Making Music in the Polish Tatras: Tourists, Ethnographers, and Mountain Musicians

Making Music in the Polish Tatras: Tourists, Ethnographers, and Mountain Musicians

by Timothy J. Cooley

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Challenging myths that mountain isolation and ancient folk customs defined the music culture of the Polish Tatras, Timothy J. Cooley shows that intensive contact with tourists and their more academic kin, ethnographers, since the late 19th century helped shape both the ethnic group known as Górale (highlanders) and the music that they perform. Making Music in the Polish Tatras reveals how the historically related practices of tourism and ethnography actually created the very objects of tourist and ethnographic interest in what has become the popular resort region of Zakopane. This lively book introduces readers to Górale musicians, their present-day lives and music making, and how they navigate a regional mountain-defined identity while participating in global music culture. Vivid descriptions of musical performances at weddings, funerals, and festivals and the collaboration of Górale fiddlers with the Jamaican reggae group Twinkle Brothers are framed by discussions of currently influential theories relating to identity and ethnicity and to anthropological and sociological studies of ritual, tourism, festivals, globalism, and globalization. The book includes a 46-track CD illustrating the rich variety of Górale music, including examples of its fusion with Jamaican reggae.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253002549
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 04/14/2005
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 9 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Timothy J. Cooley is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-editor (with Gregory F. Barz) of Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology.

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Making Music in the Polish Tatras

Tourists, Ethnographers, and Mountain Musicians

By Timothy J. Cooley

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2005 Timothy J. Cooley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-34489-2



Place and People

Only one major player in this book is not human-made and that is the place itself — the Tatra Mountains. And even this is dramatically altered by human activity. The other topics of interest here are all human-made; they are human inventions. The danger of ethnographic descriptions (including what follows) is that they tend to reify the thing described; they create the culture they purport to analyze and explain. Scholars in the social sciences have long recognized this tendency to invent the traditions they present as ethnographic discoveries (Fabian 1983), and it is with circumspection that I propose to describe Podhale, the people of Podhale, and the music they call their own. Though the mountains — the Tatra, Gorce, and Pieniny mountains — that hem in the small region called Podhale are not human inventions, what it means to be a mountaineer, to be Górale, is a human social, historical, and cultural construct.

Podhale is on the southern border of Poland, one hundred kilometers below the ancient city of Kraków, which was the royal seat of Poland until 1611 when the government was moved to Warsaw, in part to remove it from attacks and threats of attacks from Tartar invaders. Kraków remains, however, a cultural and administrative capital for southern Poland, and for more than a century it has been the most common staging point for recreational and short-term business travel (tourism) to Podhale. Leaving the Gothic and Renaissance splendor of Kraków by horse-drawn wagon (in the nineteenth century), by train (around the turn of the twentieth century), or by bus or automobile today, one traverses increasingly hilly terrain as one moves south to the town of Nowy Targ (New Market). The largest and one of the oldest towns in Podhale, Nowy Targ is on the edge of the Gorce Mountains and overlooks a moderate-sized valley containing the most agriculturally viable land of the region. The Gorce Mountains (part of the Beskid Mountains) define the northern border of Podhale; the southern border is formed by the Tatra Mountains, the tallest peaks of the Carpathian range and the largest mountains in Central Europe. The Polish/Slovak border runs through the Tatras, dividing the mountains in such a way that only about 20 percent of the High Tatras lie within the political borders of Poland. The Bialka River marks the eastern boundary of Podhale, and the western boundary runs just outside the Czarny Dunajec River, incorporating the villages of Podczerwone and Czarny Dunajec (fig. 1.1). The entire region is only about thirty-four kilometers north to south and twenty-four kilometers east to west.

The alpine Tatras are the defining geographic characteristic of the region with implications for the history and culture of the area. They are dramatic, jagged mountains cloaked in snow early in autumn until late in the spring when the fields burst alive with flowers and the creeks run clear with frigid snow-melt. The foothills are scattered with houses topped with steep-pitched roofs effective in snowy areas. The traditional and still preferred building material is native spruce logs left unpainted on both interior and exterior sides. The exteriors of the log homes are ideally scrubbed every other year and acquire a rich blond color. The wooden structures mimic the angular beauty of the Tatra peaks, the highest of which is Mount Gerlach on the Slovak side at 2,655 meters above sea level. The highest peak in the Polish portion of the Tatras is Mount Rysy at 2,499 meters. Most of the villages lie in the foothills between 600 and 1,000 meters above sea level. With the exception of the relatively broad and flat fields of the Nowy Targ Valley on the northern edge of Podhale, the land is rugged and hilly — generally less hospitable on the northern Polish side of the Tatras than the more gently sloping and relatively sunny southern Slovak side. "Life is easy on the Slovak side," I am told by more than one Górale. "There they grow grapes and make wine." Lying just above the forty-ninth latitude (roughly equivalent to Vancouver but without the moderating influence of the ocean), Podhale has a cold climate with a short summer suitable for growing oats, potatoes, and wildflowers, but little else (fig. 1.2).

