Pan pipes

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Pan pipes are an ancient musical instrument consisting of a set of pipes of different lengths, each of which plays a single note. The pipes are closed at the bottom end and have no fingering holes. They are played by blowing across the open end of the pipe, rather like sounding a note on a jug or pop bottle.

The earliest depictions of the instrument are on 5th or 6th century BC bronze urns from north east Italy.

Variations on the pan pipes are found in many parts of the world. As a folk instrument it ranges from the Balkans to Burma, China and parts of Oceania. It is popular in the Andean music of Peru and Chile. In recent years the pan pipes were popularized by the Romanian musician Zamfir. In the U. S., its greatest foray into popular music came with the Simon and Garfunkel song, "El Condor Pasa"; and it is prominent in the folk mass, "Missa Criole" by the Argentinian, Ariel Ramirez.

In literature

In Greek mythology, Pan, the goat-like god of Nature, is in love with the nymph Syrinx, who does not love him. He chases her, but river nymphs help her escape by changing Syrinx into river reeds. Pan makes his pipes out of the reeds. Pan pipes are also known as the Syrinx, which is also the name given to the sound-producing organ in birds.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem, A Musical Instrument, uses the mythical pipes of Pan as a metaphor, suggesting that great art is produced only at great personal cost to the artist. In the poem, Browning says, Pan creates his musical instrument only by muddying the river, killing lilies and driving away the dragonflies as he tears out a reed. He then "hack'd and hew'd" at the reed, "drew the pith, like the heart of a man" and "notch'd the poor dry empty thing in holes." The experiment is successful; the last two stanzas read

  Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
    Piercing sweet by the river!
  Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
  The sun on the hill forgot to die,
  And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
    Came back to dream on the river.

  Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
    To laugh as he sits by the river,
  Making a poet out of a man:
  The true gods sigh for the cost and pain—
  For the reed which grows nevermore again
    As a reed with the reeds of the river.

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