Conch Trumpets, Flutes and Turquoise Beads, Treasured Items of An Ancient Culture

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-10-54-44-amDid you know that there was a civilization as advanced as the Mayas discovered in the desert of the Southwestern United States?

A recent article published in Nature Communications, reveals a great deal about this advanced culture that flourished in the area now identified as New Mexico. Matrilineal in nature, one of the most complete digs of this Chacoan culture is a burial chamber – called Room 33 – that consists of elite women rulers and their most treasured items. Not surprisingly, among these items are special pottery, ritual objects, turquoise beads and musical instruments. Although the site is probably hundreds of miles from an ocean, screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-10-58-10-amRoom 33 includes a conch shell trumpet with a turquoise mouthpiece as well as several different flutes. Clearly music was an integral part of the most valued aspects of this society.

Want to learn more? Below are links to the complete article about the dig in Nature Communications as well as a blog post identifying all the objects in Room 33. Interestingly enough, conch shell trumpets are found throughout the world in a variety of diverse locations.  Below we’ve included links on posts we’ve done so far about conch shell trumpets in Japan, Mexico, Hawaii and Polynesian Cultures.

Links and Resources

Complete Article on the Archeological Dig in Nature Communications http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14115

What’s in Room 33? https://gamblershouse.wordpress.com/2009/09/19/room-33/

Conch Shell Trumpets From Samurai Times In Japan https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/horagai-a-conch-shell-trumpet-from-samurai-times/

The Conch Shell Trumpet in Ancient Mexico https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/instruments-from-ancient-mexico-the-conch-shell-trumpet/

The Conch Shell Trumpet As Part of Hawaiian and Polynesian Culture https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/the-ultimate-make-your-own-hawaiian-instruments-book/

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The Veena – An Instrument Fit For A Goddess!

indian-goddess-veenaAlthough it may look a bit like a sitar, the Indian veena (or vina) is a unique instrument that dates back at least to 1,500 BCE and has its own distinctive place in Hindustani as well as the Carnatic style South Indian music. A person who plays the veena is known as a vainika.

Mentioned throughout ancient texts such as Bhagavata, the veena is often seen being held by Saraswati, the Hindu patron Goddess of learning and the arts. The Goddess is usually depicted seated on a swan and playing the instrument. In addition to Saraswati, Lord Shiva is also depicted as playing or holding a veena in a form known as a Vinadhara,” meaning “bearer of the vina.”

veena

The modern veena (seen above) has quite a few variations as it evolved throughout various regions and playing styles. Generally, a modern veena is a beautifully constructed plucked stringed instrument that is about four feet in length. It has 7 strings, can be fretted or fretless and has a gourd-like resonator, like the sitar. The vainika plays while seated cross-legged and the instrument is tilted slightly away from the player. The veena can be used to play both classical Indian music or contemporary musical songs or themes.

In addition to the modern veena, there is also an ancient veena which is related to the Burmese harp. Arched harps; like the ancient veena, appeared in the artwork of ancient Egypt and India and were also found widely throughout Southeastern Asia and East Africa.

Links and Resources

SRUTI India Music and Dance Society (Philadelphia, PA USA)

http://www.sruti.org/

Dhvani – India Performing Arts Society of Central Ohio (USA)

https://www.dhvaniohio.org/music/music-south-india/

Instruments of India – Kids Mini-Course

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Instruments-of-India-Mini-Course-2682389

Sitar Poster And Coloring Page

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Instruments-From-India-The-Sitar-904627

Horagai – A Conch Shell Trumpet From Samurai Times

A while ago we did a post about conch shell trumpets that date back to ancient Aztec times.  While researching Asian-Pacific Instruments, we found similar shell trumpets in Tibet, Korea, the Pacific Islands and Japan.  Here’s more about the Japanese version of this unique instrument.

