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Music to your ears

People made music for at least 40,000 years. Things found in nature were the first instruments, hollow logs became drums, bones and horns were the woodwinds. Musical notation followed the invention of writing, examples have been found written on papyrus and carved in stone.

Music affects us emotionally, and by extension can affect our moods and health. The right kind of music (for the listener) can reduce stress and anxiety, even pain.  It can also increase productivity and improve memory. Singing is especially good for your health, brain and mood, whether you can carry a tune or not.

Orchestral instruments are divided into four categories – strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Only a small selection of instruments in each category are found in orchestras and other classical groups, but many, many others exist. Every country has at least one instrument indigenous to that place.

Flute – One of the oldest known instruments. Alto flute, pitched lower, is used for some compositions.

Piccolo – Like a flute, but smaller and pitched an octave higher. Minor instrument in an orchestra.

Oboe – More mellow sounding than the flute, usually carries the melody in an orchestra. It is the instrument used to tune the orchestra before each concert.

Clarinet – Similar to an oboe, with instruments made to play in various keys. Usually 2-4 in an orchestra.

Bassoon – Bass section of the woodwinds. Usually provide the harmony in a piece

Fife – Loud and shrill sounding, usually used in the military to accompany marches or to send signals on the battlefield.

Recorder – Once played in orchestras, but was completely replaced by the flute by the 18th century. Revived in the20th century, it is now commonly used in schools.

French Horn – Tenor version of the oboe. Occasionally heard in orchestra music.

Saxophone – Although made of brass, actually considered a woodwind, because it uses a reed to provide the sound. It is occasionally used in the orchestra, but most familiar as a jazz instrument. It is also used in marching bands.

Alphorn – Found in mountainous areas such as the Alps and in Scandinavia. Originally used by herders, but because the sound carries so far, it was also used to signal danger. It is primarily used for tourist entertainment now, but in some places is also used to call cattle down from the mountains.



Bagpipes –  An ancient instrument used in Sumeria, Greece and Rome, later spreading to Europe. Scottish bagpipes are still popular today, playing concerts, at festivals, entertaining tourists. Often called on to play at ceremonies.

Timpani – Most important percussion in the orchestra. Can be tuned to various pitches and  play both rhythm and melody.

Snare drum – Also called side drum, from the way it is slung over the shoulder in military bands. 

Bass drum – Largest drum in the orchestra.

Steel drums – Originated in Trinidad in the 1930s, where they were made from cut down oil drums. Have a two-octave range.

Triangle –  Evolved from the Egyptian sistrum, which was used to worship certain gods and to ward off evil spirits. Introduced into the orchestra in 1710.

Cymbals – Known in ancient Israel and Egypt. Weren’t regularly used in orchestras until the 19th century. “Antique” cymbals are capable of being tuned to a certain pitch. They can be clashed together, slid across each other or hit with a drum stick. Finger cymbals are used by dancers in Asia, Egypt and Greece.

Piano – The Grand Piano, with its strings running horizontally, is used in orchestras. The upright, invented in 1739, has strings running vertically, saving floor space. 

Organ – Originated in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. The instrument of choice in Rome by the 2nd century AD.  Adopted by churches around the 10th century, and became the only instrument allowed in churches. By the 13th century it was almost exclusively found in the church. 

Xylophone – Believed to have originated in Southeast Asia. Rarely seen in an orchestra, but Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre used one to represent rattling bones. In Africa wooden keys may be set on bundles of grass or gourds. Some versions are made simply of logs. They may be played by one person or up to three, depending on the type of xylophone. 

Marimba – A type of xylophone originating in Africa. It uses metal tubes as resonators rather and has a deeper, more resonant sound than the xylophone. It is popular in Central and South America, and has been featured in some U.S. pop music. The marimba is used for the default ringtone on Apple’s iPhones. There are a number of marimba  bands in Eugene and they can often be seen at outdoor events.

Violin – Leading string of orchestra.

Viola – Pitched below the violin. It is also slightly larger.

Cello – The bass instrument of the violin family, pitched a full octave below the viola.

Double bass  – Lowest pitched of all the strings, also used in jazz bands.

Sitar – Important in Indian music.


Lyre – Originally found in Mesopotamia, Israel and Syria. Later seen in Egypt, Greece and Rome. Still used in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. Mentioned often in Greek mythology, with Hermes given the credit for its creation.

Harp – Sometimes seen in orchestras.

Guitar – Popular in Spain since the 16th century, often used in other Latin countries. The instrument of choice for folk music, now used in just about all modern genres.

Ukulele – Evolved from the Portuguese machte, not much known outside of Hawaii before 1915. Currently enjoying a rise in popularity in this country.

Fiddle – At one time a separate instrument from the violin and descended from the lute, today the fiddle and violin are the same instrument, but played differently.

Banjo – Originated in West Africa where it descended from the lute. Introduced to North America by slaves.

This week in Oregon History

Jan. 12, 1853: In Oregon, the Territorial Legislative Assembly at Salem passed an act to establish Willamette University. Previous to this, the school was known as Oregon Institute founded by Jason Lee and operated by the Methodist Missionaries in 1884, making it the oldest learning institution in the West. Did you know? Chronicle reporter Ryleigh Norgrove is an alumna of Willamette University. 

Jan. 13, 1837: Today marks the birth of Oregon’s cattle industry. Articles of agreement were entered into by “settlers upon the Willamette River” who realized the importance of having good stock of their own. Undeterred by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s refusal to sell them cattle, the newly formed Willamette Cattle Company took passage on the Brig Loriot to California where they purchased Spanish herds and drove them back to Oregon. 

Jan. 14, 1889: The Roseburg City Council passed an anti-noise law which read: “An ordinance to prevent the use of bells on cows and other domestic animals in the night time between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.”

Jan. 15, 1942: Buttermilk Creek flows through Philomath into Mary’s River.  A letter in the Jan. 15, 1942 edition of the Philomath Review from F.S. Minshall explains the Creek’s name: “Years ago, a creamery operated along this brook and ran its surplus buttermilk into the drain. When summer came, the resulting odor aroused indignation among residents. Various methods including the appointment of a “Smelling Committee” by the council were unsuccessful at eliminating the stench. The creamery finally went out of business, but the name “Buttermilk” still remains. 

Jan. 16, 1848: One of the earliest examples of bartering, population among Willamette Valley settlers in the Oregon Territory occurred on this day, when Michael Ridenour and Solomon K. Brown furnished one ox to the Kalapuya Indians for land lying on the Willamette River between Mary’s River and Long Tom Creek.

Jan. 17, 1907: The northbound O.R. & N. train was held up on this winter day by armed citizens of the community of Adams in Umatilla County. Made desperate by the long-continued fuel famine caused by a prolonged and severe cold spell, the party seized one carload of coal consigned to Eugene Tausick at Walla Walla.  

Jan. 18, 884: “There is a present scarcity of change. Ten and 20 dollar-pieces are plenty enough but silver is scarce. Nothing disconcerts a sensitive man as to be obliged to fumble over a handful of gold, trying to find a 10 cent or two-bit piece.” — Weekly Astorian  

Excerpts: “This Day in Oregon,” 

by James Cloutier, 1982; 

art by Hugh Wetshoe.



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