Director of Institutional Research
I’ve always loved the sound of crumhorns. Crumhorns (or Krumhorns; in German ‘krum’ means ‘bent;’ oh, and a crumpet is a bent cake, or so says Wikipedia). These were the kazoos of the Renaissance. By the time the Baroque period arrived, they had fallen out of favor with serious composers, although I’m pretty sure that J.S. Bach kept one or two hidden around the house in order to relieve the stress of having so many kids.
It’s a simple instrument. A double reed (like that of a bagpipe chanter) is covered by a cap into which the player blows; the cap is attached to a bent tube with finger holes. Since the player’s lips don’t touch the reeds (as happens with the oboe or bassoon), there’s not a lot of control over timbre, volume, or pitch. This, of course, is much of the instrument’s charm: it sounds like your weird cousin Ernie whose voice is all nose, all the time.
The bodies of these instruments were originally made from tree limbs, the centers of which were bored out while green, and then dried in a jig to achieve their signature shape. These days, if you want a crumhorn, you can buy them made out of ABS plastic or you can make one following the directions in this book.
It’s a terrific little volume, full of practical suggestions and measurements for making fifes, flutes, recorders, clarinets, racketts, and even primitive brass instruments. My copy is a hardback edition from 1973 (which still has the tag from Vroman’s in it). The signatures are stitched, and the paper is cloth rich. The typography is simple and elegant. Illustrations are uncluttered and just a little funky (the measurements are metric, but the grids are inch-based). Having collected books on instrument-making for years, I haven’t found another quite like it.
“Or so says Wikipedia.”
Where to find a crumhorn.