The birbynė is a traditional Lithuanian wind instrument whose name originates from the Lithuanian word for “to blow” or “to buzz”. Although the instrument was not mentioned in writing until 1625, and the term birbynė did not come into use until 1747, its initial prototypes are said to have been in existence since the Stone Age. Predecessors of the modern-day birbynė were mainly used by shepherds to play songs and folk music until the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, however, it was often replaced with instruments such as the clarinet or accordion, until decades later it was rediscovered by the Lithuanian folk music ensemble Lietuva and its construction was enhanced by Povilas Samuitis and Pranas Serva. These more recent developments reestablished the instrument’s unique status in Lithuanian folk music, which it continues to enjoy today. The expanded family of the birbynė now includes soprano, tenor and double-bass instruments that meet all of the Lietuva ensemble’s needs.
The birbynė has a single reed attached with a tightly wound string and is typically made of maple or cherry wood cured in hot flax oil or resin, while the casing of the double-bass birbynė is made of metal. The lower end is fitted with a flared cow horn. Although models vary, the most commonly used modern version has ten finger holes (including holes for both thumbs) and a brass register key. The bore is neither completely cylindrical nor completely conical, which allows the instrument to overblow at an unprecedented tenth. Depending on the artist´s technique, creativity and repertoire, the birbynė can sound like an oboe, flute, clarinet, saxophone or even a trumpet, setting it apart from other European single-reed instruments and making it ideal for performing a diverse repertoire of music. These qualities give this marvelous instrument its unique reputation.