HARMONIUMS & HEADACHES
Since they were introduced in 2015, I have been enamored with the Bhava brand of harmoniums created by Old Delhi Music. Last fall I thought it might be wise to try a few others to see if they were indeed best in class.
I decided to conduct a "harmonium taste test" and purchased four comparably priced instruments from four other harmonium makers. I won't name names here (except for the first one), but I will share the results. (Drum roll please...)
The first was downright terrible. This instrument was a full size Bina, which is a very popular brand. However, I believe the quality of these instruments has diminished greatly over the years. The harmonium was big and bulky, but somehow had a small and whiny sound. The sustain was only 2 seconds long which required that I pumped as fast as I could just to keep the sound going. This one is now in storage as I wouldn't even use it as a rental.
The second was god-awful. I turned it into a rental. But the students who rented it complained and demanded I get them a better model. Ugh. This one was definitely a headache.
The third was decent, but not nearly as good as Old Delhi's Bhava Mini. I didn't like how they set up the keyboard - too few keys on the low end, The instrument felt loud, and lacked a way to gently play the bellows to modulate the volume. I turned it into a rental as well. While it didn't garner any compliments, it didn't elicit requests to trade it in.
The fourth was truly a good instrument. Unfortunately it took three months to arrive, and didn't quite have the tone or volume I was looking for. A student showed up looking for that exact instrument, so I sold it to him.
Buy a harmonium not a headache. I still contend that if you're looking for the Goldilocks harmonium, the Bhava Mini is just right. Not too big, not too small. Very portable (easily fits into an airplane overhead). A 4-7 second sustain makes it easy to play (check out this blog post on how to pump your bellows). And, the sound and action (left hand pumping and right hand keyboard) are both great.
If you're interested in playing Western Kirtan (Krishna Das, Snatam Kaur) and want a portable instrument, you will likely be very happy with a Bhava Mini harmonium tuned to A-440. In most cases this is our recommendation.
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