Some yearly historical celebrations are born from mankind’s significant historical achievements, to commemorate how far we’ve come and what the best of us accomplish. Others, like Uncommon Musical Instrument Day, take a more light-hearted approach, but can still act as important cultural reminders. Set for the 31st of July, this day might not be the most relevant to our regular lives, but it can be worth embracing nonetheless.
Like so many modern memorial days, the origins of Uncommon Musical Instrument Day have been lost to time. The possible beginnings of this date are myriad, ranging from a concerted online effort to the expansion of a once regional custom. However this day first appeared, the outcome is the same, and it’s more exciting a concept than it might appear at first glance.
As Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”. Though this has some obvious negative connotations for our hearing-impaired brothers and sisters, the idea that music plays a key part in giving our lives colour is a popular one.
Ever since we first took our steps away from our ancestors, music has shaped us as individuals and communities. It creates and spreads context, letting us relate to others, to better understand the truths hidden within our souls. It’s also just a lot of fun.
Our musical roots in history date back at least 42,000 years, according to flutes discovered in a cave in Germany. Before this, there’s no telling how many earlier instruments were lost time, and in which forms these prototypes took.
When we think about what this day could represent, our minds tend to jump to the most unusual and even insufferable instruments that have affected us over the years. The vuvuzela’s played by groups without concern for harmony, the bagpipes played by the tone-deaf, and the keytar played by 80’s cover-bands. These absolutely play a part in Uncommon Musical Instrument Day (for better or worse), but we can take the real holiday much deeper.
Instead of only going for the funny and frustrating, consider the range of beautiful instruments embraced by your forebears. As a simple example, the lute could easily have been an important part of your ancestor’s lives, even though we nearly never see them today. To this end, consider buying or renting a cheap instrument and watching videos of these played by professionals.
Listening to the harmonies that these instruments can provide isn’t just about the sounds, it’s about connecting to the feelings the music can inspire. The songs might seem alien by our standards, but to those who came before, the unusual instruments could create the soundtracks that gave them hope and drove them forward.
Of course, for those who would prefer to get weird with it, there is no shortage of instruments to choose from. The Aztec death whistle, for example, would be played en masse to terrify enemies in a collective musical scream.
Alternatively, an instrument like the badgermin takes the already bizarre theremin to the next level. At least this is for those not put off but the dead-eyed stare of the stuffed animal, and the jeers of a likely unimpressed audience.
Ultimately, there aren’t many wrong answers to which instruments you embrace on Uncommon Musical Instrument Day. As long as it gets you involved with music and makes you think, feel free to go as familiar or esoteric as you like. Just make it weird, and ignore the looks you get.