Faces of Music

Five years ago I posted on a visit to the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments in Athens (Musical Rarity). We’ve been back to the museum several times since 2016 (although not recently). I tend to notice new things that escaped my attention on previous visits. I suspect that this is a common phenomenon – viewing the same old things in different ways, or approaching them with a fresh mindset that gives you insight to see something new.

In that 2016 post, when visiting the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments, I was finding connections in the unique (rare) instruments made from animal parts or had representations of animals. This time, I’d like to show human faces that seemed to pop out from the exhibitions on another visit.

On chordophone (stringed) instruments human heads appear where the strings are attached at top of the bridge. Here you can see head shapes on the pear-shaped Cretan lyra with its three strings, played upright, with a bow and applying pressure with the fingernails to the side of the strings. It is an old form of musical instrument that goes back to Byzantine times. The bottle-shaped kementzes below is an instrument common among the Pontic Greeks (from the Black Sea area), also with three strings and played with a bow. On the close-up of the face on the kementzes, you can just see the marks of a moustache.

A human head on the Cretan lyra
Crude head shape at the top of the neck of the Pontic kementzes. Do you think the tuning peg inserted in his mouth looks like a cigar?
Close-up of the kementzes head

In aerophone (wind) instruments heads appear at the base where the air blows out. The klarino, a folk clarinet, is a reed instrument, popular in Epirus and Western Greece. Whereas the souravli, a type of flute, is played mainly in the Greek islands. On both of these, the heads are crudely carved, simple anthropomorphic forms.

the klarino
the souravli

Another aerophone instrument is a relative of the bagpipe – the tsambouna (islands) or gaida (Epirus and the north). The tsambouna pipes below on the left (and the close-up in the image below that) shows an elaborate carved (monstrous or gorgon-like) head on one side and a painted female profile on the other (seen in the mirror). The bagpipe on the right shows the whole instrument.

the tsambouna
Close-up of the tsambouna pipes

Lastly, the tamboutsa is a simple rhythmic instrument of stretched skin over a frame, like a tambourine although larger. It is played by hand or with small sticks. The one below is from Cyprus and has the head of a gorgon (i.e. Medusa).

Cypriot tamboutsa

Why? There must have been a reason for anthropomorphising. Perhaps to make the instrument more personal, To give it ‘voice’, or perhaps for protection like the mati or evil eye. Or, perhaps something completely different.

I wonder what I will see on our next visit?


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