THE BLACK BIRCH BATON INSTRUMENT ("SWARTHYSTAFF")

DESCRIPTION - PRODUCTION - PLAYING - USAGE - HISTORY/ORIGIN

The Black Birch Baton (or more commonly referred to by younger bards, as the "Swarthystaff") is a beautiful single reed, woodwind instrument widely used in orchestras, ensembles, duets-trios etc. and most commonly as just a solo instrument. Its popularity is as a result of its distinct timbre, which in turn originates from the shape of its cylindrical bore and its flared bell.

The Black Birch Baton has a very large compass of tones. Its lower register is mellow and refined where as its upper register is brilliant and shrill. The origins of this instrument have long since been forgotten, and as about a dozen tribes claim to be its creator it is difficult to research in depth. Although physical evidence suggests that the "Swarthystaff" was developed as a joint effort between the humans and the Thergerim. Archives state that they developed a lesser Black Birch Baton long before the modern instrument was even thought about, although not as advanced as its younger sibling, this human/Thergerim instrument clearly lead to the development that we see today.

The Black Birch Baton

View picture in full size Image description. The ever popular black birch baton, also often referred to as the "Swarthystaff". Picture drawn by Seeker.

Description. The Black Birch Baton is a long, elegant, jet black wind instrument. The average Ah Black Birch Baton is 7 handspans long, but its relative instruments can range from 1 handspan to 1.3 peds. It has a thick cylindrical bore which is approximately 4 nailbreadths in diameter (in the Ah variety) and a flared bell - it are these two features which help to produce its lucious sounds. The average Black Birch Baton has 8 fingerholes (6 front, 2 back) but instruments built for beginners usually only have 1 fingerhole in the back face, reducing the complexity of the fingering, although this "easy way out" elementary instruments have a much smaller pitch range than their more confusing counterparts.

The Black Birch Baton also boasts a complicated network of metal keys, which allow it to play a large variety of notes and registers. This maze of keys results in its fingering being complex and very difficult to learn, so the notes that a student Black Birch Batonist produces are usually accompanied by the occasional squeak or stutter.

The best Black Birch Batons are made of a single piece carefully hollowed out black birch. But they are more commonly found in 5 detachable pieces, these cheap and portable instruments are often used by students and travelling musicians but the sound and tonal quality is never up to the standards of their single piece cousins.

There is not only a single type of "Swarthystaff" however for it belongs to a family of around 12 other sizes, each with a unique pitch range, key and authenic (the note it plays without holding down any keys) ranging from the Soprantulisa (modernly nicknamed the "Trilobee") playing in Que to the Octacontrabassi playing in Ey. The majority of this large family are rarely used and the most common is the one described above, the Ah Black Birch Baton ("originally" named, for the Ey a Black Birch Batonist would play would be the equivalent to an Ah on a resonance organ).

The pitch range of a black birch baton depends on the type and length of instrument being played. For instance a Soprantulisa Black Birch Baton has a smaller but higher pitch range than its Ah sibling.

Here is a table of all the Orchestrally used members of the black birch baton family, their size and pitch range (note that the majority of these instruments are rarely used and the range can often differ from crafter to crafter):

Instrument Length Bore Diameter Pitch Range Key
Soprantulisa 1.5 handspans 12 grains Mid Goh/True Fo Que
Soprinos 2 handspans 21 grains Mid Os/High Que Ur
Descantus 3.2 handspans 30 grains Mid Re/High Eh Eh
Alto-Descantus 5 handspans 2 nailsbreaths Low Je/High Eh Os
Altano-Symphonious 7 handspans 4 nailsbreaths Deep Eh/High Eh Ah
Bassiter 1 ped 6 nailsbreaths Deep Ba/Low Que Neh

The Black Birch Baton has a wide dynamical compass to compliment that of its variety of tones. Although the Black Birch Baton is generally classified as a loud instrument because quite a lot of physical effort is needed to get a sound out of its reed, as a result of its amplitude it is often played outdoors at dances etc. and there is usually only two per orchestra. Return to the top

Production. These beautiful wind instruments are usually constructed by human tribes, such as the Centoraurians. But some of the most masterfully crafted instruments have been made by the hands of a Thergerim or elf. There is no particular region where Black Birch Batons are constructed but the densest concentration of workshops is in central Sarvonia.

Black Birch Batons (as the name normally suggests!) are hand crafted from exquisite but sturdy black birch. However some woodworkers have tried to construct them with different types of wood, but the tonal quality was never the same. The best Black Birch Batons are traditionally made from a single piece of wood which is hollowed out using a complicated method, but for the sake of speed, money and portability, cheaper instruments are made in five detachachable pieces: the mouthpiece, barrel, top joint, lower joint and bell.

