An Address to a Society of Morris Dancers,

Oxford, February 12, 1914

by Sir Francis Darwin

(Son of Sir Charles Darwin)

In the following pages I have brought together some scattered information on the instruments, especially connected with Folk-Dancing, which give the title to my address. The coming to life of a mass of beautiful tunes and dances, in response to the patient search of Mr. Cecil Sharp and a few others, is one of the most magical occurrences of which I have any memory. In a lesser degree I have experienced the same sense of the unexpected, in learning that in a Kentish village, so near London as often to be darkened by the skirts of town fogs, the ancient superstition still existed of telling the bees that their master is dead. Such an unsuspected lurking of primitive belief in our midst may well give a shock of surprise. But in the resurrection of the mass of hidden music, and of the dying traditions, of dances, a web of extraordinary beauty is suddenly revealed-a matter of real importance.

If tunes have souls they are shut out by death from ever again vibrating in a human tenement. They are like the gabel-rachels, the souls of un-baptised infants whom men in Yorkshire used to hear crying round the church as though begging to be let in. But the traditional tunes of England are no longer homeless; they have a safe refuge in the printed page. They have become immortal, or as near immortality as modern paper can insure.

Mr. Sharp has done wonderful things; he is like a naturalist who should discover that we are unconsciously surrounded by whole races of beautiful things as unknown to us as elves and fairies. In the Commemoration Service we speak gratefully of all those who "found out musical tunes." If ever a man deserved remembrance for literally finding out tunes it is Mr. Sharp.

But to return to the musical instruments of the Morris dancers - the Pipe and Tabor. I am told that the little drum on which the piper accompanies his tune should be pronounced 'tabber.' I have no doubt this is right. The Oxfordshire name Dub suggests it, and the old French word Tabour is something of an argument in the same direction. In Wright's Dialect Dictionary it is said that the lesser spotted woodpecker is called the "tabberer" from its habit of drumming on tree-trunks. I should like to call my pipe a "tabberer's" pipe if only out of affection for the little black and white bird and his drum, but the modern pronunciation, with a long a, has a strong hold and can hardly be ousted. We nowadays put the pipe before the tabor, but in Shakespearean days this was not so. In The Tempest Ariel plays the tune "Flout'em and scout 'em" on a tabor and pipe - and the artist was called a taborer (1) not a piper. In the same way the Provençal performer on the two instruments was (according to Daudet), and I hope still is, known as the tabourinaire.

Morris dancing, for which the tabor and pipe once supplied the music, is now an everyday accomplishment. At Cambridge one may see Fellows of Colleges dancing, waving handkerchiefs and knocking sticks in the old manner, and I hope the same is true of Oxford.

But piping is not so common. Some of us have heard Mr. Sharp at a lecture, or Mr. Haydn Coffin on the stage. But it is not an art likely to spread rapidly, because the old English is pipe rare and hard to come by, and copies are not common either.

I began to learn the taborer's art on a French or Basque galoubet obtained in Oxford from that kind friend of many musicians, the late Mr. Taphouse. But it was only quite recently, when Mr. Manning lent me an old Oxfordshire instrument and allowed me to have it copied, that I made any kind of progress.

I do not know when playing the "whittle and dub" (as they were called) became extinct as a village art. It certainly existed thirty years ago, and for all I know there are still some living who could hand on the grand manner of taboring. Mr. Taphouse remembered very well the days when the pipe and drum were heard all round Oxford at fairs and village festivals. I remember his showing me a whittle with a crack in it where it had been broken over the head of a reveller by a drunken taborer.

The two instruments have been generally associated with dancing. Tans'ur (2), writing in 1772, speaks of this. "The Tabor and Pipe are two musical instruments that always accompany each other, and are mostly used at Wakes by Country People, and at their Dancings and innocent Diversions, and often with Morris Dancers." He speaks of the pipe as played with the left hand, "on which Wrist hangs a small drum, braced in Tune to the Pipe, and beat by the Right Hand as a Bass in Time to it : both of which being well managed make pretty Harmony."

