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Traditional Galician flute playing

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    An Introduction to Traditional Galician flute playing
by Cástor Castro
(site in Galician, opens in new window)
© Cástor Castro

Note: The information on this page is a brief introduction to the rich Galician flute playing tradition and was kindly contributed by Cástor Castro, from Ourense, in Galicia, Spain. Cástor has written about the Galician flute tradition for Murguía Magazine and has recently finished a book, Traditional musicians from Limia, an area to the south of Galicia.

The requinta
The most characteristic wooden flute in Galicia is the requinta, found only in the central area. This is a wooden flute tuned between F and F# and is played in the upper register to accompany the bagpipes, which are tuned to between B and Bb.

Requinta de Xian are currently considered to be the best band currently playing in the traditional style and their web site has information on the instrument and its tradition, including fingering charts, tuning and historical photographs of requinta players (please note that this site is in Spanish):

Other flutes
In other parts of Galicia such as the Pontevedra coast area, near Vigo, the piccolo is played to accompany bagpipes.

Historically, the three piece boxwood flute and the cane flute were also widely used, mainly as a solo instrument. Musicians made their own transverse flutes, sometimes made from cane but mostly from elder branches. The three piece flutes (boxwood, etc.) used to be bought in ironworks shops and in big fairs or markets.

Often the flute was the way that young players began to learn to play, later moving on to the bagpipes. This led many researchers to believe that the function of the flute was minor and just for learning or for enjoying alone, such as when the shepherds minded their flocks, for example.

But in an article that I wrote for Murguía magazine, I show that many texts from 19th and 20th Century writers and press present a different vision of the instrument. This is one where the flute as one of several instruments played in the fiadeiros -- meetings of people, generally in winter, to work with linen. While they worked, generally the stories, songs, music, and dancing appeared. In these texts we found that flutes were played along with panderetas (little tambourines) for people dancing, proving that the flute was also used for social enjoyment and not just as a solo instrument played in private.

The keyed D flute was a much more expensive instrument, was more difficult to obtain, and was generally less often played. However, I have been able to identify some groups that also played traditional music and with the following configurations: One flute and drums, 2 flutes and drums, or flutes, clarinet, and drums, etc.

Further resources

For further information on Galician traditional music, Cástor is involved in a Galician traditional music school in Ourense and their web site contains a number of useful resources. There are music clips of flutes and the other instruments that feature in the Galician tradition (including fiddle, bagpipes and accordion) as well as video clips and sheet music. Click on Mediateca in the main menu (please note that this site is in Spanish):

Félix and Cástor Castro play gaita (Galician bagpipes), concertina, button accordion and bouzouki and their highly recommended recordings for the Citterns on Ice project give another excellent insight into the music of Galician flute players. The recordings can be downloaded as MP3s/ RA files from the Cittern web site:
They have also contributed two tracks to the Anglo concertina anthology Anglo International! For further details, see their web site (opens in new window). The site is in Galician, but has some content in English.

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The flute-playing Arquide Twins from Lugo Province, Galicia.
The flute-playing Arquide Twins from Arquide-Fonsagrada, Lugo Province, Galicia, Spain. The brothers were famous in that area in the 1950's. Photo supplied by Cástor Castro and used with kind permission.

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