The keys are added onto the instrument by a specially trained professional due to its high complexity and the fact that that if the keys are a just 0.5 grains off the whole sound is ruined. On the best (single piece) instruments the keys are usually made of specially selected aurium, but on their "more affordable" siblings they are usually steel or bronze. And this is all topped off with a reed made from carefully cut bombox palm, the thickness depends on the players ability, strength 0 is for absolute beginners, 1 or 2 for students, and so on until 7 which is for the master players allowing them to access the full potential of their instrument. A fully finished "Swarthystaff" is a beautiful sight indeed, with its shining keys and luscious black bore, so after the strenuous building process the majority of players agree that it was worth it!
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Playing. The sound of this instrument is created when air is pushed past the sharp edge of the bombox palm single reed causing it to vibrate, thus creating the sound. Changes of pitch are acquired by covering up the fingerholes, or by pressing one of the complicated networks of keys. These keys operate by lowering a circular piece of metal with a pad on the bottom, so that it is covering a hole in the bore. They are usually pressed by tilting the hand slightly so that the side of a finger comes into contact with it, or by simply being pressed by the left hand pinky.

There are 8 finger holes in total, 6 on the front which are operated by the fingers and two on the back which are operated by the thumbs. The thumbs are free to move at will because unlike other wind instruments the whole instrument is supported by the left hand pinky, which is neatly tucked under a small hook. Pantheon changes are obtained by removing the thumbs from their finger holes, in a certain combination.

In order to extract the most refined sounds from a Black Birch Baton you will first have to master its peculiar embouchure. The bottom lip is brought up so that it covers the bottom teeth and the reed and mouthpiece rest on top of the lip, the player will then bite down on top of the mouthpiece and make sure everything is sealed by lowering the top lift to cover it. It sounds complicated when written, but it is a fairly simple technique when taught by a tutor.
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Usage. The Compendium writer apologises, for he states in advance that this section is not going to be anything but long, for all that basically needs to said is that the Black Birch Baton can be used in basically any musical situation, and in many musicians opinion it is probably the most versatile of all instruments (apart from the resonance organ of course!). Although it isn't the most "folky" of instruments. It can be found in orchestras, ensembles, the occasional folk group, duets trios etc., accompaniment and solo, so im not surprised if you are sick of the sight of it! Probably the most famous use for the "Swarthystaff" was as the solo part for the "Avás Dream" suite for Black Birch Baton and resonance organ by Allegro Aninus. This is probably one of the most emotionally vivid pieces ever embedded on manuscript, for the Beautiful tones of the Black Birch Baton mesh splendidly with the lovely drones of the resonance organ, they compliment each other quite nicely!

Despite there being only two per orchestra (because sadly composers don't usually take advantage of the beautiful sounds of this instrument) that is all that's needed, for its graceful notes can often be heard sailing above the heavy slurring of the bowed strings. In the Orchestra there will be a first Swarthystaff who will play the melody and a second who will be the harmonious accompaniment, usually these parts will be altered so that the glorious first part is shared equally but if there is one player who has a much greater experience than the other it will often be the latter who will solely play the second part.

Although the Black Birch Baton is a more human orientated instrument many other races are giving in to its luscious sounds, particularly the Thergerim (some of the best sounding Swarthystaff choirs are practiced deep within the heart of a volcano!). The elves however do not usually take this as their instrument of choice, and so they stick to their delicate flutes.
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History/Origin. The Origins of this instrument are fairly murky, but it has been accepted that its creation was thanks to a human/Thergerim partenership some centuries ago. The first primitive Black Birch Baton was crafted in around 956 a.S. by two musical crafters Aeheldred the Thergerim metalworker and Bellatrix the Centoraurian musician and woodworker. These two craftsmen both had the same dream, to create a wind instrument free from the shackles of single pantheons, and so they put their differences aside and gave their own area of expertise into this project. Bellatrix was famous for her amazing woodwork and theoretical knowledge, and she gave the Black Birch Baton a wonderful bore and flared bell allowing it to have a wider compass of tones and its rich timbre. And Aeheldred was a talented Thergerim metal worker and he gifted the Black Birch Baton with beautiful and complex keys, allowing it to change freely from pantheon to pantheon. Their finished creation was a fair sight indeed. The first ever Black Birch Baton was created in a small workshop just outside Bardavos.

Word soon spread around all Santharia about this wonderful new wind instrument. By 1050 The Black Birch Baton was one of the most popular instruments among all races and classes. There were already 15 different types of Black Birch Baton that had sprung into the world (three of these have been lost from all record) and you could never go too far without hearing the luscious tones of a Black Birch Baton. Over the years it has been improved and more keys and finger holes have been added allowing the modern player to access more potential from this instrument. In fact a new version of the Black Birch Baton is in the works, deep inside the school of tunes in Bardavos, whenever this new and exciting model will be revealed is a mystery, but keep your ears open! Although still a very popular instrument, its usage has sadly greatly decreased over the years and less people are deciding to take advantage of this beautiful wind instrument (- and all wind instruments for that matter, strings are becoming too popular these days).
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 Date of last edit 22nd Fallen Leaf 1667 a.S.

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