Significance of offset holes on Louvre aulos

Lower finger holes

I find it puzzling that the lower holes veer off in the same direction on both pipes - to the left – on the lower pipe more sharply. One possible explanation occurred to me today: perhaps, the pipes might be switched around from my initial playing position (higher pipe in right hand), with the left hand  taking the lower notes on the higher chanter, and the right hand taking the higher notes on the lower chanter. That way, another sonority system would become available, the holes would always slope ergonomically for the left hand, and the brain wouldn’t have to cope with switching hand positions – the right hand would still play the higher notes.

If we call the pipes H and L (High and Low) then, in this configuration, H would be played by the left hand in the 5th position (i.e. hand at the foot with the top 5 holes stopped with wax or pegs) and L would be played by the right hand in 1st position, allowing use of the thumb hole.

Thumb holes

The main problem with this idea is the thumb-hole offsets. On both pipes, the offset is to the left, significantly more so on H. This would explain why, in my practising so far, I have had more trouble balancing H in my right hand than L in my left while exercising my thumbs. Perhaps H was always played by the left hand: this would explain the more significant offset of thumb and lower finger holes on that pipe.

I must practise for a few days to test out these ideas… What are the hole offsets like on other surviving pairs, like the Berlin aulos?

 

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2 Responses to Significance of offset holes on Louvre aulos

  1. Today I wrote to Robin Howell:

    Do you recall where on the Louvre aulos you saw wear marks that you interpreted as evidence for it being played right-hand high? To my mind, the gradual sloping of the lower finger holes towards the player’s left could be taken as evidence that both pipes were tailored ergonomically for the left hand. Additionally, the displacement of the thumb holes (each to the player’s left) could also suggest that both pipes were tailored for the left hand. However, the thumb hole displacement is greater on the High pipe (H) than Low pipe (L), and the conclusion I have reached from practical experimentation is that this weighs in favour of the original having been being played left-hand high, for the reason I reported in 2014:

    in my practising so far, I have had more trouble balancing H in my right hand than L in my left while exercising my thumbs. Perhaps H was always played by the left hand: this would explain the more significant offset of thumb and lower finger holes on that pipe.
    http://www.doublepipes.info/offset-holes/

    I think “L in my left” should read “L in my right” – in other words, both pipes can be played comfortably in the left hand, but in the right hand the low pipe is more ergonomic because the greater thumb-hole offset on the high pipe makes it harder to balance and the fingers cannot relax and lighten to the same degree.

    Robin replied:

    If I recall correctly, most of the pipes I know of have offset thumb holes, to a greater or lesser degree. My examination of the Louvre pair was back in 1977, so take my recollections with a bit of salt, however I do remember noticing slight wear patterns hanging off of the top 2 holes of the high pipe which led me to think it was indeed right handed. I also find it to be more comfortable the other way around. The offset to the left of the lower holes did, and does, make me question whether it is indeed a pair, as similar as the two may be. Perhaps there were 4, as in the Pompeii find? I would love to know what the instrumentarium of a professional of the time would have contained! Were pipes always made in distinct pairs? Were different combinations of pipes used for different applications/situations? Are the bone pipes we find in burials specifically funereal pipes? There are so many questions yet to address.

  2. Here is Stefan Hagel’s response:

    I think there was considerable variation – between instruments,
    but also using the same instrument in different ways.

    Wise words. I think musicians in every age have pushed the envelope, at least the more experimental ‘creative’ types who set the trend. It’s part of our psychology or evolutionary biology to test boundaries.

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