In the Wallace Collection there is a picture by N. Lancret (1690-1743) of a celebrated dancer, Mme. Camargo, who is accompanied by a small orchestra of two recorders, a bassoon and one or more viols; these are partly hidden at the back of the scene, while a boy with pipe and tabor (3) stands close to the dancer, giving the impression that she depends on him rather than on the more formal musicians in the background. It may remind us of the Duke of Plaza Toro, who sings a song accompanied and supported by his own particular private drum as well as by the orchestra. The same quasi independence of the tabor and pipe is still to be found in the folk music of the Catalans, the inhabitants of the north-east of Spain. The dance which Mr. Casals - himself a Catalan - described to me, is a round dance of some complexity. It is held in high esteem as a national affair, and is danced by gentle and simple together. The band consists of a tabor and pipe, four large rustic oboes, some cornets and a double-bass. The interesting point is that the taborer always leads off with a solo, a spirited flourish which Mr. Casals was so good as to play on the piano. It is curious that there is only one such traditional flourish, and this is used whatever the dance-music may be. Mr. Casals described the effect of the whole band as moving and exciting in a high degree. I have an old newspaper cutting of the Queen Victoria and Prince Albert watching the British sailor dance a hornpipe on the deck of a man-of-war, accompanied by a couple of marines with a drum and fife. Shakespeare evidently considered these two instruments as the military equivalent of the tabor and pipe. He makes Benedick laugh at Claudio, in love, for throwing over the drum and fife for the taborer's music.

In the middle ages the tabor and pipe were a good deal associated with the performances of strollers and mountebanks. On the other hand, they did not always take this rôle. There is a beautiful carved figure playing the pipe and tabor in the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral, dating from 1270. In Strutt's Sports and Pastimes (Ed. 2, Plate XXIV), a horse is shown, dancing to a tabor and pipe, from a MS. of about 1300; on Plate XXIII is a drawing of a taboring hare (without a pipe) of about the end of the 13th century. I am not aware that these instruments are known to have existed in England earlier than the 13th century.

Fra Angelico puts these instruments into the hands of an angelic lady. Her tabor is beautifully given, the pipe is but slightly indicated. In Florence, among the singing boys of Luca della Robbia (reproduced in the figure below), is to be found the best representation of a pipe player that I have seen. There is a comparatively modern picture of Will Kemp (4), the Shakespearean actor, performing his dance to Norwich. He started, apparently in 1599, on the "first Monday in cleane Lent," and succeeded in his object, though not without difficulty. His attendants' names are pleasant : Taborer, Tom Slye, Servant, Wm. Bee, Overseer, Geo. Sprat.

I am glad to say that a tabor and pipe appear in one very honourable secular affair (5), namely, a tournament, more correctly a joust or single combat. One of the combatants is supported by a bagpipe, the other by a tabor and pipe. It must be confessed, however, that the taborer was not well treated in mediaeval times, badly paid, and not received with the honour given to minstrels.

I like the rustic character of the pipe, and its association with cheerful mediaeval vagabonds, and, still more, its memories of centuries of village dances. I wish it had found a place in that "dancing in the chequered shade," in which Milton has immortalised the jocund rebecks. But Milton was a player of the bass viol, and does not show any especial feeling for wind instruments, so at least I gather from Welch's interesting book (6).

Pipe and Tabor.
Figure - Pipe and Tabor.

After Luca della Robbia: in isolating the figure it was necessary to complete the drum and part of the drapery.

The taborer's pipe is a whistle; it happens to be made of wood, but its musical structure is precisely that of the penny whistle, except in one important particular, that it has but three holes in place of six. The pipe is therefore a poor relation of that beautiful but extinct instrument the recorder (7) which is only a wooden whistle. The recorder has a low, hollow, but most effective tone, and I shall never forget the ravishing effect of a quartet of recorders as played at a concert given by Mr. Galpin, the well-known authority on old English instruments. The taborer's pipe has none of the sweetness of the recorder ; it is essentially a shrill instrument; indeed, I am told by a philologist that its old German name Schwegel contains a root implying shrillness. Another old German name is Stamentien Pfeiffe, which my philological friend tells me does not occur in the best German dictionary, and is of unknown origin.

As I have said, the pipe has but three holes (stopped by the index, middle finger and thumb); these give four fundamental tones, which however do not occur in the working scale of the instrument.

In the penny whistle, and most wood-wind instruments, the octave or first harmonic gives the means of extending the scale. But in the taborer's pipe the whole of the workable scale consists of harmonics; what corresponds to the lower octave in the penny whistle - the non-harmonic or fundamental part of the register - can only be faintly sounded. It is the first harmonic or octave of the lowest of these faint notes that forms the bottom note of the scale of the three-holed pipe (8). This note is approximately D of the modern flat pitch. By successively raising the middle and index fingers and then the thumb, E, F, and G are sounded. Then all the finger holes are again closed, and by a little extra impulse given to the breath A is sounded, being the harmonic 5th of the lower D. Then follow B and C as harmonic 5ths of E and F, and the final D as the octave of the lowest tone. Above this a variable number of notes - about four - are producible by cross-fingerings. The ordinary work-a-day scale of the taborer's pipe corresponds to the 12 or 13 uppermost notes of a seven octave P-F., or to the upper notes of a piccolo. The galoubet's scale begins on a B flat one-third below the taborer's pipe. There was also a bass galoubet. This instrument is known from the figures in Praetorius (1618) (9), and also from one solitary pipe which has escaped destruction. Mr. Galpin has a copy of it in his wonderful collection, and has allowed me to play on it (10).

