Nai - the Romanian panpipe

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Nai musican

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Panpipes are widespread around the world and are known to have existed in Romania during Roman times from stone carvings and writings of the poet Ovid, although today's instrument is unlikely to be a direct descendent.

The name has changed in time from fluierar or şueraş, to the muscal then to the nai. The later two names are of Persian origin, suggesting the reintroduction of a version of the panpipes via the Ottoman Turks.

Later the instrument is documented in the courts during the 16th century under the name ţeviţa, then in the 17th century under the name muskal, through the late 18th century and 19th centuries the panpipe with violin and cobza formed the typical lăutar bands of the Wallachian and Moldavian plains and was  becoming known outside Romania.

The Romanian nai is a slightly concave row of twenty tubes closed at the lower end giving a diatonic scale from B1 to G4. The tubes are tuned by inserting bees wax to the natural note, apart from F#. Recently musicians have added further pipes to increase the range. The natural pitch of a each pipe can can be adjusted to give the chromatics by inclining the instrument towards the musician, this allows sliding notes.

During the 20th century the nai was becoming less common with very few players continuing between the world wars. The most important remaining musician was Fănica Luca who began teaching a new generation of musicians with the "Barbu Lautru" folk orchestra in 1949 then at the Bucharest school of music from 1953. His most famous pupil being musicians Gheorghe Zamfir. The nai can now be found widely in gypsy tarafs through Moldavia and Wallachia and most folk orchestras.


Record sleeve notes by Iosif Herţea & Tiberiu Alexandru

Alexandru, T (1980), Romanian folk music, Musical publishing house, Bucharest


© Eliznik2005, Last updated Mar-07