THE KENA (QUENA FLUTE)

It is a type of end-blown flute well-known all over Latin-America. Its origins (at least in the Andes) reach back to ancient times. However, there are strikingly similar musical instruments used all over the world. Such an example is the Japanese shakuhachi with a similar blow-hole and pentatonic scales, and I myself have seen very similar instruments in China which is diatonic, just like the quena flute. Besides, I have also often heard about (though I have never seen) a so-called rim-flute, which had been used in Hungarian vernacular music.

The shape and size of the blow-hole of the kena is of primary importance and significance concerning the potential volume, tone and the clarity of the octave. Its notch is shaped differently in various regions, and changes even according to tastes it may be U or V shaped, angular, featuring various proportions and transitory forms that even blend with each other. The angular air notch is identical with that of flutes. The most important difference between the common flute and the quena is that the upper end of the flute is closed by a stopper, and a narrow stream of air channels the blown air to the air notch; as a result, the shape and size of the air column remains the same. Because of this the various musical sounds can only be produced by changing the strength and intensity of blowing, and even so they are limited to a certain tone. The player covers the totally open upper end of the quena flute whilst supporting it with the chin and the lower lip. The thickness of the air column, its shape and direction are regulated by the lips; actually, one must learn how to sound the instrument, much in the same way as the traverse flute, which is known by everyone. However, the player may achieve a rich variety of volumes and tones owing to the wide range of possible ways of blowing. The quena flute allows to powerfully sound even the deepest musical sounds, as well as the highest ones wispily. It’s fingering is identical to the simplest (keyless) flutes (tuned to the diatonic scale): it has got six holes above plus a seventh at the bottom for the thumb with which the third octave range may be extended. As a result, a genuinely fine instrument allows us to sound three complete octaves plus one or two other extra sounds. A strikingly characteristic feature of the quena is that its holes tend to be quite large: they may be so big that the player needs to cover them with all his upper finger joints (not the finger pads!). There are two main reasons for this: 1. big holes = large sound volume, 2. sounds beyond the diatonic scale can be produced by so-called half-hole fingerings. In practice, it means playing on holes covered at least to their ¾, which leaves only 1/4 part of them open. However, with the appropriate mouthing, the player can produce colourful and powerful musical sounds even within the range of the first octave. Should someone finger a false semi-sound this way, they only have themselves to blame for it, as it is not the flaw of the musical instrument at all. 🙂

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ABOUT US

Sándor Szabó

Some time ago, during a brief period when I was learning to play the guitar, I met Péter Szendrői who introduced me to the quena flute and I fell in love with this musical instrument at first sight. It did not take long and I had the chance to play in a band founded by him. This is how a period of about 10 years started which I devoted to Latin music as a full-time musician. I played in various ensembles with musicians coming from several countries of South America. From the very beginning I engaged in making musical instruments for myself, and sometimes also for others, especially from reed. During the next decade I learnt to play the trumpet (a little bit of classical, and more on the jazz side), and played in a variety of bands too.
Meanwhile, however, I remained preoccupied with the quena flute. When I made myself a larger C-tuned instrument, I started practising. From that time on, I fostered two ambitions simultaneously which gradually reinforced each other. On the one hand, I wanted to make a quena flute which is developed to perfection, whilst preserving its original simplicity, because that was the reason why I found it so attractive. On the other hand, I started practising with the same expectations as people tend to have about classical musical instruments, that is all kinds of keys, chromatics, dynamics, etc.
It was not clear for me at the beginning, but then I made sure that it is not impossible, even though far from being easy to implement. Of course, you may ask me the question: What’s the meaning of this? Why haven’t I chosen the modern Boehm flute which allows us to take up any musical challenges a musician might ever face. Practising the quena flute in a creative way means the same to me as doing a combat sport or, more likely, doing yoga in today’s world of technocracy. Throughout the years I have gained much experience in the most efficient ways of mastering the appropriate techniques. I am pleased to pass on my expertise and teach those interested in this beautiful instrument which is so noble in its simplicity.
Recently, me and my friend, Árpád Horváth have managed to set up the basic conditions necessary for making instruments ourselves. As a result, we shall be able to come up here with photos of the very first quenas, flutes hopefully followed by more and more new ones we are going to make.

Árpád Horváth

My very first meeting with the music of the Andes dates back to 1989 when I saw some street musicians from Latin-America at a subway station. I got so carried away by the mood of their songs, that I decided right then and there to get engaged in this kind of music. I started collecting recordings by various bands and listened to them every day for hours. Meanwhile, my father made my very first wind instrument for me from wood, and later on I managed to get other instruments made of reed too.
In the early ’90s, I had the chance to play music with Latin Americans, and then in 1996 I joined Los Andinos, a band based in Székesfehérvár, with which in the latter half of the same year I went on a 6-month tour to visit three countries of the Andes: Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. As it was also a concert tour, we played some Hungarian folk music to give a taste of it – then we had just as many Hungarian musical instruments as Andean ones. It did not take long before a group of the same band later on named Kákics was founded to specialise in Hungarian folk music. This in turn was the motivation for me to start learning to play the authentic Hungarian fiddle from András Jánosi.
The experience I gained during this collecting tour aroused my interest in the vernacular music of other countries in South America. and I gradually grew familiar with more and more styles and performers.
From 1998 on, I had temporarily worked for a company specialized in satellite vehicle protection for 12 years. Of course, I did not quit playing music meanwhile. Quite the contrary, I even started to practise plucked string instruments of Latin America. Since 2005 I have been an active member of Gyöngyhalász, a Latin music band in Veszprém, and in 2011 I joined Los Gringos, another band playing Latin music. As I often play the quena flute during my performances, I started to crave for high-standard musical instruments of better and better qualities.
I have known my friend, Sándor Szabó for a long time now, and our careers as musicians developed parallel for a while. Quite recently, we have made a decision to start making musical instruments in tandem.

CONTACT

Sándor Szabó

+36 (30) 312 4122
ludurfi@gmail.com

Árpád Horváth

+36 (30) 415 4517
chullpara@gmail.com

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