I visited the Maryland Renaissance Festival last weekend. It was fun, but for the most part expected – so many people dressed up you couldn’t tell the costume from the festival employees, numerous Renaissance- and medieval-themed wares, humorous stage performances that should have been mic’d.
However, while innocently standing about waiting for… something, I don’t remember, a man approached us with a curious musical instrument. It was stringed, with little knobs along either side, and the man played it with a tiny bow. He regaled us with bits of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker and “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, then handed it around for us to try.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the bowed psaltery:
According to that definitive virtual tome Wikipedia, the psaltery is a “stringed musical instrument of the harp or the zither family.” The meaning of the word is evidently “to pluck,” ironically enough, and I am disappointed to discover that the bow didn’t come into use until the early 20th century. Way to be an anachronism, bow. Still, as four out of five of our group were string players, we took great pleasure in bowing with absolute note accuracy; once this baby is tuned, all you have to do is hit the right space and that’s the note you get. Which I guess is arguably how regular string instruments work, only you eliminate most of that pesky human error.