The jews-harp is a distinctive musical instrument of international importance, yet it remains one of those musical instruments, like the ocarina, kazoo or even the art of whistling, that travels beneath the established musical radar. The story of the jews-harp is also part of our musical culture, though it has attracted relatively little academic study. Britain and Ireland played a significant role in the instrument’s manufacture and world distribution, particularly during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Drawing upon previously unknown written sources and piecing together thousands of fragments of information spanning hundreds of years, Michael Wright tells the story of the jews-harp’s long history in the Britain and Ireland. Beginning with an introductory chapter describing the instrument, Part One looks at the various theories of its ancient origin, how it came to be in Europe, terminology, and its English name. Part Two explores its commercial exploitation and the importance of the export market in the development of manufacturing. Part Three looks the instrument’s appearance and use in art, literature and the media, finally considering the many players who have used the instrument throughout its long history. For further information click here.
Journal 6 of the IJHS can now be accessed free by members of the IJHS. Topics are many and varied from new discoveries to analysis of archive photographs and collections. There is an exciting article on the discoveries of new types and makers, regional updates from Canada and Norway, eccentric playing options, an interview with John Wright and the second part of an article on the Jew’s Harp in the Law, first published in the Folk Music Journal. Finally, there is an English translation by the Assistant Editor, Harm Linsen of the full authoritative article by Jaap Ypey on the Mondharpen. When you add a Book Review section and a poem or two… or three, there is something for everyone interested in the jews-harp. To become a member of the Society and get access to the Journal, click here.
Michael Wright is a featured musician on Sam Lee’s ‘Ground of His Own,’ nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize. He can be heard playing on ‘Jew’s Garden,’ ‘George Collins’ and ‘Wild Wood Amber’, which was also nominated for Best Track at the BBC Folk Awards.
John Wright died suddenly on 4 September 2013. Not only was he a jews-harp player with an international reputation, but highly respected for his study of the organology of the instrument. Widely praised for his seminal work ‘Les Guimbardes’ for the Musee de l’Homme, Paris, his understanding of the acoustic possibilities of the jews-harp inspired many of the young players around the world who have taken up the instrument. He also taught my brother, David, and myself how to play and was a constant supporter of our various efforts. As the Wright Family, which also included David’s daughter, Lucy, we performed rarely, but it was always special. John was also an important source in helping me understand the demise of jews-harp making industry in Britain, having met with the last maker. He was my brother, my friend and my colleague.
John Wright Obituary – The Guardian
Last month while meeting with members of the family of an old-timer ‘juice harp’ player from Knoxville, who sadly died in January, I was asked to perform on the local cable television country music show. This was the highlight of a wild 36 hours visiting the Museum of Appalachia, Knoxville and the Ciderville Music Store. So sit back and enjoy the snippets from the Ciderville Home Farm Show which start around 01.oo.oo:
…and if you do make sure you see the chicken man at 01.10.00.
Michael Wright was elected as Vice-President of the International Jew’s Harp Society at the Yakutsk Congress, with the renit to creat a working team to develop the Society’s future. “It’s quite a challenge,” said Michael, ” but I am confident that with the enthusiasm and commitment I have come across these past days, we can achieve much in the next two years.”
Michael Wright’s latest article ‘The Jew’s Harp in Colonial America’ has just been published in the Galpin Society Journal, March 2011, LXIV. During the 50 years from 1732 until the foundation of the United States of America, one tiny musical instrument found its way into every aspect of Colonial American life. It was regularly advertised by ironmongers in the new city presses and was even traded with Native Americans for furs. This is the second peer-reviewed article by Michael on this almost miss-able musical instrument that was imported from England and spread throughout the American Continent. For more information contact Michael (see Contacts Page).