~ Wind instrument


Shawm, Medieval and Renaissance instrument, predecessor to the oboe


The shawm (/ʃɔːm/) is a conical bore, double-reed woodwind instrument made in Europe from the 12th century to the present day. It achieved its peak of popularity during the medieval and Renaissance periods, after which it was gradually eclipsed by the oboe family of descendant instruments in classical music. It is likely to have come to Western Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean around the time of the Crusades. Double reed instruments similar to the shawm were long present in Southern Europe and the East, for instance the Ancient Greek, and later Byzantine, aulos, the Persian sorna, and the Armenian duduk.

The body of the shawm is usually turned from a single piece of wood, and terminates in a flared bell somewhat like that of a trumpet. Beginning in the 16th century, shawms were made in several sizes, from sopranino to great bass, and four and five-part music could be played by a consort consisting entirely of shawms. All later shawms (excepting the smallest) have at least one key allowing a downward extension of the compass; the keywork is typically covered by a perforated wooden cover called the fontanelle. The bassoon-like double reed, made from the same Arundo donax cane used for oboes and bassoons, is inserted directly into a socket at the top of the instrument, or in the larger types, on the end of a metal tube called the bocal. The pirouette, a small wooden attachment with a cavity in the center resembling a thimble, surrounds the lower part of the reed—this provides support for the lips and embouchure.

Since only a short portion of the reed protrudes past the pirouette, the player has only limited contact with the reed, and therefore limited control of dynamics. The shawm’s conical bore and flaring bell, combined with the style of playing dictated by the use of a pirouette, gives the instrument a piercing, trumpet-like sound, well-suited for out-of-doors performance.

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subtypes: bombarde
chirimía (oboe-like double-reed from South-America)
tarota (Wooden keyless shawm from Catalonia)
tenora (Catalonian double reed descendant of shawm)
tible (Catalan valved shawm used in cobla)
type of: double reed
Wikidata: Q677921 [info]