Mersenne (11) in speaking of the performance of an Englishman, John Price, may give to some unwary reader the impression that the said John could play a continuous scale of three octaves. But it is quite clear that Mersenne included the faint D an octave below the lowest harmonic note, so that Price could produce an interval of three octaves but a continuous scale of only two octaves. This is not impossible. I can play two out-of-tune shrieking notes above my high A, or 12th note, so that I can, after a fashion, get within one note of John Price, and I live in hopes of acquiring yet another and tying with him. The uppermost sounds are made by what was technically known as pinching, i.e. crooking the thumb and forcing the nail into the top hole, so that only a minute stream of air escapes. An old pipe of mine shows the mark of the pinching thumb nail. Mr. Forsyth speaks of "an instrument with only a few notes" as being "much restricted in the way of compass" (12): this is not quite just to the taborer's pipe.

In relation to Mr. Forsyth's discussion on the diauloi, it should be remembered that the double pipe still exists in Russia. It is described by Mahillon (13) under the name of the Gelaïka. The fundamental tones of the two instruments are the lower F sharp in the treble stave, and the B natural above it. Mahillon adds: "tantot elles se partagent la mélodie, d'autres fois elles font entendre des intonations doubles."

With regard to the Greek double-pipe, I am sure that Mr. Forsyth is right, and that the bandage (phorbeia), which is commonly said to have served to compress the cheeks, must have had some other use. I have no doubt that he is justified in assuming that the bandage served to support the instrument. In a pipe with three holes on the upper surface a certain amount of grip on the instrument is given by pressure of the little finger above and the thumb below, and with practice it would be quite possible to manage the instrument. Still, the bandage would give freedom to the fingers, and for the four-holed pipe this form of support would be absolutely necessary. My conclusions are based on experiments on the penny whistle temporarily converted into an instrument for one hand.

In speculating on the evolution of the taborer's pipe, it must be remembered that its harmonics (on which, as I have said, its scale depends) are those of a cylindrical pipe, and a pipe that is long in relation to its bore. I like to think that it had its origin in some of the many natural hollow cylinders found among plants, for instance, the reed grass that grows in fens and dykes, or the elder which supplies a pipe when its pith is bored out, and is perhaps more familiar as the parent of pop-guns than of musical instruments. Then again, there are the hollow stalks of umbelliferous plants, such as angelica and hemlock. The late Mr. Welch, in his interesting book on Recorders, pointed out (14) that sambucus the elder, calamus the reed, and cicuta the hemlock all occur in classic verse in relation to rustic music. Indeed the word calamus still lives, though corrupted to the French chalumeau and still further altered to the German Schalmei and the English shawm.

Welch doubts whether hemlock or similar stems would be strong enough for the suggested purpose. They certainly would not stand rough usage, but it is possible to make a taborer's pipe out of an Angelica stem, for I have one. It is husky and out of tune, but it shows the thing to be possible.

This connexion between music and the form of plants is not without interest from a wider point of view. We ask ourselves why hollow cylinders occur so commonly in vegetable architecture. That rough teacher, the struggle for life, has taught plants that a tube is, mechanically speaking, the best way of arranging a limited amount of formative or building material. The hemlock or the reed can thus make stalks of ample strength and at comparatively slight cost. There is romance in the fact that plants made tubular stems to their own private profit for unnumbered ages before the coming of man: the hollow reeds waiting all these aeons till Pan should come and make them musical.

