James Hill

Maligned Instruments

August 22, 2012 6:00 pm by Harriet Power

As it would with any typical music student, University instilled in me a certain amount of musical snobbery that it took quite a long time to get over. In particular, it is only recently that I feel like I’ve fully appreciated that almost any instrument has the potential to be played beautifully, and no instrument should be dismissed before you’ve heard it being played by one of the best. If you have not yet achieved this zen-like approach to instruments such as the accordion or ukulele, the following musicians might help to convince you otherwise…

The ukulele appears to have become the new recorder in UK schools and suffered an image crisis accordingly. Having only really heard about the ukulele as a sort of novelty instrument that no-one takes that seriously – and not being at all convinced by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – it was quite a relief to come across the Canadian player James Hill http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOfycEepSOo&feature=related, who I think is a brilliant reminder that even the most derided of instruments can have great capabilities.

I have to admit that I’m still not entirely convinced by the recorder, which I think might be because I just can’t get over my early primary-school memories of it. But if anyone is going to change my mind then it might be The Royal Wind Music http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x52-VKWI9hg&list=UU_3X1REMTN1M-KYO3ty8BTA&index=7&feature=plcp  and their fantastic Renaissance instruments (whoever thought a recorder could be over 10 feet long!). This is the sort of music that, to me, makes sense of this instrument.

If you think the accordion is a horribly nasal-sounding, expressionless instrument soley destined to accompany morris dancing – which I did a couple of years ago – then listen to Andy Cutting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5a8n9Zotyg and think again. He is a wonderful English melodeon player who makes the instrument sound beautifully sweet and expressive.

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to see the legendary Boubacar Traore at Ronnie Scotts in London, and he happened to be accompanied by the harmonica player Vincent Bucher. Up until this point I’d largely dismissed the harmonica as a cheap little toy that turns up in children’s Christmas stockings – or occasionally in the hands of mediocre buskers on the underground. Well, thanks to Vincent Bucher I will never think about the harmonica in the same way again. The subtly and expressiveness of his playing was just as surprising as the sounds he was able to get out of the instrument – watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OJSc3-cz4U  from about 2:25.

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