Although shell trumpets can be found in various locations around the world, the Japanese versions – Horagai (法螺貝) or jinkai (陣貝) are a bit unusual.  They consist, not only of the large conch shell but also of a wooden or bronze mouthpiece that allows the instrument to make a series of sounds, as opposed to only one loud blast or note.  Most closely connected with Buddhist monks such as the Yamabushi Warrior monks in Japan, each group or school would learn to play the instrument in different ways and to produce different melodies.

Historical records show that horagai was used in various Buddhist rituals that date back at least a thousand years or so.  These shell trumpets can also be seen in present day Japan in religious ceremonies such as the omizutori (water drawing), which is part of the of the Shuni-e rites at the Tōdai-ji in Nara.  When used by the Yamabushi (Ascetic warrior monks of the Shugendo sect) the instrument would both accompany the chanting of sutras or prayers as well as to signal their presence or movements throughout the mountain region where they lived.  Because the temperatures in these high mountains could easily drop below zero, it is said that the wooden or bronze mouthpiece was added so that the trumpeter’s lips would not freeze to the shell in the extreme cold.

When used in Samurai times, the jinkai, or “war shell”, would play different combinations of notes to signal troops to attack, withdraw or change battle plans.  It was sometimes used to confuse the enemy who might misread the number of troops attacking or what the various battle signals might be.  As you might guess, an experienced trumpeter; called a kai yaku (貝役), woudl have to be an adept musician and would be valued greatly by the Japanese fuedal lords or Samurai for their talents.

To learn more about different shell trumpet traditions or to hear a beginner horagai player learning the instrument, check out the links and resources below.

Links and Resources

Instruments From Ancient Mexico – The Conch Shell Trumpet
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/instruments-from-ancient-mexico-the-conch-shell-trumpet/

Wikipedia’s Horagai Page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horagai

Learning to play the Yamabushi Conch-Shell Trumpet (Horagai)
http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?p=1466

Bell Stones, Soapstones and Fish Pipes – Early Instruments of Indigenous California Cultures

soapstone flutes and whistlesAlthough there’s no formal written history of early indigenous cultures in the region of Southern California, a variety of resources give us a glimpse into the music and ceremonial life of these various tribes. While visiting the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, I was allowed to photograph and share a few of the beautiful music-related artifacts from their vast collection that reflect the early life of Native American tribes in this region.

Ringing Rocks or Bell Stones

Ringing Rock - side viewSimilar to Chumash culture, which originated north of the museum’s Santa Ana location, the pre-1600 AD tribes of this area also discovered, used and revered “ringing rocks” or bell stones. Pictured here (left) is a huge bell stone identified with Tongva/Agaemen(Gabrieliño/Juaneño) cultures with several man-made areas which were probably used for striking particular notes or for grinding medicinal plants. Most often, these large boulders were positioned on top of other rocks to give them more resonance and were “played” by tapping with smaller stones in different areas. Each area that is struck produces a slightly different tone.

soapstone whistlesSoapstone Instruments And A Fish “Pipe”

Also attributed to the early “Channel Island” peoples were an abundance of soapstone whistles and flutes of various shapes and sizes. Found throughout this area, soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a softer rock related to shist that has been used as a medium for carving in many cultures for thousands of years.

Displayed among the musical instruments is also this large and beautiful soapstone pipe (below) that was excavated from a location in Malibu. Shaped like a fish, fish pipeit could have been used as a sacred pipe or as a musical instrument. It’s design and decoration share many similarities with the more northern Chumash people’s ceremonial items.

Gifted artisans and basket-weavers, it may be hard to know exactly what the music and dance from this time and place were. However, these important and beautiful items can help us piece together many valuable details of these meaningful and important cultures. To learn more about Chumash music or to see how stones and rocks are used as musical instruments, check out the related posts below.

Resources And Related Links

bowers basketsBowers Museum, 2002 Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706 (714) 567-3600

Cocoon Rattles, Bear’s Claws and Bullroarers– Instruments From Chumash Culture

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/cocoon-rattles-bears-claws-and-bullroarers-instruments-from-chumash-culture/

Playing River Rocks As An Instrument – Hawaiian `ili`ile

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/playing-river-rocks-as-an-instrument-hawaiian-iliile/

Amazing and Unique Drums of New Guinea

Standing Slit Drums

If you’re near the Los Angeles area, you’ll have a rare chance to see some of the world’s most fascinating Pacific Island drums on display as part of an exhibit on the art and culture of Papua, New Guinea. Currently at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California (USA) is an exhibit entitled: Spirits and Headhunters, Art of the Pacific Islands that shares impressive cultural artifacts including many that reflect the music and dance of this region.

So what’s so different about drums from New Guinea?

The first thing you might notice is the Huge New Guinea slit drumimpressive size of the slit drums featured in this exhibit. In fact, the two large slit drums on display (pictured right and below, left) are each the size and shape of a large canoe! Hollowed out partially inside, both slit drums are struck with beaters, put on a type of cart and moved from place to place while being played. The smaller drum (below) was created and decorated with the motif of Colorful New Guinea Slit druma crocodile, who is considered to be an ancestor spirit in the Sepik region. In this area, the drum is played near a river and it is sometimes considered that drum itself is a spirit and that it’s tones reflect the voice of the ancestors or the divine.

In addition to the “horizontal” slit drums, there are also several large standing wood sculptures that resemble 10 – 15 foot totem poles (pictured above left).  Remarkably, these are also slit drums and are played with beaters as well, often used as methods of communication between tribes or groups of people.

New Guinea (Bowers) drumsOf course, there are also the more traditional looking drums like those seen here as well as an example of a finger-drum which which would have had a lizard skin “head” from the Massim culture of the Milne Bay province of Papua, New Guinea.  All in all, this relatively small exhibit is an amazingly deep journey into the musical, spiritual and artistic life of this important world culture.

For complete information on this exhibit, check out the museum website here: http://www.bowers.org/index.php/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/150-spirits-and-headhunters-art-of-the-pacific-islands

Make Your Own Mexican-Style Gourd Water Drums

Playing water gourd drumAlthough it’s a truly unique and amazing–sounding instrument, there’s very little information available about the history of gourd water drums. It’s clear that they are used in certain areas in Africa and that they show up in Mayan archives as “bubulek” water drums. In present day Mexico they are called jicara de agua and their history can also be traced to the Yaqui and Yoeme Indigenous people who called these floating gourd water drums, baa wehai.

What, exactly is a gourd water drum? Generally made from 3 sturdy pieces of dried Water gourd drum - parts:gourdsgourds, a small ring holds the larger “gourd bowl”, up-side-down in place. That larger gourd is filled with water. The smaller gourd is placed right-side-up, gently on the water’s surface where it is hit with a stick or tapped with fingers, palms or knuckles to create the unique, deep and resonant sound associated with this instrument.

While checking out LA born drummer and percussionist, Christopher Garcia, we found some really great information on the Yaqui and Yoeme roots of floating gourd water drums. Although several musicologists identify this drum as part of the Yaqui Deer Dance (Mazotiwua), Garcia explains how a special beater is used called a baa jiponia, made from a stick wrapped in a corn husk. He also shares some great pictures and basic information on a related instrument, called hirukiam which consist of a gourd facing down and a rasp laid across it, then scraped. The result is a “natural speaker” and another really unique sound creation. Links to Christopher Garcia’s music and website can be found below.

Sounds Like?

Watch this video from Germany and you’ll be able to both see and hear several techniques for playing the gourd water drum:

 

Michael Heralda of Aztec Stories Shows You How To Make A Gourd Water Drum

Also a wealth of information on ancient Mexican culture and musical traditions, Michael Heralda has two informative step-by-step videos that show you how to create your own gourd water drums. You’ll notice that his drums not only sound good, but are beautifully decorated.  For more information on his music, instruments, stories and other resources, visit the link below.

