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.

In medieval society “…despite their musical prowess and well-regarded entertaining aptitudes, women were
stigmatized because their behaviour was seen as breaking the stereotypes imposed on them by a male-dominated
culture. Scholars agree that since these entertainers did not appear to be under the control of a male figure
(both in or outside of the performance context) in principle, they were perceived as rejecting conventional
strictures that urged females to maintain established roles such as those of housewives or pious women.
Their pursuit of monetary remuneration — a feature that associated women with prostitutes — and their
physical presentation before a male audience) magnified the perception of irregular behaviour . The use of 
dancing, contortions, or any other type of lively or energetic movement of the body such as the playing of 
percussion instruments further worsened their respectability...” 

“Alleviators of Sadness and Tedium”: Constructing a Socially Acceptable Image for the Medieval Female Performer” mauricio molina, 2015

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
hybridThis hybrid is definitely part female
by the hairstyle c.1300.

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


1230-1294 in the margins of a manuscript
concerning Amazons 1230-1294

medieval mermaid 1313 medieval mermaid
playerc.1350 Belgium
probably Tournai, hybrid
14th century14th century London  

Martin le Franc (c.1410 – 1461) was a French poet who wrote a long poem called 'The Champion of Women' which was a defense of virtuous women.

Drawing from a page of women playing various musical instruments.

  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)

14891489 Frontino, Italy, alterpiece (detail)

Arch design1533 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.

1500/1546 Germany
David and Saul returning from battle against the Philistines are met by Israelite women in front of the city walls one of whom plays the pipe and tabor.

“Wind instruments were frowned upon by early-modern conduct-book writers such as Baldassare Castiglione
‘because the boisterousness of them doth cover and take away that sweet mildness which setteth so forth evrie
deede that a woman doeth.’

Moreover, their distortion of their player’s face during the performance and their phallic shape turned them into unbecoming choices for proper ladies of the court, whose main concern was to look chaste and beautiful to make a profitable marriage…”

from: ‘My virgin cheeks puffed up’: Classical Mythology, Women and Wind Instruments During the Early Modern Period' by Laura Ventura Nieto

Five images depicting Jephthah's Daughter, the Bible, Judges 11:
1570 female band1570 Czech bible - women's band

1570 copy1570 part of a band Holland

1560-80 English1560-80 England  
17th century17th century Holland 1602-16301602-1630 Holland    
playerJan Massys (c.1510 – 1575), Flemish painter, put a female pipe and tabor player right on the edge of 'Jovial Company'   BreugalChildren's Games by
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559-60
Dutch painter

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 taken from a play of 1577.
At this time this player could be a male cross-dressing.
16101610 Amsterdam, book illustration
16th or 17th century16th or 17th century
possibly Germany, Bible
1595-1651 Germany, Biblical scene: Israelite women come running out of the city gate. Eight of them play various musical instruments including a one-handed flute with drum

16361636 book illustration 16221622 England
women's band
Lonton Hall ceramic ceramic, Longton Hall,
Stoke-on-Trent, England, c1760.

British Museum
from the series of
Figures de Comedie


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?
1750's Isabella Wilkinson 18th century rope walker
Isabella WilkinsonIsabella Wilkinson
girl In the drawing ' The Harvest Home' this girl helps to lead a procession coming in from hay-making.
(Thomas Rowlandson,
1756 - 1827 London, England
  1801 1801 England
A group of women gather round to listen to the female taborer.

1811 Gypsies in Paris

“…a troop of gypsies immediately engaged my attention…one of these females flourished a tambarine,
and gingled the bells with inconceivable vivacity, while another sounded the pipe and tabour…”

‘A Winter in Paris; or, Memoirs of Madame de C****’

“… the German author of a canonical music history textbook declared that
“All creative work is well-known as being the exclusive work of men…”

 Emil Naumann,The History of Music , 2 vols., trans. F. Praeger (1882-86), 2: 1267
quoted in 'An All Male Affair' Revisited: Historical Women and the Early Music Marketplace, c1973-2015’
Brighton UK Early Music Festival. 17th October 2015

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 century, 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 1926 a folk dance demonstration was given at Southall, London. Mrs Kennedy played the pipe and tabor for a morris jig. The newspaper report (West Middlesex Gazette) had the title
‘Pipe and tabor revival at Southall’.

