the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

Wales: history

The north Wales tabwrdd existed 700 years ago. 'Tabwrdd' and the English 'tabor' both come from the French 'tambour', a word which goes back to the Persian 'tabîr'. 'Bwrdd' means a board or table, which describes the drum as something you could have a meal off. Plural - tabyrddau;  Drumstick- ffon dabwrdd, ffyn tabwrdd .

There is a Welsh traditional pipe called a Pibgorn. It has a single reed and is played with two hands.
It can be difficult to decide which 'pipe' is being referred to in the literature.

taborers' position in society
Poets and musicians in Wales were part of an all-embracing bardic system. Except for taborers and few others.

18841884 Maesteg Literary and Debating Society meeting – talk by Mr T C Evans on Welsh Music, Central Glamorgan Gazette - Friday 25 January 1884

The 12th-century Giraldus Cambrensis noted that Welsh musicians played the harp and pipes.

1402 in the time of Henry IV: These laws were passed in response to the Welsh Rising of 1400, and imposed
punitive sanctions on the Welsh. Against wasters3 minstrels etc. in Wales
Item, to eschew many diseases and mischiefs, which have happened before this time in the land of Wales…:
it is ordained and stablished that no waster, rhymer, minstrel nor vagabond be in any wise sustained in the land of Wales
3wasters: Those with an idle and extravagant lifestyle.

The authorities had other reasons for watching over singers and itinerant musicians;...
they feared the rounds made by those glee men with no other arms than their vielle or tabor,
but sowing sometimes strange disquieting doctrines under colour of songs. These were more
than liberal, and went at times so far as to recommend social or political revolt. The Commons
in parliament denounced by name, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Welsh minstrels
as fomentors of trouble and causes of rebellion. Their political songs encouraged the insurgents
to resistance; and parliament, who bracketed them with ordinary vagabonds, knew well that in
having them arrested on the roads, it was not simple cut-purses whom it sent to prison.

Item: That no westours and rimers, minstrels or vagabonds, be maintained in Wales to make
kymorthas or quyllages on the common people, who by their divinations, lies, and exhortations
are partly cause of the insurrection and rebellion now in Wales."

quyllages = tax
kymorthas = tribute or exaction paid to the lord in several parts of Wales

“Rolls of Parliament,” iii. p. 508 in English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages, by J. J. (Jean Jules) Jusserand 1889

A late sixteenth-century hierarchy of minstrels contrasted the four types of graduate minstrel (poet, harper,
crowder, reciter) with four 'ofergerddorion' or inferior entertainers: the piper, the taborer, the fiddler
(or player on the three-stringed crwth)...

1808 quote

1808 source a reprint of a 1794 book

This was confirmed in 1828:

1828 quote

1873 Newspaper commentary on 'The Eisteddfod at Mold':1873London Evening Standard - Wednesday 20 August 1873
1889 a talk on ‘the Musical Instruments of Cymru Fu’ commented on Elizabethan minstrels: 1889Oswestry Advertiser - Wednesday 17 July 1889
1402 Henry IV’s punitive legislation against the Welsh enacted in 1402 and confirmed in 1446–47, included,
significantly, a statute against minstrels who were classified as a type of vagabond. The Act referred to the
"many diseases and mischiefs which have happened before this time in the land of Wales ..." page 150

In 1556 a general order was made by the Marian Council against ‘players and pipers’ strolling through the kingdom
spreading sedition and heresy. Multiple prosecutions of vagabonds, wanderers and suspect persons, including
vagrant women, took place in Glamorgan in 1560, 1577 and 1586 but minstrels were not separately identified
among them.

1572 Orders at Caernarfonshire Quarter Sessions, records
 “a recent statute for the punishment of vagabonds and for the relief of the poor, whereby search is to be made
for those playing unlawful games and using "abused sciences", masterless men, beggars without licences, players
and minstrels not pertaining to any lord, those refusing to work, counterfeitors of begging licences and scholars
of Oxford and Cambridge begging without licence, who are to be brought before the Justices in session:”

The National Archives XQS/1571/77-80

Minstrels were prosecuted sporadically in Elizabethan Wales also, but it becomes increasingly difficult, especially
after the 1572 Act, to distinguish entertainers from other wanderers who were regularly indicted as vagabonds.

