Our world is rich, vibrant, and full of diversity, and our world of music is no different. There are musical instruments out there that reveal to us so much of the world that we didn't even know existed. They embody entire cultures, people and their beliefs, echo thoughts, feelings, and dreams, and re-tell age-old stories over and over again. Like living entities, they play the messengers to our thoughts and emotions. Whatever language we speak, the language of music can be understood by all.
Around the world, there are instruments we all know and cherish, from pianos to guitars, violins to saxophones. Yet, there are other instruments out there that are a little less known to us than the ones we are used to.
They are ancient instruments that have existed and evolved for over hundreds of years. While some of these remarkable instruments have successfully stood the test of time, sadly, not all have been able to claim a place in the modern world as securely as they once did.
But music itself is timeless. A thousand years from now, our world will have evolved, and the language of music will have evolved with it. While some instruments may continue to fade away until they become little more than exhibits in a museum, silent behind glass, others can become just as popular as ever, adapting to the ever-changing language and creating something new that has never been heard before.
In China, the guqin is an ancient string instrument created thousands of years ago, but is still played today to create beautiful, dream-like music unlike any instrument heard before. Famous Chinese philosopher, Confucius, adored this exquisite instrument, and even played one himself. The guqin has many qualities, believed to enrich character, enhance lives, improve learning, and communicate and pray to gods and demons. During the Ming Dysnasty, between 1368 and 1644, it was believed that the right time to play the guqin was outside in a mountain environment, in a garden or small pavilion, near an old pine tree or on a tranquil moonlit night, while the air was delicately perfumed with incense. This graceful instrument has played a vital role in Chinese history and music, and will hopefully continue to do so for many more centuries to come.
The sarangi is another stringed instrument, and its origins come from the Indian subcontinent. Used in Hindustani classical music, it is said to be the instrument that most resembles the human voice out of all the instruments in the world. Because of this, most distinguished Indian vocalists learned how to play the sarangi. Sadly, in the latter half of the 19th century, the harmonium and the violin emerged, and, with them being ultimately easier instruments to play, the sarangi and the sarangi player slowly began to fade away. The playing strings of this instrument are made from gut, the usual material being goat intestines. The unique voice of this remarkable instrument embodies the vibrant beauty of India and its people; and while it may not be as popular as it once was, those who do continue to play the sarangi keep its memory alive for as long as its voice continues to be heard.
In Africa, musical instruments can be used to communicate with both man and spirit. Some may be used for religious and ceremonial occasions, while others can be simply for entertainment. These instruments all range in shape, size, and complexity, many made from natural materials using age-old methods. Percussion plays a vital role in African music. The shekere is a drum made from dried and hollowed out gourd, covered with a net that has beads or shells on it, so when the drum is beaten, the beads hit the surface and make a sound. There is the djembe, a goblet-shaped drum, which has the ability to make different sounds when beaten, and is played strictly by hand. The balafon is an instrument similar to the xylophone, made from wood, gourds, and vines. In some African cultures, the balafon has ceremonial significance related to funerals, grief, and mourning. Music is an incredible way to break barriers, build bridges, communicate and connect. As a messenger it will never become extinct. It will continue to evolve and adapt as we do. And nowhere else in the world is this more apparent than in Africa.
The nyckelharpa, as a traditional Swedish fiddle, is a close relative of the hurdy gurdy. A four-stringed instrument played with a bow, the nyckelharpa is probably the most well-known and adored instrument in Swedish folklore. It dates back from the Middle-Ages, and has evolved for more than 600 years. The nyckelharpa almost became extinct in the early 1900s, but in the 1960s and 70s, this beautiful instrument made a phenomenal come-back. There are now at least 4 variations of the instrument today, which is something of a rarity for folk instruments. It creates an eerie but enchanting sound, somewhat resembling the violin in both music and appearance. The nyckelharpa brings Scandinavian folklore to life with its hauntingly beautiful voice, leading ancient ghosts into the modern world.
More well-known worldwide, the didgeridoo is a wind instrument made from hollowed out wood. It is believed that the first didgeridoos were played by aboriginal people in northern Australia an estimated 40,000 years ago, and that they used eucalyptus branches that had been naturally hollowed out by termites. However, archaelogical research suggests that the didgeridoo is only about 1500 years old. This is due to the absence of cave paintings depicting humans playing the didgeridoo earlier than 1500 years ago. Despite its age, Western society has only recently become acquainted with the didgeridoo. In 1835, 47 years after the Europeans colonised Australia, the first written account of the didgeridoo was published, where it was described as a trumpet. Modern didgeridoos are made from eucalyptus, bamboo, and agave. It is both a pitched instrument and a percussive instrument, used in many world music applications such as beatboxing, dance, and meditation. With its raw and guttural voice, the didgeridoo embodies the fierce Australian wilderness, and represents the ancient spirits of the people who played this same fascinating instrument almost two thousand years ago.
Sometimes the most captivating instruments are the least obvious to us. We appreciate the beauty of music no matter who we are or where we live. Whatever language we speak, we can all understand music and the intricate messages that each and every note presents to us. Thousands of years ago, we used music to convey stories, thoughts, dreams, and emotions. Today, in our modern world, this has not changed. For how much longer will humankind continue to listen to and speak the language of music? Will it ever be silenced?
Judging by its incredible ability to adapt, music could never be silenced. It is as significant to our world today as it was several centuries ago. But now, more people have greater access to a huge variety of instruments. There is so much more to discover, so much more to learn.
The language music speaks is ageless. We have time.