EOL 2: Russian panpipe playing (Velitchkina)

The instrument

  Organological description of South Russian panpipe and the structure of panpipe ensembles

The kugikly in Kursk province are made from a reed (phragmites australis, or communis., local name - trostnik, kamysh), which grows in swamps and on river banks. The mature reed is about 2 meters long, with a hollow core and 20-30 cm. sections divided by a septa, as is bamboo. For pipe making, the reed is gathered when it is ripe, with the walls hard and thin (about 1 mm in thickness), and yellowish in color. The players cut one of the lowest sections of a reed, 10-12 mm in diameter, preserving its upper septum that serves as a natural closure (a bottom) for a pipe. Then they clean the hollow core and reinforce the bottom, if necessary. The maximum length of the largest pipe in a set is about 250 mm, while the shortest pipe is about 130 mm. The players make and tune the whole group of pipes at once, and between the performances they are kept by one woman, who distributes them before starting to play. The total number of pipes depends on the available number of players on a particular occasion.

Ensemble panpipe playing in the tradition of Sudzha district of Kursk province requires three different sets of pipes which typically consist of five, three and two pipes. They are called para (a 'couple'), priduval'nye ('blowing ones'), and gukal'nye ('loud sounding ones') sets, respectively.(6) In some villages the term gukal'nye is absent, and instead the two accompanying sets have three pipes each and they are called malye (small) and bol'shie (big) priduval'nye. The relationship between the sets is illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Drawing of Russian panpipes.the first set (para) consists of five pipes numbered from longest to shortest as 1 to 5. The second set (priduval'nye) has three pipes that correspond to pipes 2, 3 and 4 of the first set. The third set (gukal'nye) has two pipes that correspond to pipes 1 and 2 (the second is optional) of the first set and one pipe that is longer than all others. The last one is designated as 0.

Figure 3
Playing position
This is a simplification, however, and for the following discussion two additional considerations are necessary. First, while three pipes would be the norm for the priduval'nye (first accompanying) set, it may have a different number of pipes depending on the tune. For some of the tunes, this part is performed on only two pipes (pipes 3 and 4, or 4 and 5). Second, although the players themselves distinguish between the three sets, only the first two seem to be crucially important for the performance. The player of the gukal'nye (a 'loud sounding' set) merely performs a duplication of the patterns of the first accompanying set (priduval'nye) on the other pipes. Performers themselves rarely require particular exactness in execution of the gukal'nye part and this set is often given to the least experienced players. One may guess that having this part in the ensemble helps to give new players access to the panpipe performance tradition. Thus we can conclude that functionally there are only two different parts in the panpipe ensemble. We can call them a "leading part" and an "accompanying part", with the latter appearing in two versions (as played on the priduval'nye and gukal'nye sets, respectively). Several facts confirm the appropriateness of such a classification. First, in some villages the name for both accompanying sets is the same (big and small priduval'nye ); second, in the villages of another district of Kursk province (those of Medvenka) as well as in another regional branch of the Russian panpipe tradition (in Briansk province) the performers speak of only two sets in the panpipe ensembles. Third, as I observed on several occasions, the performers can experiment with the number of pipes in the priduval'nye set under special circumstances (for example, if they are lacking the appropriate pipes).(7) In spite of these modifications of the priduval'nye set, the rhythmic and harmonic relationship of the accompanying part with that of a lead player stays constant, and is subject to rules which we will discuss in the following sections.

