Wind Instruments – Khalil Or Halil; Machol; Mahalath

THE universal usage of musical instruments of this class renders it difficult to reduce an account of them to reasonable limits. It will be well to state at once that in all probability the word pipe— of the Greeks, the tibia of the Romans—included two important divisions of modern instruments : namely, reed instruments, such as the oboe or clarinet ; and simple flue pipes, such as the flute. That this must have been the case is evident from the fact that while there is unquestionable evidence that many ancient instruments had reeds, no special name is set apart for them as opposed to open tubes without reeds. The very existence of the word (tongue-box) shows that the player was accustomed to carry his tongues or reeds separately from his instrument, just as our modern oboists and clarinetists do. It must also be borne in mind that both oboe and clarinet are children of one parent, and did not become distinct classes until the early part of the 18th century, the parent name being chalumeau, from the Latin calamus, a cane or reed. But when chalumeau is translated ” a reed-pipe,” it must not be forgotten that the term is applied to the material of which the pipe is made (a cane), and not, as we always apply the term now, to a pipe containing a reed or tongue. Hence it will be seen that we are no nearer the discovery of distinctive names for these two classes of instruments, even when their parent stock is found. It may be worth mentioning that the real difference between an oboe and a clarinet is that the former has a double tongue which vibrates, the latter a single tongue.

The derivations of some of the ancient names of flutes are very interesting : khalil or halil, from a root signifying “pierced ” or ” bored ” ; tibia (Lat.), from the fact that it was often made of a shin-bone ; aulos, from the root ” to blow,” exactly corresponding to our flute, from the Lat. flo, ” to blow,” as also flageolet, from flatus; calamus, chalumeau, from the material, just as the Arabian flute is called nay, ” a reed,” of which the Arabs have as many as ten varieties. There was also a small Phoenician flute called gingra, which is probably connected with Sanskrit grî, ” to sound.”

Was the khalil a flute or oboe ? Probably the latter. There is evidence from many sources that the Hebrews had oboes (see Lightfoot, who speaks, in his Temple Service, of oboes being used once in each month), and there seems to be no good reason for believing that they had a distinctive term for them. Jahn thinks it probable that they were very similar to the zamr of the Arabs, of which there are three kinds, not differing essentially from each other, but only in size and pitch, the largest being called zamr-al-kébyr ; the middle sized, as being most commonly used, zamr and the smallest zamr-el-soghayr. Fig. 46 shows two of these.

It is probably known to the reader that large and small oboes have always existed, and are in use at the present day. Two sorts are used in the score of Bach’s Passion Music (according to St. Matthew), called respectively oboe d’ amore (the love oboe), and oboe da caccia (hunting-oboe) ; the part of the former, the smaller of the two and possessing a soft delicate tone, can, with a transposition of the lower notes, be played on the common oboe ; that of the latter on the tenor oboe, commonly, but very improperly, termed corno-inglese, or the English horn.

Of the pipes without reeds, like our flutes, there always have been two kinds : one played by blowing in one end, hence held straight in front of the performer ; the other played by blowing in a hole in the side, hence held sideways. The former was ultimately called the flûte à bec, that is, the flute with a beak ; the latter, flauto traverso, that is, the flute played crossways. Fig. 47 is an illustration of a flûte à bec which was brought from Egypt. It belonged to a Mahometan pilgrim, who vowed that he valued it more than anything he owned, but he was very willing to part with it at the sight of a small sum of money. It is of cane, and is rudely ornamented with simple patterns. It seems closely allied to the souffarah of the Arabs. The next illustration (Fig. 48) shows an ancient Egyptian reed-flute -iffero di canna as it is labelled—in the museum at Florence. It was held obliquely and blown across the upper open end.

These instruments seem, judging from the specimens found in Egyptian sculpture or frescoes, to have been of various lengths, sometimes far exceeding the size of the flute commonly used in our orchestras. This goes to prove that this nation was wise enough to make use of a family of flutes, just as we use a family of viols. And there are ,many musicians who think that we lose much by thus excluding flutes of deeper tone. Within the last few years concerts have been given in London at which quartets were played by four flutes—treble, alto, tenor, and bass.

