Aukstaitija is Lithuania's largest region by land area. Eastern Aukstaitija is hilly and dotted with lakes, whereas the western regions are characterized by plains. Aukstaitija's inhabitants are said to be merry, poetic, ambitious farming people.
Two types of multiple-voiced songs, centuries apart in age, are characteristic of Aukstaitija. Ancient sutartines, unique to northeastern Aukstaitija still survived at the beginning of the twentieth century. The verb "sutarti" means to agree, to be in concord, or to sing harmoniously. Only groups of women who were quite close to one another sung sutartines together. Here is the beginning portion of a simple example:
Click to view lyrics 10 kb.
This is a keturine sutartine song by two alternating groups of women. Dvejines were sung by one pair, whereas trejines were performed canonically by three women. As mentioned earlier, most sutartines were characterized by dissonant second accords with contrasting accented syncopated rhythms and unusual modal scales. Approximately a third of sutartines contained elements of dance. These dances were quite simple and were usually performed by three or four women as they sang the sutartine.
In contrast, newer two-voiced songs with simple rhythms, meters and major modes are still popular in Aukstaitija today:
Click to view lyrics 10 kb.
Although the songs of Aukstaitija cannot compare in variety to those of Dzukija, many types common throughout Lithuania as well as some unique genres exist in this region. These include valiavimai (hay harvesting songs performed by men), flax-working and resounding feasting songs. They were especially common in northwest Aukstaitija which is also famous for its delicious home-brewed beer.
Musical instruments in Aukstaitija are similar to those found throughout Lithuania. However, in the northeastern regions known for their vocal sutartines, unique instruments were also used to play analogous polyphonic music. Small, usually five-stringed kankles found in this region are the most archaic Lithuanian stringed instruments. They were used to play sutartines for the musician's own enjoyment, not for performance.
Men played skuduciai and ragai on their way to work in the fields, while resting during this work, or during gatherings. Skuduciai are similar to disassembled pan-pipes. They are crafted from hollow plant stems or wood. A set of skuduciai is made up of five to six individual pipes, each of which has its own tone. They were always tuned to second intervals and played by groups of men each of whom held one to three skuduciai. Five parts with different rhythmic formulae predominate and the melodies are of the sutartinó type. Ragai are wooden horns which are produced in sets of five. Each ragas is made of two hollowed-out wooden halves tied together with flax and wrapped in birch bark. The melodies played on these instruments are of the same type as those of skuduciai. Daudytes differ from ragai only in their form which is straighter and considerably longer. Two daudytes comprise a set, and each one can be used to produce three to five natural tones.
"LITHUANIAN ROOTS", Edited by Rytis Ambrazevicius