The name "Podhale" is derived from the Górale dialect word hala meaning mountain pasture or mountains generally. Pod means below, thus "Podhale" (sometimes Podhole in Górale dialect) means "piedmont" or below the mountains. More specifically, the area in which I concentrate my research is called Skalne Podhale, or "rocky" Podhale, referring to the southern areas of the region closest to the Tatras. According to Wlodzimierz Kotonski, who researched Górale music in the early 1950s, the terms "Podhale" and "Podhalanie" (nominative plural form used to refer to the people from Podhale) were used by inteligencja but were not prevalent among local residents. The more commonly used term was góral, the masculine-singular noun meaning "mountaineer" (Kotonski 1956, 13). The root word is góra (mountain); the adjective form is góralski. Here I follow Louise Wrazen's lead (1991, 175) and use "Górale" (the Polish plural noun form) as both noun and adjective, singular and plural, rather than declining the word in the Polish manner. "Górale" refers to all who hail from mountainous areas, but I use the word specifically for people of the Polish Tatra region. Since I am using the term as the name of a group of people I use a capital "G," although the word is not capitalized in Polish. In my conversations with individuals in Podhale, the term "Podhale" is used by local people (Górale) as are the terms góral and góralski, suggesting that the vocabulary has expanded to include all these words since the time when Kotonski did his research.


Here I adopt the term "muzyka Podhala" (music of Podhale) to refer specifically to a bounded repertoire that was canonized by musical folklorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. "Góralska muzyka" (Górale's music) is also used by musicians and scholars to describe this repertoire and style of playing, but my choice of "muzyka Podhala" is in homage to composer and musical folklorist Stanislaw Mierczyriski, who published 101 tunes collected in Podhale in a book he titled Muzyka Podhala (1930). In chapters 2 and 3 I show that Mierczynski's book represents a crucial moment in the making of this musical canon that I am calling "muzyka Podhala," and I also demonstrate how this moment is reflected in the simultaneous creation of a Górale ethnicity. In this current chapter my objective is to familiarize readers with the music and dance recognized at the time of my research by scholars and Górale themselves as music-culture uniquely connected with Podhale.

The main genres of this music, described below, are pasterskie, wierchowe, ozwodne, Sabalowe, Janosikowe, krzesane, drobne, juhaskie, zbójnickie, zielone, marches, and nuty cepowiny. Most of these genre names are derived from Górale dialect taxonomy. I also describe the related dance genres góralski, juhaski, and zbójnicki. Although I provide representative examples of most genres, the border between genres is blurry and many tunes can be classified in several ways. Vocal music can also be played on instruments, and all instrumental music is rooted in song, including instrumental dance music. In vocal and instrumental music, dotted rhythms are frequent ([??][??].), often relaxed into triplets ([??][??]), and, when metered, muzyka Podhala is almost invariably in duple meter, although different genres do have distinct rhythmic characteristics. In general, muzyka Podhala is characterized by short descending melodic phrases, often with a prominent augmented fourth above the tonic. Many melodies have a narrow range of about a sixth, although certain genres extend to at least an octave (e.g., Sabalowa genre below). A tune is not conceived of as fixed but rather as a melodic idea called nuta that is given new life with each performance. Jan Steszewski (1980, 31) equates nuta with melody, but Wlodzimierz Kotonski concludes that very different melodies may be considered the same nuta by Górale. He wrote that the concept of nuta is based on a harmonic foundation (basy and sekund patterns), and that melody line and rhythm are just manifestations of that harmony (Kotonski 1953a, 6–7). I have noticed that the idea of nuta as a broad melodic category is most appropriate for dance tunes and unaccompanied pasterska-style singing. On the other hand, certain popular songs have immediately recognizable melodies that are varied less dramatically. "Mój Janicku" (see fig. 1.30, below) is such a song, as is a subcategory of songs called Duchowe, also described below.

Much muzyka Podhala is ensemble music — either groups of singers or small ensembles of bowed instruments — and the vocal and instrumental traditions are closely linked. A woman or man may sing alone, but if other Górale are present they will likely join in the singing. Solo instrumental performances are most often associated with shepherding or otherwise being alone in the mountains and playing bagpipes or one of several varieties of wooden flutes or whistles. The most common instrumental ensemble includes three violins and a basy, a three-stringed cello-sized bowed lute. The violins are tuned in standard European tuning (GDAE), although they may be pitched higher than standard. The three strings of the basy are tuned D, D an octave higher, and A pitched between the two Ds. The two D strings are usually bowed together and the A string alone. Most frequently there is one lead violinist, called the prymista or prym, and each accompanying violinist (there may be several) is called a sekundzista or sekund (plural, sekundy). Just one sekund is acceptable and some believe traditional. Today two sekundy are more common, and often there are many more. The basy plays in tandem with the sekundy and is occasionally supported with a double bass, all sounding on the quarter-note beat (as most typically transcribed and as can be seen in the following figures), changing bow direction with each beat. Together the basy and sekundy produce harmonic ostinatos (repeated bass lines and "chords"), although what they play should not be considered "functional harmony" in the sense of European common practice tonal harmony. While musical practices among Górale are influenced by European "classical" music, they are governed by different aesthetics.

