Exhibition “Svirale – Wind Instruments from the Collection of Music Instruments at the Etnographic Museum”

Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade
20.09.2020. to 26.12.2020.

Our region is on the path of numerous migrations. The cultural influence is similar to the tides, everyone is influencing everyone else. Certain parts of the wave were more persistent and remained longer. The same happened with musical instruments. They have existed since the beginning of time.

The Ethnographic Museum is a museum of the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. The era of romanticism. It stores and preserves elements of material and spiritual culture that appeared in that particular period, a bit before that and a bit later. That is the period when the modern states appeared. Practically the region of Southern Slavs, the Yugoslav region, it may be called a Serbian ethnic region. Most of the objects were collected by the Museum from that area.

The objects at the exhibition follow this principle. There is a visible wealth of various types and names of flute-like instruments: svirajka, sviralče, sviravka, frula, dvojnice, dvogrle svirale dvojanke, cevare, covare, duduk, šupeljka, diple, ćurlik, kaval, zurla, ocarina and about 50 other mostly folk localisms.

Therefore, this region is rich in wind instruments that were either introduced and acclimatized, or autochthonous.
The origin of the flute in our area may be traced through archaeological records. The forerunners of the flute were made in the Stone Age from hollow bones, most often those of birds. The exhibition features a flute “cevara” (hollow tube) made of eagle’s wing bone with six holes on the top.

Medieval art sources, most often on the monuments and frescoes in the monasteries, as well as written sources, clearly show that flutes were present in the everyday folk life of this area.
In their essence the flutes are a pastoral instrument, usually made by the shepherds themselves, in order to be entertained while they spent time with their flocks, performing various improvisations. They are often decorated by woodcarving, burning with hot wire, or interweaving with bark, twine or wire. Today the instruments are also made of metal, plastics, or exotic types of wood. But they remain the instruments of our domain.
The word “svirala” is Slavic in origin, from verb “svirati” meaning to play a musical instrument. The word “frula” comes from the Romanian word fluer, dubbed fruel in Vlach pronunciation, and then adopted as frula by the Serbs. This beautiful word was accepted by the Serbian people, especially after the Second World War, through the folk gatherings, radio and television. Today, the word “frula” is so acclimatized that we all feel it as our own, and it will stay that way forever.
Svirala flutes are highly suitable for improvisation and creation of different melodies. Shepherd children made them on their own, and played music in order to entertain themselves and their loved ones in everyday life. The more skillful musicians played at dances, fairs, school performances. The famous folk musician Krstivoje Subotić, from the village of Osečenica near Mionica, played at village dances and parties as a child (7-8 years old). He played for the villagers, his parents and teachers. Krstivoje jokingly said: “The student plays, and the teacher dances”.
All other folk wind instruments were used to perform music in a similar way, sometimes as solo performances, and sometimes accompanying singers or kolo dance.
Ocarina is an ancient instrument made of clay soil. Clay is shaped so there are six holes for fingers and the seventh one for “breathing”. It is dried in the sun, baked and then played. The form of ocarina appeared in Italy in the 19th century (“oca” is local Italian for “goose”). It was later brought to our region.
Gajde (bagpipes) are a wind instrument consisting of bellows and wooden parts. As gajde, or under some very similar name, it was recorded throughout the South Slavic region, as well as in Slovak, Hungarian, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese and Bulgarian communities. The term gajde originated from the Arabian “gaida”, “kaida”. Gajde are played as a solo instrument. It is very difficult to coordinate two sets of gajde so they are very rarely played together. When they are, they perform the same melody in unison. Sometimes they are accompanied by a tambourine (daire) or a drum (goch, tapan, davul). There are two forms of gajde in our region: one from Eastern Serbia where air is blown into the bellows through a pipe by one’s mouth, and another from Banat where air is blown into the bellows through a pump placed under the player’s elbow.
Museums use various ways to acquire objects, some easier and some more difficult. The most common ways of procuring items are gifts and purchases. This military trumpet from the First World War, as well as gusle made from the First World War military helmet by a disabled soldier during treatment at the French hospital camp in Bizerte, Tunisia, had a good luck to become part of the collections of our Museum. The Museum acquired the military trumpet from Vladan Stošić, son of the famous Niš-based lawyer and collector Zoran Stošić. Zoran Stošić bought the trumpet from a First War military trumpet player, immediately after the war.
Zurla and kaval arrived to our area with the Turks. The Turks introduced their own culture as well as cultural elements from elsewhere. Although the people fought the Ottomans in all possible ways, in some areas they succumbed to Eastern influences.
The Turks brought zurla to the Balkans from Persia. Zurla, zurna or surle are usually played by a band of two zurla players and one drum (davul or tapan) player, usually Romani. Orthodox Macedonians play the yoke-zurla in the vicinity of Skopje, Galičnik, Rostuša and Lazaropole.
Kaval, from the Turkish word of the same name, is made of soft wood such as maple, ash, lilac or boxwood. It is a hollow tube and is often played in duos, left and right or male and female tube. It has a melancholic, sad sound and in your mind it causes nostalgia for the natural beauties of gorges, rivers and pastures, above which you hover and observe.
Klanet is a folk imitation of the clarinet. It is mostly used in the northeastern parts of Serbia. It used to be a favored instrument but today it is rare. It has a more squeaky sound than a clarinet, but the sound color is unique. An instrument for a virtuoso.
The collection of musical instruments at the Ethnographic Museum currently contains 520 items. They are divided into four categories: wind, string, percussion and idiophones (sound devices). 110 wind instruments were shown at the “Svirale” exhibition. The exhibited instruments are sorted by ethnographic areas, the subgroups and by how unusual and interesting they are.
Some of the instruments are simple, without ornaments, without anything, the bare functionality. And some are exceptionally decorated, the artwork of folk artists. A lot of time was invested into making and artistic story of such instruments.
Everything passes. You are here for a while, and then you leave and someone else comes to replace you. The same holds true for music and the instruments. Museums all over the world exist just for this purpose. They usually come when a phenomenon disappears. Museums prolong the life and memory of our ancestors, their culture and understanding of the world for some time to come.
Music is one of the most developed social activities. It changes in line with changes in society. The musical instruments also experience changes, as their role in society has changed. The younger generations are going their own way, on their contemporary path. Some of them are renewing their roots, reproducing the instrumental and musical life of earlier times and continuing the tradition that appeared who knows when. Museums help here too.

Authors: Miroslav Mitrović.