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The Slovene Land in Songs and Words
by Dr. Zmaga Kumer

Excerpted from Rodna Gruda, English Section January 1984

Every Tuesday evening, for the last 15 years there has been a programme entitled "Slovenska zemlja v pesmi in besedi" ("The Slovene Land in Songs and Words") on Radio Ljubljana. This programme, with its characteristic introductory tune from Bela krajina, is full of folk songs from all parts of Slovenia and has gained great popularity. Some people think that it is only on account of this programme that live recordings are made at one end of Slovenia or the other and frequently ask, after the recording has been made: "When will we be on the air?" Of course, they don't know that the collecting of folk songs in Slovenia is carried out in two ways. On the one hand there are the two radio editors of this programme, and on the other hand the associates of the former Institute for Musical Ethnology, which is now the Section for Musical Ethnology at the Institute for Slovene Ethnology of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana.

When the idea for this program was first conceived, in 1966, Radio Ljubljana did not have any staff specially allocated to folk music, so it was agreed that those who had thought up the programme should carry out the necessary work themselves. It wasn't any easy job since the preparation of a 30 minute programme demands a lot of time. However, we were always short of time as the cooperation with Radio Ljubljana was only one of our marginal activities. Of course, we never underestimated its importance, but we couldn't allow it to interfere with our basic work.

When, 50 years ago - in 1934 the Institute for Folklore was established within the framework of Glasbena Matica, France Marolt, its initiator and director for many years, defined the latter's three main tasks: the collection, research and publishing of the heritage of folk music and dance from all parts of the Slovene ethnic territory, In other words, the collection of this material represents the preparation of the latter for scientific research into everything which we Slovenes sing, play and dance, whereas the aim of our work is the publishing of findings in the form of treatises as well as of the collected material itself in a modem way. Today we have not only printed collections of songs with their tunes and descriptions of dancing, but also gramophone records, cassettes as well as, to a lesser extent, radio and T. V. programmes. My acquaintances have often asked me: "How do you actually go about your collecting? How do you decide which place you are going to visit and how do you then find the singers you are looking for?" On the other hand, the singers taking part in the live recordings usually ask: "What are you now going to do with the recordings you've made?" Let me answer these questions in a brief and simple manner.

Whether the collecting of songs is successful or not depends not only on the memory of the singer, but also, to a great extent, on the collector's knowledge, whether he or she has set out to do research in a certain smaller area or to collect songs of a certain kind from all parts of Slovenia. In the first case one must, before setting out, find out as much as possible about the circumstances in which the inhabitants of a particular area live, about their customs and traditions, and about their everyday life. One must also find out what one can about any pecularities associated with local holidays. The main source of income for the local inhabitants is certainly an important factor which has to be taken into account when going to any particular area. It may be an agricultural area, or else an area well-known for its vineyards, or an old settlement known for its craftsmen, which has grown up into an industrial centre. You can be fairly sure of success if visiting an area where the local inhabitants are keen on old traditions (which certainly does not neccessarily mean that they are backward or oldfashioned in their outlooks). On the other hand success is less likely if one is investigating an area where the local people want to be modem at any price, or if the village, for historic reasons (e. g. forced resettlement during the last war) no longer has its original inhabitants, but is populated predominantly by new-comers.

One should also know whether anyone has collected songs in that particular place, whether by any chance some findings have already been published about which songs used to be sung there, etc. Even good singers will be at a loss if you ask them, suddenly, to sing something. Every one of them will first say that he doesn't know anything about it, that he's forgotten all the songs he ever knew, and it's ages since he last sang a song. Singers aren't like machines on which you press the button to make them work. A song starts only if the gathered company or individual is suitably disposed. For' instance, if the subject of the conversation turns to old times, how weddings used to be celebrated, what customs were practiced when somebody died, how people used to make merry at harvest time or when the grape picking was finished. Those were the main occasions when songs could be heard in all parts of Slovenia. An experienced collector will know how to ask directly about such occasions and he will remind the singers of similar cases elsewhere, by mentioning either the first few words or notes of the song, and sometimes by recalling the content of the song. Clearly one must have a very good knowledge of our folk culture if one wants to find out what songs people still sing today, which songs they remember from their youth, which songs they have probably already abandoned and which songs might be created anew.

Of course, it is not enough just to make recordings of the words and the tune. It would certainly be wrong if one satisfied oneself with the singing of the first verse, and then had the other verses dictated. Why? Because it is the tune which stimulates the memory. If the tune is lacking then there is trouble in remembering the words ' and the form of the verse often goes wrong and the rhythm is lost. It quite often happens that at the start a singer knows only a few verses of a song but when he starts singing, he is able to sing the whole song without difficulty. Sometimes people don't want to tell their names or their place and date of birth, saying that such trifles are unimportant. However, a recording without data about the singer is just as incomplete as when we don't know on what occasion some song is sung. The collector must find our where and from whom the singer first heard the song, since it certainly matters whether the song is generally known, or a characteristic of that particular place, or whether the singer has brought it from elsewhere and nobody but him knows it. Sometimes it is very difficult to persuade singers to sing a song which "everybody knows" and which "is continually to be heard on the radio", ie. "you've already got it". We must be interested in generally known songs and mustn't be like children who only want to pick the raisins out of the nut roll. We must accept the whole piece of cake which we are offered, since by picking out only the exceptionally interesting items we might get an entirely false picture of the musical heritage of a particular place or area. We must record all the songs that people sing, gay songs and sad songs, religious songs and love songs, serious songs and frivolous songs, old songs and new songs, generally-known and hardly-known songs, as well as of course all the important data related to them.

