Bombard

Name: Bombard.
Type: Double Reed > Aerophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Breton, France.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The bombard [in Breton: talabard or ar vombard, in French: bombarde] is a contemporary conical-bore double-reed instrument widely used to play traditional Breton music. The bombard is a woodwind instrument, and a member of the shawm family. Like most shawms, it has a broad and very powerful sound, vaguely resembling a trumpet. It is played as other shawms are played, with the double reed placed between the lips.

The second octave is ‘over-blown’; achieved via increased lip and air pressure or through the use of an octave key. It plays a diatonic scale of up to two octaves, although contemporary instruments frequently have added key-work permitting some degree of chromaticism. A bombard player is known as a talabarder after ‘talabard’, the older Breton name for the bombard.

The Tradition: Traditional Breton musicians are referred to as Sonerien [in Breton] or Sonneurs [in French]. Musicians playing in pairs are also referred to as “sonneurs de couple”. While ‘Soner’ originally referred only to the bombard player, the meaning long ago expanded to also include other traditional musicians. Call-and-response remains a central aspect of Breton music regardless of the instruments used.

The paired kan ha diskan vocal tradition, which remains vitally active today, perhaps formed the original basis for all other pairings of Breton musicians. In some parts of Brittany from the late 19th century onwards, the most popular ‘sonneurs de couple’ were the paired treujen gaol clarinet and accompanying button accordion.

Bombards in their most traditional setting are accompanied by a bagpipe called a biniou kozh [“ancient bagpipe”], which plays an octave above the bombard. The bombard calls, and the biniou responds. The bombard requires so much lip pressure and breath support that a talabarder can rarely play a sustained melody line. The biniou plays the melody continuously, while the bombard takes breaks, establishing the call-and-response pattern.

Prior to World War I, a given pair of Soners would typically cover all of the weddings, funerals, and other social occasions within a given territory, which would be jealously guarded from other performers. This duet of bombard and pipes, also occasionally accompanied by a drummer in past centuries, has been practiced for at least 500 years in Brittany in an unbroken tradition and must be considered the heart and soul of this instrument’s place in Breton culture.

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