“The last hole on the kaval”… You’ve probably heard that phrase before or maybe you haven’t. Well, it is a popular saying here in Bulgaria. It could mean several things. One of them is – indicating how significantly unimportant something is. Another one is to explain someone’s position who has been rejected by society as a whole. I did a good research on the topic and saw that the saying is, in fact, not only used in Bulgaria but in the Balkans. in general. They replace the word “kaval” with a flute or the name of their local flute.
In Serbia, for instance, they say “the last hole on the flute” and my research even led me to a movie with that name.(might be good the check it out)
I don’t know about the Serbian flutes but the Bulgarian kaval has two last holes, not just one. See the attached illustration and you’ll see that the last two holes are at the same level, so it’s impossible to say which one is the last.
The kaval is constructed in three parts, each is called a joint. In Bulgaria we call those joints – Ekleme. When we put them together they form a single pipe. The upper end of the kaval or the head joint is where the mouthpiece is, which means, that’s where we place our lips to produce the sound. The middle section of the kaval – the Body Joint or the second ekleme connects to both the head joint and foot joint. That is where the finger holes are. There are 7 holes on the front and one on the back. And last but not least, is the acoustic piece which has 4 additional holes but we do not cover them and they are not used for playing. In Bulgaria they are known as “The Devil’s holes” and In North Macedonia as “glasnitsi” (meaning – “giving voice”).
There’s a wonderful folk tale about a shepherd, his flock and the Devil. I always tell that story during concerts because it is really interesting and it really makes people in the audience listen to the music differently. I believe that informing the audience about the music before you perform, in general, not only makes them understand the story behind it but also helps them really experience the whole performance much better. The story also explains the reason for the “Devil’s holes” to be called that.
A shepherd grazed his flock of sheep and played the kaval. He played so beautifully that the devil envied him a lot. The devil waited for the shepherd to get tired and fall asleep then took his kaval, pierced the four holes of the last ekleme (joint) using his fiery fingers with the idea to ruin the shepherd’s kaval. The exact opposite happened. The shepherd woke up, grabbed the kaval, started playing and it was even more beautiful than before. The devil saw this and was terrified. He ran away and never returned. Because of this tale, the kaval is the only instrument in Bulgarian folklore that is allowed (according to the tradition) to be played at funerals. It is believed that it chases away evil spirits and purifies people’s souls.