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).

taborerThis was drawn in the margins of
a manuscript written 1230-1294.
medieval mermaid
A medieval mermaid playing pipe and tabor; 1313 France playerc.1350 Belgium, probably Tournai, hybrid

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. This drawing comes 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 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.

The next 4 images depict Jephthah's Daughter, the Bible, Judges:
1570 female band1570 Czech bible - women's band

1570 copy1570 copy, Holland

1560-80 English1560-80 England  
17th century17th century 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.
16221622 England 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?
18th century rope walker1750's Isabella Wilkinson 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.
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 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’.

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 playingJoan Sharp and Douglas Kennedy

1927 Chelsea Polytechnic newspaper report:Joan Sharp
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."

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??
21st century 21st century21st century, Avery at
The Taborers Symposium
2013 England2013 20132013 20142014 playing for
New Esperance
morris dancers at Hastings
20162016 playing in Wallingford
for morris dancing
Doncaster WaitesDoncaster Waites, England  

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 .
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
string drum[source]

Portugal 21st century

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

2020 Portugal2020 NE Portugal women in PeruWomen's band at a college in Lima, Peru players 2012 France

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?


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.

female player statuetteBasque country
resin statuette
Majorca21st century, Majorca, Spain
Playing in traditional costume.
2019Isabelle Garcia, Catalonia processionThis woman has the biggest drum, Spain

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 Italy2021 Lola Teale, Italy 2021 Japan2021 Japan  


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
taborerFiona, 21st century, England
The Early Music Shop chose a woman to play
for a video that illustrates their pipes and tabors for sale.
2021 Spain2021 Morella, Spain

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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