History of the flute
A four holed flute made from a femur bone of a bear was found in a cave in France. Flutes have been found in tombs in Egypt and depicted on their walls. Clay flutes and whistles have been dug up in the cornfields of the Mayan peoples of Guatemala. From Africa to Asia the flute has left its mark. Recently, flutes made from the wingbone of ancient cranes were discovered in China. Clay pan pipes in the Andes and double flutes seen on ancient Greek vases.
Where did the first flute come from? Was it a Bamboo Flute? An end blown flute? Side blown? A Pan Pipe?
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. Here are some of my thoughts.
In the Hebrew Bible, it looks like the leading cherub of worship (who later had some real problems), was created with tambourines and pipes built into him. Ezekiel 28:13. The workmanship of thy tabrets (Tambourines) and pipes was prepared in thee in the day which thou wast created. (Ez.28; 13-19)
We also find in Genisis 4:21 that Jubal (the 7th generation after Adam and Eve) was the father of the Lyre (the Kinnor was a harp with ten strings and probably tuned to a pentatonic scale with two octaves) and the Ugab (Shepherd’s pipe or flute).
Aside from divine creation and revelation we see flutes in nature.
Here is a picture of two Andean Quenas one made by an Ecuadoran Indian and the rustic one made by nature herself and found by my son Josiah during a bamboo harvest in 2001 in Florida. When the old bamboo fell to the ground it became the home of bull ants. .
One of the holes broke in half and created the Quena mouthpiece notch. Notice that the mouthpieces are almost identical.
Notice even the back hole is there
Next we see a panpipe made by a Bolivian Native and one made by a Peruvian fellow next to one of nature's own. A panpipe made from the Mud Dobber wasp which actually can make sound.
I can imagine a scenario where wind is passing by a “natural bamboo flute” and a nearby tribe being spooked by its haunting sound until a visiting kid from the next village finds it playing in the wind. He stares at the blow hole, gets the idea to blow it and pulls the flute down and starts playing. Soon everybody in the tribe wants one and the flutes get perfected.
Here’s a thought. You live in a cave and it's winter. The fire is low and you are blowing warm air into your hands and you suddenly notice some fun sounds. Soon the bone you are eating from becomes a musical toy as you try to make that sound too. One day you are holding a primitive whistle. Suddenly it dawns on you, that you can call your family in for dinner. It has become a singling device and after dinner you make more flutes from the bones. One day you got scared what was that noise? You start using the whistle to frighten off an enemy.
I joke with my customers that the ancient Jiaju Crane flute made from the wing bone of ancient cranes may have come from an Ancient Chinese Restaurant. In the Sept. 1999 picture of the New York Times article about the Jiahu Crane flutes one can discern by the reflecting light in the picture that the bones were very thin. And thus must have been played like the Andean Quena. Blown over the thin wall. One of those flutes (number 2 from top) had 5 holes and turned out to be almost exactly like the 7th century Japanese Shaquhachi tuning. Which is found later in the Native American Kiowa Love Flute. Did somebody have a flute when they crossed the Bearing Straights? I know which direction they were going in.
From the shepherds pipe or flute, I guess we branch off and get the side blown Fife as seen in an 11th century manuscript painting of a boy playing on a rock as his goats are nearby. And also found in China 3000 years ago. From the shepherds flute, which must have been like the end blown Pennywhistle we see the flute evolve into the Recorder. The fife went on to get larger and deeper with more keys. In the second half of the seventeenth century French flutemaker Jacques Hotteterre modeled and improved many of the woodwinds of his day. Then came the amazing Boehm flute in 1847, which is the father of the modern flute. Theobald Boehm (1794-1881) was a Bavarian flute virtuoso who played at the royal court in Munich, Germany and changed the world with his concert silver flute.
Panpipes are played on every continent in the world. And are said to have been around for 4000 years. In the old Inca empire, Pan Pipes were used to send messages along the mountain plateaus.
In Hawaii and Tahiti you find the Nose Flute. Perhaps someone was enjoying a coconut and noticed the breeze passing over the small open hole making a sound. Who knows? (The nose knows).
Anyway my dear reader, welcome to my office where you will find Bamboo Flutes from different cultures, Pan pipes, and even the very cool Bamboo Sax.
The Jiahu Crane Flute