The pipe and tabor have probably come down to us less changed than any other wood-wind instrument, with the possible exception of the pan-pipes; both flutes and flageolets have become covered with keys, while the pipe still has no more than three aboriginal holes, one for the thumb behind and two for the fingers in front. I have wasted some time in trying to make out how the early taborers held their pipes, but musical instruments are generally drawn with hopeless in-accuracy. I have been rewarded by finding that a boy in Luca della Robbia's bas-relief (see figure) at Florence holds the pipe just as I do (15), between the ring and little fingers, which keep the instrument steady even when all three holes are uncovered. There is an interesting point connected with the true or French flageolet. This instrument has six holes arranged in two triads, a thumb and two fingers of the right hand, and the same for the left, so that if all holes are open there would seem to be nothing to steady the pipe. But in Mr. Welch's book (p. 50) is a figure from Greeting's Pleasant Companion (16) showing how the flageolet should be held, and this, curiously enough, is one of the best views of what I hold to be the proper grip for the taborer's pipe. The tabor is still much as it was in Fra Angelica's day (judging from the angel above referred to), and indeed in earlier times, as shown in the piping angel in Lincoln Cathedral. We can see what a drum-maker calls the ropes and braces (17) for tightening the parchment; the snares are also shown in many early drawings of tabors. These are pieces of gut or of horse-hair, stretched across the drum-head, which add a spirited rattle to its tone. Why the first edition of the Dictionary of Music went out of its way to say that the tabor had no snares I cannot guess.

In many of the mediaeval drawings the artist is shown beating his drum on the snare side. I had fancied that this was only one more instance of the bad drawing of musical instruments, but when I saw the careful work of Luca della Robbia, in which the tabors are all beaten on the snare side, I could no longer doubt. I was, however, glad to find in a French account (18) of the Provençal 3-holed pipe or galoubet, that this custom survives. In Luca della Robbia's work a single snare-cord is shown instead of four to six catgut lines as in modern drums and this is also true of the Provençal instrument. So that both the characteristics that seemed strange to me in Luca's tabor survive in Provence.

It may not be generally known that the French for the snare of a drum is timbre; this is the original meaning of the word, and its familiar use to mean the characteristic tone of a musical sound is later. According to Darmstetter the word 'timbre' is own brother to 'tambour,' both being derived from a low Latin form of tympanum.

The tabor-stick has changed since the early centuries. In some of the old drawings the taborer is striking his instrument with a bludgeon, instead of the light and elegant sticks such as are to be seen in Mr. Manning's collection at Oxford. Such implements were doubtless treasured by the taborer. Valmajour, the tabourinaire in Daudet's Numa Roumestan, possessed a drum-stick which had been in the family for 200 years.

The way of holding the drum has not always been the same. Nowadays we are told to hang it from the thumb or wrist. But in many early drawings it is apparently firmly strapped or tied to the forearm, or even above the elbow (19). The Lincoln Angel and Luca's boy have tabors supported by a string round the neck, and this I find to be the best method.

I hope that the drum may long survive in Provence with its ancient companion the pipe (20). A different instrument, however, supplies an accompaniment to the galoubet in the Basque provinces. It is a rough sort of lyre with six or seven strings tuned alternately to the tonic and dominant, which beaten with a stick make a drone bass to the pipe. It has the attractively savage name of toon-toona, an imitative word like tom-tom; the galoubet is called the cherula.

From a French cyclopædia I learn that in Provence the taborer's art was a secret passed on from father to son, a mystery they refused to teach for money. They appeared to hold the patriotic opinion that the art of playing the galoubet, or as they call it, the flûtet, has never spread from Provence because of its extreme difficulty. This has been a comfort to me in my attempts to play the pipe and tabor.



At the risk of being tedious in the way of repetition I have thought it worth while to put together a rough list of the illustrations of pipe and tabor which I have met with. The earliest representation of a player on the 3-holed pipe, of which I have any knowledge, is the beautiful figure in the Angel Choir at Lincoln. Its date is, I believe, 1270, and it has been injured so that it is not possible to be sure of the manner in which the pipe is held. The tabor is suspended by means of a string round the neck.

The most careful representation of our instrument is that by Luca della Robbia, (see figure), in which what I call the correct grip is given.

In Pierpoint Morgan's Catalogue of Early Printed Books, Vol II., p. 118, are some illustrations from Gafori, 1492. The pipe is quite incorrectly held, more than two fingers being employed while the thumb is free.

Ibid., Vol III., p. 82. In a figure from Pierre Michaud's Dance des Aveugles, 1485, the pipe has four instead of two holes on the upper surface.

Ibid., Vol III., p. 86. The pipe is incorrect, the holes being too far from the lower end of the instrument; the hand is wrongly given according to our standards, the little finger being flourished in the air. The tabor is suspended from the hand as in the English style, and is struck on the snare side.

In Kemp's Nine Daies Wonder (referred to above) the drawing of the pipe is not instructive.

In Strutt's Sports and Pastimes there are several early drawings of performers on the 3-holed pipe. The grip in the majority is correct, i.e. there are three fingers visible, two covering the holes and the ring finger gripping against the little finger underneath. The illustrations are also correct in the fingers being close to the lower end of the pipe.

