Many popular musical instruments as we know them today have evolved from earlier models.  One of the best known is the recorder, played widely in schools. What you might not know is that it’s still possible to get your hands on many other early instruments, thanks to the excellent Early Music Shop, founded in the 1960s. It specialises in the sale and distribution of reproduction medieval, renaissance and baroque musical instruments, as well as associated sheet music and accessories, with two showrooms in Saltaire, Yorkshire and Denmark Street, Central London. Emma Williams, manager of the London store, provides an insight into this fascinating world.

 

How did the Early Music Shop start out?

The Early Music Shop was started during the heyday of the Early Music revival during the late 1960s. The Early Music movement started at the beginning of the 20th century by Arnold Dolmetsch and continued by his son Carl. During the ’60s and ’70s the movement gained wider audiences through musicians like David Munrow, who brought various Early Music instruments to the masses. Munrow’s six-part documentary Early Musical Instruments is well worth a watch to discover all the weird and wonderful medieval and renaissance instruments! Due to growing demand, The Early Music Shop was founded by Richard Wood and we celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. The shop has changed ownership over the years, and we were delighted to become an independent music shop once again last year under our new owner Chris Butler.

Your range is extensive, how many instrument lines do you sell?

We sell Early Music instruments from recorders to harpsichords to lute kits. Our current count of different types of instruments is over 75. In terms of recorders, we have over 600 different ones!
The instruments we stock are made all over the world, from the US to Japan.

Some of the instruments are very niche, where do most of your customers come from?

Our customers come from all over. We have a huge customer base in the UK but send instruments and music all across the globe. The Early Music World is quite small in many ways, so we’re often the first port of call for musicians needing anything Early Music.

David Munrow demonstrates a selection of early music instruments

What’s the age range/skill level of your typical customer?

The age range of our customers is very wide, from toddlers to people in their 90s. Some of our customers are living proof that you’re never too old to learn something new! We cater for and see all skill levels in the shop, from people beginning their musical journey, through to music college students and professional musicians. There is a massive movement to learn and play music in older generations, especially through U3A (University of the 3rd Age).

How do young people find out more about / have access to early musical instruments, aside from your shop?

The recorder is often the first instrument people play so is very accessible but has a certain “uncool” stigma attached to it. Recent BBC Young Musician Finals have had a recorder-player and its capabilities has become more widespread which is good! Other more unusual Early Music instruments can be viewed and sometimes played at various music museums like the Bate Collection in Oxford. Often people learn a bit about our instruments, like the lute, when doing the Tudors in school. There’s a wealth of videos on YouTube which can be a great source to discover more about Early Music and to see and listen to the instruments.

Here are just a few of the types of instruments you can find in the Early Music Shop:

EMS Serpent in C
“People always ask what the serpent is called when they see one in the shop and it couldn’t have a more descriptive name! It’s an early brass-style instrument, though it’s made of wood or nowadays often in resin. It is most similar to the tuba in terms of the sound it makes and the mouthpiece. You need to have pretty big hands to play the serpent as there are no keys, and small fingers fall into the finger holes!”

EMS Serpent

EMS Serpent

Gemshorn
“Gemshorns always delight people when they try them in the shop. They’re played like a recorder, but they have a very unique sound due to the horn. Each gemshorn is different as they are made out of horn, usually from African cattle.”

Gemshorn
“Gemshorns always delight people when they try them in the shop. They’re played like a recorder, but they have a very unique sound due to the horn. Each gemshorn is different as they are made out of horn, usually from African cattle.”

                         Gemshorn

Hora Bowed Psaltery
“The Bowed Psalteries are triangle shaped and you play them by bowing the strings down the sides. One side is for the white notes, and the other for black notes. The sound they create is hauntingly ethereal and they’re used mostly for medieval and folk music.”

Hora Psaltery

Bowed Psaltery

Hurdy Gurdy
“The Hurdy Gurdy is consistently the most searched term on our website. It’s a string instrument but instead of using a bow, you turn the wheel which works as a bow against the strings. They tend to have 4-6 strings, some of which are drone strings, and two are chanterelles, or melody strings. There are keys like a keyboard that press against these chanterelle strings, producing the melody. It’s most commonly used in medieval and folk music, and is even used in rock music!”

Hurdy Gurdy