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Folk instruments of Greece: The shepherd's flute

Updated on January 26, 2013

The Greek pastoral flute: the shepherd's company

Among the memories of my early childhood dominates the sound of the pastoral flute. The full moon, the absolute stillness and then suddenly as if the wind started to blow and thousands of moon rays started to dance, the melody of a flute was spraying from the slope of the mountain. In a little while, like an answer to an invisible command hundreds of bells accompanied the melodical line, while the nocturnal symphony was completed with the bleating of the sheep.Under these pacifying sounds I was falling asleep, happy and innocent, reassured that life would be still there by the next morning.

Many years later I discovered that what I thought as a very basic musical instrument was much more complex. The illiterate shepherd who played it was a musician as well as a crafstman. And that the herd formed an orchestra, since from the neck of each sheep bronze bells hang, tuned in different tones. That's why the sheperd's flute together with the bells are part of the Folk instruments of Greece

Construction and playing technique

The floghera (the shepherd's flute) is a simple hollow cylinder open in both ends. It differs from the "souravli" which has a beak at its top. Its size varies from 15 cm up to 50 cm. The material it is made from can be wood, reed, bronze or iron, bone or plastic.

The most popular pastoral flute is the reed flute. It is made from a reed which is chosen and processed very carefully. The old crafstmen said that it should be collected on a night with a full moon and shine like a mirror. It should be dry and not porous with a knot at only one end, at the lower part, where a hole is opened, just enough so that the air cannot escape too easily. On the upper part it should be cut a little further down the knot, so as it has the same thickness throughout its length.

The holes are usually carved with a heated piece of iron. The first hole should be opened in about the middle of the flute. The remaining holes should be opened exactly where the fingers are placed at the playing position. The kind of sound produced depends upon the material the floghera is made from and on its length and diameter. Blown softly the floghera gives a series of low notes. Blown more strongly, the same notes are made an octave higher. By blowing even more strongly, one can reach even higher octaves.

A pastoral instrument, the floghera is usually played solo by shephers while guarding their flocks. However, it is also played along with other instruments, usually percussion, at celebrations and festivals,if the musician is particualarly accomplished. However it is not unusual to combine it with other instruments, such as the violin-lute combination or other single instruments.

The bells

During the endless hours of loneliness, up on the Greek mountains, the shepherd's only entertainment was the melody of his flute. Some enthousiastic shepherds , created a whole orhestra to accompany its simple melodic line. They had hundreds of bells constructed, usually from bronze, in specialized workshops.

According to their size and thickness they were grouped in different categories and given different names. Their sound varied, and they were "tuned" to produce notes which could cover an entire scale and create harmonic results in combination with each other and with the flute. In this way the shepherd was able to distinguish his own flock from others' and even the different kinds of sheep inside the flock itself. The method of combining the bells was quite complicated and it required much love, patience and a refined musical "ear".

Piece with flute and bells

Constructing a shepherd's flute

Musician playing the flute

Recordings of the shepherd's flute

The love and respect for tradition of some talented musicians has rescued the melodies of this pacifying instrument from oblivion. They have listened to, researched and worked on them, producing in this way some remarkable recordings.

Homage to traditional musicians

Either simple shepherds or professional musicians, they have all contributed to compose music out of a simple piece of reed .

I want to dedicate this lens to all of them, acknowledged or not, with a deep respect. Listening to the music of floghera I can imagine their simple and sometimes hard lives, but at the same time the love for nature that is expressed through their melodies.

Note

My source of information has been:

- the book "GREEK FOLK INSTRUMENTS" by Fivos Anogianakis, publisher "MELISSA"

- the CDs "GREEK FOLK INSTRUMENTS" by Petros Tabouris

Is there a pastoral flute of this kind in your country? Are there any similarities to the greek one? I am very interested in learning about it.

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    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 4 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed reading about the shepherd's flute. I've never heard it called a pastoral flute. Thanks for the information.

    • askformore lm profile image

      askformore lm 4 years ago

      I love to listen to 'flute music'

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 5 years ago

      How lovely it the sound of this simple flute.. love it. Blessed.

    • profile image

      jeremykim2011 5 years ago

      Congratulations on the feature!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Very informative. Congrats on getting front page!

    • profile image

      Scanabella 5 years ago

      Awesome Lens WOW!Beautiful Writing,our bird loves the Flute!

    • hirephp lm profile image

      hirephp lm 5 years ago

      nice flute and also i love the flute music

    • profile image

      seosmm 5 years ago

      Very cool lens. Lots of great info!

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 5 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Beautiful lens. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Mahogany LM profile image

      Mahogany LM 5 years ago

      I had never heard of the shepard's flute before this. Thanks for the introduction :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I forgot to mention, congratulations on receiving front page honors!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Another masterpiece presentation by you from start to finish! I love how you draw us in and hold us to every word. I especially enjoyed that the shepherd's pastoral flute plays in unison with the sheep's bells, how perfect. Blessed!

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      The flute looks a little curved, and it's made of wood. Almost reminds me of a recorder. That flute with the bells reminds me of Arabic folk music actually.

    • M Schaut profile image

      Margaret Schaut 5 years ago from Detroit

      I always love to listen to a flute.

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this information.

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 6 years ago

      Bravo, Chryssanthi, once again!

      I liked the brief explanations, the demonstration of different types of shepherds' instruments, and the videos.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Makes me think of ancient Greece when shepherds tended their flocks and played this instrument.

    • Psycho-Gamer profile image

      MasterPsycho 6 years ago from Earth

      Great info you have gathered in one lens.......let me add that making a traditional floghera it is not very diffycult i have tried myself but it didn't produce a great sound of course it was my first try to i could find none to show me how to make one........

      sheep bell makers were actually blacksmiths who specialised in bells......it is a craft or better an art that it takes many many years for someone to master it if he wants his bells to make different sounds........also in a flock every sheep had its own bell with its unique tune...and not only a group of sheeps but every single one of them....and the shepherds new by the sound of their bells which sheep that was

      and something last ......there are still TRADITIONAL bell makers but they are really few of them.....and i know this because i watched a documentary about it....and when they were asked by the reporter why they were still using the traditional tool and he also called them ancient and not technology and machines.....they answered that the more technology u use the worst the result is and you never get the sound you want........absolutely amazing......old ways are the best

    • javr profile image

      javr 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm sure that children love playing flutes like these.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      What a treasure of lenses you have! This is enchanting, especially the Flute & Bells piece. Suddenly I'm remembering the lonely hills of Naxos, and it's magical.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I don't know if we have anything similar in the USA, but my husband has one from Yugoslavia. I'm not sure which part, but he is from Serbia.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      How amazing - a whole orchestra of sheep and a shepherd! Wonderful music - thanks for sharing.