Monday, 19 November 2012

Musical Instruments at the Met: Part 1 - String Instruments

Over the weekend I had the chance to go to a very impressive sitar and tabla concert  featuring Malaysian sitar master Samuel J Das and Sam Evans from the Melbourne Tabla School. Besides being on the edge of my seat trying to keep up with listening to the music, I couldn't stop admiring the visual elegance of the sitar itself. Which reminds me of an exhibit on musical instruments I saw earlier this year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art  in New York. Part of the permanent collection of the Met, the exhibit features musical oddities and highly decorative, exquisitely crafted instruments. 

Here are some of the string instruments in the collection: 

Above are three sarinda - a type of sarangi, an Indian folk instrument. Coincidentally, there was also a sarangi player at the sitar and tabla concert I went to on the weekend. Sarangi is said to be extremely difficult to play, as the fingers don't press directly on the strings, but instead press firmly beside the strings to create a harmonic-like effect.

Two of the above sarinda have no sympathetic strings, which is unusual for the instrument. The sarinda on the left (also below) has 17 sympathetic strings, while the sarangi I saw played on Saturday had 47 sympathetic strings humming below the surface of the instrument. The sarinda at the Met were covered in intricate inlay throughout the wood (below).

Below is the ekanda veena, a South Indian lute. The shape of the instrument and the resonating bulb on the reverse are similar to a sitar. The bulb on this one is made of paper mache.

Above is an Indonesian instrument called a serando, with strings winding around a central pole.

Look closely at the detail below of the instrument pictured above - the entire body of the instrument is inlaid with tiny geometric patterns.

This beautifully crafted but goofy instrument looks like a bit like it has teeth!

I was really fascinated by the variety of oddball instruments and the technical virtuosity with which they have been made, but there are too many to post here, so I'll post more images soon. Next time - woodwind and brass instruments, and percussion!


  1. wow Mel - the sarinda in your first photograph are stunning!

    1. They're amazing, aren't they? Such an unusual form, and such exquisite craftsmanship in the inlay work!