Brass and Reeds
The Tsabouna is the island version of the Greek bagpipes. Its mainland equivalent is the Gaida. The instrument’s name varies from island to island: in Andros it is known as Sabouna, in Crete as Askomandoura, and in Ikaria as Tsabounofylaka, to name but a few. The Tsabouna is made by the musician himself, and consists of three parts: the bag, the mouthpiece and the device that produces sound, the Tsabouna. The bag (aski or touloumi) is made of goat hide. The animal is skinned, and salt is then applied to the inside of the hide, which is rolled up and left to “tighten” for several days. The fleece is then cut down to about 1 – 1.5 cm, and the skin is rinsed. It is subsequently tied at the neck and the back (rear legs and tail), with the fleece on the inside. The Tsabouna and mouthpiece are attached to the two front legs. The Tsabouna is made of oleander wood and measures 7-8 cm. It is hollowed out and has a cone at the end. The cone is not always made of the same wood; it is often made of ox horn or thick cane. Two thin and hard pieces of reed or cane, without knots, are fitted inside the hollow, and the gaps between them are filled in with wax. These are the “bibikia” or “pipinia” that produce sound. The pieces of reed or cane must be of the same length and thickness, in order to produce the same pitch. One is for producing melody and has 5 or 6 holes, while the other is the drone, which establishes the tonic, and has only one hole. A smaller reed, with a single tongue, is fixed on top of each one. All these items are placed inside the hide, in one of the animal’s front legs. The mouthpiece, into which the musician blows to play the instrument, is attached to the other leg. The mouthpiece is a small tube of cane or oleander wood, which is either attached to the hide itself or to a ring fixed to the same spot, where a leather valve is also attached, stopping the air from escaping while the musician pauses for breath. With time, the bag may wear down and dry out. The usual way to maintain it, so that it remains supple and doesn’t let the air out, is to wash it in the sea. The Tsabouna is played with the bag propped underneath the musician’s left armpit. There is no particular playing technique. Each musician chooses the way that suits them better. The basic pitch of the instrument is determined at random during its construction, and intervals are determined by the distance between holes on the reeds. The range of melodies played on the Tsabouna is narrow (usually a sixth) and Tsabouna players use ornamentation to “decorate” them. The sound of the Tsabouna is sharp and loud, ideal for open-air performances. It is typically played, along with other instruments, during festivals, local fetes, and weddings.
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