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Folk instruments of Greece: The shepherd's flute
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.
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.
My source of information has been:
- the book "GREEK FOLK INSTRUMENTS" by Fivos Anogianakis, publisher "MELISSA"
- the CDs "GREEK FOLK INSTRUMENTS" by Petros Tabouris
- MORE INFORMATION ON THE FOLK INSTRUMENTS OF GREECE
Although Greece is a small country, due to its geographical conditions a big variety of traditional instruments have been played for centuries. In this webpage I present a general description of them.