Photograph of an original Chédeville Musette chalumeau.

One Musette is never enough…

After such an intense, fun few days in Rouen, it was rather hard to return to the seemingly-dull boredom of everyday life. Except that I’m not sure I’m familiar with that state of affairs – I always seem to have something to keep me on my toes! But still, it took a few days to come down off my Musette-cloud, and the descent was made infinitely easier by news that my new Musette – made by the Belgian maker Bart van Troyen – was almost ready for collection.

Why the need for more than one? Well, as with recorders, Musettes historically existed in a variety of sizes, rather like descant, treble, tenor, voice flute and bass recorders. I’m still getting to grips with the tuning of each but one has to add into this mix the practicalities of pitch. Studies of pitch in the 17th and 18th centuries suggest that the pitch in France depended on whether you were playing chamber music, church music or the opera. Historically informed performance of French baroque music now tends to settle on A=392 as a happy medium between these three areas. And so one needs an instrument that will play at A=392. But what if one wants to play some works for Musette amongst a programme of Baroque chamber music from different countries? As a multi-instrumentalist I often find myself in this situation, interspersing sonatas and trio sonatas by Corelli and Telemann with works for Musette by Boismortier or Nicolas Chédeville. Pitch was not the same in Germany and Italy, but the accepted modern practice when playing music from either of these countries in an ‘historically informed’ manner (on period instruments) is to play at A=415. I could of course insist on the whole programme being performed at A=392. But while many string players will happily tune down to A=392 (or up to A=415 depending on how you look at it), harpsichords tend to favour one pitch or the other (and need a good 45 minutes to retune!). And wind players need entirely different instruments.

And so, here we have it. I need to make more room on my instrument shelf for the new arrival, due August 2019. Oh, and it will the first (modern) Musette to have reeds made from cedar rather than cane. Apparently they are less susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity…yes, I have a new understanding and sympathy for oboists and bassoonists! At least Musette reeds last longer than those of the double reed instruments, because they remain dry…you just have to avoid dropping them.


  1. David Bateman

    I recently read a report about the Rouen conference in Chanter, the Bagpipe Society magazine. You were mentioned in the report as being the only British representative there. Do you happen to know whether there is any plan to publish the papers which, I presume, were read there? I imagine I’d like to read them – even if they’re in French, as I imagine they would be.
    I’ve been trying to make a version of a musette for several years now. For various reasons, I decided I had to try to make the instrument myself. One reason was that I wanted it to be at 440 so that I could play with more conventional modern instruments. It has almost been made now. My only remaining problem is getting the top notes C6 and D6 on it. I’m working on that problem currently and I think I can see my way to getting them. A petit chalumeau for the pupose of playing just those two notes is part of the design but getting the petit chalumeau to actually do it has been problematic, mostly on account of not knowing what a suitable reed for it would look like exactly. The instrument could just as well be called a version of a Northumbrian Smallpipe. Because it is fairly common to have a NSP go up chromatically from G4 as far as B5 and because I have some access to NSP expertise, I thought I’d base my efforts on the NSP and go up as far as B5 on the grand chalumeau using keywork which is regarded in Northumbria as normal. Apart from those two highest-of-all notes, my instrument has been built and does work. Purists would refuse to call it either a NSP or a musette but I’m not a purist. This very evening, as it happens, I have had the from it, not for the first time, the huge pleasure of playing a simple Nicolas Chédeville piece on it with a cello, a viola and a violin. To my completely biased ears, it sounded absolutely magical! Forgive my boasting but it has taken me (off and on) 15 years to get this far. I’ve made a few simpler bagpipes along the way as a sort of self-imposed apprenticeship.

    I’d like to register my interest in the musette. I live in Edinburgh.

    1. Amanda Babington

      Great to hear from another Musette enthusiast! Your work sounds fascinating. If you are on facebook, check out a group that I set up called Musette Enthusiasts – it’s a lovely forum in which everyone exchanges facts and ideas about repertoire, instruments and anything else musette-related.

    2. Amanda Babington

      ps I don’t think there are any plans to publish the Rouen conference papers. But several of the contributors (including me of course) are members of Musette Enthusiasts.

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