Vocal ensembles similarly recognize a leader. The lead singer is usually an individual with a particularly strong voice but in some cases may simply be the one who initiated a song, is in a position of power or responsibility, or perhaps knows a lot of songs. The lead singer begins a song and other singers join in after a few notes, harmonizing below the lead singer, but invariably cadencing in unison with the singer. The overall structure featuring parallel harmonies, including parallel fifths but ending in unison, reminds some musicians of medieval organum, but the prominent melodic tritone suggests otherwise. Polyphonic a cappella singing is a valued social and aesthetic practice, but singing may also be accompanied by instruments. As we will see below, solo singing accompanied by string ensembles is the most traditional way to start a dance.

Vocal and Instrumental Genres

Two characteristic and related vocal genres are pasterska (pastoral) and wierchowa (mountain peak song/tune). Both usually contain two lines of text (A and B lines), each line set to a different melodic phrase (A and B musical phrases), but sometimes both lines are sung to the same melodic material (AB text, AA music). Usually the second line of music and text is repeated, forming an ABB or AAA musical structure. If more than one singer is available, the lead singer begins alone and the accompanying singers join in after a few beats, harmonizing at the interval of a third or a fifth below. Figure 1.3 is a pasterska that illustrates this practice (CD track 21). Note also that it uses only one melodic line, repeated twice to form an AAA melodic structure fitted with the ABB poetic structure. Figure 1.4 is a wierchowa with a different melodic line accompanying the second line of text (ABB poetic and melodic structure). The border between the two genres is blurred, but pasterskie are usually rhythmically free (unmetered or performed with extreme rubato), and wierchowe are typically in duple meter, although they may also be rhythmically free.

One very distinctive feature of singing in Podhale is that men and women sing in the same octave: men in a high register, women in a low register. My transcriptions are represented at pitch. To sing from my transcriptions, men must sing at pitch, not down an octave as is the convention when men read music in the treble clef.

A wierchowa is structurally similar or even identical to the ozwodna, also called rozwodna. Outside the context of music, the meaning of the dialect term ozwodna is unclear, but "slowly" or "in a circle, turning" have been suggested. Although there are exceptions, both wierchowe and ozwodne have ten-beat phrase structures, a feature that sets them apart from most Polish folk genres. A slow, rhythmically free wierchowa played more rapidly in 2/4 meter by instruments is often referred to as an ozwodna. This would seem to negate the interpretation of the word ozwodna as meaning "slowly" except that an ozwodna is generally danced much slower than a krzesana or drobna, described below. A wierchowa is usually considered to be music for listening, and an ozwodna music for dancing, but I have heard Górale refer to some instrumental tunes as "wierchowe for dancing." The distinction between pasterskie, wierchowe, and ozwodne is best thought of as a continuum from unmetered music for listening to metered music for dancing (see fig. 1.5). Figures 1.6, 1.7, and 1.8 are versions of the same nuta: 1.6 is a rhythmically free pasterska (CD track 1), 1.7 a metered wierchowa (CD track 2), and 1.8 an ozwodna for dancing (CD track 3).

The next genre of tunes considered here bears the name of Jan Krzeptowski-Sabaia, the violinist, storyteller, and mountain guide memorialized in the monument to Chafubiriski. These tunes, called Sabalowe (of Sabala), were probably not composed by Sabala but may have been favored by him. They are considered an older layer of tunes and are sometimes called staroswieckie, meaning "of the old world" (Wrazen 1988, 97–99). My interpretation is that they probably were not composed by Sabala; composition does not seem to be an important practice in Górale musical aesthetics. Instead, they are linked with Sabala as symbols of an earlier, definitive period. The tunes in this genre are distinguished by harmonic shifts to G (most tunes center around D) and an extended melodic range cadencing down on an A or G, the G cadences requiring the use of the D string of the violin (see fig. 1.9, CD track 4). Most other genres can be played by the prym using only the A and E strings. Usually Sabalowe are performed slowly for listening, but they may also be used for dancing. Figure 1.9 is an instrumental Sabalowa recorded at a funeral in 1995, and figure 1.10 is a sung Sabalowa transcribed in the 1950s.


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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Note on Citations of Fieldwork Media

1. Podhale
2. Making History
3. Making Mountain Music: A History of Ethnography in Podhale
4. Village on Stage
5. Global Village
6. Village for Hire
7. Back to the Village
Epilogue: Village Exhumed

References Cited
List of Illustrations
List of Audio Examples

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