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Inordinate Affection


An overview of the oboe, with JENNIFER PAULL


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In Psalm 150, we find the trumpet, lute, and harp, cymbals, strings and pipe. There is even mention of dancing. This reed-pipe would be one of our immediate doublereed ancestors. In the King James Version of the Bible (1611), this pipe appears as 'organ' which we know full well did not exist at the time of the writing of the Psalms. This word crept in through a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. The Hebrew word 'ugab was translated by the Greek 'organon' and came to us as 'organ'. The oldest Hebrew manuscripts available at the time of the writing of the King James' Version was the Textus Receptus of 900 AD. This was studied together with the Septuagint which is even older. Many original words are therefore misrepresented in more recent translations.

The reed pipe's name is derived from a Hebrew verb meaning 'to have inordinate affection' even 'lust' or 'sensual love'. The instrument, the 'ugab, would have merited its name due to its sensuous and appealing quality.

'A reed... was used because its sound was sweeter; the music ended with only a single pipe playing to produce a nicer effect' (Mishnah: Arakhin ii.3) The 'ugab was one of the instruments played in the first temple. The Mishnah is part of the Talmud.

Islam is very much represented by the shawm family. This conical doublereed family of instruments are to be found wherever Islam has its footprints, and further beyond. The Tibetan Buddhists have their oboe as do the Chinese and Indians and many other cultures all over the world, each with their palette of ethnic names for it. Since the dawning of history, wherever there have been doublereed instruments, this special characteristic tone quality has been the call which gathers the community to announce that something momentous is about to take place. From regal and ecclesiastical coronations to religious prophecies, high masses and festivities at the Day of Jubilee, this sound has been the one used to ripen and elevate our spirits. It makes us ready to receive sacred information.

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Copyright © 18 April 2000 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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