Fig. 49 represents an Egyptian playing on one of these oblique flutes. The attitude will not strike a modern flautist as being either comfortable or convenient, but there is no accounting for the conventionalities of art. One thing the Ancients lacked which has been of inestimable benefit to us, the use of keys—that is, a simple system of leverage by which holes in the instrument quite out of reach of the length of the ordinary human five fingers can be brought completely under control, and can be closed or opened without any great disturbance of the position of the hand. The thumb, which could not possibly close a hole at the top of the instrument in former times, is now able to do so. Thus both the compass of the instrument and the ease with which it can be manipulated have been largely increased. It must not be supposed that such improvements have been rapidly created. They are mainly of the last century, invented by Gordon, perfected by the ingenious Boehm.

It is remarkable that the oblique flute, as shown in the Egyptian drawing (Fig. 49) is not to be found on any Assyrian or Chaldean monuments. If then the Jews used it, they must have adopted it from Egypt, which is also acknowledged to be the source from whence the Greeks obtained it.

Two ancient Greek auloi or pipes, found in a tomb, are preserved in the British Museum. Their great age renders the wood from which they are made extremely frail, and any rough usage would probably reduce them to dust.

They were played with reeds, probably of the oboe or double kind : but Fétis is of opinion that they had single tongues, like our clarinet, only he is inclined to think that the tongue was of metal, not of wood, because in a certain account given of a trial of musical skill, one player was unable to compete because the reed of his instrument was bent. But it is probably assuming too much to say that such an accident could not have happened to a wooden tongue, and that, therefore, brass was the material of which it was made. One thing, however, is certain, and that is, that in the earliest forms of calamus the reed would naturally be of cane, because it would be simply formed by an incision in the surface of the cane itself, similar to that made by boys in a piece of straw, when constructing that toy instrument dignified by pastoral poets by the name of oaten pipe.”

The khalil seems to have been used by the Jews on very similar occasions to those at which our ancient oboes played. an important part, most often during seasons of pleasure, but sometimes also at funerals. Two pipes at least had to be played at the death of a wife. The pipers, it will be remembered, were bidden to ” give place by our Lord, when He said, ” The maid is not dead, but sleepeth ” (Matt. ix. 24). One common use of the khalil was as an amusement and recreation when walking or travelling. The solitary shepherd would cheerily pipe as he paced out his long hill-side walks, and the path of the caravan could be traced by the shrill echoes ever and anon tossed from side to side as, at each new turn in its many windings, frowning rocks beat back the piercing sounds. Especially such was the case when thousands of persons were making those periodical journeys to Jerusalem, so rigidly prescribed by the law : ” Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept ; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe (khalil) to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel ” (Isa. xxx. 29). The joy of the people when the cry ” God save king Solomon ! ” promised a peaceful and prosperous reign, was shown by their music : ” The people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them ” (i Kings i. 40). The khalil is not so often mentioned in connection with the out-pouring of prophetic gifts as are instruments of the harp class ; but yet when Samuel was describing to Saul how he should meet a company of prophets on his way to Gilgal, he described them as ” coming down from the high place with a psaltery (nebel), and a tabret (toph), and a pipe (khalil), and a harp (kinnor) before them ” (I Sam. x. 5). But these instruments were elsewhere to be met with than at the solemn processions of holy men, for the prophet Isaiah, in denouncing the drunkards who ” rise up early in the morning to follow strong drink,” describes their wine feasts as being enlivened by the sounds of the nebel, kinnor, toph, and khalil (Isa. v. I2). The prophet Jeremiah, in showing the utter desolation and destruction of Moab, is inspired to say, I will cause to cease in Moab, saith the Lord, him that offereth in the high places, and him that burneth incense to his gods. There-fore mine heart shall sound for Moab like pipes, and mine heart shall sound like pipes for the men of Kir-heres. . . . There shall be lamentation generally upon all the house-tops of Moab, and in the streets thereof : for I have broken Moab like a vessel wherein is no pleasure, saith the Lord ” (Jer. xlviii. 35, 36, 38). Could any words describe more touchingly than these the degradation and loss of moral life which should overtake Moab ? That it should be wept over as one dead, piped over as a corpse !

