© Valdis Muktupāvels (University of Latvia)





The purpose of this paper is to discuss traditional and modern styles for playing kokles (the Latvian variation of Baltic psaltery or board zither). To answer questions about the nature of kokles styles today and about their relation to earlier rural traditions, musical events are viewed in their personal, social, and cultural contexts. A scheme for the correlation of different styles is offered, according to which symbolic, artistic, folkloric, and post-folkloric groupings may be distinguished.




This study focuses on different styles of playing the Latvian kokles and possible relations among styles. I pose this question: What is the nature of kokles playing styles today and how are different styles related to earlier rural playing traditions? Thus, I will touch upon certain continuities from traditional styles as well as treat the creation of new styles. This study encompasses the full variety of live kokles performances as well as relies upon a full range of reference materials, including sound recordings, published and unpublished descriptions, notations and personal observations.

According to musicologist Mantle Hood (296), "a true comprehension of musical style is dependent upon an understanding of its cultural context." Hood suggests that the norms of musical style should be considered in relation to the tradition, style periods, genres, and to musical consensus, which is in constant interaction with the cultural consensus and the social consensus (300). One can say that to a great extent musical style is determined by the social and cultural contexts, which pertain to the performance situation.

On the most basic level all kokles performance situations viewed in respect to the cultural context can be divided into two groups: traditional and modern. This division reflects the cultural dichotomy of traditional and modern culture, a topic I shall not discuss here. Instead, I shall concentrate on the characteristics of the respective styles and try to point out some relations between them.


Characteristics of traditional styles


The kokles is a board zither that belongs to a group of related musical instruments: Finnish-Karelian kantele/kandeleh, Estonian kannel, Livonian kāndla, Latvian-Latgalian kokles/kūkles, Lithuanian kanklės/kankliai/kunkliai, Russian (Pskov and Novgorod only!) gusli. Some authorities believe these names derive from proto-Baltic *kantlēs1 (Toivonen 156), or *kantlīs (Nieminen 35-37, 41-43), with a supposed original meaning of "the singing tree". According to others, the Baltic names are derived from *gan(dh)- or *gandtli (Apanavičius 39), names that stem from the IE root with the meaning "vessel, handle, hilt"; this ethimology supposes the use of the instrument in pre-historic funeral rites of the period when people were burried in a "vessel" - boat or sleigh - and the instrument served as a ritual substitute of this "vessel".

The kantlēs type is distributed in central and eastern Finland, Karelia, Ingermanland, the Novgorod and Pskov regions of Russia, most parts of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - a territory that coincides approximately with the archaeological (4th millenium B. C.) Narva culture region (Apanavičius 12). The instruments of this region display considerable uniformity in construction, technology, ornamentation, as well as in use, symbolism, and some musical-stylistic features. The kantlēs type can be divided into subtypes: Igor Tõnurist distinguishes two groups - the small and the big, or "winged" instruments (177), while Romualdas Apanavičius identifies three groups, which differ in several morphological parameters (13-19).

There are two main regions in Latvia, where kokles traditions survived into the first half of the twentieth century: the western and southwestern part of Kurzeme and the central and northern part of Latgale. Two of the subtypes Igor Tõnurist identifies dominate in those regions: the small instruments in the west and the big ones in the east (Sproģis 89-91, 94-110, 116-130). Therefore the small ones are named "Kurzemes kokles" (kokles of Kurzeme) and the big ones, "Latgales kokles" (kokles of Latgale). On the average, Kurzemes kokles are smaller than the Latgalian ones. They have 5-10 strings. In Latgale, kokles are made with as many as twelve strings. There is no bridge connecting strings directly to the resonator board. At one end, they are fastened to wooden (or sometimes metal) tuning pegs, and at the other, narrower end to a string-holder. Thus, they are arranged slightly radially. The kokles playing style of western Kurzeme is the best known. It belongs to a small Catholic enclave, the so-called suiti region. The earliest musical notations from there are from the fieldwork of Andrejs Jurjāns (63), who collected there in 1881. Emilis Melngailis scored a stylistically similar repertoire fifty years later (137-147), as did Jūlijs Sproģis in the 1930s (111-115) and Andrejs Krūmiņš in 1948 (Muktupāvels 1987:120). Musical recordings from the suiti region are rare: Nikolajs Heņķis was recorded in the 1930s with some four musical pieces and his apprentice Jānis Poriķis in the 1980s. They play with a damping technique, in which the instrument is placed on the player's knees and the strings are damped with the left-hand fingers and strummed toward the player with the right hand. The slight-beat notes are picked in with the left-hand fingers. No plectrum or other strumming device is used. The pitch is rather high and the basic tone varies from D to G of the first octave. The tuning is diatonic and the essential tuning element is a drone string, one-fourth below the basic tone.