In Betley Hall, Staffordshire, is a painted glass window, probably dating from 1535, in which a piper is represented. Mr. Tollet a former squire of Betley, gave an account of it in Johnson and Steevens' Shakspeare, which is reprinted in a privately published book by Barthomley. The pipe is a conical tube on which four fingers are represented; it could not, I believe, have been drawn from a model.

In Mahillon's Catalogue i., p. 375, is a figure of a Basque playing a 3-holed pipe, and accompanying himself on the tountouna, a rough stringed instrument. The grip seems to be carefully drawn, but it is hard to see how it could be efficient, only two fingers being seen on the upper surface of the pipe. On the other hand, in a photograph of a Basque playing the same instrument (which I owe to the kindness of a correspondent), the grip is like that figured by Mahillon.

Finally, in Punch, November 13, 1907, a 3-holed pipe is incorrectly drawn. The bore of the instrument is conical, the holes are incorrectly given, and the hand is wrong.


The following diagram gives the fingerings which I have found to be best for a 3-holed pipe, a copy of an old one in the possession of Mr. Manning, of Oxford, to whom I am indebted for much kindly assistance.


The fingerings are given for the keys D and G. I have not attempted to play in other keys. For each note the upper circle represents the thumbhole; 1 and 2 are for the first and second fingers respectively. The black circles are supposed to be closed, the white are open. Holes that are half open are represented by circles half white, half black. In the case of A2 and B2 the circles are three-quarter black; this means that a very minute crack is left open.

It is important to remember that each pipe has its individuality. For instance, in one of my instruments G must have the thumb hole completely open, and the alternate fingering (with the index hole closed) is quite out of tune. The note E is sometimes sharp ; in the pipe, the fingerings of which are given in the figure, this fault is corrected by means of a thin metal lining to the lower hole.


(1) The military drum and fife band is spoken of as "the drums"; there is no such person as a fifer, he is described as a drummer.

(2) The Elements of Musick Display'd, etc., by William Tans'ur, Senior Musico Theorico, London, 1772, p. 103.

(3) It is a pleasure to express my indebtedness to Mr. Cockerell, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, for his kindness in searching, in my interest, for old illustrations of the pipe and tabor. I have given some account of them in an appendix to this essay.

(4) Kemp's Nine Daies Wonder : Performed in a Daunce from London to Norwich, by A. Dyce, Camden Society, 1840.

(5) See Strutt's Sports and Pastimes, Edit. 2, 1810, Plate XIV., p. 124.

(6) Welch, Christopher. Six Lectures on the Recorder and other flutes in relation to Literature, 1911, p.255.

(7) Recorders used to be known as flutes, while what we call flutes were described as German or transverse flutes. Purists desire to revive this nomenclature, and would call the taborer's pipe a flute or fipple-flute.

(8) For details of the fingering see the appendix to this article.

(9) Praetorius, Organographia, being the second volume of his Syntagma Musici, 1618, where a figure is given in Plate IX. See Breitkopf and Hartel's reprint of Praetorius, also Galpin's Old English Instruments of Music, 1910.

(10) See also Mahillon, Catalogue descriptif et analytique du Musée instrumental du Conservatoire royal de Bruxelle, 1909, Vol 2, p. 282.

(11) Harmonie Universelle, contentant la theorie et la pratique de la musique, by M. Mersenne, Fol. 1636-7, Vol II, p. 232.

(12) Stanford and Forsyth History of Music, 1916, p. 44.

(13) Op. cit. 1912, Vol 4, p.214.

(14) See p. 267.

(15) Mr. Galpin, however, uses another grip; he crooks the little finger and presses against the lower end of the pipe, of course without occluding the bore at all. In the early drawings reproduced by Strutt (see ante p. 102) the taborers show as a rule three fingers only. This is practically Luca della Robbia's grip, since the little finger could hardly show in these small illustrations. In Welch's book on the Recorder (p. 195) is a figure (reproduced from Mahillon) of a Basque holding his 3-holed pipe in a different way, viz., with the ring finger underneath and the little finger unemployed. I find it impossible to hold the pipe in this manner.

(16) Various editions appeared from 1661 to 1683. See Welch, loc. cit., p. 61.

(17) Mr. Galpin says that they are found on an ancient Egyptian drum.

(18) Mahillon's Catalogue, iii., p. 377.

(19) A German writer has suggested that this position allows the musician to beat the drum with his head!

(20) According to Mahillon, Catalogue iii., p. 377, to play the tabor and pipe is called in Provençal "tutupomponeyer."