minstrel: Re: double flutes

Christina van Tets cjvt at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 18 07:18:18 PDT 2000

Hello the List!

Blue asked:

>Hello i'm new to the list but have been lurking... I know its a little more
>ancient than subjects normally discussed here, but i was sure someone could
>help me track down references to the ancient greek double flute, called the
>aulos? It appears to be two pipes played simultaneously (one in each hand,
>both in mouth, spread sideways, so it looks like the 2 long sides of a
>triangle, if that makes sense). It was associated with the oracle at Delphi
>amongst other things, and there is a Phrygian version.
>I'd be interested to know if anyone knows of a later equivalent, of anyone
>who plays such an instrument or even makes them? Also, is there any history
>of a double flute or similar from a later period - most of the early greek
>instruments have survived in one form or another, did the aulos develop in
>its 2 pipe form?
>Any ideas would be most welcome, thanks :)

Wow!  I was just about to send a message to the List about the same thing!  
I was in the north just recently at a site called Zippori, just north of 
Nazareth (I'm living in Israel at present) and saw some mosaics from the 
early Byz. period using double flutes.  They are quite long, maybe 2 feet in 
length each if the proprtions are right, and have a sort of capo (sp.?) 
attachment to plug up higher fingerholes if the lower notes are needed.  The 
two flutes do not appear to be joined.

The room and its mosaics are documented to be around 4th C AD, judging by 
local writings.

FWIW, the Bedouin around here still play double flutes, which are a b$%#@*& 
to deal with.  They are made from a hollow stick of some kind - a reed 
maybe, but it looks like bamboo - with the node of the reed forming the 
bottom end of each pipe;  there is a smallish (5mm) hole cut in that end.  
The upper end has a smaller reed pushed into it to form the mouthpiece, so 
that you can choose whether to play one or two pipes, and which one.  That 
reed has a closed node at the top, is whittled slightly at the bottom to 
make it fit better, and the fipple is cut as a slice (maybe 3 cm) along the 
length of the reed so that the loose part of the fipple is pointing 
downwards.  This is the only example of an exposed fipple that I know of, 
and I am a one-time musicologist who collects flutes.  The reason it is such 
a pain to play is that you have to put the flute a long way into your mouth 
to cover all the fipple and let it move freely.  Two mouthpieces is almost 
beyond me at present.  The flutes are joined together with what looks 
distinctly like tarred string, in a sort of Theta shape (i.e. around the two 
flutes in an oval several times, then once or twice between the flutes, 
around the string to tighten it, much the same way you would sew a button).  
This is done top and bottom, and the top tie has a loop attached to it for 
hanging the flute from whatever is convenient.


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