(BM ’99; MM ’01) was an early strings major at UD, and today she handcrafts
medieval instruments from her workshop in Minnesota.
She discovered her
passion for making instruments while studying with Professor Russell E. Murray,
Jr., UD’s resident early music expert.
violinist, had always loved medieval music, and she had experience with
woodworking before starting college, so in the summer of 1997 she decided to build
her first medieval fiddle. During her senior year at UD, she built a tromba
marina and exhibited it at an early-music festival in Boston.
From there, it was an
easy decision to pursue her craft, and Buehler-McWilliams began studying as
much as possible, earning a MM in musicology form the University of Minnesota.
survive today from the medieval period, and most of what scholars know comes
from studying written descriptions and visual depictions in artwork of the era.
Buehler-McWilliams was fortunate to have access to the only known extant citole
from the 1300s, housed in the British Museum, intricately carved, with a
prominent thumbhole, which was played by plucking.
After studying the
British Museum citole, Buehler-McWilliams recreated it in her workshop.
are a giant puzzle. Although there are some written descriptions, we don’t really
know what they sounded like. During the time, most music was memorized or
improvised, so there little instrumental repertoire from the period (about 40
known pieces in total), and there was no standardization—artwork from the era
shows considerable variation among different instruments.
Buehler-McWilliams, placing pieces of the puzzle is part of the fun. Instead of
building an instrument to create a certain sound, “I let the sound inform me what
the instrument should be.” As she continues to craft instruments, she learns
more and more about what they might have been in the past.
You can follow the
creation process on the company’s Facebook page:, and learn about her
study of the British Museum citole in detail at her website
photos courtesy of Kate Buehler-McWilliams