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The Bagpipe ('A Zampogna)

by Vincenzo Schisano
(Translated by Marianna Mastro)

The “Zampogna” or "bagpipe" (also called “Rampogna”, “Sampugna”, “Zampugna”, “Cornamusa”, “Ciaramedda”, “Ciarambedda”, “Piva”, “Launedda”, “Piffera”, “Calandrone”, ect.) is a
wooden folk aerophone, with a simple or double reed, of Greek or Arabian origin.

This instrument was diffused in Italy towards the end of the 10th century: together with other wind instruments, with chords and of percussion, it formed the typical accompaniment band for the “tarantella” and for the “Neapolitan folkloristic songs”.

The Zampogna is made of:

  • a number of pipes variable from 1 to 8 (for the melody and the low undersong to a melody);
  • the bag for the air;
  • the mouth piece.

The pipes are wooden tubes with a bell shaped end inserted above the air bag.

The pipes for the melody, furnished with 4 or 5 holes on the sides, are generally 1 or 2, rarely 3.

The “bordone” pipes (the “bordone” is a bass and uninterrupted note which is produced together with the notes of the song) vary from 1 to 3, and rarely reach to 5.

Inside each cane is set a reed (a small piece of bamboo cane or of metal) which with its stimulation vibrates the air column inside the cane.

The reed can be:

  • simple (made of only one piece of bamboo cane or of metal);
  • double (composed of 2 pieces of bamboo cane, set one next to the other forming a “V” upside down).

The air bag is made of sheep skin or of goat skin, very rarely of the bladder of the goat or of the pig (In Estonia is used the seal’s stomach skin). Actually the plastic is even used and the air tube of car and camion tires.

The mouthpiece is made of a small wooden tube set in the lower part of the instrument, through which the “zampognaro” player lets in the air which from the air bag then goes to the pipes.

The “Zampogna”, already substituted in the second half of the last century by the accordion first and by the piano later in the Tarantella shows, it still survives exclusively in some Southern communities (Abruzzo, Molise, Calabria, and Sicily) and in Sardegna.

Copyright © 2003, Vincenzo Schisano. All rights reserved.