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Sicilian Bagpipes
by Andrea Catalano

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Sicilian bagpipes.When most people think of Sicilian musician instruments it is the mandolin that comes to mind. Sicilian and Italian bagpipes may not be as well-known today as the Scots and Irish versions, but their origins are just as ancient. Musical instruments of this kind (aerophones) were probably known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and since the Middle Ages bagpipes have been played across Europe and into the Caucasus, Persian Gulf and northern Africa. Chaucer mentioned bagpipes in the fourteenth century.

To function, a bagpipe must, at the very least, have an air supply, a bag, a blowpipe and a chanter; it usually includes one or more drones. The bag is made from the skins of sheep, goats or cattle. Resembling a horn, the chanter is the melody pipe with a reed. The drone, which resembles a flute, is another pipe with a reed.

Compared to the typical Scots pipes, in which the tubes are inserted into the bag individually (though near each other), in most Sicilian ones the chanter and drones all emanate from a single, hollow wooden "plug" attached to the bag. As the sound results from a more-or-less uniform airflow toward and through the plug, it differs very slightly from that of the Scots pipes. The design also influences playing technique.

In Italy a bagpipe is called a "zampogna," and the player is a "zampognaro." (This gave rise to a surname based on bagpiping as an ancestral profession.) The Sicilian "chiaramedda" is just one kind of Italian bagpipe, though among the most popular in Sicily.

Most of the remaining bagpipers of Sicily work in the Etna region. As you might imagine, the tunes they play are Sicilian, rooted in Sicilian folklore.

About the Author: Andrea Catalano has written numerous articles and one book dealing with Sicilian popular (folk) culture.

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© 2008 Andrea Catalano