Here are his two gourd water drum-making videos from Youtube:

Michael Heralda’s Making A Gourd Water Drum – Part One

Michael Heralda’s Making A Gourd Water Drum – Part Two

 

Links and Resources

plastic water drum playingA Make-Your-Own Gourd Water Drum Craft for Kids

http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/uncategorized/musical-water-play-a-myo-gourd-style-water-drum/

Christopher Garcia’s BAA WEHAI webpage

http://christophergarciamusic.weebly.com/baa-wehai.html

Christopher Garcia’s Indigenous Instruments webpage

http://christophergarciamusic.weebly.com/indigenous-instruments-images.html

Michael Heralda’s Aztec Stories Website

http://www.aztecstories.com/index.html

 

 

 

An Easy Introduction To Irish Instruments

Prize Green tin whistle - key of DQuick!  Can you name 10 instruments used in traditional Irish music?

How about these?

Bagpipes

Uilleann Pipes (similar to bagpipes)

Harp (Often used as the the symbol of Ireland)

Banjo (originally from the USA,  but traveled back to the British Isles to become part of that folk music).

Bodhran (hand-held drum, see our tutorial below)

Guitar

Fiddle

Accordian

Penny Whistle or Tin Whistle

Flute

Here’s a website that we recommend for it’s a short, sweet and accurate descriptions of the basic instruments heard in Celtic and Irish folk music.

http://www.emmedici.com/journeys/eire/cultura/musica/estrumenti.htm

playing on bodhran at a traditional sessionBodhran – Homemade and Otherwise!

Want to try a homemade, hands-on version of the bodhran; a drum that probably originated from a winnowing sieve for grain?  We’ve got a post below where you can make and play your own version,  complete with the special beater or tipper used it play it.

http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/uncategorized/make-your-own-bodhran-irish-drum/

Playing River Rocks As An Instrument – Hawaiian `ili`ile

There’s a special kind of hula, called hula ‘ili’ili, that’s done with the dancer tapping smooth river stones together as part of the rhythm and the dance.

Hula is a rich and beautiful tradition from Hawaii that actually originated with the Polynesian people who first settled in this region.  Hula can be done sitting or standing and can be accompanied by chants or song.  And it incorporates many unique and wonderfully simple instruments – such as pu’ili (bamboo sticks cut to sound as rattles) or ‘ili’ili, smooth stones held in the hand in a manner similar to castanets.  You can read more about pu’ili in the posts below.  Here’s more about the river rocks.

‘Ili’ili are two smooth stones, approximately the same size, that are held in a dancer’s hand.  The hand movements tap the stones together for the percussion sound and that becomes part of the overall arm movements incorporated into the dance.  If that sounds too complicted, here’s a short video by Kuma (Kuma is a respectful title meaning teacher or source of knowledge) Rachel that shows how to master the basics of playing ‘ili’ili.

What kind of stones are used as ‘iliili?  Most seem to be the dense smooth stones that come from volcanic rock and have been worn perfectly smooth by water.  They are often dark in color and are the same type of stones (basalt) used in hot stone massage therapy. A set of 4 rocks is required to play ‘ili’ile.

Can you try this at home if you don’t live in the Hawaiian islands?  Absolutely.  Choose four smooth rocks and practice the techniques above to create your own version of this perfectly natural percussion instrument!

Resources And Related Posts

Make Your Own Pu’ili Rhythm Sticks
http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/classroom-music/make-your-own-puili-hawaiian-rhythm-sticks/

The Ukulele – Four Strings and Jumping Fleas

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/the-ukelele-4-strings-and-jumping-fleas/

Ka `Imi Na`auao O Hawai`i Nei – Website Exploring Traditional Hawaiian Culture

http://www.kaimi.org/

Kuma Rachel’s Hula Information And Tutorials
http://www.hulajustforyou.com/

Hawaiian English Concordance of Hula-Related Terms
http://www.trussel2.com/haw/haw-hula.htm

 

The Ukulele – 4 Strings and Jumping Fleas!

The sound of the tiny but mighty ukulele plays a big role in the folk music and dance of Hawaii.  But, did you know that it was originally modeled after a Portuguese instrument called the machete, brought to the islands in the 1800’s?  From there is evolved into the ukelele we recognize now, with a guitar-shaped body and 4 nylon or gut strings.