In making panpipes, the players use body measurements. First they measure the size of the first pipe of the para set by the distance between their stretched thumb and the middle finger. Then they make the following pipes progressively shorter by the width of the performer's finger phalanxes, of the thumb, index, middle and little fingers in turn. The sizes of the two accompanying sets correspond to the pipes of the para (five-pipe) set, except for the largest pipe of the gukal'nye, whose length is often negotiable. After the entire set is made, the players check its tuning by ear, and make slight adjustments by putting seeds or grains into the pipes, if necessary. The interval between the outer pipes in five-pipe sets tends to correspond to the fifth, with the other pitches located approximately equidistantly.(8) In reality the deviation from this model both in the frame interval and in each step can be as big as 70-80 cents. This is also due to the fact that the makers bring corresponding pipes of all sets to the unison with one another by simply raising the pitch of those pipe which are lower. The level of approximation acceptable to the players can be demonstrated by the measurement of three five-pipe sets made and tuned to each other by one performer on a given day:

The player considered all these versions of tuning acceptable. In general, the makers emphasise visual comparison of pipes size over the aural comparison of their pitches. In this sense the scale is simply the result of visual meaurement. Charles Wead, who examined the Smithsonian Museum's collection of musical instruments found the same principle to be common to many cultures:

The people who made and used these instruments, or any single type of them, had not that idea of a scale which underlines all our thinking on the subject, namely: A series either of tones or of intervals recognized as a standard, independent of any particular instrument, but to which every instrument must conform. Modern Europeans for the sake of harmony nearly banished all scales but one, and seldom know by what rules the instruments are tuned to furnish this. But for these people the instrument is the primary thing, and to it the rule is applied, while the scale is the result, or a secondary thing; and the same rule applied a hundred times may possibly give a hundred different scales.(Wead 1902:438).

Since the main focus of the present paper lies in the discussion of players' motor behavior, we omit details on tuning in each of the following examples and use cipher notation, which also facilitates the presentation of charts and matrices. The pipes and their respective pitches will hereafter be referred to as numbers in ascending order, starting with the largest pipe of the para set. Thus, the pipes of the para set are numbered 1 through 5, those of priduval'nye set 2, 3, and 4, and those of the gukal'nye (or big priduval'nye) set as 0, 1, and 2. The pipes with the same numbers have also identical pitch levels.

The posture of panpipe players is uniform. Each performer holds untied pipes in a row between the index finger and the thumb of one hand. Her second hand lies over the first to provide additional support, elbows are freely lowered along the sides of her upper body, the head and the neck moved slightly forward. Figure 3 shows the playing position.

Threshing video still
Video 2
220K .mov

Four women stand in a circle. Each hits the same place in the middle of the circle in turn
The pipes are arranged successively from the longest to the shortest. Some players hold pipes in their right hand and others in their left hand, placing their second hand on top of the first. The direction of the succession from longest to shortest pipe can be from left to right (i.e., analogous to Western key-board orientation), as well as right to left, and it is not relevant to the patterns of movement. Therefore, we refer to the movements between the pipes simply by the pipe numbers, without the indication of right or left directions of these movements.

In ensemble performance there can be more than one player of each set. For example, in the village of Plekhovo, the optimal size of the group is said to be four players, two on para sets, one on a priduval'nye set, and one on a gukal'nye set. However, in the traditional practice of this village there was no strict limitation on the size of a panpipe ensemble. According to the villagers, in the past there were occasions when six or seven women would play, two or three on the para sets, two or three on priduval'nye and one on gukal'nye. If there are two para (five-pipe set) players in the ensemble, one is considered to be the leader. It is the lead player who starts the performance, playing a kind of melodic formula characteristic of a tune. This formula is recognizable for each tune, but it is at the same time slightly individual for each performer. After the leader establishes the tempo of the performance, the second para player and accompanying players join her. The two players of the same part are not expected to, and usually do not, play in strict unison (i.e., the same notes), although what they play may be termed as "the same" by performers. Detailed analysis of the patterns of two para players in the following 'case study' reveals that their strategies of variation interact in many different ways to provide a sort of musical communication between the players in the group.

