These are flutes blown via a nostril rather than the mouth. They are found most commonly in the Philippines and in many island groups both in Micronesia and Polynesia in Oceania. Their use is usually for ritual and very commonly for love-making and it seems (though this is speculative) to be the result of sensibility in that the breath of the nose is nearer to the soul, whereas the mouth is used for profane and common purposes such as eating and speaking – there is a link here with the common remark of ‘Bless you’ when somebody sneezes, for a sneeze can risk expelling a portion of your soul.
The Philippine nose flutes, seruling hidong, are quite long and made of thin-walled bamboo with the ennezure (one cannot call it an embouchure!) as a small hole in the centre of the septum that closes the upper end. There are three fingerholes plus a thumbhole, all close enough together to be covered by one hand so that the other hand can close the unused nostril, thus strengthening the airstream from the blowing nostril; even then the sound is usually quieter than that of a mouth-blown flute. They are long enough and narrow enough in bore to be freely overblown and have a range of over two octaves.
The Oceanic nose flutes are more often a fairly stout segment of bamboo, closed by a septum at each end, with the ennezure very close to one end. Fingerholes are bored, normally burned, along the upper surface, usually three or more and sometimes three at the mid-point of the body, one on the upper surface and one on each side. Acoustically these are vessel flutes (for which see a separate file in this sequence) so it is immaterial which holes are opened since all are of the same diameter. The flute is held facing forward so that while it is a side-blown instrument it is difficult to call it a transverse or cross flute. Again one thumb is often used to close the other nostril. There is often some pyrographic decoration.
In New Zealand the nguru is often referred to as a nose flute, but the evidence seems to be that it was normally mouth-blown. It is again a vessel flute as is another version made of a gourd.
A very different form of nose flute appears occasionally in our own culture – I have examples from both Germany and the USA, and others have been seen. These are modern instruments of plastic. They are held against both the nose and the mouth with a duct leading to a mouth or window opposite the player’s mouth and they are variable capacity vessel flutes. The sound is generated via the duct like a recorder, but instead of having a tube with fingerholes, the player’s mouth serves as the resonator and by varying the mouth-shape, as one does to produce different vowels, the pitch can be modified.
There seem to be no other references to nose flutes elsewhere in the world.
© Jeremy Montagu, 2018