World Fair Trade Day – A Great Time To Explore Musical Instruments from Around The World

Almost everyone can relate to this.

They’ve had a job for which they were underpaid or underappreciated.  Well, picture that in a third world setting where people have few employment options.  They work in dirty, unsafe conditions with unreasonable work hours and sometimes cannot protest or complain without fear of retribution or brutality.  The recent fires in Bangladesh clothing factories have highlighted how the worst of these unfair practices can create deadly and tragic results.

Is there an alternative?  Especially if people want to purchase special items from other cultures, such as clothing, chocolate, coffee or musical instruments like these beautiful handbells from Nepal?  Yes, there is fair trade!  And May 11th marks World Fair Trade Day, so it’s a good time to learn more about this important topic.  You can check out the 10 principles of fair trade below.

One of my favorite fair trade stores was started by a Mennonite woman in the 1940’s named Edna Ruth Byler.  She knew that if people in third world nations or village settings could do what they loved such as traditional arts and crafts and they were sold at fair prices, then these people could live with dignity and keep vibrant, safe communities alive.  She named her project: “Self-Help Crafts Of The World”.  Over 60 years later, the store is now called Ten Thousand Villages and has numerous physical locations as well as an online store for purchases.

What does Ten Thousand Villages sell?  It has an amazing array of handcrafts, jewelry, coffees, teas, soaps and other items.  And musical instruments.  You can find rainsticks from Chile and colorful folded palm rattles made in India.  They offer delicate tingsha bells and beautiful singing bowls in a variety of shapes and sizes.  There are gourd rattles, kalimbas (pictured here) and drums from Africa, ocarinas and whistles from South America and an ever-changing array of products that have been purchased and certified fair trade.  For most items, you can read the story behind the artisans as well as how and where each object was created.

This year on World Fair Trade Day, I’ll be at my local Ten Thousand Village store sharing the magic of singing bowls – how each one is different and unique and can be used to create beautiful sound as well as for healing purposes.  If you can’t get to one of these stores, feel free to visit them online and consider purchasing some of the wonderful goods that they offer.

Purchasing “fair trade” makes a difference for the planet, not only in the lives of an artisan, but because it makes a statement.  It’s great to know that we can vote with our dollars for a world that treats everyone with dignity and respect!  And if you purchase an instrument “fair trade”, you’re contributing to world harmony – in more ways than one!

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During the month of May 2013, you can win this beautiful rainstick made by a cooperative of artisans in Santiago de Chile.  (2nd give-away on page)

http://www.dariamusic.com/monthly_song.php

Resources And Links

World Fair Trade Organization

http://www.wfto.com/

10 Principles of Fair Trade

http://www.wfto.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2&Itemid=14

Ten Thousand Villages – Home Page

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/

Musical Instruments From Ten Thousand Villages

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/products/musical-instruments

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Make Your Own Tingsha Handbells

Most historians believe that about 4,000 years ago, craftspeople in the region around China began experimenting with metal and bronze. Although the region around China, Tibet, Nepal and Southern Asia is quite diverse, these countries share a common history of discovering and creating unique musical instruments made from metal such as gongs, bells, singing bowls and handbells known as tinghsa. Tingsha (also, ting-sha) are two small, rather heavy cymbals that are attached to a rope or piece of rawhide. They are usually about 2.5 to 4 inches in diameter and can be plain or have decorative images on them. Some have symbols such as dragons that are considered lucky or they may have mantras or other words or phrases that are a part of prayer or devotional practices.

Tingsha can be played in two different ways. Either the string is held and the two bells are allowed to strike each other or both cymbals are held and tapped together to make them ring out. Because the sound of tingsha bells is so beautiful and relaxing, they are often heard in the United States as part of

yoga or meditation practices.

MAKE YOUR OWN TINGSHA BELLS

Want to make your own version? Here is an easy project to create your own tingsha bells out of recycled materials.

SUPPLIES

Two matching bottle caps – “Snapple” caps work perfectly

String or yarn

Paint, textured paint or glitter and glue for decorating the handbells.

To make the hole in the bottlecaps:

A piece of wood (as a work area)

Hammer and nail or hammer and awl

Start by creating a hole in the center of each of the bottlecaps. You can do this by putting the bottlecap; outer side up, on a work surface (such as a spare piece of wood) and tapping it gently with a hammer and nail or use a hammer and awl.

Once you’ve created the hole, it’s a good idea to turn the cap over and tap it with a hammer to flatten the sharp edges around the hole. This makes it safer to handle when adding the string.

To decorate your two “cymbals”, you can paint or add textured fabric paint. You can also apply glue and glitter. When you’re done and they are dry, you are ready to string them together.

Thread the strong or yarn through each side and make a knot to hold it into place. Check that you like the length of your tinghsa and adjust the knots accordingly.

Play and have fun!

Discover The Kalimba or Mbira and It’s African Roots

A wonderful “first instrument” to experiment with melody and sound is the thumb piano, kalimba or mbira. Mark Holdaway contributed this article to our blog from his Kalimba News series.  Need more in depth info?  His kalimba history PDF (below) is amazing, with many outstanding historical pictures and background proving that this is an instrument that is as exciting to learn about as it is to play!

Pictured Above: two mbira dzavadzimu; middle: two karimbas; center: student karimba

The kalimba is a powerful instrument – a powerful symbol of ancient African genius, and a powerful tool for peace and for multi-racial understanding. The mbira is an instrument that helps the Shona people of Zimbabwe to connect to the spirits of their ancestors. Many African Americans are the descendents of slaves who were torn from their rich African culture homes. Malcolm X took this name because he did not know his real name. The “X” represents not just his true family name, but the entirety of his lost African culture. The kalimba gives all of us an opportunity to connect with ancient African culture. As most kalimbas are non-traditional instruments, this connection is more symbolic than literal. That doesn’t make it any less emotionally real. Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire, inspired and educated a whole generation about the kalimba. Players like Kevin Spears and Kevin Nathanial find their own paths back to Africa with their own compositions, reflecting their understanding of what African music is about.

