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Link to this year's index by clicking here.


Musical Instrument Museum, Part 18


The reedy sound of panpipes is now associated with Andean music worldwide. Sikus (the Aymara word for panpipes) are played in pairs of complementary instruments. Each musician plays only a part of a tune, alternating pitches with a partner — requiring two musicians to complete a melody. The costumes and instruments pictured here were acquired from Rurarccaya, Peru's most famous panpipe ensemble.

Andean spiritual beliefs are built into the way music is organized and played. Panpipes are grouped into high-, middle- and low-sounding instruments, reflecting the Andean division of the cosmos into an upper world (Hanan Pacha), the domain of humans (Kay Pacha) and the underworld (Hurin Pacha).


The music of Bolivia has a long history. Out of all the Andean countries, Bolivia remains perhaps the most culturally linked to the indigenous peoples. Like most of its neighbors, Bolivia was long dominated by Spain and its attendant culture. Even after independence, Bolivian music was largely based on European forms. In 1952, a revolution established nationalistic reforms which included cultural and political awareness of the Aymara and Quechua natives. Intellectuals in the country began wearing ponchos and otherwise associating themselves with native cultures, and the new government promoted native folklore by, among other methods, establishing a folklore department in the Bolivian Ministry of Education.

At the same time, there is a interesting blending of traditional and introduced art forms. The bajunes (multiple trumpets) pictured here, which are fabricated from palm leaves and wood, provide the bass (basso continuo) in both church and secular music ensembles.


The most sacred instruments of the Aztecs were the temponaztli and the huehuetl (shown here), two different types of drums believed to be of divine origin. These instruments embodied the presence of deities in rituals that included human sacrifice.

After the Spanish Conquest, these drums continued to be played by some indigenous groups such as the Tzotzil Maya in the Chiapas Highlands, who still use the huehuetl in their music.


The lively soul of klezmer music (kley-zemer, Hebrew for "vessel of melody") is rooted in the gatherings, celebrations and dances of Jewish Eastern European and Yiddish-German communities. Poor wandering musicians called klezmorim were resourceful — using whatever instruments they could afford, borrowing musical ideas from Jews and non-Jews alike.

Pictured here is a trombone in B-flat.


The innovative spirit kept klezmer alive in a changing world. Between 1880
and 1924, war and anti-Semitism drove more than three million Jews to North America. Always creative, immigrant klezmorim responded to their new surroundings by experimenting with sounds from jazz and replacing softer stringed instruments (such as this hammered dulcimer) with louder brass and accordions in the recording studio. Ever-evolving but unmistakable, klezmer continues to add richness to Jewish-American life.


Forced to travel light, many immigrant klezmorin bought American-made instruments after arrival — for example, this clarinet in B-flat.


Polka (Czech for "little step") is best known as lively Bohemian dance music with a distinctive oompah beat, but American polka blends diverse regional traditions and popular styles.

19th-century Czech, Polish, Slovenian and German working-class immigrants brought European social dances to urban and rural communities. Around 1900, polka music was played by bands that featured clarinets, brass and fiddles. By 1940, the accordion had taken center stage.


The vibraphone, sometimes called the vibraharp or simply the vibes, is a musical instrument in the mallet subfamily of the percussion family.

It is similar in appearance to the xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel although the vibraphone uses aluminum bars instead of the wooden bars of the first two instruments. Each bar is paired with a resonator tube having a motor-driven butterfly valve at its upper end, mounted on a common shaft, which produces a tremolo or vibrato effect while spinning. The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal similar to that used on a piano. When the pedal is up, the bars are all damped and the sound of each bar is quite short; with the pedal down, they will sound for several seconds.

The most common uses of the vibraphone are within jazz music, where it often plays a featured role, and in the wind ensemble, as a standard component of the percussion section.


Shown here is a martinschalmei AKA valved mouth organ which I think is one of the most unusual instruments in the MIM collection. This one is said to resemble a Chinese sheng.


And we all think we know what a harmonica is. But what about a "double" or a "amanti" or a "tremolo" or "fidelio double" or "chronatica base" or a "little lady" (that's the tiny one that is just barely visible in the photo) or an "aero band" or a "Sputnik"? Wow, what a variety of what most of us think is a kid's toy.


This unusual assortment are varieties of keyed mouth organ. Again these look like kid's toys but in the hands of a musician, they can make beautiful music.

I have shared several photos of accordions from various countries but was blown away by the display in one corner of the museum. What a variety for an instrument that we all have pictured in our minds? Put them all together and the result is striking.

To be continued...

Life is good.

Aloha,
B. David

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