5.06.2010

Musica Instrumentalis: Tabor Pipe


PictureI am something of a flute collector. Tin whistles and recorders and clay ocarinas and fifes with simple fingerings and relatively simple tone productions; the flute family is a joy! and you are quickly on your way to reels and hornpipes and and airs and the best of folk tunes. When I was in high school I bought a pamphlet called "The Science of Flute Building" or something like that. Aside from drowning in a turgid sea of math equations for finger hole size and tapered bores, I learned about nodes and the wonderful mystery of over-blowing. It's actually quite mind blowing (heh heh) that the same forces apply to vibrating strings as to tubes of air; that they hold within them the secret shadow of the harmonic series!
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My newest acquisition (a Christmas/Birthday gift from instrument guru, Nathan) is a tabor pipe. I associated these simple instruments with the entertainers of medieval England and France, street music, village music. Mine (manufactured by Susato) is in the amiable key of D, long and thin like a Low tin whistle, made of the smoothest ebony (or perhaps that's ASB pipe?). Unlike the tine whistle however, there are only three holes at the very end, one for the thumb, index finder, and third finger. One can nevertheless play up to an octave and a fifth by employing the harmonic series and lifting the fingers for the missing notes. If you have the hankering to try this out, but don't want to cough up the $10 dollars for an ASB tabor pipe, it is possible to tape over and drill your tin whistle... But don't ask me exactly how because the math will probably crush me into a coma.

While the left hand is thus adroitly (heh heh) employed the other hand is free and traditionally plays the tabor (a drum slung around the neck or attached to the belt) or, in the case of Basque villages, a "savage" toona-toon (some sort of tonic-dominant-droning zither contraption). Other ideas of mine for uses of the other hand include:

1). Drawing a picture of someone playing the tabor pipe.
2). Playing a "savage" game of ping-pong.
3). Walking the dog. (Although Numi is freaked by the shrill piercing tone.)
4). Driving the car. (Don't tell Jessica.)
5). Putting up drywall.
6). Making/consuming a sandwich.
Please let me know of any more ideas you may have. You never know when a skill like this is going to be handy (heh heh)!
PictureThere are many paintings and accounts of these instruments being played as far back as the 13th century. One would hear it in processions and festivals and weddings or in consort with full-bodied racketts and allergenic krumhorns accompanying the Song of Roland or Ballade of Edmund or Lay of Luthien (heh heh). It had vital importance to the British tradition of Morris Dancing, complex round dancing. The repertoire of such a folk tradition was saved from, yes, from OBLIVION in the 19th century by a certain Cecil Sharp who collected and published what he could, and to what ethnomusicological accuracy he understood at the time. Check it out here.

And just check this guy out! Also hear him play a little blurb.
Sir Francis Darwin muses in his "Letter to the Society of Morris Dancers" about the natural occurrence of plants whose stalks grow in the correct bore-to-length ratio to become, in the hands of bored and creative shepherds, flutes. Quite an amazing thought. Then after you've done that the ambitious troubadour decides to one-up everyone and add a drum to the mix. Talk about entertainment! It's always a joy to learn something new!

Nemo surdior est quam is qui non audiet.

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