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Musical duo: "The vague".

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I have recently expanded my interests into trying out another instrument.  I was interested in finding something which would complement the reedy sound of a concertina, whilst also having a similar individual basis of sound quality.  And knowing historically of some ancient instruments, going back a few hundred years, I was intrigued by particularly one called a Chalumeau, which is an old precursor to the later to be developed, clarinet.  The most traditional Chalumeau is keyless [ it is a wooden pipe] about the size of a large recorder, and these days fitted with a clarinet head, and natural reed held in a ligature. That is all there is to it; and so it requires pure energy and no levers or springs, just air to blow into it, and the sound made is very unusual; between a hunting horn, natural trumpet, and oboe all in one.  It is voice like and takes a lot of breath to get going.  The instrument does not generally 'overblow' to higher notes [ like a recorder or flute] and has a chromatic range in the octave. Also you have to use the teeth and cover the lower lip to make the sound on the reed, which many recorder players often do not realise either, and so no sound is produced until you use this method!

So there was my choice, and then I found it added a most unusual additional paring to my free reed family [ concertina and accordion] and actually compliments it very nicely. 

This duo I have developed from a soloist work, made recently, and I incorporated the Chalumeau into the music.  really, it is meant for any two instruments, the music itself, but it gives an unusual combination.

The music is called "The Vague" - and it slowly meanders about in slightly chromatic manner before ending on simple held notes. Each instrument has its part to play, but never takes the lead role in proceedings [ it is not a duet].





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It's always good fun to experiment. 🙂


In our group, our Whistle player, who plays in a local orchestra, also plays the Oboe & Cor Anglais & I really enjoy playing the lower notes on my Baritone/Treble English along with those instruments. They seem to blend together really nicely. 




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Thanks for that, yes its interesting the blend of different sounds that can be made.. sometimes it can lead to new ideas too.

Especially with instruments that have ancient heritage, and little used, as there's still a chance you can innovate with new musical ideas One thing I already know, over the six weeks  I have been playing this Chalumeau..You develop strong lungs, and probably lips like a fish after time with a Chalumeau! 😊🌝🌝

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On 3/31/2023 at 1:34 PM, James Fitton said:

Well, I'll confess I'd never heard of a chalumeau until a few minutes ago. It's an interesting and rather lovely sound. Is yours really old, or are people still making new ones? 

Thank you for your interest in this instrument I shall be shortly back online on my proper computer and will reply to enquiries more thoroughly as I am only using my little phone at moment..( and so it will be easier for me to reply on a bigger screen..


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Hello, to those who have kindly commented on the Chalumeau [part of my duo attempts recently]..

It is a predecessor of the later Clarinet.  It uses one reed which is, these days, often held in a ligature or contained in a clarinet head. 

Not that long after they came about, as far as I understand, someone developed the instrument by adding more keys to it, so aiding its greater range; my one is based more on the earlier scheme, whereby it had one chromatic octave.  Form middle C up to D octave above [approximately]. Or, about 14 notes within its compass. It has, therefore, sharps and flats, and so it can allow to play chromatically. 

Although many pieces can need transposing to fit its little compass of notes; when they do fit it can make a surprisingly effective, and unusual timbre of sound.  [sort of sound, to me, is between and oboe, cor-anglais, hunting horn, and natural trumpet]..

My one is modern made, and is solidly constructed from Sycamore maple wood, with the clarinet head fitted separately, and uses clarinet reeds as standard.  This means it is very economical to maintain, and affordable to use. [ you can get the clarinet head and reeds anywhere] .

It requires a different technique to get sound from than say a recorder or flute, for example, as you have to grip with the teeth at the top, and your lips go over your lower teeth beneath [ fold in and over lower lip]! This then vibrates the reed and makes a sound. At first a noise is often all that is produced, and it takes a lot of breath to get going, but practice ensures a 'note' is made more frequently [or it can sound rather like a sealion being trodden on.]

The sound can be formed by the way the mouth is used against the reed, and pressure applied, and also you can slur or 'slide' up the notes [like the later developed Clarinet does] which can add interesting effects. 

I am in process of systematically transcribing from my own large musical archive to get as many tunes as I can find that suit it, and I am finding quite a few that come out very pleasingly to its unusual voice like tone. [others require slight editing of transposing down to fit].

I was always aware of their historical presence [ Telemann played one] and they were popular for a time before the Clarinet took over.

I have purchased my one from a music store [and it was sent from Germany from Tomann].  Incredibly economically priced too!  So, yes they are still made in modern times and seem to be also very interesting to people when they hear of their existence.  So, all you have is 8 or 9 holes in the wooden body of instrument, the two lowest have smaller holes for the sharp notes to be produced, and the thumb one behind.  Similar to recorder fingering [but does not overblow to higher notes].

Below image is my own Chalumeau in C [ made of sycamore maple wood].







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