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    Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 14 (Mar.-Apr. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Quena players

Quena players

Within the community of performers of "Andean music" as a musical genre, each group has its distinctive features which create a kind of particular "sub-culture". Just as it is possible to speak of a true "sikuri culture" that brings together the members of community groups of one kind or another of zampoñas (Andean panpipes), we can also speak of a set of characteristics that define quena players. Unlike what happens with sikuris, the way the latter play their instruments has little or none social, ethnic or even political base. Quena players are much more focussed on the technical aspects of the instrument than on community.

In present day Andean and Latin American music, the quena has gained growing prominence as a soloist's instrument, and quena players usually look for the "best" instruments, i.e. those that match the user's preferences: "a fine-tuned flute, with a specific sound and an extent of three octaves". Therefore, the knowledge shared and transmitted within the community of quena players is mainly about the morphological characteristics that make the quena suitable for their purpose.

Sometimes on the basis of practical experience, sometimes on the basis of urban legends, it is claimed that flutes of larger diameter produce powerful lower octaves (low notes) while smaller diameters give a higher, thinner sound (high notes).

The shape of the notch (where the musician blows) is one of the most widely discussed topics. According to popular knowledge, U-shaped notches allow easier access to the lowest octave (producing a sweeter, silky sound), while V-shaped notches make higher notes possible. Likewise, embouchures having a hard material inlay (such as ebony, ivory, bone) help reach higher octaves more easily.

In addition to the characteristics listed above, many others have been identified as having a role to play in the quality of the sound, for example the material the flute is made of, the thickness of the wall, the texture of the inner surface, the chemical treatments applied to the surface, the "tapadillo" or "semitapadillo" (covering the end of the flute with a piece of wood, beeswax, etc.), the diameter of the finger holes, their arrangement (in a straight line or adapted to the player hands) and their shape (cylindrical or conical).

Finally, also under discussion are the fingerings (cross or simple) and the different techniques used to obtain chromatic notes from an instrument that is basically diatonic by partially covering the finger holes.

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