From the Collection: Wind Instruments

To celebrate National Music in Our Schools Month, we’re taking a look at a few different wind instruments from around the world. Many students first learn the recorder, and to that end, we’ve selected a few similar, but different, flute style instruments from England, Peru, and Tibet.

Penny Whistle

English Recorder

Almost all primitive cultures had a similar type of flute and is most likely the first pitched flute type instrument in existence. This penny whistle was manufactured by Clarke Company. The modern penny whistle is indigenous to the British Isles, particularly England when factory-made “tin whistles” were produced by Robert Clarke from 1840.

The company showed the whistles in The Great Exhibition of 1851. The Clark tin whistle is voiced somewhat on an organ-pipe with a flattened tube forming the lip of the fipple mouthpiece and is usually made from rolled tin sheet or brass. Manufactured tin whistles became available no earlier than 1840, and were mass-produced and widespread due to their relative affordability.

As the penny whistle was generally considered a toy it has been suggested that children or street musicians were paid a penny by those who heard them playing the whistle. However, in reality the instrument was so called because it could be purchased for a penny. The instrument became popular in several musical traditions, including English, Scottish, Irish and American traditional music. (Source)


Tibetan Horn

Kangling is the Tibetan word for a trumpet or horn originally made out of a human thighbone. It literally translates as “leg flute”. Today, it may also be made out of wood or metal. The flute is used in Tibetan Buddhism for various rituals, including funerals, as a reminder of one’s mortality.

At first glance, one might assume that the kangling was assimilated from Himalayan shamanism or the ancient Bon religion that pre-dated the entry of Buddhism into Tibet. In fact, the thigh bone trumpet was not used by either of these older traditions. The long bones of the human body form a natural club or other utensil, but just as in Western culture, ancient societies did not use human remains casually. In fact, the reverse was true, ancestral bones being considered either sacred objects of reverence, or strictly taboo. Besides, animal bones, sinews and horns were readily available for a variety of practical uses.(Source)

The kangling is only used in chöd rituals performed outdoors with the chöd damaru and bell. In Tantric chöd practice, the practitioner, motivated by compassion, plays the kangling as a gesture of fearlessness, to summon hungry spirits and demons so that she or he may satisfy their hunger and thereby relieve their sufferings. It is also played as a way of “cutting off of the ego.” (Source)

Pan Pipes/Zampoña

Peruvian Wind Instrument

This zampoña, a wind instrument which belongs to the pan-pipe family, is made up of a series of cane tubes of varying sizes bound together. The size of the tube determines the musical note. The zampoña comes in a wide range of variations, depending on the region, where the length, location and quantity of cane tubes vary. The pan flute is played by blowing horizontally across an open end against the sharp inner edge of the pipes. Each pipe is tuned to a keynote, called the fundamental frequency. It is frequently played in nearly all the festivities in southern Peru.

The earliest known example of the zampoña was found at Cahuachi, Peru, dated to 4200 BC–a time that corresponds with what is called the Honda Period of this region. Researchers point to three different ancient Peruvian cultures as early users of the panpipes: the Nasca Culture (1,100 BC – 750 AD), the Paracas Culture (600 BC – 175 BC), and the Moche Culture (100 AD – 800 AD). Reed, cane, ceramic, condor quill and bone panpipes have been found across the Andes. (Source)

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