La Zampogna Posted by Serena on Mar 3, 2009 in Culture
In my recent blog about Le Cioce I mentioned that although the use of this type of footwear has more or less died out it is still possible to see them being worn by Zampognari, the players of the traditional Italian bagpipes which are known as Zampogne.
The name zampogna seems to have come from the ancient Greek word symphonia, probably due to the fact that the instrument produces a harmony of sounds rather than a single note, although if the instrument is not tuned very precisely ‘cat’s chorus’ might be a better description! The faint hearted or vegans amongst you may wish to skip the following paragraph which describes the traditional construction of the zampogna.
Basically, the zampogna consists of a leather bag with pipes stuck in it. The bag is made out of the hide of a goat or sheep which has been removed whole from the slaughtered animal (you were warned!), cured and turned inside out. The animals hair is left on and is contained on the the inside of the bag which is called an otre (leather bag, or container made out of animal skin, from Latin uter which is also the root of the English word uterus). So now, if you can imagine (or perhaps you would rather not) an inside out headless sheep with the four leg stumps protruding, the next stage is to tie off completely the two rear legs and one of the front ones. This leaves you with one leg stump into which you insert your blowpipe and a soffietto (bellows) which acts as a simple leather valve. Aha!, I hear you say, but what about the hole where the head used to be? Well this is where we insert the round stock which contains the chanters and drones (the noisy bits, for the non-musical reader).
Those of you who skipped the above description will be pleased to know that many contemporary Zampognari, particularly those from the Scapoli region, are now using instruments made from a rubber inner tube which has been covered with an artificial fleece.
The zampogna is a double-chanter pipe, the chanter being the wooden tube with finger holes resembling a recorder, and each chanter is tuned differently according to the particular folk tradition of the music to be played. Usually the double-reeded zampogna will have a soprano chanter on the right and a bass one on the left. In the dialect of the Ciociaria region where these pipes are very popular these are called ritta (right) and manga (left). Zampogne will have as many as three drones, which are the pre-tuned pipes that play a single continuous note. There is also a single-reeded version of the zampogna know as the surdellina, and it is the very short chantered version of this which is traditionally used to play the famous Tarantella.
The reed of the zampogna is usually made from stalks of the canna marina (a giant reed), although these are sometimes substituted with plastic. Zampogne, which are traditionally played throughout the southern regions of Italy and the whole of Sicily, are particularly linked with Christmas, and especially the well known carol “Tu scendi dalle stelle” (You come down from the stars) which is based on an old zampogna tune.
To find out all you ever wanted to know about zampogne but never dared ask visit the zampogna museum in Scapoli: Museo della Zampogna
I can’t help wondering who was the bored musical shepherd that, contemplating his sheep or goats one day, and wishing he had a musical instrument on which to ‘ammazzare il tempo’ (kill the time), thought to himself in a flash of inspiration: aha!
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