March 1927

"Mrs Hill playing the Morris pipe and tabor"

Oxford Journal Illustrated


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 playing Ladies' Pleasure / Lumps of Plum Pudding here and Fool's Jig / None So Pretty here (1947)

Joan Sharp playingJoan Sharp and Douglas Kennedy

1927 Chelsea Polytechnic newspaper report:Joan Sharp
2023 article on Joan Sharp here
Carl Dolmetsch said " The three-holed pipe, now much used for the playing of Country Dance tunes,
has also figured amongst the products of the Haslemere workshops. They were supplied to many
prominent folk dancers, among them Miss Joan Sharp, daughter of Cecil Sharp, founder of the movement."
19281928 newspaperWest Sussex Gazette - Thursday 08 November 1928
1927 1927 Miss ToddLeeds Mercury - Saturday 09 July 1927

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. In 1948 Miss Welsford played the pipe and tabor in England:


In 1950: 1950 England talk and demoBucks Herald - Friday 17 March 1950
Winsome Bartlettsource Winsome Bartlett in 1968 helped to set up, teach and play the pipe and tabor for Dartington Morris Men. She also made pipes and tabors, sang and appeared on the radio playing the pipe and tabor (1953). W. Bartlett1970 Winsome Bartlett playing for Dartington Morris Men

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."


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

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. 

Emma Mordue at Kentwell Hall 2019;
Musician, Educator, Street performer, specialising in
Renaissance era music of the common people, played
on period wind instruments. I play at banquets
and weddings, formal and informal gatherings. I also run
workshops on a Tudor music and dance theme for schools
and community groups.
20092009 Mannington Hall, Norfolk
21st century
21st century21st century
Avery Gosfield at
The Taborers Symposium
2013 England2013 Mary-Jo Searle
20142014 Frances Eustace playing for
New Esperance
morris dancers at Hastings
Frances  gives talks and educational
workshops on topics from late Medieval,
Tudor, Restoration and Baroque periods.
She is a published author on these and
medieval dance.All talks contain an element
of performance (singing, bagpipes, pipe
and tabor, psaltery). She also plays
baroque bassoon and viol and gives
talks about Pepys and Purcell.
20162016 playing in Wallingford
for morris dancing
20172017 Anne Jones in a early
music ensemble, England
Doncaster WaitesDoncaster Waites,playing early music, England


HautboisNellie Heavisides,
entertainer, England
Sarah StoweSara Stowe early and contemporary music
for adults and children
20202020 'Poultiggery' Sarah from Have Maypole Will Travel, historical dance
and maypole workshops in Northumberland.
2022Sarah Lowes, Northumberland, England taborerFiona Kizzie Lee, 21st century, England
The Early Music Shop video that illustrates their pipes and tabors for sale.
20232023 Stephanie plays for
Black Annis Morris  
an all-women morris “side”
Kate Fletcher plays the pipe and tabor in England for a range of historical periods.
20232023 playing for Sweyns Ey Morris, Swansea 20232023 Grace playing
for Cambridge MM
20232023 DurgaMata Chaudhuri
busking in London
20232023 Helen Clark
South and Central America    

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 Tarahumara
people in north Mexico .
ArgentinaIn 2014 women joined a group of panpipe players
in a political march in Argentina.
women in PeruWomen's band at a college in Lima, Peru
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
procession France, 21st century.
There seems to be no
discrimination in Provence.
lessonsLessons are available

ladyWoman playing galoubet-tambourine

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

21st century21st century Caroline Leprette, Laval, west France string drum[source] 20232023 'Into the Winds' 20192019 early music, France
string drum2007 Monein SW France players 2012 France
    Caroline LepretteCaroline Leprette playing string drum  

Portugal 21st century

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

2020 Portugal2020 NE Portugal Portugal
 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.
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" 

 In Spain Pilar Marcos said in 2018:Right now there are girls playing, they are still few, but when I started there was no one... Today, there are many women, in different spheres of culture, society and work, who continue to suffer discrimination for the mere fact of being a woman.
'they told me what did I do playing the drum when that had always been for men ... they criticized me and did not throw me out, because I left...they said  it was 'a man's thing'... people were very struck by the fact that I was a woman, always out of respect. I only had to suffer that 'contempt' when I started ... because ... in women it is fatal when the drum is played, that cannot be done!