There is no direct evidence as to whether the Hebrews used the double reed-pipe. It is quite certain they must have been aware of its existence, because it was known to Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Chaldees before it found its way into Greece. So common is it in Roman and Greek sculpture and pottery that all are familiar with its forms. The word nechiloth is understood by Jahn and Saalchütz to mean the double-pipe ; but on the other hand, many others consider nechiloth to be the collective term for wind instruments. Some consider that nekeb, which is derived from a root signifying hollow,” stands for the double-pipe ; but this word probably signifies the hollow place in which a gem is set. The two tubes forming the double-pipe were called oddly enough male and female, but more commonly right and left (dextra and sinistra). The former appellation no doubt refers to the fact that one tube produced a deep note, which served as a drone or bourdon, while on the other was played the tune. The difference in the pitch might easily have given rise to the comparison implied between the two names.

Two ancient Egyptian reed-pipes found in the tomb of the Lady Maket (c. 1100 B.C.), together with their case, are illustrated in Fig. 5o (page 103), and a description of them is given in the Supplementary Note 4 (p. 114).

Double-pipes, almost similar in their construction, are actually in use among the present inhabitants of Egypt. Two specimens are shown in Figs. 51 and 52. That in the latter illustration has three loose pieces, which may be added at pleasure to the drone ” tube of the instrument for the purpose of adjusting it to the key of the tune to be played. That in the former has two similarly constructed pipes, so that a simple melody may be performed in two parts, much in the same way as on the double-flageolet, which at one time was somewhat popular in England, though now rarely seen or heard. Both examples are of the simplest construction. The material of which they are made (including the mouth-pieces and tongues) is of river-reed, cut into lengths, which have to be inserted into each other before use. To prevent accidental loss, the separate parts are connected by common waxed cord. These instruments are called arghool ; they are furnished with single beating reeds, and have distinguishing titles, according to the length of the drone-tube.

In Fig. 53 the inequality in the length of the two pipes is very apparent. Fig. 54 shows that they were sometimes used in Egyptian ceremonies of a solemn character. In Fig. 55 is shown the capistrum, which Greeks and Romans wore to give support to muscles of the cheeks and face whilst blowing. In modern orchestras we are perfectly content with the quantity of tone produced from our wind-instruments without the assistance of these head-bandages.

On the next page an Assyrian is shown with a double-pipe (Fig. 56). It is to be regretted that no details as to the construction of these instruments can be gleaned from the ancient bas-reliefs. No attempt seems to have been made to mark even the position of the holes.

The use of the double-pipe by nations with whom the Jews had constant intercourse having been shown, nothing more can be said. The reader must form his own opinion as to the probability of its being rightly enrolled amongst Hebrew musical instruments. The quality of tone produced by these reed-pipes was probably very coarse and crude. Particular pains have been taken by modern instrument-makers to produce delicate-sounding oboes, clarinets, &c. And with regard to the open pipes and flutes of the Ancients, it should be borne in mind that it must have been most difficult to produce a series of sounds, either similar in timbre or perfectly true in pitch, without the aid of keys. Up to the last century, certain holes in the then existing flutes had to be only partially covered by the fingers in order to produce certain notes in tune. We must learn from this, not to place much confidence in conclusions drawn from actual experiments on old pipes. Suppose, for instance, it were attempted to discover the series of scale-sounds of such an instrument by placing it in the hands of a modern performer. It would be impossible to say whether any noticeable variations from known forms of the scale ought to be attributed to the intentional design of the instrument itself, or to our loss of those traditions which influenced its use. But we may have to say something about the musical scales of the Ancients when speaking further on of the vocal music of the Hebrews.


