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Musical Instrument Museum, Part 13

Today we travel across the pond to Europe, starting in Italy. While Italy is most often associated with the violin and mandolin (shown here), the country is also home to many regional music traditions and instruments that go beyond those of classical and salon music.

For example, the oboe-like ciaramella, zampogna (bagpipe — shown below) and tamburello (tambourine) are used to play Christmas carols and pastoral music, as well as to accompany the tarantella, an energetic dance associated with the tarantula's poisonous bite.


Most of us are aware of the most common types of trombones that use slides — however, some trombones use valves instead. Thus although it looks more like a trombone, it is played much in the same way as a trumpet. A valve trombone was first made in Vienna back in the 1820s.

I was surprised to see a bagpipe from Italy since most of us associate their mournful wail with Scotland. However, Wikipedia documents that "Evidence of pre-medieval bagpipes is uncertain, but several textual and visual clues may possibly indicate ancient forms of bagpipes. The Oxford History of Music makes mention of the first documented bagpipe being found on a Hittite slab at Eyuk in the Middle East. This sculptured bagpipe has been dated to 1000 BC. In the 2nd century AD, Suetonius described the Roman Emperor Nero as a player of the tibia utricularis. Dio Chrysostom, who also flourished in the 1st century, wrote about a contemporary sovereign (possibly Nero) who could play a pipe (aulein) with his mouth as well as with his 'armpit'. From this account, some believe that the tibia utricularis was a bagpipe."

We sometimes forget that the Vatican (or more correctly the "Holy See") is an independent state wholly contained within Italy. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has enacted regulations on the use of musical instruments. For instance, bells traditionally were not used during the three days before Easter. According to folklore, all bells in Europe would miraculously fly to the Vatican where they would be blessed by the Pope.

During this penitent time, wooden noisemakers such as ratchets, rattles (shown here) and clappers were substituted. Smaller noisemakers were used in services by alter boys. On Easter Eve, the bells would fly from the Vatican back to their homes to be rung in celebration.

In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea lies the island of Malta. Figuring prominently in the traditional music of Malta are the zaqq (bagpipe — shown here), tanbur (tambourine), rabbaba (friction drum) and kiterra (guitar — shown below).

The zaqq is immediate distinguishable from other bagpipes because it is made of the complete skin of a calf, goat or dog, excluding the head. Now no longer played, the zaqq usually was accompanied by a tanbur player who performed a distinctive gyrating dance. At Carnival time, the two were often accompanied by the rabbaba — played by poorer musicians, often to earn a few extra coins.

Additionally, the zaqq was believed to "protect against the evil eye" and the horn could be removed and used as a weapon.

Pictured here is a kiterra. Obviously it looks much like a guitar with the extention to the sound box. To me that extention looks like a soldier saluting.

Just one of many regional traditions, the flamenco music of Andalusia (Spain's southernmost region) has garnered worldwide acclaim. Flamenco is a dramatic dialogue of voice, dance and vibrant guitar strumming, underscored by hand clapping and the clatter of castanets. Percussion is everywhere in flamenco — nails attached to the dancer's shoes emphasize the footwork's intricate rhythmic interplay with the guitar. The costumes lend visual drama to flamenco's expressive musical eloquence.

The music of the Iberian Peninsula draws its diversity from its unique geographic location between Europe and North Africa. For example, the rabel (shown here), a bowed string fiddle related to both the Arabic rebab and European fiddle, was spread throughout northern and western Spain by migrating shepherds.

The region's many frame drums (shown here) are also of Arabic origin, but have become a part of the Iberian musical tradition.

The cavaquinho is the Portuguese instrument that is thought to be the forerunner of the Hawai`ian ukulele — however, its origins are not easily found. One expert stresses the link between this instrument and historical Hellenistic tetrachords — a series of four tones filling in the interval of a perfect fourth, a 4:3 frequency proportion.

Note the unusual tuning mechanism on this cavaquinho. Quite unique.

Portugal is home to many forms of stringed instruments (besides the cavaquinho) such as the guitarra portuguesa, which took on its distinctive pear shape in its new home and has become an integral part of the fado tradition from Lisbon.

The bombo (bass drum) is a percussion instrument played by marching bombo groups to accompany the high-pitched melodies of a transverse flute. The bombo shown here is quite unusual in that the drumhead is an animal skin with the hair still attached. I presume that would provide a more muffled sound in comparison to the more typical drumhead.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com