The birth of the pan flute

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I think the panpipe is so old because it is so simple. It was probably preceded only by percussion instruments. After primitive man had produced sound by hitting things, he probably accidentally discovered sound production by blowing a pipe, stems of plants (reed or bamboo) or animal bones. The "one pipe pan flute" probably came first. Man in his development started to distinguish between different pitches and to make instruments which could produce tones. The first step in the pan flute's development therefore was joining one pipe to another. The rest was easy, one pipe next to other. Also variations in form, straight (raft-shaped), slightly bent, or bundled. The theory of the pan flute's birth on a particular place on earth is just as untrue as the thesis of one cradle for all cultures. It can be said with certainty that the pan flute originated in several places which could not have been connected at all. In most places, the pan flute came into existence at about the same stage of cultural development, which means at different times and in different geographical zones. See Viking Panflute.

Panflute in Ancient Rome

In his poem "Tristia" the Latin poet, Ovidius, describes the pan flute he has seen in the hands of the shepherds of Tomis (an old Roman colony near the Black Sea). Proof of the existence of pan flutes we also find throughout Europe. In France, in the old Roman colony of Alisia, an instrument with 7 pipes were found tuned diatonically. Evidence of the pan flute's use in Romania can also be found in a few booklets. One such booklet is "The text-book of King Neagoe Basarab for his son Teodosie", dating from the early 16th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Romanian pan flute is seen more and more in Europe, and we find an increasing amount of documentation on the instrument. In 1843 in Bucharest alone, as many as 13 professional pan flute players were registered at the musicians association. The period between the two world wars was a heyday for pan flute players. They went everywhere in Europe. The amount of players numbered less than in the 19th century, but the quality of their playing was magnificent. Around the second world war there were no more than 16 registered pan flute players in the whole of Romania. The pan flute revival came about after the war, caused by Fanica Luca, the famous pan flute player who had performed at the world exhibitions of 1937 (Paris) and 1939 (New York). He did many concert tours in France, England, Poland, Egypt, China, Russia and the United States. In 1949, aided by the Institute of Folklore Research in Bucharest, he started a pan flute class, which in 1953 moved to the Music Lyceum. This training remained in his hands until his death in 1968. Fanica Luca was not a man who had received a superior education himself, his work therefore was founded more on experiment than on pedagogy. By dint of hard work the results were grand and after the seventies a generation of fantastic pan flute players appeared in the West. Exponents of this school are: Gheorghe Zamfir, Damian Luca, Simion Stanciu, Nicolae Pirvu, Constantin Dobre, Radu Simion, Damian Cirlanaru and others.


Evidence of the pan flute in other parts of the world


Female Musicians
Islamic Art (Tulip period 1720)
Levni's narrative of the Surname-i Vehbi

It would be incorrect to believe the pan flute is only in use in Europe. We may not consider negligible the proof of its existence on other continents in the world. In Asia we find one of the pan flutes oldest ancestors. This is the p'ai hsiao, a kind of pan flute which has one big pipe in the middle, with pipes of symmetrically diminishing sizes to both sides. This instrument was used for rites. From the same period of time we find in Indonesia several pan flutes either straight or in a bundled form. In the British Museum in London, there is a bas-relief from India (Gandhara period - 1st to 5th century AD) of women making music on the syrinx, double aulos' and drum. The existence of the pan flute in Africa is not so obvious. In a few places in Eastern and Central Africa, Uganda for instance, primitive pan flutes with 2 to 6 pipes are found. In South-America, particularly in Peru and Bolivia, the pan flute is as alive as in Romania. It is always used in folkloristic groups. In museums all around the world we find evidence of pan flutes from the pre-Columbian period, dating from between 300 and 1500 AD. The pan flute originated from the ancient Inca and Maya civilizations and spread throughout the entire territory of America. Its names are: rondador, antara, hauyra, puhura and siku . The pipes are attached to a cross-beam and tied with rope or vegetable material. They are not tied as securely as a Romanian pan flute.

There are also types of pan flutes in Oceania among the people of the different islands. In general these are pan flutes with just a few pipes, 3 to 14, in a flat raft-shape, or in a bundle. We notice that the long pipes are still held in the left hand.

The pan flute today however, is no longer seen as a primitive instrument to be used exclusively in folkloristic music and I am convinced in the future it will become one of the most widely used musical instruments.

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About the Author

Costel Puscoiu is one of Europes leading pan flute teachers. Born in Romania he has made the Netherlands his home for almost 20 years. He has developed and published a complete pedagogy of study for the pan flute. His compositions include symphonies, chamber music, sonatas, choral works and film scores. He has also authored several musicological and folkloristic studies and articles.

This "History of the Panflute" was abridged, edited and designed by Brad White for Pan-Flute.Com. All rights reserved.