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Musical instruments

The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments published in En- gland in 1984 mentions 48 Lithuanian musical instruments. The major among them - kankles (the zither), ragai (horns), skuduciai (pan pipes) are all popular musical instruments today. Children have never forgot- ten whistles made of clay and wood bark.

Kankles (zither). It is a very old Lithuanian musical instrument, related to the Latvian kokle the Estonian kannel, the Finnish kantele and the Russian gussli, The first reference to this Lithuanian instrument can be found in the translation of the Bible by Jonas Bretkunas (1579-90).

Wood for making the kankles was sought in a large wood. The cutting of the tree was timed with somebody's death, or with a mourning or funeral. The kankles made of such wood cut at such a time were expected to have a plaintive tone. The resonator (the lower part) of the ancient kankles was hallowed from a block of wood, and the sound board was fixed on its top. The kankles had 5-7 strings. A bigger instrument would have 9-12 strings. The strings were made of finer copper or iron. They could also be made of guts. The kankles in the north-eastern ethnic region of Lithuania (Aukstaitija) had the shape of a boat with one end oblique and slightly wider and 5-7 strings. The kankles from the western part of the region, also from western Lithuania (Zemaitija) were flat, with one end very oblique and 7-9 strings. The kankles made in the ethnic region of Suvalkija had a rounded narrow end and 9-12 strings.

The player would pluck the strings either with his fingers or with a plectrum. The kankles could be used as a solo instrument. The simple unmodified instrument is used in folklore groups. The modified instrument (dating form the middle of the 20th century) is used in various professional groups.

The skuduciai (panpipes) is a set of 5-6 pipes, 8-20 cm long, 1-3 cm in diameter, they are made of wood (ash, alder, buckthorn, osier), of willow or linden bark, or of the hollow stems of umbelliferous plants, The upper end of the pipe has two sickle-shaped cuts in the rim; the lower end is plugged with a fixed or sliding stopper. Each pipe produces one stable note. The sound is of short duration. Panpipes were extremely popular in middle and northern Aukstaitija. Both instrumental and vocal sutartines (ancient polyphonic songs) and accompaniment to dances were played on them. They were still used in rural districts in the first half of this century. In the 1920s this instrument was modified - a sliding stopper was used as its bottom, and several pipes could be played together.

In the middle of this century music played on this instrument was introduced into the repertoire of professional folk companies, later on - in folklore groups.

The horns are of several types. There are horns made of goat horn, there are daudytes, tubas, and trumpets, all made of split wood.

The horns are 8-1 0 cm in diameter, 5-1 1 0 cm long, slightly bent in most cases, without any side holes. A piece of wood, its bark removed, is split lengthwise into two (the wider end is whole), hollowed and then fixed together: glued with resin, and birch bark is tightly wrapped round the two parts. A set is made of 4-5 horns. Such horns are straight, each a few centimeters longer than the next one, with holes of different size. The longer the horn, the lower its tone. The horns can produce 1-2 strident notes. In the fields, very special sutartines, sometimes composed only for the panpipes, can be played on the horns.

Daudyte is 1.4-2.3 meters long, straight, fashioned in the same way as the horns. 4-5 notes can be produced on it. Its sound is very strident. In ancient times, a herdsman used the daudyte as a signal instrument when taking the herd to the pasture or back home. Sutartines were also played on this instrument. At present it is used in folk instrument groups.

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Copyright , 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.