Clappers and Concussion-Sticks

  February 14, 2022   Read time 1 min
Clappers and Concussion-Sticks
The clapper is the first instrument that Egyptian sources record. Prehistoric vases made before 3000 B.C. figure female dancers playing or accompanied by clappers, both held in one hand (one-handed clappers).

The instrument is carefully drawn; it consists of two sticks, bent like boomerangs, both held in one hand and clapped against one another. Sticks similar in shape are well known to anthropologists as missiles used in hunting. The Egyptian missile must have had the same form, since its hieroglyphic ideogram corresponded exactly to that of the prehistoric dance clapper. It is easy to find the link between them; Egyptian hunters approached the papyrus thickets on the Nile banks, clapped their missiles together to scare up the water birds and then hurled them after the soaring game.

This is one of the rare cases in which an implement with a practical use is transformed into a musical instrument. We know a similar instance among the Cágaba in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, who use the same sticks, made to chase birds from the crops, to accompany a magic dance against these birds. The author saw modern Egyptian farmers in 1930 chasing locusts from the fields in the same way.

Another magic dance insuring a good harvest is represented in an ancient Egyptian tomb of about 2700 B.C.: a file of rural workmen clap together short sticks held in both hands as they advance in those long, easy strides typical of fertility rites. A practical use for the rhythm made by percussion sticks is sho wn on reliefs made soon after 3000 B.C.: while the vintagers press the grapes with their feet, two other men are clapping the rhythm with their sticks, one held in each hand, to facilitate the tiring labor. This is an archaic example of work rhythm as a source of musical activity, the musical importance of which the sociologist Karl Bücher has so much exaggerated in his well-known book, Arbeit und Rhythmus.