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Idioglot Single Reeds

The reed itself in its simplest form is a piece of cane, closed at the top by a natural node of the cane, with a blade sliced in the side of the cane, still attached at the upper end, sometimes with the blade scraped down to make it more flexible and thus vibrate more easily. Such scraping is not always seen, though some scraping at the hinge end where the reed is attached to the body is also often seen. The only problem with this is that it weakens the reed precisely at the point where it is most likely to break. Also a slight bevel in the tube immediately below the free end of the reed is often helpful. The bottom end of the tube is chipped or scraped so that it can be inserted into the top of a tube with fingerholes. The simpler, wholly idioglot instruments, with the reed, mouthpiece, body with fingerholes, all in one are described in a separate paper in this series.

So these are the more common single-reed instruments that have a separate mouthpiece, still idioglottal, and inserted into the top of the body. Just a few examples will be discussed here, partly to show their similarities and their differences, and partly also to show their wide distribution around the world.

There are examples from various parts of Europe, the first made for the same purpose as the Cretan wholly idioglottal example in that paper, as a bagpipe practice chanter. It comes from Hungary where it was bought from a man at a folk fair, who was making them while people watched. The pipe is made of elder and the mouthpiece has a downcut reed. There is a high thumbhole and six knife-cut fingerholes which are left very rough for the customer to even them out to tune them, but each fingerhole is at the base of a very neatly-cut cup so that the fingers make a good seal over the hole. The mouthpiece is lapped with thread to hold it in position.

I have examples also from Eivissa (Ibiza), all made from very light cane, not much thicker than a wheat or oat stalk.

Others, similarly light-weight, are used in Russia. They are called Péschtschiki or Schaleika and they are made of a light cane. They came from the Belgorod people of the Afanasieroka Village in the Alekscierd Region of South Russia, and they were given to me by Dr Vyacheslav Shourov during a seminar in Rotterdam in 1995. The first is made of a slightly thicker cane than the second, with five fingerholes which are rectangular but with slightly rounded ends, and it has a cow-horn bell. Its mouthpiece is wrapped with green plastic(?) tape to make it fit the body, and the distal end of the body is cut off obliquely so that the bore faces forward within the bell. The proximal end of the body is cut off in an upward-pointing V. The downcut reed looks as though it is bridled with black thread, for a tag of thread projects from underneath the tape. The bell has a triangular hole cut in its side, just at the end of the natural hollow of the horn, to accept the pipe; the end, which faces forward in use, is neatly cut in 30 points. The second is quite different: the four fingerholes are approximately round and look as though they were haggled with a rather blunt knife. The proximal end is cut off obliquely, longest at the front, and the reed is truly idioglot, and also downcut. This instrument therefore should be in the wholly idioglottal section, with the other truly idioglot reeds, but because both came together from the same source, it seems best to keep them together. The proximal ends of each mouthpiece are not plugged, and presumably the player had to plug the end with the tongue so as to force the air to vibrate the reed ratehr than passing freely down the tube.

I have, too, examples from India, but these I think are a child’s toys, though that does not mean the serious ones do not also exists there – we shall see examples when we come to the geminate singe-reed pipes. It is axiomatic, too, that children’s toys are often the detritus of adults’ instruments from long-forgotten strata of folk music and instruments. I have examples from Turkey, with downcut reeds, the upper end of the mouthpiece stopped with wax (which might be missing from the Russian ones), some with a thumbhole and five fingerholes and another with the same number of fingerholes but no thumbhole, suggesting that they come from different parts of that country. Laurence Picken’s book on the Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey gives so much detail on these instruments that there is no need to elaborate on them here.

Another more interesting example comes from the Berber people of Morocco. Berber is a somewhat pejorative term, though widely used, for it is cognate with Barbarian (hence the old term of Barbary Coast) or outsider even though the Berber were in Morocco before the Arabs, and a preferred term by the people themselves is Imazighen or, in the plural Amazigh or Am’zighi. In that part of the world, from Morocco through to the Near East, the norm is for geminate pipes, whereas this is a single one. It has five burned, and also knife-cut, fingerholes and the reed on the mouthpiece is upcut; it has a spare reed held on to the body with twine, something that is customary also with the geminate pipes.

Instruments of this type also exist in Indonesia, where I have examples from both Sunda in western Java and from Padang in western Sumatra, where it is called bansi. The body is some sort of reed, lighter than a cane, with four fingerholes that were burned into the tube. The mouthpiece has a downcut reed and is of a cane tube, blocked by a pith plug at the upper end. The lower end of the mouthpiece is cut off obliquely at 90° to the reed and is inserted into the tube so that the oblique end fits beside the uppermost fingerhole. It was given to me by Vafa Taghasi, a child who had bought several out there.

And finally for this section, we turn to Britain, with a reconstruction of the ancient Welsh hornpipe, the pibcorn, made by Philip Bate. This is based on one of the few surviving examples, this one belonging to the Society of Antiquaries of London, of which Philip Bate was, like me, a Fellow, and which is now deposited on loan in the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan’s. The pipe itself is of wood, probably originally of elder, with a high thumbhole and six fingerholes. There is a reed cap of cow-horn on the upper end and a horn bell. The reed cap has a plain end, for the player has to put the lips against it, but the bell has the traditional jaw-shape cut-out and toothed decoration. The purpose of the reed cap is to keep the mouthpiece and reed out of the player’s mouth and so prevent it from getting too wet, for it is a fragile piece of straw, stopped at the upper end with sealing wax, and a downcut reed similar to that of a Northumbrian bagpipe.

As for a number of other instruments, Henry Balfour, Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum for more than forty-five years, wrote the basic article on the instrument in his “The Old British ‘Pibcorn’ or ‘Hornpipe’ and its Affinities” in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, November 1890, pp. 142–54, but unfortunately he does not mention the material of the reed, though he does describe a number of other instruments from around the world of the same type. We shall see a number of them here, other instruments which have such reed-caps, which are also called stocks, as with the Scottish stock-and-horn, a similar instrument to the Welsh pibgorn (spellings vary between pibcorn and pibgorn, each being a combination of pipe and horn). The stocks also have another function, often that of being tied into the mouth of a bag, and we shall meet them again, both in the next section on the geminate pipes, and again when we arrive at the bagpipe section below. While the stock is also often made of wood, enough of them, like the pibgorn, have a stock of horn and a great many have horn for the bell, and so a common group name for them has often been the hornpipe – whether there is any connection with the dance of that name is unknown.

© Jeremy Montagu, 2018

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