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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The Zampogna

20 November 2020


My three dearlings. Yesterday evening we arrived
so tired to Genua that we did not write more.
The next morning my first trip (?) was on the
post office, and on the thelegraph. God be
thanked I found after so long time a card of my
dear Edithe. I thank God to know that you
are all well, then I lived  the whole time in so
great sorrows. Only I fear that my dear husband
and children have already quite forgotten
me, then my dear William does nothing write
my angel Margrite wrote me only once since
I am away, and my Edithe writes me a
cool card, where I find not the least
news of my house. I wanted to know
if this person is yet in my house, per-
haps she is there in my place, and
you dont think more at all at
your poor mother, what cannot attend
the day to press you all on my heart. I am
indeed very very sorry, this night when
mother sleeps I will weep to make quiet my heart. I will
be neither all contented, when I hear all good of you. Genua
is very nice, the next letter you send to Lugano for me in
postal. We go for some days to Mailano

then to Lugano
to visit the Italian sees, and we come always nearer to my
dearling go

if you
will make
me happy
then write
a long
to your

4 X 98

All Signor Do. W. Pollak
Zeltner Gasse 18

Dudelsack (bagpipes)

This colorful postcard of a strolling Italian bagpiper was sent from Genoa, Italy on 15 September 1898. The writer provides us with a short scene from a much longer soap opera. The anxious mother traveling through Italy, separated from her husband and two daughters, bemoans the scarcity of news from her family. It's like a classic folk tale.  Her husband, William Pollak, and presumably her children, are in Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and received the card on 4 October 1898. The Italian honorific "Do." translates as doctor, which would suggest he is in Prague for professional reasons.

There are a few words that remain cryptic because of the writer's handwriting. The final salutation, "sorry Jenny" is not clear and might be another name. I welcome any suggestions. The surname Pollak might be American, British, or even Bohemian. My wife thinks that English is not the writer's native language, but I'm not convinced. I think it's just the sloppy spelling of a someone cramming onto a postcard as much motherly scolding as she can. We can only imagine the warm reception she will get when her family is reunited.

My interest, of course, was in the quaint illustration of the folk musician. The postcard dealer was German and penciled a category label, Dudelsack – bagpipes, under the address. Many regions of Europe developed a bagpipe-type instrument that became characteristic of the region's folk music. In Italy it was the instrument pictured here, the Zampogna. The enormous bag is sewn from the skin of an entire goat or sheep. The hide is turned so the hair/fleece is on the inside. Fixed to one leg is a mouthpipe that the player uses to inflate the bag. Attached to the neck is a wooden stock where several pipes of different length are inserted. Each pipe has a single cylindrical cane reed to make the Zampogna's sound. Two pipes have finger holes so the player can make high notes on the short chanter, and bass accompaniment on the other longer pipe.
Here is video to demonstrate the sound of a Zampogna.

* * *

The Zampogna originated in southern Italy and Sicily, and was an instrument played by shepherds while watching over their flocks of sheep or goats. The organ like sound of the multiple pipes is very strident and carries a long distance. It also was a favorite instrument for Italian folk dances. The Zampogna has limitations for the number of melodic notes it can play, so it was usually paired with a small instrument  called a piffero, or  ciaramella or pipita in Southern Italy. This shawm instrument uses a double reed like an oboe and has a slightly larger range. In this next postcard it is played by the young boy on the right while an older boy plays the Zampogna.

This wonderful watercolor sketch by A Vallez (?) is captioned Zampognari, the Italian name for such street musicians. It was sent from Napoli – Naples just before Christmas, 21 December 1906 to a Gentleman and Signorine Tommy Casal (?) staying initially in St. Blaise, Switzerland, on Lake Neuchâtel west of Bern and then forwarded 100 miles east to Frauenfeld, beyond Zurich.

The music played by the Zampogna and the Piffero are not sophisticated tunes but they have such a distinctive pastoral quality that many composers through the ages have imitated their sound. In 1898 and 1906 these two postcards were depicting real peasant buskers that a tourist might have encountered when visiting Genoa or Naples. This next video gives us an idea of what they might have sounded like on Christmas morning in Napoli outside your hotel window.

There are a LOT of videos
of Zampogna players on YouTube.
Very often it seems like they are all playing the same tune, too.
So a little goes a long way.
But it's impressive that so many people
in Abruzzo, Latium, Molise, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily
continue to enjoy a musical tradition
that remains an important part of their Italian cultural identity.
These next two videos of Zampognari
demonstrate the infectious way
these instruments have influenced Italian folk dances.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday

which always provides relief

from the daily weekday grind.


Barbara Rogers said...

I have relatives with more recent connections to Italy than myself...and I am sure they'd get a kick out of hearing the Zampogna too! It reminds me of how early in the pandemic, people isolated in Italy would serenade each other across their streets from their balconies.

Virginia Allain said...

It amazes me how many cultures had some form of bagpipes.

La Nightingail said...

The Zampogna is an interesting instrument, but is far more limited than the Scottish bag pipes. I wonder which came first? I'm guessing the Zampogna? The postcards with water color sketching are neat - especially the first one. But oh my - so much writing and every which way. Looks like the way I write on my postcards! :)

Molly's Canopy said...

Great post and my first experience of the Zampogna. It sounds more melodious that bagpipes, and as a social dancer I was particularly pleased to see the instrument accompanying a tarantella. I agree with your wife that the first postcard writer spoke/wrote English as a second language -- but hats off to her for nevertheless fitting so much of her lament onto the back of a tiny card.


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