The regal was especially popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, both for church music and for dance and domestic music. Its sound is rich in overtones, but with a buzzing quality. However, by the 18th century, the droning was no longer in keeping with people’s idea of an ideal sound, and the instrument fell out of favour.
The regal is a reed instrument and the prototype of the modern harmonium. The instrument’s case contains the wind chest and the reed pipes. The keyboard sits in front of the case, with two wedge-bellows behind it. It takes two people to play this small organ – one at the keyboard, the other operating the bellows. But ours is electrically powered, so it’s easier to give a demonstration.
The reeds are made of metal and are tuned with a crook. The tuning crook pushes a kind of small roller across the reed to shorten or lengthen it and set the pitch.
If you turn around, you’ll see another reed instrument in the middle showcase. It’s a sheng, a Chinese mouth organ. The instrument is reminiscent of a teacup with several pipes standing in it. The sheng belongs to the mouth organ family and is played like a harmonica. The breath flows through all its pipes, but only the one that has its finger hole covered will produce a typically loud and penetrating sound. The sheng has been around for 3000 years, making it one of the oldest Chinese musical instruments.
All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch