EOL 4: Kavals and Dzamares (Tammer)

4. Change and Tradition

Kavals are made by Liman much as they have been made by his father and grandfather, using the same tools and ornamentation. The tools used consist of an adz; a back saw; a draw-knife for rough whittling; a thin awl to cut the tone-holes; another awl with shell-casing gage to taper the inside bore at the mouthpiece; a straight-razor knife to fine-whittle the stick to thickness and length as well as cut the ornamental scratch-marks; and three long-stemmed drills to bore the wood to different sizes. All work is done by eye without the uses of patterns, templates or gages (except for the shell-casing). A dead tree-crook is used a fixture for bending and drilling. Watching Liman make a kaval, it was easy to see that it would take some years to become a master at kaval making, and without a master to learn from it would be very difficult to produce a kaval in the traditional, hand-made manner. I had shown Liman a kaval I machine-made from a hardwood with tapering ox-horn mouthpiece. He was quick to point out its defects, which meant the differences between his kavals and mine. His remarks showed him to have little basic knowledge of the acoustics of flutes. Liman informed me that he does not know the significance of the designs and peculiar shape of the instruments he makes. When I had asked the meaning of the ornaments to his father, twenty years earlier, Islam had answered "samo ukras," just ornaments. The Ferati kavals are a successful, marketable commodity based upon their strict adherence to an unchanging pattern whose origins are lost in time.

Kavals made by the Ferati family have been used at least since World War II by Slavic musicians, playing Macedonian dance tunes to the accompaniment of voice and the well-tempered tambura (long-necked lute). Various Slavic players had tried to persuade Islam to change the spacing of the tone holes to effect a more well-tempered instrument. Since the tone holes are equally-spaced along the bore, the lowest note is invariably sharp, while the uppermost tone-hole produces a note which is flat respective to the rest of the instrument. These musicians have not been successful. One day I arrived at Islam's house with a scaled drawing of a kaval showing where I wanted the tone holes to be placed. Islam agreed to build it, but when I came back several weeks later I was astonished to find the holes in their customary position. Only the length of the pair of instruments matched my drawing. When I tried to point out the discrepancy, Islam became confused. He really could not relate my schematic representation to a physical instrument: Fingerhole placing could not be realized abstractly, apart from the procedure of using finger widths to measure that spacing. Islam actually couldn't understand what I was talking about.

Yet there have been noticeable changes in kaval-making: Liman now uses a tape-measure to mark the total length of the instrument, and fewer kavals are made to order. Also, the typical instrument has become shorter, as is preferred by many people who come to purchase them today. One subtle change is the degree of faceting: it is noticeably lighter on Liman's instruments than those of his father. Liman puts his initials "LF" on every instrument, something his father did not do. Kavals may now be purchased singly as well as in pairs: In Islam's time, one could only purchase a traditional pair of kavals. Finally (and startlingly) Liman has started to produce kavals made of plastic pipe. They are heavy, awkward things, a far cry from the original instruments.

Next section: 5. The Politico-Economics of Kaval Making

Contents of "Kavals and Dzamares"

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