Asian origins.

The only video clip I’ve been able to find is this:

As you can hear, the range and timbre are very similar to that of the kamancheh and other spike fiddles of Central Asia and as you can see in the photo from which the above photo was extracted, it seems to be used as part of the standard art ensemble (Mugham) of Azerbaijan.  Continue reading “Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: “What If the Cello had Originated in Azerbaijan?””