The pipe and tabor became ‘exceeding common’ in the seventeenth-century border counties where ‘many Beggars
begd with it’ and ‘the Peasants danced to it’. Taborers and pipers were rarely found among the sixteenth-century
Welsh minstrels but they seem to have become more numerous in the seventeenth century.

Poets and pipers were in competition: the music was increasingly preferred to the poets’ words. ‘By the saints of
heaven’ – exploded Lewys Dwnn (c. 1550–1616) "every Englishman [or anglophile] calls for a pipe rather than
a poet of high repute".
The instruments that the bards detested – fiddle, pipe and tabor – were louder than the single-harp and the crwth.

The poets wrote verse of an occasional nature, including satirising certain people in verses which might have the intensity
of curses.
An 'Englyn c.1613 Robert ap Huw Manuscript: 


"Fie dinning tabor, unenjoyable song,
Fie the knave who uses it;
Fie the pipe, not a sweet instrument,
Fie the fiddler's echo."

from 'Detholiad o Englynion' Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, Part III, (1953), p.187.
ffei dabwrdd dwmbwrdd difwynder / kanu
ffei or kene sy iw harfer
ffei or bib, nid offer ber
ffei o adlais y ffidler.

[ Peniarth MS 146 .
Much of the collection was acquired and collected by the seventeenth-century antiquary
Robert Vaughan (1592?-1666) of Hengwrt, Merionethshire.]

1615 Rowland David of Narberth was prosecuted in 1615 not only for wandering up and down the country
with his ‘fiddell or crowde’ but also for keeping two ‘preety’ youths whom he was training ‘in the same trade
or scyence’. (page 143)

John Aubrey wrote: “…When I was a boy, before the late civill warres, the tabor and pipe were commonly used,
especially Sundays and Holydayes, and at Christnings and Feasts, in the Marches of Wales, Hereford, Glocestershire,
and in all Wales. Now it is almost lost: the drumme and trumpet have putte that peaceable musique to silence…”

In 1620 the grand jury made a presentment of the fiddlers, harpers, crowders, tabor-players and pipers who
wandered up and down the country like rogues.  One minstrel was ordered to keep to his parish, but six musicians
were sent to the house of correction. This was the last clearly identifiable campaign against minstrels in west Wales
as a determined effort was made to rid Pembrokeshire of strolling musicians. (page 141)

“On 23 June 1653 William Lucas of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain in Montgomeryshire was asked to play
pipe-and-tabor for a company of six morris dancers at Bwlchycibau, 3 miles away. While they were dancing
outside an alehouse some soldiers and countrymen came by and there was an affray in which three men (none
of them dancers) were wounded. Lucas did not know how it began or ended, ‘for he sayeth that he ranne awa
y and hid himselfe in a bush a little from the said house, untill a child brought him his pipe and tabor’.

The Ancient English Morris Dance, 2023

In mid-seventeenth century Cardiganshire Griffith ap Evan of Caron was prosecuted for:
‘wandringe up & downe’ the county ‘w[i]th a taber, & pipe, roguinge & begginge’

There was a tabwrdd player living in Llandeilo in the 18th century.
[says Roy Saer specialist on folk music in Wales and the author of numerous books and articles discussing
the background and development of the instrumental and vocal traditions.]

1723 November 1. Thomas Herbert of Eglwysilan, gentleman left in his will:

“To Thomas Morgan Lewis, ' ye fidler,' the little yellow mare.”

Wills: 1719-1778 Cardiff Records: Volume 3. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1901.

dancing to the pipe and tabor
1653'The Ancient English Morris Dance' by Michael Heaney, 2023 page 101

In a satire on the fair, Siôn Mawddwy (fl. 1560–1613), an itinerant bard, described the alien music and dancing
at a shire-town where the Great Sessions were held. The town was crowded with people and entertainers but
the poet remained empty-handed there. In revenge he satirized the Englishness of the town, the undignified
minstrels, their excruciating music and absurd instruments: the rebec, lute, tabor, bandor and pipes.