Stella Chiweshe with mbira dzavadzimu

On the other hand, there are rich traditions such as the mbira – there is speculation that the mbira tradition goes back to Great Zimbabwe some 800 years ago. There are dozens of songs in this tradition – many of them are newer, but the lore is that some of them go back to the birth of the mbira. Due to a number of fervent promoters of the mbira dzavadzimu, there are more mbira players in the world today than ever before, and the mbira tradition will never be lost – unlike some other less popular traditional African kalimbas whose old players are not being replaced by young players, so some of those traditional instruments are dying out. Andrew Tracey believes he can see even further back into the past than the mbira dzavadzimu. At the core of the mbira and mbira songs are a set of eight or nine notes that appear over and over in central African kalimbas, and Andrew lays out the case for these notes being the original African mbira. In fact, he says that Father Dos Santos, the first European to document the kalimba in 1586, almost surely wrote about an instrument made up of these nine notes.

The nine notes of the primal karimba or student karimba make up the lower row of notes on the karimba (aka mbira nyunga nyunga), and most of the traditional karimba pieces have essential parts that are played mainly on these notes. Hence, the student karimba actually has a repertoire of songs that could be very ancient – possibly going back to 1300 years ago when the iron age reached the Zambezi valley, when Gerhardt Kubik posits that metal tined kalimbas were first made in Africa.

When I play these potentially ancient songs on the student karimba, I feel that I can touch the genius of the Africans who lived over a thousand years ago and wrote this music that sounds remarkably complex and remarkably modern. The student karimba is a perfect instrument for young students today to play to learn about traditional African music and be touched by the genius of ancient African music.

– Mark Holdaway.

Explore the Kalimba Magic website:

http://www.kalimbamagic.com

Kalimba History And Instruction Download

http://kalimbamagic.com/newsletters/newsletter7.01/newsletter7.01_assets/BlackHistoryMonth_2012.pdf

The Sistrum – An Instrument That Dates Back To Ancient Egypt

Illustration by Madcow Designs (www.madcow-designs.com)

Almost every culture in the world has created some form of instrument that will either shake, rattle or roll.  Ancient Egypt is no exception.

If you could travel back in time to the days of the pyramids and pharaohs you might see a special kind of hand-held rattle called a sistrum.  Played mainly by women, it was moved from side to side and the bangles would rock back and forth creating a unique sound and a distinctive rhythm.

What exactly did a sistrum look like?  We’ve created a coloring page based on many of the hieroglyphics and historical data that we’ve found. We’ve also come up with some fun ways that you can make your own sistrum at home.  You can either start with a wire coat hanger or you can take a nature walk and look for a branch shaped like the letter “Y”.  And your bangles?  They can be jingle bells, pop-top tabs, metal washers or even buttons beads or seeds.  Whatever you use, you’re sure to create an amazing sounding instrument that’s both old and new at the same time!

Download – A Sistrum Coloring Page

Download Instructions – How To Make a Recycled Sistrum (With a Clothes Hanger)

Download Instructions – How To Make a Natural Sistrum (With a Tree Branch)

Tibetan Singing Bowls – Can A Bowl Really Sing?

One of the most exciting things about exploring instruments from around the globe is how completely unique and different they are.  Shapes, sizes, materials and manner of playing instruments vary from culture to culture or from country to country. One great example of an unusual instrument is a bronze or metal bowl from the region of Tibet, Nepal or Northern India.  Called “singing bowls”, these instruments date back to the dawn of the bronze age – about 3,000 years ago – and are pictured in some of the oldest artifacts found in this region.

But can a bowl really sing?  These specially crafted metal bowls do create beautiful tones when they are struck gently with a mallet or when pressure is applied to their sides in a circular motion.  In the same way that a water glass creates a ringing tone when rubbed with a finger, these bowls ring out in tones that are considered to be relaxing, meditative and even healing or therapeutic by many.  The beautiful and complex sounds they create is the reason they are said to “sing”.

How big are singing bowls?  You can find smaller singing bowls that fit in the palm of your hand.  You can also find sizes and shapes that are as big as a large soup pot or a cauldron!  In addition, there are also crystal bowls that are played in the same manner as the metal singing bowls.  These are especially beautiful in sound and appearance and many believe that they possess even greater healing properties.

Singing bowls can be very simple and plain or they can be beautifully adorned with symbols and writing such as Buddhist mantras, a type of repeated prayer.  Commonly manufactured in Nepal, China and Japan; singing bowls can be found as part of Buddhist prayers and meditation throughout Asia, as well as part of yoga or spiritual practices around the world.

Singing bowls are also used in classrooms in a variety of different ways.  They can help students focus, call for quiet or can help a class develop better listening skills.  Timothy Lomas, a talented art teacher with a good deal of international experiences shared this description of his work: “I teach art at the IDEAL School of Manhattan. It is an inclusion school which means that we have students with special needs (Down Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, etc) alongside typically developing students. Transition time is always a challenge. To get the students settled and ready to work I introduced the Tibetan Singing Bowl. I demonstrated how to use it and passed it to the student that was the quietest and most attentive. They then would pass it to the next student they thought was ready.”  Says Timothy: “I started with one bowl but now have several and the students know to go directly to the box and pull out the bowls. It’s a great way to get the class centered and focused for a creative experience!”