Most of the music played by the WBS Orchestra is scored for flute, oboe, and clarinet. In addition, a charming variety of unique folk wind instruments are used for some songs played by the orchestra. These include the zhaleika, rozhok, svirel, bryolka, Vladimir horn, volynka and sopilka as well as others more rare and obscure.
This instrument, also called a table psaltery, is thought to be more ancient in origin than any of the other plucked instruments in the orchestra. Somewhat akin to the Autoharp in concept (but much larger, contained within a table with legs), the notes to be played are controlled by a one-octave piano keyboard controlled by the left hand, and the right hand uses a leather pick or individual fingers to broadly stroke or individually pluck the notes. The Orchestra uses two guslis in many concerts.
The Domra family of instruments includes, from the highest-pitched to the lowest, the prima domra, alto domra, tenor domra and bass domra. All have round or oval faces and rounded backs made of from five to nine sections. Each of these is available in either a three-stringed or four-stringed version. The three-stringed domra family is tuned in fourths, and the four-stringed family in fifths (similar to the violin family) with the exception of the four-stringed Ukrainian contrabass, which is tuned in fourths. All of the domras are played with picks.
The WBS uses a full spectrum of percussion for its major concerts, including xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, orchestra chimes, snare drum, bass drum, granite block, tambourine, cymbals and tympani. Where needed, this section is augmented by Russian folk percussion instruments such as the korobochka, treshchodka, wood block, rubel, lozhki, small bells and other exotic variants of these.
The bayan is a Russian version of the accordion, with rows of buttons on both the left and right sides. Many players consider that this arrangement gives the player more flexibility than the piano-key arrangement on the more familiar accordion, and that rapid and complex passages can be played with greater ease. The reed structure is different from the piano accordion as well.
The Balalaika family of instruments includes, from the highest-pitched to the lowest, the prima balalaika, sekunda balalaika, alto balalaika, bass balalaika and contrabass balalaika. All have three-sided bodies, spruce or fir tops and backs made of from three to nine wooden sections, and all have three strings. The prima balalaika is played with the fingers, the sekunda and alto either with the fingers or a pick depending on the music being played, and the basses and contrabasses (equipped with extension legs which rest on the floor) are played with leather picks.
The Instruments We Play
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