The instruments that the bards detested – fiddle, pipe and drum or tabor – were louder than the single-harp
and the crwth and seem primarily to have been played to accompany dancing...Dancing became a dominant
form of recreation in late Tudor Wales, displacing other forms of entertainment. The poet’s livelihood was
threatened by the enthusiasm for private and public dancing. ‘This is not good’, complained Siôn Mawddwy,
observing dancers ‘shaking their tails’ at the fair.

Poem by John Dyer (1699 –1757), painter and Welsh poet

‘While on the grass
The mingled youth in gaudy circles sport,
We think the Golden Age again return’d,
And all the fabled Dryades in dance:
Leering they bound along, with laughing air,
To the shrill pipe, and deep remurm’ring-cords
Of th’ancient harp, or tabor’s hollow sound.’

1743 1743A collection of Welch travels, and memoirs of Wales Page 23 by John Torbuck
1778‘Poems, Lyric and Pastoral ‘.. by Iolo, Morganwg, translated from Welsh

1797 Swansea 1797Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales in the Year 1797: By Henry Wigstead, pages 56 and 57

1833 Shaftsbury Prize Byzant1833North Wales Chronicle - Tuesday 27 August 1833

1840 The Ploughman 1840Silurian - Saturday 01 February 1840
1878 fantasy poem: 'The Scenes of the Conway' By Ap Gyffyn1878Caernarvon & Denbigh Herald - Saturday 04 May 1878
1883 May Queen  ‘Harvest Heathenism’1883Western Mail - Wednesday 25 July 1883

1898 'The Sabbath and Mabon’s Day’1898Western Mail - Thursday 01 September 1898

morris dancing in Wales

There are only three dances that can really be described as Welsh morris; Y Gaseg Eira, and the processional
and static versions of Cadi Ha.

Y Gaseg Eira (the snow horse, the Welsh name for a giant snowball) comes from Nantgarw in Glamorganshire,
South Wales. This is a dance for eight men, and includes the unusual figure "pushing the snowball".  It is danced
by Cardiff Morris, Isca Morris Men and Dawnswyr Nantgarw. Cardiff Morris have devised more dances in a
similar style. There are also several dances for mixed couples from Nantgarw.

Cadi Ha (Cadi means Kate, Ha summer) comes from the Point of Ayr, in Flintshire and elsewhere in North Wales. 
The processional dance is for eight men, with the additional characters Cadi and Bili.  Iit consists of crossing and
recrossing. The static dance has more figures, in which the characters play an active part.  This dance is alive and
well in Holywell, where there is Cadi Ha Festival every May Day. Isca Morris Men usually use the Cadi Ha
processional as a coming on dance.

source 2009
mentions of the pipe and tabor

? 1387 " And they Scotlond the douzter of Irlond use harpe, tymbre, and tabour,
[and wales useth harpe and pipe and tabour]."

Dictionary of Middle English Musical Terms

1749 whitsun ale

“…Whitsun-ale is solemnized with festivity of fiddle, and celebrated with caper after pipe and tabor…”

‘A collection of Welsh travels, and memoirs of Wales. Containing, I. The Briton describ'd; or, a journey thro' Wales:
being a pleasant relation of D-n S-t's journey...’

1846 metaphor:1846Monmouthshire Beacon - Saturday 07 November 1846

1852 poem ' The Love of Song' by John B Pedler1852North Wales Chronicle - Friday 06 August 1852

1852 Newspaper Correspondence: 'of Superstitious Ceremonies' by John Williams1852Caernarvon & Denbigh Herald - Saturday 10 January 1852
1852 Newspaper Correspondence: 'of Superstitious Ceremonies' cont. 1852Caernarvon & Denbigh Herald - Saturday 10 January 1852
1865 poem 'The Poet’s Pilgrimage' by Tom Hood1865Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette - Friday 31 March 1865
1893 1893South Wales Daily News - Saturday 30 December 1893
pipe and tabor not played like it used to be
1892 ‘Jottings for Ladies’1892South Wales Echo - Friday 06 May 1892
1893 ‘Chepstow’s Fair – The Past and the Present’1893South Wales Weekly Argus and Monmouthshire Advertiser - Saturday 24 June 1893

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