the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

worldwide traditions

women taborers

Men vastly outnumber women in all traditions that have a three-holed pipe as part of their culture. This is not because great strength is needed (often cited as a reason for men-only professions). It is purely cultural. Women were possibly there, albeit in small numbers. Or is it that women are not widely represented in the iconography because they were there in such large numbers, so common, as to be ignored? In the 21st century women taborers are becoming more visible.

This essay is put here as a discussion point and will no doubt be added to/amended by readers.
Do send views and/or pictures to Frances, project manager.

The double pipes were widespread in ancient representations of musicians. 8 archeological figurines carved in stone playing double pipes have been found in Ibiza, Spain.   6 of these figures are female. (source) 

archeolocal double pipes

In European medieval manuscripts
it can be hard to tell if a man or a
woman is being depicted.

This hybrid is definitely part female
by the hairstyle (date c.1300).

medieval mermaid A medieval mermaid playing pipe and tabor.
This was drawn in the margins of
a manuscript written 1230-1294.
stained galss

Women taborers are also depicted in glass.

In the Church of Our Lady of Bulat, in Bulat-Pestivien,
Brittany, France, three similar stained glass windows
depict angels that are very female-looking. (1463)

Arch design

1533 Design for a triumphal arch for Anne Boleyn's coronation procession in London, England.
Were there women pipe and tabor players at this time or was this just part of the design to look
dramatic and shocking.

BreugalChildren's Games by
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559-60
Dutch painter
The subject of childhood
had hitherto been virtually ignored in western thought.

childA girl child modelled in France in 1760. The pipe is missing.

childMaybe the pipe and tabor were seen as child's games so not worthy of being reported.
1577 play This drawing is taken from a play of 1577.
At thistime this player could be a male cross-dressing.
Lonton Hall ceramic Female pipe and tabor player ceramic, modelled at Longton Hall, Stoke-on-Trent, England, c1760.
British Museum

 In Hondarribia, in the Basque country, an accuser's declaration during the 1611 witch trials under the Inquisition said that he saw Inesa Gaxengoa play the tamboril. It is not known why that was used against her; whether it was because women were not allowed to play the txistu (pipe), or because playing the txistu was a sin in itself, or both.

Some have said that so few women have been depicted in the past because there were no players and it was just a fanciful curiosity:

This is a curiosity (Wentworth Castle).
A 17th/18th century lady bare-breasted
and with her skirt wrapped
around to show off her shape.

The symbolism of the portrait is clear.
What does this say about the pipe and tabor?

monkey orchestra In the early 18th century human activities in Europe were satirised by being depicted as being carried out by monkeys. A German court orchestra was reproduced as ceramic monkeys. This copy looks like a female.
They are usually male.
statuette statuettefront statuetteside statuette Three Victorian ceramic statuettes,
the first one broken. Do they show
actual women or are they viewed only
in the ceramic modellers' eyes as to
what will sell?
In the UK in the late 20th and early 21st centuries taborers could be found in early music, folk, (morris and folk song and dance), and street entertainments. The movement to include women started in the early 20th centuries, as far as we know.
1925 player
J Sherman's photograph was taken alongside the Oxford University Morris Men in 1925.
Georgie TaylorGeorgie Taylor, 1925 playing for morris dancing

In the 1929/1930's Joan Sharp (1898-1968) was playing pipe and tabor for morris and country dancing in England and on tour to the USA and Canada..


Joan Sharp with two morris dancers

[waiting for permission to include photograph of Joan Sharp standing between two morris men]

Some morris dancers were completely against women as dancers, managers and musicians until early 21st century. In April 1934, one dancer of the East Surrey Morris wrote a letter in which his criticism of the intervention of women in morris dancing was unequivocal: "As regards men’s morris, my feeling is that it should be entirely man-managed. Women should have nothing to do with its management at all." (source)

Despite attitudes such as these some women contributed fully to the morris movement. Winsome Bartlett in 1968 for example helped to set up, teach and play the pipe and tabor for Dartington Morris Men. [waiting for photograph]

A Miss Barnett was praised by the Oxford University Morris Men:
" Our inspiration was Miss Barnett (Mrs Heffer) who was the Oxford teacher at that time and one of the few women really capable of teaching Morris.... the more observant and honest men admitted that on points of a pure technique practised women had an annoying habit of doing better than men."

Jessica Murrow plays the pipe and tabor for a morris side in the USA, early 21st century. USA

UK 21st century

Since 2004 Gillian Guest has played for dancing, (long-sword, Playford, clog and morris), but mostly is a wandering minstrel in the streets, in historic processions, at National Trust or English Heritage properties etc.  She plays everything from very early music, via Playford and folk tunes, to modern compositions. 



Between about 1985 and 2015 Frances Tucker played the pipe and tabor as a historic strolling minstrel covering all periods medieval to the end of Victorian times around England and Wales. She played at events from historic houses and museums to shopping centres, themed craft fayres and festivals to private celebrations. She played for dancing and with a 'dancing bear'. As a street entertainer no prejudice was encountered.
Anyone else want to go here??

In South and Central America in indigenous cultures women are not allowed to play instruments. They can sing but not play the pipe / flute / panpipes and tabor. This is now gradually changing particulary in urban centres.



TarahumanaTwo women from the Tarahumana
people in north Mexico .
Argentina In 2014 women joined a group of panpipe players in a political march in Argentina.
In Slovakia the fujara is the traditional three-holed wind instrument played by male lovers. The man would stand under the lady's window and play in his own unique style.

In the 21st century there is more freedom and women are starting to play the instrument too.
childfather is a player
fujara playerat a concert

France, 21st century.
There seems to be no
discrimination in Provence.

lessonsLessons are available

Provence; statuettes based on two female taborers. These are for sale alonside statuettes of men.

lady Woman playing galoubet-tambourine.
string drum 2007 Monein, SW France

Portugal 21st century

A few women play the pipe and tabor or another percussion instrument.


Ibiza Ibiza, Spain, 21st century
This is the first female pipe and tabor player to play in public in Ibiza. She says:

 "I am aware that it is something that had never been done before, but women had never voted before, in
the end it was achieved and now we see it as something normal and necessary in today's society
like ours" 

Giant Joan is a giant used in processions in Majorca, Spain. It was made in 2004.

The instrument was traditionally only played by men but by the 21st century more women were playing in public


21st century, Basque country
Two women txistularis.

Women now join in with men in parades in the many festivals thoughout the region. One woman, Maitane Aurrekoetxea, took the initiative to bring together lovers of this instrument in1999 and founded a new group.

Majorca 21st century, Majorca, Spain
Playing in traditional costume.

taborer 21st century, England
The Early Music Shop chose a woman to play
for a video that illustrates their pipes and tabors for sale.

In The Taborers Society, based in the UK but wieh international membership, one quarter of its playing members are female.  


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