Station: [7] Double Reed Instruments

Let me provide a little more information about reeds in general before we move on to double reed instruments. Take the story of the shepherds. 

To make a reed for an instrument, you need an actual reed and a knife. To learn to play it, you need some time. These are all elements shepherds or herders have at their disposal as they tend their animals. What the herders didn't count on, was that those animals, whether sheep, cattle or goats, would respond to the sound of the instrument. That's why shepherds and herders have played reed wind instruments for centuries. That's why playing a reed instrument was part of a shepherd’s training. That’s why we have the term “shepherds’ pipes”, which refers to bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies among other things.

In Italy, the bagpipes are still regarded as an instrument appropriate for the Christmas season, because it was the shepherds who came to the manger and played their pipes to proclaim the good news of the birth of Jesus. Their sound is considered essential at any nativity scene or pastoral play.

Now to the double reed instruments. Whereas a single reed is made with a single cut, a double reed involves two reeds vibrating against each other. Well-known examples of double-reed instruments are the oboe and the bassoon.

In the world of Western music, double reed instruments are considered unusual these days. But across the world, they’re very widespread. From Africa to China, no wedding or funeral would be complete without the sound of a zurna with its funnel-shaped bell, often accompanied by a drum called a davul. These instruments spread across the world via the Silk Road, and we’ve mapped their route for you. In the showcases, you’ll find the double-reed instruments of Europe on display. The equivalent instruments from outside of Europe appear above the showcases along the Silk Road. 

At the next stop, we’ll be introducing two of these instruments in more detail. Both are the only ones of their kind in the world!

All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch