If you know percussion history -- or if you have read my What is a xylophone Part One -- you will know that the earliest celebrity tuned-percussion performer was Michael Joseph Gusikow, a klezmer from eastern Europe (born in Shklov, now in Belarus).

Discounting the fact that he died of tuberculosis at the age of 31 (over a thousand miles from home, and possibly having just suffered the theft of his celebrated instrument) Gusikow seems to have had an outlandishly fortunate career.

The TB supposedly forced him to give up playing the flute, so he turned to the strohfiedel. An odd choice? -- perhaps not; Gusikow was familiar with the tsimbl, a small cimbalom (hammered dulcimer) widely used in klezmer, Ukrainian and Roma music making -- indeed his father played both the flute and the tsimbl -- and it would have been relatively easy for him to adapt the longstanding musical practice of tsimbl playing to the new instrument. Possibly he had a precursor (or mentor, or colleague, or rival) in one Samson Jakubowski, or maybe he worked it out for himself. Or -- just possible -- there was a whole school of players who had mastered both the tsimbl and its wooden cousin the gelachter, the holz- und stroh instrument, the strohfiedel . . . and played whatever was to hand.

Gusikow however was alone in ascending (or descending?) from the shtetl to the salon. He was presumably an exceptionally gifted player, but he surely had other talents beside, um, talent. ...continue reading M J Gusikow