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Bagpipes: Part I
Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, and the Banat
by Richard Maheu
from Quo #25 (May 99)
Even folk dancers who know that there are more kinds of bagpipes than the Scottish may not be aware of the wide distribution and importance which bagpipes have enjoyed in the past. Even today in some areas, the bagpipe retains its traditional role as a provider of entertainment and dance music. In North Africa and the Middle East, a bagpipe similar to the Turkish Tulum is often found playing for gatherings. In Italy, shepherds come down from the hills to cities at Christmas time and play the Zampogna to earn money. Bagpipes are also found in Bulgaria, Macedonia, France, and Ireland.
Though once played regularly as the predominant form of musical entertainment for people in the village, bagpipes are now heard primarily on the national radio, played as curiosities, or associated with groups which perform traditional dances. Some types of bagpipes found in Central Europe up to the early 1800s are now gone forever. Our ideas of what they sounded like and how they were played are guesses (although probably good ones) based on bagpipes which survived in surrounding areas.
Soon after the bagpipe was introduced to Western Europe around 1000-1100 AD, it developed into a very important provider of musical entertainment. Bagpipes were found in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes as solo instruments and as part of court orchestras. Drawings made in the early 16th century by Praetorius, one of the earliest sources of detailed information on musical instruments, show several kinds of bagpipes amidst the collections of recorders, crumhorns, and other instruments of the time.
Unfortunately, as Western music became more complicated and sophisticated, the less versatile bagpipe lost its place in the orchestra and became more the instrument of the village people. Eventually, when they also found the bagpipe out of step with the times, it became extinct in some areas, and dated or passe in most others.
What happened in Hungary is a good example of this phenomenon. In the 1600s, the bagpipe was found in orchestras maintained by wealthy Hungarian land-owners for their entertainment. It played alongside such instruments as violins, trumpets, and cimbaloms. It was also used for military music, like the Scottish bagpipe but on a smaller scale. During the 1700s, however, the increasing influx of Western music and instruments, especially from Germany, drove the bagpipe from the orchestra. At the beginning of the 1800s, there were still a few highly respected players of the bagpipe who would provide music for upper-crust dances, but gradually during that century people in the prosperous lowland areas lost interest in the bagpipe and it was retained only in the mountain areas. Around the turn of the century, it was still popular among the shepherds. I have seen a picture taken in 1910 of six shepherds, all wearing their heavily embroidered woolen cloaks and all holding beautifully carved and finished bagpipes.
The great exchange of people and ideas accompanying the First World War cut the use of the Hungarian bagpipe still further. Often, men who went to serve in the army would be exposed to Western and popular music, and a few of them would return to the village with new ideas and new instruments. A brief resurgence of popularity of the bagpipe in the mountain regions occurred after the war because of widespread poverty, but, one by one, makers and players of the instrument died without passing on their art. I believe the last bagpipe players died in the 1960s. Apparently, the bagpipe is no longer played in Hungary, even in performing groups. Perhaps if the current interest in "genuine" dances and music continues, the bagpipe will be revived in Hungarian performing groups, at least as an interesting curiosity.
Some musicologists and amateur psychiatrists have suggested that the drone of a bagpipe has a hypnotizing effect which accounts for its fascination. Perhaps this is why I enjoy building these instruments. Or perhaps it is nostalgia, or simply the satisfaction of making something both entertaining and unusual.
The Turkish Tulum
The Turkish Tulum is of a very ancient type and is similar to bagpipes found in North Africa, Greece, and many Middle Eastern countries. The chanter is made with two identical pipes of cane with five holes each set in a carved wooden holder. The bell at the end is either an animal horn or is carved as part of the wooden holder. The player's fingers cover adjacent holes and the two pipes usually sound the same note simultaneously. Sometimes, however, the player uncovers only one hole of a pair, allowing certain harmonies to sound. Melodies can be surprising complex. The blowpipe and the wooden pipe holder are tied directly into the bag, which is usually a crudely cured goatskin. Sometimes a decorated mirror is tied into the neck opening.
The Croatian Mih
The Croatian Mih, which is found on and near the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia, is the next step up from the Turkish Tulum. It also has two side-by-side pipes, with adjacent holes covered by the same finger, but here the pipes are bored in a flattish piece of wood which is fitted into a carved neck stock. The blowpipe is fitted into a wooden disk tied into the bag in such a position that the horns tied into the leg openings of the goatskin are pointed forward as shown during playing. Some of these bagpipes have six identical finger holes in each pipe, but others have various combinations of holes such as six in one and two in the other. These hole patterns give harmonies characteristic of individual areas.
The Serbian Gajda
The Serbian Gajda is part of a family of bagpipes found in northern Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, and the Ukraine. The chanter has two side-by-side bores, each with a single-bladed reed. The melody is played on one bore which has five finger holes. The other bore has a single finger hole near the bottom. When this hole is open, it plays the same note as the lowest one on the melody side. When it is closed, a harmony note sounds and is amplified in the carved wooden bell at the bottom of the chanter.
The melodies played on the five-hle bore are usually not too complicated, but the addition of the rhythmic and harmony effects of the alternating note of the counter-drone gives a full sound. The large bass drone usually has a gourd at the end to amplify its sound.
The Banat Gajda
The Banat Gajda is melocially identical to the Serbian Gajda. It is, however, usually much larger and lower pitched. Often, the pipe length of the bass drone must be so great to play the correct note that it is constructed with three wooden tubes side-by-side and interconnected to form a "folded" pipe. This cuts the overall length considerably.
These bagpipes are often played using bellows for an air supply, which makes singing along much easier for the player. It is interesting to note that a player of this bagpipe can produce the three parts usually associated with Croatian and Slavonian songs. He sings the melody, plays the harmony on the five-finger-hole bore, and the bass part on the alternating drone. This makes me think that these three-part songs are based on the music of this type of bagpipe.
This article first appeared in the May 1976 issue of The Folk Dance Scene in Baton Rouge, published by Vonnie R. Brown and is republished from Mixed Pickles of May 1997 with permission from Vonnie Brown, Raymond La Barbera, editor of Mixed Pickles, and the author. Part Two of this article describes the Bulgarian Gajda, the Kaba Gajda, the Zampogna, the Cornamuse, and the Macedonian Gajda.
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