Xylophone Kidimba, Anonymous Luba maker, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren/ Jo Van de Vyver, CC BY-NC-SA

Introduction

All over the world musical instruments are an essential part of cultural life; as well as making music, they serve specific purposes related to non musical contexts. In many religious rituals, for instance, musical instruments are indispensable. Made from solid material they enable man to touch the immaterial. As a means of communication they bridge the gap between this world and the other; their sound invoking a deity or giving voice to the spirit of an ancestor. During agrarian festivals and seasonal rituals, musical instruments are often used to renew and confirm a cosmological harmony, thus averting damage to a community and promising a rich harvest.

And of course, the use of musical instruments is also embedded in the ceremonies that mark the key stages of an individual’s life, with music playing a central role in the various celebrations that follow us from birth to death.

The purpose and meaning of musical instruments differs from region to region and from one culture to another, so it is impossible to sketch a general picture. This section of the exhibition will give a few examples to illustrate the important role that musical instruments play in religious and agricultural ceremonies, in the rites of the human lifecycle.

Vièle "sorud", Jan Mohammad [This fiddle is carved with a unique design from a single piece of wood from the tecomella undulata tree, a species found in Thar Desert region of northwest and western India. The instrument belongs to the sarinda family, which is in widespread use from Iran to the eastern borders of Bengal. The seven thin metal strings placed under the playing strings resonate in sympathy and enrich the timbre of the instrument when the main strings are bowed. Depending on the desired musical style, the instrument is played with a bow with an appropriate thickness of horsehair. The Baluchistan Sorud is mainly played by professional musicians who perform a repertoire composed of mystical Sufi songs. It is also used solo in ritual ceremonies of exorcism and healing.], Cité de la musique / Jean-Marc Anglès, CC BY-NC-SA
Vièle "sorud", Jan Mohammad [This fiddle is carved with a unique design from a single piece of wood from the tecomella undulata tree, a species found in Thar Desert region of northwest and western India. The instrument belongs to the sarinda family, which is in widespread use from Iran to the eastern borders of Bengal. The seven thin metal strings placed under the playing strings resonate in sympathy and enrich the timbre of the instrument when the main strings are bowed. Depending on the desired musical style, the instrument is played with a bow with an appropriate thickness of horsehair. The Baluchistan Sorud is mainly played by professional musicians who perform a repertoire composed of mystical Sufi songs. It is also used solo in ritual ceremonies of exorcism and healing.], Cité de la musique / Jean-Marc Anglès, CC BY-NC-SA

Ancestor Worship

Remembering ancestors is still a current practice in many cultures, including in the West. Ancestor worship however is very specific for Asian cultures, while in traditional African cultures ancestors are thought to have the power to work both good and evil on a descendant’s life. Ancestors and elders must therefore be pleased through music. This can be realised during festivals, sometimes lasting for several days – as it is the case in Yoruba tradition, one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa - or through specific rituals. Some musical instruments have a huge symbolic value as “voice of the ancestors”, bull roarers for example.

Shofar, Unknown, [The shofar horn, traditionally that of a ram, is blown in synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.], Musik&Teatermuseet, Stockholm, CC BY-NC-SA
Shofar, Unknown, [The shofar horn, traditionally that of a ram, is blown in synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.], Musik&Teatermuseet, Stockholm, CC BY-NC-SA
Bull roarer, Anonymous maker [The bull roarer is an ancient ritual musical instrument which dates back to the Paleolithic period. It is found in Europe, Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. The bull roarer represents the voice of ancestors.], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren/ Jo Van de Vyver , CC BY-NC-SA
Bull roarer, Anonymous maker [The bull roarer is an ancient ritual musical instrument which dates back to the Paleolithic period. It is found in Europe, Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. The bull roarer represents the voice of ancestors.], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren/ Jo Van de Vyver , CC BY-NC-SA
Royal drum of the Kingdom of Loango, Anonymous maker from the lower Kongo region [Royal drum of the Kingdom of Loango, a pre-colonial African state from approximately the 15th to the 19th century in what is now the Republic of Congo.], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, CC BY-NC-SA
Royal drum of the Kingdom of Loango, Anonymous maker from the lower Kongo region [Royal drum of the Kingdom of Loango, a pre-colonial African state from approximately the 15th to the 19th century in what is now the Republic of Congo.], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, CC BY-NC-SA

Agrarian & Rural Rituals

Life in agrarian societies and rural communities is bound up with rituals related to the succession of the seasons. Fertility rites and hunting ceremonies with songs and the use of musical instruments are found in all cultures worldwide. Most of these rites are only performed during festivals or at festive occasions. Other musical customs survive mainly for practical reasons, such as in the use of whistles by pygmies during hunting.

