Instruments Of Percussion – Menaaneim Or Manghanghim; Shalishim; Toph

ONCE only does the word menaaneim occur in the Bible—in 2 Sam. vi. 5 : And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir-wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on menaaneim, and on cymbals. It is wrongly translated ” cornets ” ; for the root of the Hebrew word suggests the same as that of the Latin nuo, whence nuto, to sway to and fro, to vibrate. Now, the word sistrum comes from a Greek verb, having an almost identical meaning. There is, therefore, a very good reason for believing that the word menaaneim refers to an instrument which vibrated when shaken or rattled. One of the two forms of the sistrum answers to this description. Through an upright frame of metal, supported on a handle, several metal rods are passed, and fixed in position, generally by bending their extremities. On them are placed loose metallic rings. Fig. 90 gives an example of this instrument which is preserved in the Berlin Museum. The position of the rings in this illustration may perhaps lead to the supposition that they are fixed by the centre ; this is not the case. They, of course, should lie loosely on the bars. Fig. 91 shows Egyptian priestesses in the act of playing this kind of sistrum at a religious ceremony. The second form of sistrum, above mentioned, had metallic bars without rings. Hence it has been thought by some that the bars were of graduated length, and gave a series of musical sounds when struck by some hard substance held in the other hand of the player. Fig. 92 represents two specimens. Their Egyptian name is doubtful, but the word kem-kem is thought to apply to them, although the Coptic version translates the ” sounding brass ” of I Cor. xiii. I by kem-kem. Others think it applies to the tambour. Rosellini has deciphered the word sescesch, and interprets it as sistrum. The Romans used the instrument, or at least were aware of its existence, fairly true representations of it being found on some of their medals. This may have been the aereum crepitaculum of their poets. As among the Egyptians the sistrum often accompanied rites of a very wanton and lascivious character, there is something intensely sarcastic in Virgil’s description of Cleopatra leading her forces to battle to the sound of the sistrum :

” Regina in mediis patrio vocat agmina sistro.”

(Virgil, AEneid, viii. 696.)

The close connection between musical instruments of apparently very divergent species has been often before remarked ; it is not surprising, therefore, to find a link between cymbals and the sistrum. Fig. 93 shows two such ornamental bars of metal held one in each hand of the performer ; and when struck together, they produced a loud clanging sound to mark the rhythm of a dance. The fact that they were clashed together gives them a relation to cymbals, while their form—that of vibrating rods—renders it difficult to place them otherwise than in the sistrum group.

The word shalishim occurs only in I Sam. xviii. 6. The shalish has been variously described as a triangle, a sistrum, and by some—a fiddle ! The root implies the numerical value of three : And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with shalishim” (margin, three-stringed instruments “). Whatever may be the antiquity of the viol family, it is difficult to believe that an instrument which must have been in very common use—as the people flocked together who could play it ” from all cities of Israel “—should only incidentally be mentioned once in the whole course of Jewish chronicle. The notion that all the women of Israel were experts on a three-stringed fiddle is certainly novel, and, to say the least, very absurd. A triangle it might have been, but it is more probable that it was a sistrum, either with three rings on each bar, as in Fig. 90, or with three vibrating bars, as in Fig. 92.

Fortunately there is but little doubt as to the nature of the toph. It was a tambour, timbrel, or hand-drum. All nations seem to have possessed drums of various kinds, but always of a comparatively small size. It remained for modern Europeans to produce the gigantic specimens which are now to be found in our orchestras. Such drums were never dreamt of by the Ancients. The necessity for having portable instruments would have precluded their use, even if their presence had been thought desirable. Modern tambours, or tambourines, as we more usually term them, are invariably round in shape ; those of the Ancients, especially of the Egyptians, were sometimes oblong or square. Fig. 94 exhibits both kinds in use. They were among the chief embellishments of their funeral lamentations, which seem to have been of a prolonged character. It is said that such ceremonies, when a prince died, lasted as many as seventy days. Then they sang, or uttered their mournful cries, to a tambour accompaniment. But the Egyptians also had drums of two other kinds. One consisted of a wood or copper cylinder covered at both ends with parchment, the two heads being beaten with the hands, just as the tom-tom of India is played. The Egyptian ” long-drum,” as it may be called, was, both as to size and shape, very similar to this tom-tom, which is not infrequently to be seen in the hands of some poor wanderer from our distant empire, who is begging upon the streets of London. Fig. 95 shows the manner in which it was carried and beaten. The other instrument of this class is peculiarly interesting, as being evidently the prototype of our modern kettledrum. It is called darabooka, and is formed by stretching parchment over the open end of a basin of metal or earthenware. When, as was the case in ancient times, this drum or ” tabret ” was small and easily carried, the termination of the hollow bowl by a handle was ingenious and useful. But as the size increased, the handle had to give place to three feet, and the metal bowl could be rounded—a form greatly to the advantage of free vibration. Our kettledrum is therefore little else than a very large darabooka, standing on a tripod, instead of terminating with a handle. The darabooka is shown in Fig. 96.

The Assyrians appear to have used the tambour, and also a drum suspended by a cord round the neck (see Figs. 97 and 98). But the instrument they thus carried seems not to have been beaten, like the Egyptian long-drum and the Indian tom-tom, at both ends, but only at its upper surface.

