Monday, October 8, 2007

Hurdy Gurdy: Melissa "The Loud" Kacalanos

Melissa playing

Interview with Melissa - includes explantion of the hurdy gurdy

Artist: Melissa “The Loud” Kacalanos
Medium: Hurdy Gurdy
Location: Union Square

I consider myself a pretty well educated and cultured individual but truly, I did not know what I was looking at when I saw Melissa The Loud playing her hurdy gurdy in Union Square. With most of its machinations hidden within its casing, the hurdy gurdy is a bit of a mystery to your average New Yorker, or average anybody for that matter. Melissa, though, was nice enough to explain the instrument to me.

The hurdy gurdy, which saw its heyday in medieval and renaissance Europe, is powered by a crank wheel which rubs against a loop of string laid parallel to its axis of rotation. As the wheel imparts kinetic energy to both sides of the loop, the string vibrates producing sound. Within the casing, then, are rows of teeth, or keys, which the player presses against the vibrating strings to create notes. Melissa was quick to note that this makes the hurdy gurdy on of the rare keyboard instruments on which you can bend notes. While written descriptions can be helpful, perhaps the interview above, where Melissa opens up the instrument, would be even more helpful. Anyway, enough about the hurdy gurdy.

Melissa, a resident of Queens started playing the hurdy gurdy about 5 years ago. After she saw someone else playing it she decided it was so cool she must have one for herself. She was able to get a few lessons from the person who made her instrument but after that it was mostly self-teaching, “the lessons were very valuable,” though, she states.

Melissa plays both traditional pieces from all Europe, mostly from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as original ones. As inspirations she cites “a whole bunch of people I’m sure no one has ever heard of” including – Paul Ash (the first person she heard playing the hurdy gurdy), Nigel Eaton (a hurdy gurdy virtuoso), traditional bagpipe music (especially the Hungarian variety) and Medieval Spanish stuff.

A hard worker, Melissa plays gigs every week with her band and out on the street almost everyday weather permitting. This day she was outside practicing for a gig but she enjoys playing in public because she meets cool people and likes to educate the populace.
“There’s so many wonderful instruments in the world and so many people only know about a small fraction of them.” Melissa tells me that many people approach her and ask what kind of guitar she’s playing, once she tells them they often say:

“Oh, I see it’s like a cross between a guitar and an accordion.” To which she responds
“No, it’s more like a cross between a nyckelharpa and a trampamarina.”

“And that just confuses them more”

In the spirit of this, Melissa told me that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a great collection of unusual instruments. Also, in keeping with her mold breaking instrumentalism, her message to all us is to “go out and do something different.”

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To get in contact with Melissa check out her site or email


Steve said...

Here comes the hurdy gurdy woman, palying the songs of luh-uh-uv! :-D Great profile.

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