VI. SINGING, BUZZING, AND WEAVING
A.Singing in a Sounding World
A bonfire party, featuring a performance by a Latvian folk troupe of old women in brightly colored headscarves and heavy skirts who sang rude things at each other.
LUTES IN LATVIA (22-31 July 1997)
In his classic monograph Latviešu dancis the great music collector Emīlis Melngailis (1874-1954) starts out his chapter called “A sounding world of yore (Latvju skaņotā senātne)” with a tribute to a 90 year-old informant, Beltoviču Grieta, who has for him become emblematic of the Latvian traditional singer:
There are countless numbers of songs in the brain patterns of the zintiniece (master singer, wise woman) who has been composing her bottomless memory dowry with voiced wreaths from childhood on under her grandmother’s direction. The more there are, the more (she) wants to take in. In her realm of sound this zinteniece (wise woman) manages so as to be unconscious of her own prowess. She doesn’t sing from memory something unchangeable at all, something (merely) heard, but creates according to various voice lines within a region of some higher-level lawfulness…When I ask her to repeat, she begins her singing so: (example). When she doesn’t care for my pestering, she throws in an irregularity, a changed rhythm: (example). The second stanza is resolved differently. The mood is the same, but the line unique. If I ask her to stop or to repeat, something quite different will emerge, just as logical, but not the same (example). (Melngailis, pp. 7-8)
A mastersinger draws endlessly from a world of sound of interrelated plentitude. Everything has its own sound, tone, or voice. All phenomena can be addressed directly in the process of apdziedāšana (singing to or about). The way of direct address through celebratory singing does not differentiate between a person, deity, or natural phenomena. It is an alternative direct address to the more formal appeal lūgšana (the term used for Christian “prayer”) to a more abstract god.
The illiterate singers of Melngailis’s time developed a repertoire learning from mothers, grandmothers, other family members, and, according to dainas, listening to sounds of the surrounding nature. If inspired by nature, a song apparently is improvised by listening to a sound. The first half of a daina distich is more likely to be the formulaic source, while the second is the improvisatory lyric target. There are dainas that complain about the second half of the song being lost when the singer is unable to come up with an appropriate comparison to complete the song. Singing accompanies virtually all activities from birth to marriage to death. Smidchens notes that just as lead singers of peasant communities “have enormous active repertoires of songs and melodies which they can recall at a moment’s notice” (p. 231) so do present-day leaders of ethnographic ensembles. Additionally modern ethnographic ensembles, such as Kelmickaite, Tonurist, and the Stalti have the advantage that potentially: “Their passive repertoire includes every published collection of folksongs and the holdings of their national archives, as well. These are the sources from which they constantly take songs and learn or relearn them for performances.” (Smidchens: 231) However, because during the Soviet period the practice of traditions was often classified as nationalistic, bourgeois, and therefore undesirable, the performers of the grass-roots folklore movement often had to seek out grandparents, rather than parents. Seeking out the oldest generation also happened in the first Awakening because social conditions associated with literacy, industrialization, and urbanization had changed so rapidly in such a short time.
Music is, of course, an integral part of culture, a means of defining and expressing people according to different categories within a society. Therefore, the same recorded music will be interpreted and performed differently by different members of society not only on the individual level, but as representatives of their culture. What is being communicated by music becomes inherently problematic, a matter of level and focus. Sufficient distance creates the illusion of commonality that may be significant as a means of identification, especially for an outsider.
Singing is most often equated to the process of living in the many songs about singing. Everything in life is accompanied by song. It is also opposed to weeping and sorrow. This attitude is not naïve or maudlin, but comes from a life of hardship and is a concrete and effective way of dealing with adversity.
The emic daina view of singing as the process of living seems to resonate with the modern ethnomusicological perspective that music is a complex socio-cultural expression involved in all important aspects, such as economics, politics, art, gender, class, and identity.
In nonresponsorial singing the daina distich is a self-contained unit but in performance it must be fit with another “half” though some distich pairs become so strongly associated that they are seen as verses, and that is how they are recorded and archived. The quatrain, in turn, is either chained in nonresponsorial singing or sung alternatively in responsorial singing:
During the process of singing a quatrain is followed rather freely by other quatrains. The choice of the following dainas is up to the singer; it depends on his/her ability, skill, knowledge, and is determined by the situation, local habits, textual associations, etc. Though each quatrain is short, the singing can go on for hours. (Muktupāvels, section 2.2, prepublication)
However, the manner of collecting in the past from individual singers outside their usual communal performance did especially grave injustice to antiphonal singing. The performance requires a call and response interchange of two groups and the singer forms her reply as an answer. Unfortunately, no actual responsorial performances were recorded until recently. I am aware of no published actual musical analyses of such performances. The lack of such analyses makes a study of apdziedāšanās difficult that has an orientation toward sociocultural context. In this paper, I, therefore summarize some of the internal evidence from descriptions of performance within the daina texts themselves as well as general relevant literature on the subject with the hope that with this preliminary work, interest in recording and analysis of field performances will be encouraged.