It is best if the singers sing them as far as possible "po domace", in the local way. Some people feel embarassed when they use their local dialect and make apologies for not knowing "proper Slovene". As if it were wrong to speak in dialect, as if a dialect were inferior to standard Slovene. On the contrary, the speech of the local people is rich, imaginative, full of picturesque expressions and metaphors. In comparison with the latter, standard Slovene as it is spoken and written today. with its mass of foreign words and unnecessary complexity, is a really mixed-bag, which produces speeches that one can't make head or tail of.

How do we find our singers? Sometimes somebody writes to us, inviting us to visit him or her. These are usually listeners of the Tuesday evening programme, who come from towns or villages that we have not yet visited. Otherwise we try to find out something about the area we intend to visit by asking an acquaintance who comes from that area. Sometimes it is only vhen we reach the area we intend to study that we start looking for singers. One can always find somebody who would like to know what we have come there for, and whether we are looking for somebody in particular. And then we tell them what we are looking for.

In the first years after the Second World War, when our work was not so well-known, we often found ourselves in an amusing position. I well remember how I-as a young student-once accompanied Toncka Marolt along the valley of the River Soca, which we walked along on foot, each carrying a small travelling-bag. In one of the villages one of the local women, leaning out of a window in the upper storey of a house, hurried to answer our polite greeting with the words: "We're not going to buy anything, nothing at all!" She had thought that we were trying to sell something. Why should we be wandering around the villages otherwise? We seemed suspect to all the guard-dogs, too, who barked fiercely at us as we passed them. In those days it was difficult to find overnight accomodation, and there was practically nothing to be obtained in the way of food in the local inns. I can well remember how, in January 1955, 1 was travelling for the first time with a gramophone in Bela krajina. Together with a woman colleague, we spent the night in an icily cold room over the door entrance, only to find in the morning that the glass in the window was quite broken. The first tape-recorders were much heavier than those available today, and one's arms and shoulders began to ache when one had to carry such a load for hours on end. This was of course in addition to one's personal luggage and camera, and if it came on to rain then one had to walk in an impermeable cape, which let in the damp at the seams. But those are certainly good days to remember. 'You never really get to know an area if you don't walk over it, from one end to the other. We always used to walk on foot at least to the nearby villages from the place where we were staying. We were returning home one night, having made a recording of the singing of the village lads in Tuhinjska Valley, when, in the light of the full moon, we started singing ourselves, quite involuntarily. Once, when a women colleague of mine and I had been making some recordings in Loska dolina, the lads who had been singing for us came and sang a serenade as they had just got nicely warmed up in their singing. When we were recording some wedding songs at Sentanel above the Meziska Valley, at a real wedding, afterwards the guests gathered together in front of the house, where you could see the whole of the Podjuna plain in front of you, as if it was in the palm of your hand. One certainly couldn't help being moved when, all of a sudden, the following song, sung in perfect harmony, began:

Bom zapustil Libuce,
to ravno polje...

One never forgets such experiences, and there have been many such. Even now, when we dash about on field trips by car, our Slovene songs always have their particular charm. We are always moved by them and we never accept them just as goods to be collected. These songs are a real art, which reach to the heart and are not to be understood by logic alone.

When we get home from our field trips, we have to put numbers on our tapes, as well as on the individual recordings. Then the tunes have to be written down as notes, with the words of the song written in carefully underneath. Then all other data about the song and its singer have to be written on the folder. Every recording gets a special filing-card, in five copies, on which is written the serial number of the recording, the place and district where the recording was made, an indication of the type of song, the title of the song, the start of the words and tune, a record of the number of stanzas and verses, the complete tune written down by means of letters, and finally the name of the singer or singers and the time and date of the recording. All these data are very important if we want to find one particular song in a collection which contains ten thousand songs. The filing-cards are placed in the file according to their serial numbers, according to the place where the recordings were made, according to the type of song, and according to the start of the words of the song and of the tune, for these are what most visitors to our institute ask about. Of course we researchers, ourselves, save a lot of time during our work if our archives are properly arranged.

Of course the collecting, putting into order and research into folk songs is very interesting work which brings one a lot of satisfaction. It also gives one a feeling of happiness, since the work brings one, apart from technically interesting material, a lot of valuable contacts with ordinary people. On the other hand the work is very demanding. To carry it out properly one needs extensive knowledge of the field, as well as plenty of determination and patience, and an ability to converse easily with people. One also has to be able to adapt oneself quickly to different circumstances, and to possess a lot of warmth and sensitivity for the feelings of one's fellowman. Of course this work has a final purpose of its own. The findings of our work help to discover the roots of Slovene culture, and those characteristics which differentiate us from other nations, as well as those which we have in common with other nations. If we are to continue in existence as a nation then we must not Overlook, forget about or make fun of our roots. We must stick closely to them, with love, we must try our best to maintain them well and to build them up further, and in this way to make, by means of our own special characteristics and not by equalizing them with those of other nations, a contribution to the culture of the whole world in which we live.