Rebekkah and the Jews' Harp


Rebekkah plays a Norwegian folk song on the Jews' Harp

The guide book said that Rygnestadtunet, yet another Norwegian open-air museum, had a fascinating collection of mediaeval painted cloth panels. It did, and we gazed at them and were duly edified.

What the guide book didn't say was that the young lady who took our money and guided us around was even more fascinating, for she was studying for her MA in, of all things, playing the Jews' Harp!

Once popular among those who could not afford a real musical instrument, it has very much fallen out of favour in these days of iPlayers and Spotify. I have one somewhere, tucked away in the back of a drawer, kept as a curiosity but tucked away because I could never get a tune out of the wretched thing. When I discovered Rebekkah's expertise, I begged for a demonstration.

Rebekkah kindly obliged with a folk song, "Hyldra's Wedding". Hyldra - or the Hyldra - is a female troll, exceptionally good looking but unfortunately blessed with a cow's tail. To pass the time in the cold Norwegian mountains she sings to attract human men into her clutches, for if she can persuade them to marry her in church she loses her tail and gains a soul and so becomes eligible for eternal life.

That, at least, is the story. With all respect to Rebekkah, I think Hyldra would be better advised to take up the harp or the penny whistle. Unless Norwegian men have radically different tastes, I doubt she is going to attract many with a Jews' Harp.