This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Folk Musicians of Breton

25 April 2012

Spring is here and what musical sounds can evoke the thrill of its arrival any better than the shawm and bagpipes. This French postcard has a caption that reads:
Binious Bretons donnant l'aubade matinale à la Mariée
Breton bagpipes giving the morning serenade to the bride.

These two instruments are part of the musical traditions of Breton or Brittany, which is the western peninsula of France that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and defines the southern side of the English Channel. The bombard is a folk shawm that uses a double reed similar to an oboe reed. While it has a very high treble sound, it is actually the lower of the two instruments. The Binioù, which means bagpipe in the Breton language, is a small bagpipe with one drone and a short chanter that enables it to play very high. The range of both the bombard and biniou are limited to about an octave and basically one key. They were commonly played together as a duo.

This card was postmarked 12/12/1906 but my attempt at translating the handwriting and the language has failed except to note one reference to musique.  The same musicians show up in another postcard but this time they are colorized and have switched instruments.

This second card is postmarked 20 Mai 1909. Picturesque subjects like these folk musicians appear throughout the early decades of the 20th century and were reprinted even into the 1930s. I believe the original duo dates from just around 1900, but the magic of the internet allows us to hear their sound, as contemporary folk musicians continue to perform on these traditional instruments. This first video  has two musicians dressed in somewhat traditional peasant garb, but I'm not sure just how authentic the technique of playing in socks is.

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A second duo shows the dance style as well as the music Breath control, or breath endurance is a very important attribute of a successful Breton musician.

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This next video has dancers in real Brittany folk costumes. The numbers pinned on their backs is because this is a contest and they are being judged for best dance teams.

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Breton has another bagpipe called the binioù bras, which means big bagpipes. It is just like the Scottish Highland Pipes with three drones and is more suitable for outdoor performances. This next video demonstrates that Scotland is not the only place to enjoy the gentle harmony of bagpipe bands. Extra points if you can count them all!

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to get more Spring in your step.


Postcardy said...

I really enjoyed the postcards and videos, though I'm not sure I like the music. I am always surprised how many different instruments and styles there are.

barbara and nancy said...

i noticed in the second video, the bagpipe was very highly embroidered. I wonder if that was usual.

Toe tapping must be essential to this type of playing. Funny how the guy in video #1 needed to take off his second shoe in order to tap with his other socked foot.
I counted somewhere around 175 in the band - pipes, flutes, drums etc.


Kristin said...

I especially like the way they tap, more than tap really, the beat while they play. I like to see a musician move to their own music.

Karen S. said...

Oh my he's wearing such a delightful outfit! But his love for his playing really shines through! Amazing music all of it, thanks for posting it!

Wendy said...

Week after week you show me a world I didn't know existed. This is a fantastic post!

Christine H. said...

It's great to be able to listen to them too. The writer of the first card seems to be asking Marie (little lamb) if she regrets not having music in her life.

Anonymous said...

Of course, I had to try to count...I came up with nine full rows of five abreast, plus one straggler, so 46 bag pipers. I could be wrong though. :-)

Tattered and Lost said...

I just keep imaging those pants filling with air like a bagpipe. Pants expanding, then going down, expanding, then going down. Wouldn't that make an odd instrument?

Alan Burnett said...

Wonderful cards and some great music to go with them. When you think about it, clothing today is - in most cases - so boring. Oh to have the confidence and courage to turn up at the pub wearing an outfit like those.

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

Love the postcards, what on earth is the guy on the right wearing? Looks like his mother's bloomers!

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

I just love these traditional instruments! I spend a good deal of the year in central France where we have a festival of Maîtres Sonneurs with bagpipes as well as the hurdy gurdy. Wonderful!

Bob Scotney said...

I spent my time at university in Scotland. I went off the bagpipes when we had a man practising outside the hall of residence every night - well it seemed like every night.
Great cards. said...

Crazy trousers !!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Very interesting and a great post! This is the first that I have ever heard of these particular instruments.

Thank you,

Kathy M.

Food Smarts said...

I wonder if the big belt has something to do with the breathing as in keeping the player sitting upright and therefore maintaining lung capacity at maximum. Fantastic instruments. Does every culture have some kind of bagpipe?

L. D. Burgus said...

Great post with all the different music examples.


the postcard reads something like this:
"It may be the morning serenade of these two binious that awoke the happy newlyweds from P...
Don't you regret, my darling little lamb, missing out on rising to this music? Of course you do. If so, let's leave without delay, though we may have missed the morning serenade, so we may get there in time to relish some nocturnal serenade."

Since I master neither French nor English as I'd like to, and am by no means a translator, this is as close as I could get.
Hoping this help!!

Mike Brubaker said...

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur TB. A more romantic French postcard than I expected.


Ce fut mon plaisir!!
Romantic indeed...
Do people still talk like that?
I wonder...
No need to answer this one;
leave me my illusions!!


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