José Ramón Cid Cebrián was interviewed in Spain in 2015:
Q Now the girls play the drum? Before, women didn't play castanets either, dancers played them.
A Now yes, not before, there is some reference to a female drummer, but it was not traditional. There are things that must be maintained and respected, and others not. Why can't there be a female drummer?

1960's Basque Country1960s Parade Basque Country

Basque21st century, Basque Country
Two women txistularis.
female player statuetteBasque country
resin statuette

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 in 1999 and founded a new group.
Majorca21st century, Majorca, Spain
Playing in traditional costume.

processionThis woman has the biggest drum, Spain

2019Isabelle Garcia, Catalonia Catalan womanCatalonia
Catalan mixed groupCatalonia mixed group playing Flauta y tamboril Cobla bandCatalonia, part of a Cobla band
21st century Spain21st century Extremadura, Spain, men and women players 2014 Spain2014 Hondarribia, Spain, men and women players
1984 Basque country1984 Basque country (French) BilbaoBilbao, Basque country, Spain
20202020 Basque tourism advertising poster For one hundred years Basque pipe and tabor (male)
players have been used occasionally on tourist posters
to advertise the area. This is the first time that a female
player has been portrayed. [posters here]
2021 Spain2021 Morella, Spain 2023 Spain2023 Rocío Albarrán,  Almonte, Spain

1937 Wellesley News

“Miss Evelyn K. Wells of the department of English literature
turned back the pages of history to the time of Queen Elizabeth
in a lecture for 101 students…In conclusion Miss Wells played
popular tunes on the pipe and tabor, the instruments of the country
people. When she had finished everyone joined in Sellengers Round,
an Elizabethan country dance.”

1943 Elizabethan Evening

“Elizabethan Evening Will Feature Singing,
Dances, Pipe and Tabor
…Plans for this evening, "in the spirit of a party
in Elizabethan times," have been made by Miss Wells…closing the evening will be a few tunes on the pipe and tabor by Miss Wells followed by a country dance for the entire audience….”

Wellesley News,  Wellesley College,  Wellesley, Mass

1944 Elizabethan Program Presents Music, Dance, Popular Centuries Ago

"…The tradition was started eight years ago because the instructors
of English had wished for some time that students would realize how
much Elizabethan music reflected the social life of the times," said
Miss Evelyn Wells, director of the program. The first year Miss Wells
was the only performer…There will also be some traditional tunes
on pipe and tabor. The program will end with some Country dances
"for as many as will."

Wellesley News, v. 53, no. 10 Wellesley College,  Wellesley, Mass


Jessica Murrow played the pipe and tabor for The Bouwerie Boys Morris Dancers in New York City, USA, early 21st century. In 1981 she played Oboe, English Horn, Pipes and Tabor in a production of Macbeth on Broadway, USA.

Maggie Erickson also played in the same morris band on the pipe and tabor (1994).

USA 20092009 Jessica Murrow playing
for morris dancing, May Day, New York
20032003 playing for
morris dancing in USA
Margaret Dale Barrand
20132013 Ruth Olmsted playing for
morris dancing, Albany, New York
20182018 Carla McKenna playing for
morris dancing USA
20232023 Elizabeth, Oragon    
20232023 Annette Bauer Montreal, Canada
Taiwan woman playing double nose pipes In Taiwan traditionally, women of the tribes are not allowed to play the twin-pipe nose flute instrument, while men are allowed such an honour. Fewer men played the nose flute as time goes by. There was a danger that its music would be gone forever.

The new generation of musicians saw the need to break the tradition and allow both men and women to play the instrument. By doing this, women and children of the tribe have managed to preserve the twin-pipe nose flute for future generations.

children learning the double nose fluteboy and girls learning the double nose flute from Yu Weimin
GabbyGabriele Bultmann, Germany 20242024 Gabriele Bultmann 20232023 Gabriele Bultmann's class, Viktoria-Luise-Platz, Berlin
20232015 Ekaterina Bonfeld, Training center
of the St. Petersburg Montessori school Mikhailova

2021 Japan2021 Japan

20162016 Aahmes Quince, New Zealand
2021 Italy2021 Lola Teale, Italy 20222022 Kathryn Roberts Parker, Australia

20222022 Rachel Heymans
born in Belgium, lives in Switzerland

20232023 Holly Scarborough, Switzerland    

Margo Fontijne plays the pipe and tabor in the early music group Ensemble Corona, based in Holland.

In The Taborers Society based in the UK but with international membership; one quarter of it's playing members are female.  


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