The repertoire consists mostly of sixteen-bar, two-part pieces, which can serve as an accompaniment to some dances and therefore bears the name of the respective dance. When played, those tunes are repeated with some variations. Kokles playing can serve as an accompaniment to singing as well and adding some slight-beat tones varies the respective melody.

Another traditional style is that of central and eastern Latgale, the Catholic part of Latvia. Several musical notations from the 1930s (Sproģis 92-94) and recordings of Antons Lozda from 1950s (Muktupāvels 1987:121-122) serve as the basis for describing the style. The instrument is placed on the player's knees with the short strings up, resting the upper part of kokles against the stomach of the player (Cimermanis). The same damping technique is used, but the strumming is different. Antons Lozda seems to use the strumming with his right-hand fingers in both directions, towards and away from him. His kokles has ten strings and the tuning is diatonic; it cannot be stated definitely whether there is a drone string one-fourth below tonic. Otherwise his style does not differ much from the western Kurzeme style.

An eastern Latvian style similar to that of the Pskov and Novgorod region players has been reported. In it, the fingers of the left hand are inserted between the strings, with a slight move up or down to damp the respective group of strings (Muktupāvels 1993:110). The right-hand strums in both directions, but with a specific "by-strumming": on heavy beat away from the player and quickly and slightly back, similar to detache techniques on the violin.

The kokles was mostly a solo instrument, though in some folklore texts two, five, nine, and thrice-nine players are mentioned (Klotiņš, Muktupāvels 205). Kokles players were men, most likely professionals (Barons XXIII, Jaremko 40-6), though some hold a different opinion, namely that kokles was played everywhere and by almost everyone in rural areas (Vītoliņš 64, Jaremko 51-6). Some sources describe the kokles as an instrument for oneself (Slavinskas 280-1).

As singing in "harmonic style" in the Latvian countryside gradually pushed out traditional vocal styles in the second half of the nineteenth century, so instrumental music also underwent basic changes. Kokles style was strongly influenced by the increasing number of different kinds of zithers, initially, those imported mostly from Germany, but quite soon those made locally (Priedīte 8-9). The construction and playing of kokles gradually assumed several of the features of certain German zithers. The number of strings of zither-like kokles is significantly larger than that of the small kokles: the instruments usually have twenty to twenty-five double strings, but in some cases the number of double or even triple strings can exceed thirty. The drone string is lost, but two, three or more bass strings are added. Metal pegs are used instead of wooden ones; a bridge is introduced to connect strings with a resonator. The body is glued together from smaller parts, and special ribs are introduced to withstand the increased tension of strings (Muktupāvels 1987:54-5).

A certain variety of zither-like kokles playing styles exits, particularly in rural area and some smaller towns of northeastern Vidzeme and northern and central Latgale, but there is insufficient documentation and recordings for stating important details of the style. The diatonic scales are definitely dominant. The left-hand damping technique is used, but the strings are usually strummed with a wooden or thick leather plectrum. A melody can be heard as a combination of the highest pitches (resulting from strumming with the plectrum) and of the slight-beat tones (resulting from the left hand picking-in). Latgalian zither-like kokles player Pīters Zlīdņa and virtuoso Aloizijs Jūsmiņš (1915-1979) are recorded playing in this style (Priedīte 20).

Pīters Zlīdņa's instrument has more than twenty double strings. He holds it on his knees with the short strings up, just like Antons Lozda. His repertoire includes dance tunes ("Klibais", "Vengerka", "Veclaiku polka") and instrumental versions of lyrical songs ("Kam maņ beja nadzeivōt"). Aloizijs Jūsmiņš's instruments have more strings. For example, an instrument he made in 1948 has three bass, twenty double, and three triple strings, while one made in 1952 has seventy-nine metal pegs, of which ten are used with single strings; twenty, with double strings. The function of the rest of pegs is not clear.

A different style of zither-like kokles also is known. In it, a melody is played with the right hand thumb, on which a metal ring with a sharp barb is worn. The rest of the left-hand fingers are used for damping, while the right hand strums to produce a chordal accompaniment to the melody and bass.

Though solo playing of zither-like kokles was dominant, kokles duos or ensembles with other instruments, such like violins, trumpets or accordions, sometimes accompanied dance music (Priedīte 11).