Pan-flute playing as described by the performers

When talking about panpipe performance, the village women frequently use verbs of motion. For example, the para (five-pipe set) player typically khodit po kugiklam ('walks across (or over) the pipes'). The players of accompanying parts do not "walk across the pipes", but they can povorachivat' ('to turn') and ostanavlivat'sia ('to stop'). While the two latter terms are applied to the movements on other instruments as well, the expression khodit' ('to walk') with respect to panpipes is unique in Russian folk instrument terminology. It is related neither to the movement in space, nor to any feet movements of players, since they keep their feet still while playing. The verb khodit' thus describes the movements of the player's head with respect to the pipes.

Although the patterns of the accompanying parts can be singled out and taught separately, they are regarded as having no independent existence and thus are said not to be "played" at all. Some village women who "specialize" in performing these parts may say about themselves: "No, I do not play kugikly, all I do is priduvaiu ('blow along' )[i.e., play the priduval'nye part]". The verb priduvat' is derived from dut', 'to blow.' As the performers say, the priduval'nye player has "to catch the air exhaled by the para", i.e. she is breathing out of phase with the para's cycle.

In general, this complementary rhythmic coordination between the parts of a panpipe ensemble is often compared to threshing with flails: "it is like threshing, not together, but one after another, so one even could dance."

dance video still
Video 3
Dance w/panpipes
730K .mov
one woman dancing in place to the accompaniment of two panpipe players sitting on a bench
Threshing with flails used to be a necessary skill for every villager in pre-war times, but since then it has fallen out of usage (the work is now performed by a combine harvester). In the summer of 1994 it was demonstrated at my request, specially for the filming. The most typical size of a threshing group was from three to seven workers, the same as for a panpipe ensemble. The workers usually stayed in a circle or two parallel lines facing inside, watching and listening to one another. They produced their flail strokes with strict rhythmic regularity one after another in clockwise order, trying to hit one spot in the center of their circle. The leader's flail (which was usually given to the strongest male worker) was heavier than the others, so the group sound had a definite starting point and a cyclic rhythmic pattern of strokes, depending on how many people participated. These patterns were often appreciated aesthetically and imitated by clapping. During the filming session one of the women passing by spontaneously started to dance with the threshing "music" accompanying herself by singing and clapping. Threshing required excellent coordination, both between members of a group and within one's own body. The quality of the worker's strokes was judged on the basis of sounds he or she produced. If the flail did not hit the ground with its whole surface, the sound was shallow and empty. On the contrary, if the movement was done correctly, it sounded deep and resonant, almost like a chime.

The idea of complementary rhythmic organization is not completely foreign to other parts of Russian culture: one well-known example of it is the festive sound of church bells, called blagovest, in which different sizes of bells are used, each with its own rhythm. However, no traditional musical instrument uses this principle except for panpipes.

The panpipe players often talk about the close relationship between the music and the dance movements and express their concern about the skills of dancers, especially their timing with the music. In the words of M. Bocharova, the player "the dancers move as the ducks swim, and the music [is played] unhurriedly ... If a dancer stomped her feet, or even waved her hand incorrectly, she has already destroyed the order." In Video 3, the dancer synchronizes her gestures with the musical phrasing.

  As in the case of threshing, this dance occured spontaneously while I was filming panpipe playing. The dancer's movements come from a fixed "vocabulary" while their sequence is improvised during the performance. The hand gestures are mostly broad diagonal movements, continued through several pulses of music. The feet, on the contrary, divide the musical beat in a figure called "in two feet" (in Russian v dve nogi) which consists of a rapid change from the left foot to the right foot, followed by the stroke of the right foot on the second metrically weaker pulse.(9)

Given the unique place of panpipe music within the Russian tradition, its extra-musical ties and the importance of motion expressions in local pan- flute terminology, we can conclude that an analytical study of the movements should enrich our understanding of this music. In the following discussion the movements of the performer's head with respect to the pipes, breathing/blowing into the pipes, and the production of vocal sounds will be analyzed in terms of their relationship to the musical structure in order to demonstrate that the sonic and motor modes of musical activity are interrelated and mutually dependent on many levels.

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