Two questions arise with regard to ancient drums and tambours : Was the parchment or head of the drum rigidly fixed, or was it capable of being tuned ? The reader is no doubt well aware that to the edges of the heads of a modern drum is attached, in the bass drum and side-drum, a series of cords, and in the kettledrum a metal ring, by means of which the parchment can be tightened or loosened, and consequently a power of regulating the pitch is obtained. Probably the head was fixed, and the ancient drums and tambours could not be tuned. The lines which cross the long-drum of the Egyptians in Fig. 95 look very much like the cords which pass over the sides of our side-drums, but these cross-bars are evidently only a rude attempt at ornamentation. The second question is, Had the ancient tambours little bells, plates of metal, or castanets inserted in the rim, as we have in our tambourines ? Probably they had. Fig. 99 shows an Arabian tambour called bendy. There are holes in the rim of this which unmistakably suggest the probable insertion of some such a kind of pulsatile contrivance. Moreover, it is known that such appendages were not strange to the Greeks. The bendyr also contains five strings stretched across the inner surface of the head, as seen in the illustration, for the purpose of reinforcing its tone. Such a construction seems to have been introduced in comparatively late times. Stretched strings were formerly used for a like purpose in instruments of several other kinds, notably in the stringed instrument called viola d’amore, in which metal strings were stretched under those of catgut, passing under the finger-board and through the middle of the bridge, which was pierced to receive them. The Arabs have three varieties of tambour besides that called bendyr. One of them, the mazhar, smaller than the bendyr, has no reverberating strings, and has metal rings instead of castanets. Another, the tar, has, like the mazhar, no stretched strings, but has four copper castanets. The fourth kind has only two castanets. Goatskin generally forms the head of these Arabian tambours, which are chiefly played by women, as was the case among the ancient Egyptians. The Arabians have drums, not unlike kettledrums, and they may be seen playing them on horseback or camelback just as the kettledrums are carried and played by the bands of our cavalry regiments. Fig. loo (p. 187) shows a fine specimen of an old tambour in the Kensington Museum collection, which has not only castanets in the rim, but bells suspended in the interior.

It is impossible to say whether the Hebrews used the drum as well as the tambour (timbrel) : probably the word toph represented only the latter. Its antiquity is proved by the fact that mention is made of it in conjunction with the kinnor, in the passage once before quoted (Gen. xxxi. 27), where Laban rebukes Jacob for having left him stealthily, whereas an honourable departure would have been accompanied with songs, toph, and kinnor.

It was a toph which Miriam took in her hand when she led the song and dance on that wondrous day when Israel saw the “great work” which God had done, and thankfulness burst forth from side to side as they answered one another : ” Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously” (Exod. xv. 1). Very different were the feelings which filled the breast of Jephthah when his only child came forth with toph in hand to welcome his victorious return from unequal fight with Ammon.

Among the instruments which the prophets were carrying when the future King Saul met them, was a toph (1 Sam. x. 5), and the same instrument was ere long to be a source of jealousy and chagrin to him when the women of Israel praised the youthful hero David on his return from slaying the giant ; and it was part of the music which graced the return of the Ark from Kirjath-jearim. That the use of the timbrel was not limited to religious ceremonies is plain from the allusion in Isaiah v. 12. It seems not to have been carried in warfare. On the contrary, in the following passage from Isaiah (xxx. 32) its mention is apparently intended to show the cheerful peace which everywhere should follow on the smiting of the Assyrian—” And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the Lord shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps.” The tambour has now been excluded from sacred buildings, having given place to the more solemn and imposing drum.

It may perhaps be said that in speaking of the probable nature of the kinnor and rebel, too much reliance has been placed on the argument that people have a tendency to use light portable instruments when travelling, and larger instruments in religious and civil ceremonies.

If, however, we consider the habits of the present day in this respect, we shall find more support of the argument than might at first be supposed. For example, street-singers who travel from place to place over long distances, have more or less adopted the portable banjo as an accompaniment to the voice, leaving the full-sized guitar and the large harp either to the concert-room or to street-musicians who remain in large cities. Then, again, although the two once well-defined classes of portative and positive organs have merged or died out, there still remains the positive organ in our churches and halls, and the portative barrel-organ whose existence can still be verified by the sad experience of all lovers of quiet.

As regards drums, we certainly possess the light tambourine, and the large kettledrums of concert use. The portable violin, called kit in England, has now become obsolete, but its French name pochette fully points out the fact that its popularity was owing to its convenience as a pocket-fiddle. The same remark may be applied to the pianoforte, for although large instruments mechanically played are now wheeled about our great cities, there was formerly a marked distinction between the portative pianoforte played by gipsy women and the heavy instrument placed in drawing-rooms.

It would seem justifiable, therefore, to assume that nomadic tribes would use small, simple types of instruments, while the inhabitants of great cities would also use instruments of more elaborate construction and of greater capabilities in their worship or court-ceremonies.


(1.) On the word shalish, as meaning a three-stringed instrument (probably the long-necked guitar or tanboura), see Supplementary Note (2), to Chapter ii. The association of the tambour with stringed instruments was very general, and found with the kinnor and rebel. In the same way, we still have in negro minstrelsy the association of banjo and tambourine. There is at present no proof of the use of the triangle by ancient Eastern peoples, though the word shalish has been supposed to denote this instrument.

(2.) The use of the hand-drum at wedding festivities is alluded to in the First Book of the Maccabees (ix. 39) : ” And the bridegroom came forth and his friends and brethren to meet them with drums (tympana) and instruments of musick and many weapons.”

As regards the employment of ” bracing ” cords for tightening the skin heads of the drum, the Egyptians at any rate were well acquainted with them, for they were still attached to an ancient instrument found at Thebes in 1823. They also used the ” snares” which give to our own side-drum its peculiar tone ; these strings, however, are not for sympathetic purposes, as Dr. Stainer suggests, but are intended to rest on the parchment head and thus to increase the rattle or ” snap ” when the drum is struck. A Note on the Oriental kettledrums, or nakers, has been already appended to the preceding chapter.