Blacking did not believe it methodologically proper to compare music from different societies or historical periods “unless they have in common many non-musical as well as musical features.” (^ : 13) Musical structures are related to a specific culture’s social relationships and ideologies. Informed by Durkheim and Alfred Schutz, Blacking subscribed to intersubjectivity or mutual intelligibility of its interpretive and expressive schemata, signs, and symbols where “music plays a central role as the carrier of symbols which are intended to create and sustain social solidarity.” (Ibid: 24) Musical performances can relate to or symbolize central themes of celebrations. In pre-industrial agricultural Latvia, the expectation was that anyone could sing and understand musical sound patterns as the result of imbibing techniques of composition and performance “with the milk of one’s mother” (ar mātes pienu). (Observed by Blacking among Venda, p. 57-8) In my view, intersubjectivity does not exclude the contesting of dominant patterns, nor does it mean that there aren’t contradictions.
Some key observations about performance have been emerging since the second independence. Dace Bula (1992:130) in discussing the 99 song recorded repertoire of G. Vanaga notes that she did not use logical or thematic progression in the chaining of her texts: “A key word in the previous text introduces the next theme; in subsequent texts this theme is varied.” She points out that in calendar custom (ieraža) songs, the songs come up as the situation for the activity warrants and in the long romances, they are connected in thematic consequence, but other songs come up associatively. (Ibid) This, of course, is structurally repeated in the responsorial call and response of challenge songs. Reflexive dainas stress the continuous flow of sound together with a witty pick-up of an element from the previous delivery as a launch of one’s own composition. This resonates with the general literature on the challenge genre, such as the Afro-American sounding or dozens, where success is measured by ability to incorporate something from the opponent to make it a true call and response.
When I asked through e-mail of ensemble leader Ansis A. Bērziņš
I was at Ērgļi at the Pelicēni but it wasn’t anything special. It was raining now and then, as is usual on Midsummer, but there was a large empty klēts-building which nullified the effects of the rain. There was apdziedāšanās, but not of high quality. The other side had singers with poorly developed logic and a low level of understanding of folk song structure. So now and then it was not possible to figure out what they wanted to say.:) In any case there was little enjoyment. We sang against them only formally. (personal communication, 6/99)
Clearly performance competence and a good match are necessary for a memorable contest. If there is significant disparity and one side is too weak to put up a good fight, the singing doesn’t last that long. The more evenly matched the sides and the wittier the callers, the longer the performance will last and the more enjoyment everyone will have. Ansis Bērziņš, thus, relates competence to both talent and knowing the tradition well enough to build on it improvisations. Skill is not automatic and talent has to be trained. Structure, redundancy, and a holographic ability to construct wholes from the cue of a few words linked together are positive foundations for creativity rather then its opposition. Only the performer who has mastered the language and principles of poetic construction has a wide choice of alternatives from which to choose and manipulate.
From his experiences Ansis Bērziņš affirms that at the beginning more formulaic material was used until the singers had warmed up, and then they would go into stronger improvisation routines. Formulas would also be used to bide time during theme-switching:
Of course as to apdziedāšanās and the choice between improvisation and known verses, then it is more influenced by the singer remembering or not remembering appropriate known verses. That is why usually at the beginning when the topic has not yet been developed, and with that what is appropriate is not what is of pressing relevance, one uses known verses. (personal communication, 5/19/1999)
Members of ethnographic ensembles, as the classification indicates, feel a strong sense of continuity between their performances and those of their ancestors:
That’s how it is. Unfortunately the masses like thrown together “world music,” though in my opinion the real value is in the actual ethnographic performances. No amount of musical perfection, professionalism, and originality can replace the natural beauty of something that was communally created through the centuries. (Ansis Bērziņš, personal communication, 5/19/1999).
