A brief history of the Harmonium, basic facts, and FAQs

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Harmonium Indian

Why do we talk about Harmoniums on a blog that is dedicated to Accordions? Well,  A harmonium, just like an accordion is a free-reed musical instrument. It produces sound when air is passed from either a foot or hand-powered bellows through an air chamber containing metal reeds that are affixed to slots in metal frames.

Some people call harmoniums “Indian Accordions” or a “Reed Organ” Even though we associate Harmoniums with Indian and South Asian folk instruments, the very first Harmonium was invented by French inventor Alexandre Debain in 1842.

Many music historians believe that Debain improved upon an existing design developed by European inventors Gabriel Joseph Grenie, Anton Haeckel, and John Green who were inspired by the Chinese reed organ popularly known as Sheng. Just a decade later in the 1850s, another French artist and craftsman by name of Victor Mustel started manufacturing a state of the art harmoniums.

Harmoniums became popular very quickly in Europe and Anglo colonies of the late 19th century.  Compactness and ease of transport made these instruments desirable amongst Church musicians and performers of spiritual music and melodies. Its rich organ-like sound made this bellow-powered instrument an integral part of Churches across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Harmoniums were introduced to Indian folklore musicians by European missionaries and which prompted Indian craftsmen and musical instrument makers to start making their versions of the Harmonium.

Video courtesy of Scott Brothers Duo

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