Pipe and Tabor traditions in NE Portugal

The Pipe and Tabor Tradition in North-East Portugal

Researched by Gwilym Davies – February 2010, based on a field trip to
Portugal in May 2009.

This page is also available in Spanish.

The pipe and tabor is one of our oldest musical combinations and one that has
remained virtually unchanged over most of a millennium. Although it has not been
favoured in classical or church music, it has persisted in folk tradition in
various countries in Europe and in the Americas.
Among the countries to retain a pipe and tabor tradition is
Portugal, where the instrument is still used in their traditional
music-making. This tradition goes back many centuries and the manuscript of the
Cantigas de Santa Maria (Songs to the Virgin Mary) written in
Galician-Portuguese, with music notation, during the reign of Alfonso X El Sabio
(1221-1284) clearly show pipe and tabor players of the epoch. The pipe and tabor
apparently existed in Portugal over the centuries. Documentary evidence is
sparse but there are various images including a mid-15th Century illustration in
the Crónica Geral de Espanha, held in the Lisbon Science Academy, and an early
16 Century church painting.  All these images may be found on the research pages of Diogo
. However, in recent times, the tradition has survived in only 2 remote
rural areas, the south east (Alentejo) and the north east (Tras os Montes).

The state of health of the instrument in the north is much better than in the
south and so this article will concentrate on the north. The tradition in the
south of Portugal has been extensively researched by the Portuguese musician and
musicologist Diogo Leal who goes into much detail on his website,
stating that it has gone into a gradual decline. It is possible that at one time
the pipe and tabor was played widely throughout the north of Portugal but
nowadays its use is confined to one area, that of Tras os Montes in the
northeast of Portugal, hard against the Spanish border and even there only in
one small municipality, that of Miranda do Douro.

Tras os Montes is probably the most rural area of Portugal. It literally
means ‘beyond the mountains’ and until recent years was a relatively
inaccessible region of dirt roads and bullock carts. It has gentle plains and
hills and scattered small villages in an agricultural area of dry summers and
cold winters, where olives, grapes and local breeds of cattle, sheepdogs and
donkeys thrive, not to mention the elusive Iberian wolf. In recent years,
funding by the European Union and investment by the World Bank has led to the
opening up of new roads and communications and now the old bullock carts have
been replaced by tractors. It remains an area little visited by outsiders, apart
from a few hikers and Spanish day-trippers.

The pipe and tabor tradition itself is not spread throughout Tras os Montes
but is confined to one area, that to the north and south of the small medieval
town of Miranda do Douro, a total area of barely 200 square miles and with a
population of under 8,000. It lies against the Spanish border, with the
impressive gorge of the Douro River making up part of the border after flowing
through Spain as the Duero. The area has its own dialect (Mirandes) which is a
stepping stone between Portuguese and Spanish, and a fierce local pride in its
folk traditions. Almost every village has its traditional fetes and music. The
town of Miranda do Douro itself is the focal point for the musical life of the
area – what other town would have a life-sized photo of a pipe and tabor player
on the outside wall of its folk museum, and whose shops sell postcards and CDs
of local folk music including pipe and tabor.

Lest we think that pipe and tabor rules the roost in the region, this is not
so.  Many more people play the bagpipe than the pipe and tabor and many
youngsters are taking up the bagpipe rather than the pipe and tabor. All the
pipe and tabor players in the area play bagpipe as well and possibly view
bagpipe as the major instrument, with the pipe and tabor as an add-on. Cultural,
musical and linguistic links with Spain are very strong and the musicians of
Miranda are very aware of the neighbouring folk music of Castilla y Leon and
also of Galicia and Asturias), so there is much cross fertilisation of style and
repertoire. A typical repertoire for the area would be locals dances (Jotas,
Fandangos, Waltzes, Pauliteiros), tunes for feast days and religious occasions
(alvoradas (‘dawn tunes’) pasacalhes (processionals) etc, plus tunes for local
songs and ballads (Chin Glin Din, Mira-ma Miguel, Manolo Mio, La Lhoba Parda
(‘The Dark She-Wolf’) A Saia de Carolina (‘Carolina’s skirt’) etc.

The traditional musical line-up in the region for most occasions follows a
strict pattern of a trio consisting of either bagpipe or pipe and tabor,
accompanied by a bass drum and a side drum. This trio of instruments is the
combination seen on most of their traditional musical occasions while percussion
in various forms figures in most of their folk music.

Traditional music in Miranda do Douro appears in several contexts, the chief
of which is the religious. There are traditional tunes for going into mass,
coming out of mass, processions for saints’ days and so on. These are specific
tunes for specific occasions and for specific villages which have persisted
amongst the folk musicians, despite official discouragement from the clerical

Secondly, the music is played for folk dancing, be it the local couple dances
or for the spectacular Portuguese stick dancers (Pauliteiros). The tradition of
Pauliteiros is confined to a mere 11 villages around Miranda, all of whom dance
their own village dances, as well as to some villages in the nearby part of
Spain, and it is clearly related to Spanish Stick dances such as the Paloteado
or the Catalan Ball de Bastons, all cousins to English Morris dancing.

Thirdly, the music is played on social occasions, in bars or social
gatherings, accompanied by much singing and general jollity. On all these
occasions, the bass drum and side drum are usually present alongside the bagpipe
or pipe and tabor.

