One of the things about working at an operation such as ours is that you can’t be sure whether people are trying to April Fool you or not.
The donations from someone who must have owned every police/detective program ever issued on DVD has been going on for a while, so this latest installment can’t be considered a holiday event. The soup can, which DID fool us for a while, came in too early for the first day of April. And this musical instrument….
It’s from the estate of a very nice person I knew, whom I would never suspect of trying to April Fool me. But no one who knew him well seems to have any idea why he would have owned such a thing. It was passed along to me after it came to the Newberry for consideration as a collection item. The Newberry doesn’t especially collect musical instruments. IF that’s what you want to call this.
It is, I am told, known in its native land as a Midwinterhoorn, or Midwinter Horn (translated it already, had you? You’re quick.) It is played just once a year—yes, at midwinter—and at no other time, for what some of the nattering nabobs of negativism online say are good reasons. Midwinterhoorns are also never played in ensembles larger than one, also for good reasons, say these pessimistic souls.
A midwinter horn is made of a small tree trunk, often willow, and runs to about four feet long. There are, I am told, metal versions, and versions which are longer, but those are modern innovations, and a trend toward folk authenticity made those less desirable. A mouthpiece of alder is inserted once the trunk has been halved, hollowed out, and tied back together. I suppose you are thinking already of alpenhorns, made famous in Ricola commercials, but I found to my surprise that these are actually held up in the air in the transverse manner usually used for flutes and piccolos. You blow into the mouthpiece, however, as if it were a trumpet. People with experience and good lungs can produce, I am told, up to eight notes on a midwinter horn, but since the manufacture is a bit random, you can’t be perfectly certain what you’re going to get. This is the real reason midwinterhoornists never play together. Too difficult to get them all in tune with each other.
I doubt that this one has ever been played. For one thing, there is an explanatory page tucked into the mouth of the instrument. A chain is attached to it for hanging on the wall, and I expect that’s what this was meant to be: a wall hanging. It DOES, however, sound when blown. To my amazement (as my ‘lip’ has not been developed in the seventy or eighty years since I was in my college pep band-Go Peacocks!) I was able to produce a note, and not an unmelodious one. It was a little higher than I was expecting (having also seen my share of Ricola performances.) I put it at G above middle C, but my ear is even less in shape than my lip.
Everyone has asked whether I plan to sell this online for meelions and beelions of dollars or kroner or whatever sort of old-fashioned bitcoin the purchaser of a Midwinterhoorn would use. I am not, as it happens. Shipping it would just make me nervous (it’s a four foot hollow hunk of wood, after all) and, in any case, no one else has one for sale, so I have no reference for an opening price.
Fortunately, I have another option. We have this Book Fair, see, in July (there are places on this website where you can read about it. You might have fun.) At that event, we have a Silent Auction, where, as you will recall from previous installments, we sold a South American blowgun last year. If we can sell that, why not a Midwinterhoorn?
After all, people seem to consider them both to be deadly weapons.