An Unusual Name

How did the ukulele (or oo-koo-le-le) get it’s name?  Some people translate the name from the Hawaiian to mean “jumping flea” and say that it describes the “fidgety” movements of the musician’s hands when the instrument is being played.   Others translate it a bit differently.  One of the last Hawaiian queens, Queen Lili’uoklani, said the name stood for “the gift that came here” by combining the Hawaiian words: uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come).

A Family of Instruments

Like many stringed instruments, there are several different types of ukuleles that vary in size and tone.  Most commonly, you can find these four different types: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The instrument pictured here is a smaller-sized soprano ukulele.

Traditional Ukulele Songs

Here’s a short video that shows two ukulele players talking about how they began playing their instruments and performing a duet of a traditional Hawaiian song called “Noho Paipai” as part of a Hawaiian music festival.

Color A Ukulele

You can find a ukulele coloring page on DARIA’s world music for kids site at:

http://www.dariamusic.com

You can also find a full color uke poster plus coloring page at her TeachersPayTeachers store (.99) here:

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Ukelele-A-Stringed-Instrument-from-Hawaii-Mini-Poster-and-Coloring-Page-1095283

The Balalaika (балала́йка)

Balalaika WOmanAnother folk instrument of Russia, here’s a short post about a beautiful and well-loved instrument that might be heard at the Winter Olympics this year in Sochi.

A balalaika is a three-stringed instrument from Russia that is known and loved all over the world. Although it hails from Russia, you can hear it in many of the regions that made up the former Soviet Union (USSR) and it has also become popular in different countries around the world. If you listen to pop music, you will hear the balalaika mentioned in the Beatles song “Back in the USSR” as well as the Scorpions “Winds of Change”. You can hear Ian Anderson play balalaika on the Jethro Tull album Stand Up and Oleg Bernov plays a huge red electric contrabass balalaika with the popular Russian-American rock band, the Red Elvises.

So what is a balalaika? Well, it actually is a family of stringed instruments that are triangular in shape. They range from the smaller, mandolin-sized prima balalaika to the huge contrabass balalaika which is so large that it needs wooden legs to support it as it stands on the floor. Most often the prima balalaika is heard as the solo instrument and is generally strummed or played with the fingers. The larger balalaikas (listed below in order of size and tone) are generally played with a pick. The largest contrabass balalaika needs a pick so large it may be made from a large piece of leather or even a boot heel – wow!

Types of balalaikas (from smallest and highest in tone to largest and lowest in tone) are:
· Piccolo (rare)
· Prima
· Sekunda
· Alto
· Bass
· Contrabass

Would you like to hear a balalaika played with an orchestra? Check out this version of the popular Russian song – the Volga Boatmen. You will see the large contrabass balalaika right in the center of the orchestra behind the vocalist.

Want To See A Balalaika Dance?

I’ve just finished recording and creating a video animation for the song Tum Balalaika. It’s a Yiddish folksong and the title of the song talks about strumming the balalaika. You can see and hear the song here.

Want To See a Balalaika Orchestra?
In this group, you can see kids and adults in a balalaika orchestra performing a beautiful version of the Beatles song “Yesterday”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjdDq0IqBDc&feature=related

Color A Balalaika And More Fun Things To Do
You can also find a great balalaika coloring page below as well as links to other fun balalaika-related info! What a great way to share beautiful music and learn about the exciting cultures of the world!

Balalaika Coloring Page
http://www.dariamusic.com/images/Balalaika%20Coloring%20Page.pdf

The Wikipedia balalaika page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balalaika

Videos
Tum Balalaika – Daria’s Video

Multicultural Kids Music Vid’s
Shares many videos from all over the world

Yesterday (The Beatles) is played by Balalaika Orchestra

BALALAIKA VIRTUOSO DMITRY BELINSKIY, Moscow

Even Santa plays the balalaika