Hurdy-Gurdy

We just took our first trip in 17 months. This was the longest we’ve ever gone without traveling. COVID-19 restrictions have made it tricky to leave the country. You never know where the next outbreak is going to come from, and we weren’t excited at the prospect of quarantining for two weeks on a border somewhere. So, we did a road trip inside Germany….

Our first stop was the UNESCO World Heritage city of Würzburg. [1]

Würzburg’s Residential Palace was built from 1720-1744 by Balthasar Neumann and is the most important building from the Southern German Baroque era. Definitely worth a visit! But I want to talk about a little statue I found in the Court Gardens in the back.

‘Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man Came singing songs of love – Donovan

“Look! It’s a hurdy-gurdy player!” I exclaimed.

“What’s that?” Uwe asked.

“A strange instrument that the musician cranks to play: It buzzes and drones. Donovan sang about it.”

See the crank he’s turning?

The hurdy-gurdy is about 900 years old and maybe came from a fiddle. An even earlier version was the organistrum and required two people to play it, one to crank the handle and the second musician to pull up on the keys. It was used for choral music. The hurdy-gurdy or something like it, the lira in the Byzantine Empire, was described by Ibn Khurradadhbih. The next version of the hurdy-gurdy was called the symphonia. It was smaller, with three strings and keys that could be pressed from underneath. Present-day hurdy-gurdies have either a guitar body or a lute back.

Musicians in high courts played the hurdy-gurdy until it fell out of favor, and the hurdy-gurdy is mostly familiar now as an instrument used by roving minstrels. According to Wikipedia, in the Ukraine hurdy-gurdies are still played by itinerant, often blind, hurdy-gurdists called lirnyky. [2]

The instrument was saved from obscurity, helped no doubt by Donovan’s song in 1968. He wrote Hurdy Gurdy Man while studying Transcendental Meditation in India with the Beatles. Apparently, he wanted Jimi Hendrix to perform the song. Now, that would have been one hell of a recording! As it is, George Harrison helped with the lyrics. Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones all performed on the recording before they went on to form a little group named Led Zeppelin.

All my life, Hurdy Gurdy Man is one of those songs that floats in my consciousness. It’s as mystic and magical as a tale told by a wandering troubadour.

Thrown like a star in my vast sleep
I opened my eyes to take a peek
To find that I was by the sea
Gazing with tranquility

‘Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man

Came singing songs of love
Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Came singing songs of love

“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang

“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang

Histories of ages past

Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity

‘Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man

Comes singing songs of love
Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Comes singing songs of love [3]

NOTES: [1] My readers know that Uwe and I make a beeline for World Heritage sites. They’ve always, always been worth the effort! [2] wiki/Hurdy-gurdy [3] Source: LyricFind. Hurdy Gurdy Man lyrics © Peermusic Publishing. PS: I learned a lot writing this post!

© Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was a 2020 Best Book Award Finalist for Fiction Anthologies. The title story was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was named a semifinalist for the 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Prize.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

 

 

14 thoughts on “Hurdy-Gurdy”

    1. And if the oldie’s tune is good (REM for example I cannot stand to listen to. Their music does not age well), ahem, if the oldie’s tune is good, it will transport you right back to a sweet memory. Donovan’s tune is one of the gentlest and most charming.

    1. In-country travel is a different animal for sure [one not quite so exotic], but we had a great time. I’ve always said that Germany is a secret treasure trove of things to experience and explore!

  1. Great story Jadi, I love that tune too. I think Donovan’s daughter was one of the LA-area glitterati who hung out with, and dated one of the Beastie Boys (Adam Horowitz) in a book I read about them recently. Funny…life goes on, bra! La-la how the life goes on…

    1. A child of Donovan dating one of the Beastie Boys?! My brain just exploded. But it proves that music transcends all barriers. PS: When I was a little kid my best friend’s older brother had that Beatles album and her mother was scandalized by the use of the word bra (not knowing it was slang). To say nothing of how upset she was with the song titled Why Don’t We Do it in the Road….

      1. Gosh that’s funny, getting worked up like that over the word bra. Can just imagine how John would have reacted to that! And the language that would spew forth!

  2. A fascinating article Jadi, and I loved your story about the “Hurdy Gurdy Man” .. yep, I have Donavan’s old Vinyl .. hmmm that ages me … !!

    1. Having it on vinyl certainly does! But I’d like to think Donovan’s music is for eternity. And, as far as I’m concerned, if you have it on vinyl that means you grew up at the best time for music.

    1. I don’t know about your computer, but Spell Check is not my friend. I live in Germany so when I write, going back and forth between languages gives both Spell Check and me daily nervous breakdowns. What did it want to ‘correct’ hurdy-gurdy to?

  3. Glad that you are “back on the road”, Jadi, and your visit to the World Heritage site in Germany is a great start. It’s also been eighteen months since traveling for us and our road trip from Portland, Oregon to Mount Lassen National Volcanic Park in California, planned for two weeks ago was canceled when the Park closed because of wildfires. We are waiting with anticipation to enjoy traveling adventures again. Thanks for the post.

    1. The next stop on our trip was one that’s right up your alley: Bamberg. This is another ancient city, also UNESCO World Heritage – and one of the only places where you can get Rauchbier. There are endless breweries in Bamberg, some of them hundreds of years old, and all of them make beer with smoked hops. I was skeptical at first (why mess with perfection?!) but man oh man, is Rauchbier tasty! You’d love this place! PS: I am reading about the fires on the West coast with deep alarm. I hope you get to make that roadtrip soon.

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