EOL 4: Kavals and Dzamares (Tammer)

3. Details of the Kaval

Ferati kavals share a feature with kavals found in Albania, Greece and Bulgaria: additional holes are cut below the bottom fingerhole so that the length of the instrument is greater than need be to produce its lowest note. The uppermost of these unfingered holes is always positioned behind the instrument, in line with the thumb hole. These low holes are never covered, and this is a mystery for many. Why make the instrument so long, and why put in extra holes?

One answer lies in a story found in Greece and Bulgaria: When Satan first heard the kaval he became very jealous and tried to destroy it by secretly boring a hole in the back of the instrument. But the kaval was only improved, and Satan burst out of his skin with rage. A more mundane explanation for the extra length may be found in the manner in which it is played: Shepherds play squatting or sitting on the ground with the lower end resting on the ground or on a foot. Only if the instrument is long enough can this posture be adopted. There is another reason for the extra length: The high notes of flutes sound more readily with a small bore diameter-to-length ratio. One way to achieve this is to lengthen the flute beyond the last hole (keeping the diameter constant). Another hole must then be provided below the farthest finger-hole to sound the lowest note. If further holes are placed lower along the bore, some high notes may be enhanced, but it is a hit-or-miss affair. My own instrument-making activities confirm that the holes help some of the highest notes to sound, in the same way a B foot-joint improves some of the third octave notes of a modern silver flute. Lastly, the greater length also tends to balance the flute on the thumb of the right hand. Can kavals be made without these holes? They can: I have seen one ash-wood instrument from Kosovo, without lower sound holes. I have heard wonderful Turkish kavals made without these holes.

A closer inspection of Ferati kavals reveals some very interesting details. There is a cut mark on all Ferati kavals about 38 mm above the point at which the end becomes faceted. The wood is necked down to form a slight step, suggesting (or reminiscent of ) a separate foot joint which would fit over the main body of the flute. This step is about 17 mm below the first non-fingered tone hole. There is no musical purpose for this detail, and it does not seem prominent enough to constitute an aesthetic device. The suggestion of a foot joint makes it difficult to assert that such single-piece kavals as the Ferati instruments are the precursor of sectioned instruments. The great age of multi-piece instruments was impressed upon me when, visiting the archeological museum on the island of Chios, I saw on display pieces of an ancient flute, of bone, with a definite socket and tenon structure (exhibits #598 and #596). Of course, it is speculation to suggest that Macedonian kavals might have employed a foot joint glued on to the main body.

When I asked Liman about this detail, he explained simply that this ring separated the faceted end of the flute from the round cross section. Yet the facets didn't reach up to this point on any Ferati kaval I have seen, whether made by Liman or Islam. The undercut would serve a purpose if the facets reached this point: in the event of cutting too deep while whittling the facets, the wood would not sliver beyond this point. If this is the purpose, it suggests that the facets were deeper and/or longer in the past, and this would make the Ferati kavals more similar in appearance to other long rim-blown flutes I have seen in Greece, flutes whose faceting is much more prominent. The fact that kavals spanning two generations have this seeming non-functional stepped cut demonstrates the tradition-bound nature of the construction of these instruments.

The Ferati kavals are also characterized by a tapering of the head area to form what appears to be a discrete mouthpiece. Again, this tapering serves no musical purpose. Indeed, the walls are so thin already that further tapering in this area is done at some risk to the integrity of the instrument. I have seen kavals so thin at a point just below the mouthpiece, that there was no chance these instruments could hold up for long without cracking.

When these details are put together with the faceted end, the elaborate scratch markings, and the diamond bass-relief patterns cut on the mouthpiece all Ferati kavals, it becomes clear that a substantial portion of the time spent making these instruments serves no musical function.

Next section: 4. Change and Tradition

Contents of "Kavals and Dzamares"

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