Aside even from the folklore and ethnographic ensemble groups, Latvian music is seen to be connected to its musical folklore: “Folksongs...are the living source of Latvian professional music.” (^ chrestomātija: 5) On the question of using the music of the local, nonprofessional singing groups of the countryside Ansis Bērziņš felt they gained from the exposure:
I believe they (feminine) can gain a lot – an outsider audience and maybe a trip abroad. For a countryside ethnographic ensemble that is something; their possibilities are much more limited. (Ibid)
The first indication there is of a festival approaching is an anthropomorphicized representative or festival deity arriving, usually on horse, accompanied by characteristic sounds (skaņas):
This is consistent with a world that is marked in every instance with song, sound, and music. But some beings are especially marked through idiosyncratic sound, most notably Pērkons (Thunder) who arrives with tricināšana (thunderclapping) or dunēšana (booming, rolling) and Vējšs (Wind) or Vēja māte (Wind Mother) who make wind noises such as klabēšana (rattling, clattering). Others announce their presence by the rustling of their favorite trees, still others with dūkšana (humming, buzzing), but different from the other gods, the day sky god Dievs arrives in something close to silence “without rustling the bird cherry blossom, or disturbing the ploughman’s horse.” Ceremonial clothes of the 13th century and earlier are characterized by attached metal platelets, and even after they disappear from all regions, except those in Kurzeme, the dainas retain descriptions how platelets jangle from the woman's headdress, her cloak, and the hem of her skirt and from the man's footcloths or boots and cloak. The metal platelets also reflect the light, so that the play of sound and light are interrelated and further related to imagery of light shining on water already leading into Otherworld mythic concepts. Even after embroidery replaces the metal ringlets squeezed around threads and platelets, daina songs retain imagery of light and sound in connection with the movement of the ceremonially attired. For example, sound, movement, and light are simultaneously activated in the word rotā, referring to a shimmering motion of the sun, as well as the refrain for spring songs or in eastern Latvia Midsummer songs, and the word for decoration, jewelry, and adornment. Songs accompanied by marked movement are called rotaļas (singing games) and merge into dance (dejas).
Janīna Kursīte emphasizes that there is a fundamental difference between the way Christmas is celebrated today, quietly with peace on earth, and the way it was celebrated only a few generations ago: “Rumbling, jingling, jumping, dancing (rībināšana, šķindināšana, lēkšana, dejosšana) that is characteristic of the solstice periods is to reproduce the creation of the cosmos. This renewal of the world is accomplished by the deities but also mummers and Yāņi children.” (Kursīte, 1996,406-7)
Many of the festival, calendar, and work songs are of the type known as recitative where melody and poetic line coincide more strongly than in the “singing” songs where the melody-line doesn’t follow speech intonations as closely. In these teicamās songs the melody is confined to a narrow interval. They are communal songs performed by chorus with a leader and second voice(s). The stanza consisting of two couplets or distichs is related to the melody structure, the musical period approximating the textual one, and is unrhymed. Other folklore genres, such as incantations and proverbs are related to folk lyrics, often imperceptible in difference from a daina distich.
Aplīgošana (“to līgo about,” parallel to apdziedāšana – sing about) is a type of singing linked to the specific calendar time of Midsummer. Defining the solstice songs is the refrain līgo with a sense of swinging or swaying motions (līgo laiva uz ūdeņa – the boat sways on the water) uniting with the sound. The swaying ligo-motion is one in which all of nature partakes:
In singing every creature attunes to the sun's cosmic dancing. In a pre-Socratic daina world all of nature dances and sings. Even the death goddess, Shade Mother, dances on top of the grave greeting her new guest, “Shade Mother jubilates dancing on top of the grave. Many sons – ploughmen, many daughters - grinders of grain.” (27537) While in asymmetric dialogic, the living take leave of the dead “Turn a dance, kinsman in great sorrow. Having given your brother to the Shade (or Earth) Mother's daughter.” (27699)
A necessary requirement was that the lead singer teiceja (sayer, caller) have a powerful, far-carrying clear voice since understanding the words is a necessary part of the musical performance. The linguist Karulis liked to quote one daina, “Kas tā tāda skala mēle, manu dziesmu skalotāja. Ka tu tāda skalotāja, kam pa priekšu neskaloji?” “Skalu” is regional for “loud,” far- carrying, presumably open throated, and shows the humorously aggressive challenge of a song leader to the second voice, which instead of repeating and breaking the call of the first voice is improperly topping it: “Who is that loud tongue, making louder my song? If you are such a caller, why don’t you come forth and call?”1 The teicēja was singled out for special responsibility and the specific target of attack by the other side.