This word is found in several passages of Holy Scripture associated with the toph or timbrel. In the Authorised Version it is rendered almost always by ” dances ” or ” dancing ” :—” And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand ; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances ” (Exod. xv. 20) ; and again, ” Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances” (Judges xi. 34). In thus rendering machol, our translators have simply followed the Septuagint, in which the corresponding expression the same, too, in the Vulgate, ” cum tympanis et choris.” The German, like our own version, follows the Septuagint—” mit Pauken und Reigen,” that is, ” with drums and chain-dances,” dances with linked hands. Although in modern German orchestral scores Pauken signifies “kettledrums,” it must not be supposed that more is here meant than tambourines (timbrels). That dances took place on these and many other occasions in which timbrels were used there can be no doubt. But may not machol signify a small flute ? If so, the expression with toj5h and machol would exactly correspond to our old English tabor and pipe, to the sounds of which instruments many a rustic dance was merrily footed. They are still the common accompaniment of village festivities in many parts of Europe. In some of the Pyrenean districts may be seen gathered on the green, round which their homesteads are clustered, the gaily attired villagers dancing to the sounds of a pipe which the seated musician plays with his left hand, while with his right hand he beats a sort of tambour, consisting of six strings stretched across a resonance-box, which rests upon his knees, or is held by his arm, taking the place of the more usual drum.

The arguments in favour of the theory that machol is a flute are founded on the fact that many authors, amongst them Pfeifer, consider the word itself to be derived from the same root as khalil, signifying, as before mentioned, ” bored through ” ; and also that in the Syriac version the word is translated by rephaah, which is the name of a flute still to be found in Syria. On the other hand, some authors have traced machol to a root khol, ” to twist or turn round ” ; and, of course, if this be a correct derivation, it would more naturally signify a dance than a flute. Saalchutz is of opinion that it implies a combination of music, poetry, and dancing, and is not the name of any special musical instrument. Much can be said in favour of this view. We have words in our own language which have a very similar meaning : for instance, roundelay, which may be taken as a song, a dance, or a piece of poetry. Yet there seems to be but little necessity for forcing such a mixed meaning from the word machol. To say that on a joyous occasion men or women went forth with ” pipe and timbrel,” is enough to imply that they danced ; and therefore, if our translators would have more properly rendered machol by a “pipe,” they have none the less conveyed the real sense of the context by rendering it ” dancing.” But by assuming the former of these interpretations much force is given to that beautiful passage in the Book of Lamentations (v. 15) : “The joy of our heart is ceased ; our pipe is turned into mourning.” The Psalmist in his joy uses just the converse of this, expression, in Ps. xxx. II : ” Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing (machol) ; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.” So does the prophet, joying over the restoration of Israel (Jer. xxxi. 4 and 13). The only other passage in which the Psalmist uses the word is in Ps. cl. 4: Praise him with the timbrel and. dance.” It was the noise of the pipes (macholoth) which Moses heard as he descended the holy mount to find the people, whom Jehovah had but just highly honoured by the giving of the Law, dancing round a golden calf. We may, then, for two reasons believe the machol to have been a flute used specially for dancing : first, because it is. highly probable that an instrument was used in conjunction with the timbrel ; and next, because such a supposition does not exclude the idea of dancing, and in no case seems to do violence to the text.


A word allied both to khalil and machol occurs in the titles of two Psalms (liii. and lxxxviii.), the former being inscribed to the ” chief musician upon Mahalath,” the latter to the ” chief musician upon Mahalath Leannoth.” Each of these is called also a ” Maschil,” a title generally thought to designate a poem of a moral or typical import. ” Sing ye a maschil with the understanding,” sings the Psalmist in Ps. xlvii. 7. Many learned writers trace mahalath to the same root as khalil (” perforated,” ” bored “). If a musical direction, then, this word clearly points out the class of instruments which is to accompany the singers of the Psalm—namely, khalil. The addition leannoth, from the fact that it means ” to answer,” most probably is a special order for an antiphonal treatment.


