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Muchosa

aerophone

This bagpipe is of a type that was first described and depicted by the French polymath Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) in his Harmonie Universelle of 1636. Mersenne called it a Chalemie, ou la Cornemuse rurale ou pastorale des Bergers ('Chalemie, or the rural or pastoral bagpipe of the shepherds'). This bagpipe has a chanter with a conical bore and a double reed, like the oboe, and two drones with a cylindrical bore and a single reed,  like the clarinet. Typically, the small drone is set in a common stock with the chanter. This type of bagpipe was played in the Central Pyrenees, Central France and Picardy, among others. In his Muzijkaal Kunstwoordenboek of 1795  the Zeelandic musicographer Joost Verschuere Reynvaan mentioned that the instrument, which he called a muzelzak, was 'much in use amongst shepherds and peasants, in Brabant and Flanders'.

In Belgium the bagpipe survived the longest in the Picardic West of the province of Hainaut.  Among other names, the instrument was often called a muchosa, Picardic for 'muse au sac' ('muse with a bag'). In Hainaut, too, there were, apart from craftsmen, a lot of shepherds among the muchards, as the pipers were called locally. They played while herding their flocks, accompanied pilgrimages, and played for weddings and other family feasts. Possibly the last player was shepherd Alphonse Gheux (Saint-Sauveur 1850 - Arc-Ainières 1936). He was said to have stopped playing in 1912, after his chanter had broken.  Alphonse Gheux is the only known muchard who was immortalized in a photo.

Only three old muchosa bagpipes have survived, and they are all three kept in the MIM. They date from the early nineteenth century at the latest. Two of them (inventory numbers 2701 & 2702) come from the collection of the notary César Snoeck from Ronse (1834-1898), who acquired the instruments from the Piron family in the neighbouring village of Arc-Ainières.

Of this third instrument (inventory number 1980.047) only the chanter and the drones have been preserved. It was discovered shortly after 1970 by Constable Roger Boucart of Mourcourt, when he went in search of the last witnesses of the bagpipe tradition in his area at the demand of the Musée de la Vie Wallonne. He found it in Escanaffles in the possession of Marcel Lehon, whose grandfather and great-grandfather had played on it. The great-grandfather was Charles-Louis Lehon (circa 1817 - 1901) of  Popuelles, who may not have been the first owner. In 1972 the bagpipe maker and player Remy Dubois, who himself carried out fieldwork in the area,  was able to buy the instrument from Marcel Lehon. Lehon didn't feel like selling it to Constable Boucart, because, one day, the latter had fined him for the nettles in his field. In 1980 Dubois sold the instrument to the Musical Instruments Museum.

This muchosa is exceptionally decorated with figurative carvings. The stock of the chanter and small drone has a sculpted ram's head.  The upper part of the big drone shows a church and a shepherd, with his crook in his right hand and his bagpipe under his left arm, and with a dog and a sheep at his feet. An inscription in pinprick lettering is to be read as Saint Druon à Sebourg / né à Carvin-Épinoy ('Saint Druon in Sebourg / born in Carvin-Épinoy'). In Picardy Saint Druon or Drogo (1118-1185) was the patron saint of shepherds. He was, indeed, born in Épinoy, at present a neighbourhood of Carvin in the Pas-de-Calais department. Drogo ended his life as a confessor and recluse in the border town of Sebourg near Valenciennes.

Another inscription in pinprick lettering, on the lower part of the big drone, reads fapx nart  [?] a moustier.  Does this refer to the maker or a former owner?  Moustier is a village 10 km east of Popuelles.

The bagpipe tradition of the Hainaut province was rediscovered in 1967 by Hubert Boone, who, as a museum guide, wanted to know more about the two  muchosas in the collection. Much of what we know about the instrument and its former players is thanks to Boone's fieldwork in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This also contributed to a revival of the instrument, with even a new Confrérie des Muchards de Saint Druon. One of the players is Pascale Gheux, great-granddaughter of Alphonse Gheux.

Wim Bosmans

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Alphonse Gheux, around 1885, collection mim
Carvings on the big drone, drawing Olle Geris