Breton music

Bombard (music)

The bombard, also known as talabard in the Breton language or bombarde in French, is a popular contemporary double reed instrument widely used to play traditional Breton music.

The Tradition: Sonerion

The bombard, also known as talabard in the Breton language, is a popular contemporary double reed instrument widely used to play traditional Breton music. The bombard is a member of the oboe family. Describing it as an oboe, however, can be misleading since it has a very powerful sound, more closely resembling a trumpet. The bombard is played as oboes are played, with the double reed placed between the lips; the second octave is achieved with increased lip pressure. 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 two players are referred to as Sonerion (in Breton) or sonneurs de couple (in French). A bombard player is known as a talabarder. The bombard leads the music, and the biniou answers. The biniou plays the melody continuously, while the bombard takes breaks, establishing a call-and-response pattern. Prior to the first world war, 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 form 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.

Revival in the bagadoù

In the late '40s, the creation of the Bagad, a specifically Breton ensemble of bagpipes, bombards and drums, offered a new role to the bombard. Now most towns in Brittany have one or several Bagadoù (plural in Breton for "Bagad"), and they continually compete with each other in a series of annual tournaments and festivals. As the bagad is a Breton take on the Scottish pipe band concept, the music initially performed was typically martial in character. Now the Bagadoù play dance music, traditional melodies and new compositions. The large number of bombard players in the Bagadoù has been a key factor in the successful popularization of the instrument.

Still evolving: Fest-Noz and beyond

The bombard is an instrument that has been in constant evolution, with many different keys developed as well as sophisticated silver key-work enabling chromatic possibilities. Milder versions in lower ranges such as Youenn Le Bihan's "piston (an oboe/bombard hybrid, typically based in the key of Re/D) have been developed for use in mixed ensembles. A class of professional musicians and instrument makers has emerged, as well as standardized reeds and commonly available tutorial materials. Today, both the biniou and bombard are played in combination with an unlimited number of instruments (voice, saxophone, piano, organ, clarinet or "treujenn gaol" (a type of clarinet), fiddle, flutes, guitar, percussion… ) in fest-noz bands, rock groups and ensembles of all styles - in arrangements of traditional Breton dance tunes or in new compositions.

View an image of the bombard here


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