Sleigh bells, 1880/1890, Unknown, [These sleigh bells were mounted on a horse collar for winter sleigh rides in the countryside. The ringing bells warned pedestrians of an approaching sledge gliding silently in the snow. They were also a form or personalisation for their owner, a Franconian country-nobleman. The frame is made of brass, originally silver-plated, and the bells of bell-metal, a hard alloy used for making bells. The decorative feather bushes are made from horsehair coloured in the Franconian red and white.], Germanisches Nationalmuseum , CC BY-NC-SA
Sleigh bells, 1880/1890, Unknown, [These sleigh bells were mounted on a horse collar for winter sleigh rides in the countryside. The ringing bells warned pedestrians of an approaching sledge gliding silently in the snow. They were also a form or personalisation for their owner, a Franconian country-nobleman. The frame is made of brass, originally silver-plated, and the bells of bell-metal, a hard alloy used for making bells. The decorative feather bushes are made from horsehair coloured in the Franconian red and white.], Germanisches Nationalmuseum , CC BY-NC-SA
Xylophone Kidimba, Anonymous Luba maker [Xylophone with nine bars, the lowest sounds being repeated an octave higher. Although xylophones normally belong to chiefs, they can also be played during ritual ceremonies], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren/ Jo Van de Vyver, CC BY-NC-SA
Xylophone Kidimba, Anonymous Luba maker [Xylophone with nine bars, the lowest sounds being repeated an octave higher. Although xylophones normally belong to chiefs, they can also be played during ritual ceremonies], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren/ Jo Van de Vyver, CC BY-NC-SA
Dhah / Drum, Unknown, [Double-headed barrel drum of the indigenous Newar people, the creators of the historical civilisation of Nepal's Kathmandu Valley. It is played with a stick on the left and with the hand on the right. It can be used as a processional or a solo instrument.], Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, CC BY-NC-SA
Dhah / Drum, Unknown, [Double-headed barrel drum of the indigenous Newar people, the creators of the historical civilisation of Nepal's Kathmandu Valley. It is played with a stick on the left and with the hand on the right. It can be used as a processional or a solo instrument.], Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, CC BY-NC-SA

Birth, Weddings & Funerals

Rituals around birth, weddings and death are part of the so called rites of passage - a term that includes also rituals of puberty. They mark the passage of a person through the life cycle, from one stage to another over time, or from one role or social position to another. As a rule, they are accompanied by singing and dancing and/or the use of musical instruments. In many cultures the birth of twins, for example, is associated with very specific rituals, sometimes with rattles, sounding sticks and even xylophones. In some funeral rituals, an anthropomorphic musical instrument is used to represent the deceased person.

 

Naturtrompete, Johann Leonhard III Ehe, [This natural trumpet comes from a set of three identically made instruments. Originally, the trumpets were part of the inventory of a church in Weiden in der Oberpfalz, about 100 km away from Nuremberg. They were probably used for the musical accompaniment at events such as the ordinations of priests, baptisms and weddings.], Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Foto: Günther Kühnel, CC BY-NC-SA
Naturtrompete, Johann Leonhard III Ehe, [This natural trumpet comes from a set of three identically made instruments. Originally, the trumpets were part of the inventory of a church in Weiden in der Oberpfalz, about 100 km away from Nuremberg. They were probably used for the musical accompaniment at events such as the ordinations of priests, baptisms and weddings.], Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Foto: Günther Kühnel, CC BY-NC-SA
Messgeläut, Unknown, [These altar bells (sanctus bells) are used in a Catholic Mass to announce the consecration of the wine and bread into the blood and body of Christ. This custom, in which altar boys sound two different rings, is no longer widely practiced. Brass instrument with a central part and four corner towers; the covering of the central part and each of the four corner towers is decorated with a flower, the frame with roman arches; riveted on to the handle is the decoration with ears of corn and pine cones; in the central part and each of the corner towers there is a small bell with tulip-shaped curved ribbing; every bell has an iron clapper which is thickened on the underside.], Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Foto: Günther Kühnel, CC BY-NC-SA
Messgeläut, Unknown, [These altar bells (sanctus bells) are used in a Catholic Mass to announce the consecration of the wine and bread into the blood and body of Christ. This custom, in which altar boys sound two different rings, is no longer widely practiced. Brass instrument with a central part and four corner towers; the covering of the central part and each of the four corner towers is decorated with a flower, the frame with roman arches; riveted on to the handle is the decoration with ears of corn and pine cones; in the central part and each of the corner towers there is a small bell with tulip-shaped curved ribbing; every bell has an iron clapper which is thickened on the underside.], Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Foto: Günther Kühnel, CC BY-NC-SA
Mégaphone, Unknown, [This vamp horn, which probably comes from Bwende in the Republic of Congo is used during funerals. It represents the deceased person and it is held upwards. The sound hole is on the back side. It amplifies the whispering, singing or shouting by a member of the mourning clan.], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Copyright Not Evaluated
Mégaphone, Unknown, [This vamp horn, which probably comes from Bwende in the Republic of Congo is used during funerals. It represents the deceased person and it is held upwards. The sound hole is on the back side. It amplifies the whispering, singing or shouting by a member of the mourning clan.], Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Copyright Not Evaluated