(1.) In deriving the oboe and the clarinet from a common parent the author probably meant that in their primitive form both of them were made of river reeds, for the principle of the double-beating reed (as used with the oboe) and that of the single-beating reed (as found on the clarinet) are quite distinct. The double-reed is probably the older of the two forms, at least in Europe and Asia, and was evolved from the simple method of pressing together the end of a hollow straw, as is still done by country children of our own day; but in the Western Hemisphere, if we may draw an inference from the reed-pipes constructed by the Indians living on the north-west coast of America, the single-beating form seems to have been the earlier : for twin single-reeds are still made there with a thin slip of wood between them, and it was probably by removing this partition that the double-reed was obtained. The distribution of the two kinds of reed is also very marked : in ancient Egypt, as well as in that of today, the characteristic type is the single-beating reed ; in China and the Far East only the double-reed is prevalent.

(2.) The flutes or flue-pipes are more correctly grouped into the two classes : (a) vertical and (b) transverse. The vertical flute, of which the old Egyptian oblique flute and the present Arabian nay are examples, were sounded by forcing the breath across the open end of the tube, while the transverse flutes (with a closed end) are played by blowing across a hole pierced in the side as in their probable parents—the nose flutes.

Though the principle is practically the same in both cases, the two types are distinct : for although the vertical flute, with its offspring the whistle flute or flûte-à-bec, is generally distributed throughout both Hemispheres, the transverse flute was unknown in Europe until the 8th or 9th centuries of our era, having travelled gradually westward from eastern Asia and India. In the vertical flutes of the Chinese and of the North American Indians, the growth of the flûte-à-bec, with its well-formed mouthpiece, can be distinctly traced from the primitive tube blown across the end.

(3.) Recent discoveries have shown that the Greeks and Romans of classical times were not ignorant of devices for stopping additional holes on their reed-pipes, after the manner of keys. On auloi found at Pompeii small revolving rings of metal cover the holes that were not required for the mode or scale in which the music was set, and by turning the rings these holes could be brought into use, and those not needed silenced. On a reed-pipe found in the ruins of Pergamos, in Asia Minor (and now in the Archological Institute at Berlin), a yet nearer approach is made to keyed mechanism : for metal sliders working in grooves cover the holes that are out of reach of the player’s fingers, to each slider a metal shaft being attached whereby it can be drawn up or down by the performer, thus opening the hole or closing it at will. Keys, in the modern sense of the word, appear in the early part of the 16th century, as shown on the phagotum of Canon Afranio, of which a detailed description and illustrations are given in Theseo Ambrogio’s Introductio in Chaldaicam Linguam (1539).

(4.) The double-pipes of the Ancients were played sometimes with double-beating reeds and sometimes with single reeds ; and although the two pipes may have served at times as melody and drone, in the same way as the present Egyptian arghool and some of the Indian pipes are used, yet as a rule both tubes were furnished with finger-holes. An Egyptian double-pipe of slender reeds was discovered by Prof. Flinders Petrie, in 1890, amongst the relics of the tomb of the Lady Maket (c. 1100 B.C.), and is now deposited in the Royal Museum at Berlin, having been purchased for £73 (Fig. 50). The tubes are of almost the same length—17 3/4 inches; but one is pierced with four holes, the other with three. No reeds were found with them, but by using a single-beating reed of the arghool type, the following scales have been produced : On the left-hand or four-holed tube, E flat, G (slightly fiat), A flat, B flat (slightly flat), and C flat ; while on the right-hand tube the order was E flat, F, G, and A flat. On an aulos found at Akhmin (the Panopolis of older days) in 1888, eleven holes were noted, and when a facsimile of the original was sounded with a single-beating reed, it furnished a complete chromatic scale throughout the octave, with a possible enharmonic note included. In its original state the sounding reed of the instrument was hidden within a hollow bulb of rush or river-reed, as so often depicted in Etruscan art and still used in the bagpipe and other rustic pipes of the present day. Although this interesting specimen is pronounced by Egyptologists to be of the eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1500 B.C.), it is more reminiscent both in scale and structure of the much later instruments found at Pompeii.