Green barley whistles (Oat sprigs)

Green barley whistles (Oat sprigs)
Green barley whistles © Lydia Zarceño, Valladolid. 'Copyleft' Luis Á. Payno y Lydia Zarceño

Green barley whistles (Oat sprigs)

A cereal sprig is used to make this wind instrument which is widespread and known anywhere this type of plant, grown since ancient times, is found. 

A sprig of rye, barley or any other cereal which is thick and long enough is cut and knotted at one end, leaving the other one open, preferably not too dry. Using a sharp instrument and at the knotted end a section of fibre is separated down one side to make a strip which vibrates as the air passes by. With a hot wire or a penknife holes can be made for fingerstops.

Although this humble, seasonal and perishable instrument is considered a toy for children, the green barley shoot whistle was known from ancient to recent times in all the Iberian Peninsula and appears in classical literature, and even in prints of musical instruments like Bonani’s.

 It usually appears by the name “Zampoña” (which similar reed instruments with resonance pipes are also called).

Cervantes in Don Quixote mentions it in a proverb:  The barley is hard ready for zampoñas , this saying means that the moment or occasion for doing something has already passed.

Sound of barely green barley whistles: click on black triangle