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Traditional Musical Instruments of Crete

Cretans are very much attached to their traditional instruments, which are at the core of all their social and family events. Musical instruments are not simply the means to entertainment; they are an extension of their physical being. They incarnate the spirit of an age, old tradition, which dictates that the soul must find expression through music and dance. This partly explains the fact that Cretans dance and sing for days on most social occasions.

The main stringed instruments on Crete today are: the Lyre, the Lute, the Violin, and the Mandolin. The first two are widely utilised across the island while the latter two are still found in very few regions. Other instruments, which have almost been displaced by the above, are: the Boulgari, the Flute, the Sfyrochabiolo, and the Tabor. It is worth noting at this point that since 1970 a number of artists introduced the guitar as a second accompaniment to the lyre -the first being the lute.

THE LYRE: Stringed musical instrument with roots in ancient Greek history. It was introduced to Crete during antiquity, however with a different shape. Today it is the most popular stringed instrument on the island, even among the Cretans of the diaspora. The instrument is also found in other parts of Greece, e.g., at Dodekanese (mainly Kassos and Karpathos, Thrace and Macedonia. However, it has a more pear - shape form and it is played in quite a different way. A same type of instrument is also found in the Greek regions of the Black sea and Capadocia. It has a bottle shape form and is known by the name "kementzes". Changes to the shape of the Cretan lyre were also recorded between the 18th century and the 1940's.

THE LUTE: An old stringed musical instrument still popular in Crete and among the Cretans abroad. The lute is not particular to Crete. One finds it in other parts of Greece, however it is tuned in a different way. The modern lute is a descendant of the renaissance lute, which came to Crete in the age of Kornaros (Erotokritos). During the years a number of changes were incorporated to its sound box and neck in order to improve the sounds. By the end of 1920 it was used as accompaniment to the lyre or the violin mainly by the people of central and western Crete. Today, besides its bass accompaniment role, it is also played solo and renders Cretan melodies perfectly. The lute is played differently in order parts of Greece but has lost much of its old glamour.

THE VIOLIN: A renowned instrument whose shape has remained the same for the last 400 years. It used to be a very popular musical instrument in eastern and western Crete, particularly up to the mid - war years. Its popularity in those regions is directly associated with the particular musical motifs (kontylies, pentozalia), which are best executed on the violin. The rendering of such motifs on the violin is credited to Paris educated Stratis Kalogeridis. The inhabitants of those regions embraced violin from the very beginning. After the war, however, with the emergence of the masters of Cretan music, the violin gave way to the lyre. The dominance of the latter became more evident in the period between 1960 - 1970. In spite of the fact the violin is still played by the inhabitants of eastern and western Crete, yet the lyre is the most popular instrument all over the island.

THE MANDOLIN: An instrument of European origin, which has been very popular across the Mediterranean basin. It first appeared in Crete during the Venetian occupation. It immediately became very popular with the local population while during the mid - war years it was used in a variety of ways, e.g. as accompaniment to the lyre and the violin. Today it is mainly played solo at family gatherings and other social events around Crete.

THE BOULGARI: Stringed musical instrument of the Greek "tabouras" family with strings plucked by a pick. Its appearance in Crete dates back to the and of the 18th century while it spread all over the island after 1915 by the Greeks of Asia Minor. In particular, it became very popular in the prefecture of Rethymnon owing to the excellent performances of Stelios Foustalieris. Today, it is rarely used in Crete.

THE ASKOBANDOURA: A musical woodwind instrument, which is popular in the Aegean islands. A flute - like instrument, the askobandoura or askavlos has been known since antiquity. It was popular with the Romans, the Greeks of Asia Minor and it is still played today in some regions of the country.

In Crete, specifically at the monastery of Agios Fanourios, in the village of Valsamonero there is an icon depicting Saint Fanourios playing the askobandoura. The instrument has been very popular with the shepherds and the inhabitants of the mountainous areas of Crete.

THE SPHYROHABIOLO or THIABOLI: A woodwind instrument of the fifes and flutes family. It has been known since antiquity and was introduced to Crete in the 3rd century A.D. It was the faithful companion of shepherds grazing their sheep on the remote mountain slopes of the island. One may still find it in some areas of Crete, however very few elderly people know how to play it.

THE TABOR: Tabors are very ancient, drum like instrument, known to most peoples around the world. Its name varies from country to country even from region to region. The insular tabor (small drum) is still heard on some islands of the Aegean group. It is used as self accompaniment while playing a fife, flute or violin. The "daouli" of Sitia is a kind of small drum. It came to Crete (Sitia) from the Dodekanese around the 16th century A.D. It was mainly played by the inhabitants of eastern Crete until the 1960's. Today it is rather a museum piece.


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