The Amazing Grass Bands of the Solomon Islands

By Awake! writer in the Solomon Islands

HAVE you ever tried to play a panpipe? The breathing technique required can leave you dizzy. But imagine playing pipes that are six feet [2 m] long and two inches [5 cm] in diameter and that require you to move your whole body to produce a note. Put 40 of these instruments together, and you have one of the amazing grass bands of the Solomon Islands. Yes, every instrument in this band is made from grass! The wide variety of grasses in the dense  tropical forests of the Solomon Islands provide pipes with voices ranging from the highest soprano to a deep resounding bass.

Let us visit a warehouse in Honiara, where the Narasirato Pipers are preparing their instruments and practicing before setting off on a concert tour of Taiwan. Some instruments contain clusters of three pipes that are tuned to produce a triad, or chord. The musicians are holding the three pipes together and tapping them on a flat piece of stone to make sure that the tones harmonize. If they do not, then a slice is taken off the end of the offending pipe. These pipes are not blown. Rubber is bound onto the bottom of each pipe, and the whole unit is bounced on the ground. What a remarkable chord booms forth! *

It is difficult to describe the sound as the pipes begin to “sing.” Sometimes the sound is feather soft; other times it is almost deafening. Each composition is choreographed, and the musicians weave in and out among themselves as they play. Sometimes the music is an eerie chant, but most often it is a happy foot-tapping tune. Perhaps one day you will be able to visit us and hear for yourself one of the amazing grass bands of the Solomon Islands!

[Footnote]

^ par. 4 Other pipes produce sound by being struck with a strip of thick rubber.