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    Land of winds > Instruments > Instrument | Issue 17 (Jan.-Feb. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Andean violin

The Andean violin

By "Andean violin" it is meant both the "standard" instrument and the various ways of playing it through the Andes, and the many variants of this chordophone that come from the hands of local luthiers by using the materials they have at hand. In the following paragraphs we will examine the latter.

Bowed string instruments were introduced to South America during the colonial period. The earliest to arrive were Castilian rebecs and different types of medieval and Renaissance viola, especially in the lowlands (Chaco and Amazonia). The violin acquired most of its "modern" characteristics in 16th-century northern Italy and was brought to America by the religious ensembles, which performed both at the cathedrals of great colonial cities and at the Jesuit and Franciscan missions, where the music was a powerful evangelization tool.

Today, the violin has a strong presence in the Andes and it can be found in traditional contexts in Quechua-speaking villages of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Sierra, and less likely in the villages that lay in the southern Andes of Colombia and the Bolivian valleys. In Peru the violin appears in the departments of Cajamarca, Ancash, Huánuco, Pasco, Junín, Lima, Cusco, Huancavelica, Apurímac and Arequipa. In Ecuador it is used by several Quechua-speaking peoples: the Saraguro (province of Loja), the Salasaca (province of Tungurahua), the Kañari (province of Cañar) and the Otavalo-Cotacachi (province of Imbabura). In the south-western part of Colombia the instrument is played by the Inga and the Kamsá (departments of Putumayo and Nariño). And finally, in Bolivia, the violin can be found in Potosí, among the Quechua-speaking Calcha and Chicha peoples.

Traditional-violin playing is still a male-dominated field. The instrument is played in a wide variety of musical genres and takes part in many different celebrations, both religious and secular, especially in those associated with the rites of past and present societies (weddings, funerals, Danza de las tijeras, Christmas, Inti Raymi, processions). The violin is usually accompanied by another string instrument (harp, guitar), and both can be joined by some membranophone/idiophone and singing voices. South American rural violin in general and Andean in particular is wider, thicker and heavier than commercial ones. It can be either carved out of one solid block of wood or made of several pieces of cheap/recycled wood; can or cannot have a sound post; its bridge is thick and artless, and the varnish, paint and lacquer that coat its outside are the same as those used by cabinetmakers. As a result, the quality and volume of its sound (rich in harmonics) is much less than that of the standard violin and its timbre is harsh and dull. It usually has four metal strings tuned G-D-A-E, though the violin known in Bolivia as "chicheño", which is smaller than usual, has only three, tuned D-R-F. Generally speaking, the bow is shorter and simpler than the commercial model and does not have the modern "nut"; a ribbon of horsehairs is stretched between its ends, whose tension is increased when pressed with a finger or by turning a peg.

The violin is placed against the chest or the armpit, with its neck leaned downwards so that when the violinist plays the violin sat the peg box lies on his knee. Rural players explain that the standard violin usually has a more powerful and brilliant sound than the "native" one, which is a very much appreciated feature, especially when the violin is played at festivals and processions in open spaces. However, locally-constructed instruments are designed to better withstand harsh conditions (hits, bad weather, drink, splashes of beverages, scratches), do not need too much care and can be easily replaced.

The use of the violin to accompany traditional dances was documented on the Codex Martínez Compañón (1782-1785), both in illustrations ("danza de pallas" and "danza del Chimo") and in 12 out of the 20 scores. Studies on this and other chordophones carried out in Peru have focussed mainly on the tradition of the department of Ayacucho. Information about their origins, their characteristics and their current used in the rest of the country is scarce, fragmented and sometimes is neither grounded nor relevant.

[The works of the US musicologist and violinist Nan Volinsky have been an important source of information and inspiration in the elaboration of this article].

Violin, in Wikipedia.
Book. Identidades representadas: Performance, experiencia y memoria en los Andes. Gisela Canepa Koch (ed.). Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Fondo Editorial, 2001. Two chapters by Nan Volinsky: "Poniéndose de pie. Técnica de interpretación del violín y resurgimiento étnico entre los quechuas de Saraguro, Ecuador" and "La danza navideña de los Saraguros y la cuatripartición del movimiento humano" [es].
Thesis. Violin performance practice and ethnicity in Saraguro, Ecuador. Nan Leigh Volinsky. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1998.

Picture 01. Baile del Chimo (Manuscript Martínez Compañón, volume II, illustration 151), in The Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library.
Picture 02. Baile de las pallas (Manuscript Martínez Compañón, volume II, illustration 152), in The Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library.

Video 01. Example of violin and harp (Peru) [low quality].
Video 02. Example of violin and harp (Peru) [low quality].
Video 03. Reinaldo Pillco: example of Peruvian violin [low quality].
Video 04. Máximo Damián: example of Peruvian violin – part I [low quality].
Video 05. Máximo Damián: example of Peruvian violin – part II [low quality].
Video 06. Violin from Chumbivilcas (Peru).
Video 07. Violinist from Saraguro (Ecuador) [low quality].
Video 08. Violinist from Peguche (Ecuador) [low quality].

Picture A.

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