Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection


16 items


The se-p’iri (‘slender oboe’) is a Korean double-reed aerophone used primarily to accompany classical vocal music genres of kagok, sijo, and kasa. It is also used in a limited number of pieces of chongak, which during dynastic times was instrumental music for aristocratic entertainment similar in style to hyangak, or native Korean court music. It is very similar in design to the hyang-p’iri (‘native oboe’), another Korean oboe that is utilized in a totally separate set of musical contexts. Description The se-p’iri is an end-blown cylindrical bore double reed aerophone. It is made from a straight length of thin bamboo that has no natural nodes. Seven anterior fingerholes and one posterior thumbhole are drilled into the pipe. The reed (kaltae) is quite large, approximately a quarter of the length of the instrument's bamboo tube. Much shaving, slicing, shaping, and tying (using copper wire) are necessary to produce the finished reed. Its base is beveled so that it can be inserted into the top end of the pipe. Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production The performer, usually seated on the floor, holds the pipe in front of himself with both hands at about a 45-degree angle so that his fingers can cover all the fingerholes and the thumbhole. The tip of the reed is placed inside the mouth and the lips are pressed firmly on the top and bottom of the reed just above the wire loops. Considerable airstream pressure is needed to sound the instrument, but because of its very narrow bore the se-p’iri has a relatively softer dynamic than the hyang-p’iri. At its full acoustical length (with all holes covered) the fundamental pitch produced is approximately an A-flat-3; with all holes opened a C-5 (approximately). With manipulation of reed pressure a few further pitches can be sounded to extend the range upwards about a fourth. The timbre of this instrument is considered to blend nicely with classical Korean singing. Players can produce subtle ornaments, a wide vibrato, and a wide dynamic range, features that allow it to effectively mimic Korean singing style (in the audio clip the se-p’iri is heard in combination with several other instruments and may be difficult to pick out; listen for the wind instrument with a nasal timbre heard most prominently in the left channel). Origins/History/Evolution Korean p'iri are related to the Chinese guan and the Japanese hichiriki, all of which are thought to have descended from a precursor originating in western China in the early first millennium CE. Reference is made to p'iri being part of a Korean ensemble in residence at the Chinese Sui dynasty (581-618 CE) court, and the first mention of p’iri in Korean sources is from the early 11th century CE. Some early p’iri had nine fingerholes instead of eight, but in general it would appear the present day p’iri used in South Korea differs little from its antecedents. Perhaps the greatest period of design transformation for the p’iri has been the last half of the 20th century in North Korea, where different sizes of the instrument have been introduced, as has keywork; these changes do not appear to have caught on in South Korea where a sensibility of cultural preservation is strong.


Contextual Associations The horagai is the only surviving lip-reed aerophone instrument; of Japan. This end-blown conch shell natural trumpet is used in different contexts: as a ritual, signaling, and protective instrument for sects of esoteric Buddhism and Shugendo (mountain asceticism shamanism); by fishermen strictly for signaling; and as an off-stage musical resource to index battle scenes in present day Kabuki theatre (Johnson, p. 693). Breaking down ‘horagai’ to its components--‘ho’ means ‘Buddhist law’; ‘ra’ ‘large conch’; and ‘gai’ or ‘kai’, ‘shell’ (ibid.)--its association with Buddhism is clear. The horagai pictured and described here were most likely used by a yamabushi (Shugendo practitioner) in training while wandering in the forests of Japan in search of spiritual insight. Description The crown of a cleaned conch shell of the variety Charonia tritonis is removed and refined, producing an opening to the spiral-shaped cavity of the shell. A conical mouthpiece of lacquered wood (in the case of the instruments described here) or of metal is attached over the opening (detail #). The mesh bags in which these shells would be carried have been lost, although one of the shells includes a fragment of such mesh rope wrapped around the base of its mouthpiece. Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production In Buddhist and Shugendo contexts, the horagai player carries the conch in a mesh bag slung over his shoulder. To sound the instrument, he lifts the shell up, still in its mesh, with both hands so that the mouthpiece end is pressed against his lips (either centered or to one side or the other of the emboucher). With diaphram pressure, an airstream is forced through the emboucher and the lip buzzing thus produced sets the enclosed air cavity of the shell into a mode of vibration. Various unstandardized and for the most part graphic notation systems (called kaifu, ‘shell notation’) have developed amongst sects of esoteric Buddhism and Shugendo in which the fundamental pitch is called ‘otsu’ and overtones ‘kan’ (Fukui, p. 52). Both shells in gallery #1 produce three pitches: an otsu of approximately E4; and kan of E5 and B5. These first three partials of the harmonic series for the fundamental E4 are a microtone sharper in pitch on one of the horns than on the other. The tone quality of the kan (E5 and B5) are noticeably thinner than that of the otsu. An additional overtone can be obtained on larger horagai, which would produce a lower fundamental pitch than the instruments pictured here. Origins/History/Evolution The adaptation of conch shells to ritual and signaling instruments dates back at least to Neolithic times (GDMI Conch p. 676). This transformation occurred worldwide, most commonly, but not exclusively, in cultures located along ocean coastlines (see Montagu 2018 for a survey of the distribution of conch trumpets today). The horagai was probably introduced to Japan from China in the 8th or 9th centuries CE during a period when Chinese esoteric Buddhism (called Mikkyo in Japan) was being imported by returning Japanese practitioners, most importantly amongst them Kukai, the founder of the Japanese Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism (Fukui p. 48). Its use in Buddhist worship is up to the present day found almost exclusively in a very few Shingon sect Buddhist temples. As the syncretic practice of Shugendo (‘way of asceticism,’ combining elements of Shintoism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and esoteric Buddhism developed between the 8th to the late-12th century CE [ibid.]), the horakai became an indispensable signaling and protective tool used by Shugendo practitioners (yamabushi) when in religious training, and remains so to the present day (in 1986 there was estimated to be 5,855 sub-sects of the six original Shugendo sects with more than twelve million believers [ibid., p. 49]). It is less clear when the horagai began to be used as a signaling instrument by fishermen. In the course of its history in Japan, the horagai was also, for a time, used as a military signaling instrument, which explains why it came to be used to index battle scenes in the context of Kabuki theatre.