As already mentioned, the bagpipe is the dominant folk instrument and the
number of actual taborers in the region is probably less than 10, far fewer than
the bagpipe players, but the taborers are all musicians of some standing in
their community, ranging in age from 73 down to at least one talented teenager.
Currently there are two senior taborers who are guardians of the tradition, one
to the north of Miranda do Douro and one to the south. In the north, we have
Aureliano Ribeiro from the village of Constantim and from the south Angelo
Arribas from the village
of Freixosa.  Both are highly respected for their music and their knowledge of
local folklore.

Angelo Arribas is a sprightly 73 year old who delights in his music, makes
his own bagpipes and tabor pipes and who is proud of the fact that he has
performed in several countries, playing for folk dances. He has a vigorous
taboring style and a host of local tunes. He absorbed the local tunes when very
young and made his first tabor from an old tin can covered with sheepskin.

Then there is Aureliano Ribeiro from Constantim. Aureliano is 62 and has fame
as a maker of the traditional shepherd costume, originally designed for the cold
Tras os Montes winters but now used only on traditional or ceremonial
occasions. He also is well-known as the son of the well-known pipe and tabor
player the late Virgilio Crystal, from whom he learnt to play and learnt most of
his tunes. These two, living about 25 miles apart, constitute the major source
musicians of the area.

But there are others who are notable taborers.

Also in the village of Constantim is the talented musician and
artisan Celio Pires, now in his mid-30s. In his wood-turning workshop, he makes
and sells tabor pipes and bagpipes, both of which he plays expertly, along with
a hurdy-gurdy which he made himself. He has been absorbing the local traditional
tunes since he was a boy, but is now composing and playing his own well-crafted

Pipe and tabor also features in several folk bands from the area. The
Meirinhos brothers from Miranda do Douro have formed a concert band Galandum
Galandaina, with Pablo Meirinhos playing pipe and tabor, as well as passing on
tunes to a younger generation. Galandum Galundaina take Mirandes folk tunes and
songs and have arranged them for the concert stage, blending in some outstanding
harmony singing. In a more conventionally traditional mode is the group
Lengalenga with taborer Henrique Fernandes, whilst the impressive taborer Abilio
Topa plays in the band La Çaramontaina.

Of particular note amongst the younger generation is one Miguel Santos from
Miranda, who as well as bagpipe and pipe and tabor, also plays piano and guitar,
all to a good standard, and who is 13 years old. He is already in demand to play
for the local folk dancers, including a Pauliteiros group. He plays in a group
of youngsters called “Os Gaitericos” (The Little Pipers) who play impressive and
lively versions of local folk dance tunes with pipe and tabor, bagpipe and

The 3-holed pipe played in Miranda do Douro is generally called the flauta
pastoral, or simply ‘fraita’ in the Mirandes language. The pipes are made of
various local woods and most are home-made in the villages, apart from those
that are bought across the border in Spain with the same tuning. The pipes are
usually about 40cm in length and are often tuned to play comfortably in the key
of D Aeolian (i.e. D E F G A Bb C D), with a bottom note of A, as this is the
key in which many of the local tunes are played. The tuning of the fraita is
such that starting from the lowest note (with all fingers on) the scale rises by
the following intervals – semitone, tone, tone (STT).  This differs essentially
from the English tabor pipe (TTS), the French Galoubet (TTT) and the Basque
txistu (TST), all variations on the 3-holed pipe. However, as the fraitas are
usually home-made there is great variation of pitch, above and below the note of
D. It is quite usual to find fraitas in C#, D or even D#. There are therefore
insurmountable problems in getting Portuguese taborers to play together and
normally a taborer will play on his own, or with a sympathetically-tuned
bagpipe.  Thus there is great fluidity and flexibility in the key, mode and
pitch from musician to musician. These vagaries of tuning are demonstrated by
the fact that Virgilio Cristal from Constantim generally played in D major but
his son, Aureliano Ribeiro, playing a Spanish pipe made in Salamanca, has
adapted his father’s tunes to a D modal key.

What of the future? Despite the ubiquitous popularity of the bagpipe, the
pipe and tabor is very much in evidence and is mentioned in all the literature
describing the folklore of the area. The folklorist Mario Correia from Sendim
has done impressive work recording Mirandes musicians and singers and noting
local customs, and has a large archive of field recordings put out by his
excellent CD company ‘Sons da Terra’ (Sounds of the Land). The interest and
enthusiasm in and around Miranda do Douro for their local music and traditions
should mean that the future of the music, along with pipe and tabor playing, is


Alvorada (‘Dawn tune’) as played by Virgilio Cristal of Constantim and
transcribed by Alberto Jambrina.

Midi file of this music.

Click on the music to open a larger image in a new window.


Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude especially to Albert Jambrina
Leal from Zamora, who has shared his time and vast knowledge of the subject with
me, and also to Mario Correia who generously allowed me access to his many field
recordings. I would also like to thank the following:
Musicians: Abilio Topa,
Aureliano Ribeiro, Angelo Arribas, Desiderio Afonso, Charles Menteith, Miguel
Angelo Sousa Martins.
Plus Augusto Santos Martins. Ana Afonso, Cristina

Websites of interest:

Lengalenga – band

Galandum Galundaina – band

La Çaramontaina – band

No Mazurka – band

Website detailing much about Portuguese

Interesting site
about pipe and tabor in Portugal

of traditional Mirandes music

Pipe and Tabor in
Alentejo (in Portugese)