Panpipes are widespread around the world and are known to have existed in Romania during Roman times as indicated by stone carvings and writings of the poet Ovid, although today’s instrument is unlikely to be a direct descendent.
Later the instrument is documented in the courts during the 16th century under the name țevița, then in the 17th century under the name muskal, through the late 18th century and 19th centuries the panpipe with violin and cobza formed the typical lăutar bands of the Wallachian and Moldavian plains and became known outside Romania.
The name has changed in time from fluierar or șueraș, to the muscal then to the nai. The latter two names are of Persian origin, suggesting the reintroduction of a version of the panpipes via the Ottoman Turks.
The Romanian nai is a slightly concave row of twenty tubes closed at the lower end giving a diatonic scale from B1 to G4. The tubes are tuned by inserting bees wax to the natural note, apart from F#. Recently musicians have added further pipes to increase the range. The natural pitch of each pipe can be adjusted to give the chromatics by inclining the instrument towards the musician, this allowing sliding notes to be played.
During the 20th century the nai was becoming less common with very few players continuing to play this instrument between the world wars. The most important remaining musician was Fănica Luca who began teaching a new generation of musicians firstly with the “Barbu Lautru” folk orchestra in 1949, then from 1953 at the Bucharest school of music. His most famous pupil was the musician Gheorghe Zamfir. The nai is now included in gypsy tarafs through Moldavia and Wallachia and in the majority of folk orchestras.