Very little is known about the style of playing kokles in church. Jūlijs Sproģis (89) mentions an old man who used to play kokles as an accompaniment to "sacred" (psalm) singing. In my view, the respective style or styles could be viewed as traditional, since they derive mostly from a rural population and were learned in a characteristically  traditional way - without the use of written or published sources. A similar phenomenon is known to have existed in Lithuania (Motuzas 21-25) and Estonia. The popular term "Dieva kokles" (kokles of God) suggests the same for Latvia, besides, the instrument is mentioned several times in the first and the following translations of the Bible into Latvian (Muktupāvels 1999, 13).


Characteristics of modern styles

National Romantism


Broad recognition of Latvians as a people came only after eigthteenth-century humanist Garlieb Helwig Merkel published Die Letten (The Latvians) in Leipzig in 1797. His powerful, imposing, and romantic description of Latvian history, culture, and religion strongly influenced those who defined the Latvian nation a century later.

Somewhat earlier, in 1778-1779, Johann Gottfried Herder, the central figure both in articulating and crystallizing romantic-nationalistic consciousness in eighteenth-century Europe, pointed to the existence of Latvian music in his Volkslieder. Herder was deeply inspired by his contact with living Latvian tradition during his five-year stay in Riga. This contact influenced his general attitude towards folklore. For Herder, folklore was of central importance in the romantic-nationalistic program.

Herder collected a few dozen Latvian folksongs, but substantive collection work started a hundred years later. It produced several folklore collections, among which were two of outstanding importance: Krišjānis Barons' 6-volume collection of Latvian folksong texts Latvju dainas (Latvian dainas) and Andrejs Jurjāns' 6-volume collection of traditional music Latvju tautas mūzikas materiāli (Musical materials of Latvian folk). Both collections had an immense impact on the emerging Latvian nation. As Vaira Vīķe-Freibergs states, "Through their collections of songs, [Finns and Latvians] recovered their lost past, restored their dignity, and strengthened their sense of collective identity" (4). Latvju dainas became a cornerstone in the symbolic construction of Latvian national identity and culture; similarly. Dainas were key for the symbolic construction of the meaning of Latvian national musical culture.

Actual musical life through more than a century of development provides evidence of this symbolic construction. Though the musical heritage was praised as valuable and as fundamental, it had to go through more or less significant transformations - be decontextualized and recontextualized - in order to adapt its traits to musical life.

This is also true with respect to traditional instrumental music and, particularly, to kokles traditions. On the one hand, kokles had gained the highest appreciation and status among all traditional instruments, but, on the other hand, it is hard to find even a hint that anyone would have made the attempts to revitalize the tradition or to disseminate its playing techniques among cultural elites. Kokles was merely a symbol of a national soul, or of a singing spirit. Therefore, we may use the term "zero style" to describe the real musical styles of the respective period.


Folkish folklorism


In an urban environment, members of dievturība, a romantic-nationalist project, provided the primary organized effort to revive kokles playing traditions. Dievturība2 was founded as an effort to establish a national religion. Several nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors expressed ideas concerning ancient Latvian religion, among them Alunāns, Auseklis, Pumpurs, Kronvalds and Lecs. But, in point of fact, Ernests Brastiņš (1892-1942) established dievturība as a religious system. He created its programmatic documents and catechism, and in philosophical, political, and other essays, he published selections of folklore materials drawn from the results of his research in art, ethnography and history.

Ernests Brastiņš's ideas served as a basis for the formation of a dievturi musical life. Therefore I cite a fragment from his 1937 article on the content and agenda of dievturi services: "Behind the table there is the priest, next to him a choir and kokles players. [...] To the accompaniment of stick rattles (trideksnis) and kokles, the choir is singing nine thematically appropriate folk songs. The performance should prepare the audience for the sermon and meditation and should create solemn and harmonious feelings" (141).

The responsibility for musical matters in the dievturi congregation belongs to a special person, the organist and composer Valdemārs Ozoliņš (1896-1973), who became the first conductor of the dievturi choir. He helped to organize some theatrical performances, for which he created choral arrangements of Latvian folk songs. Little else is known about his activities in the field of instrumental music, except for his intention to organize an ensemble to perform the ancient music at an artistically high level.

Two of the most prominent figures in the dievturi musical life were Jānis Norvilis (1906-1994) and Arturs Salaks (1891-1984). Organist and composer Jānis Norvilis raised the activity and the musical standards of dievturi musical life considerably. He created four-part choral arrangements of Latvian folk songs, compiled folksong cycles for calendar celebrations, and introduced the use of trideksnis and kokles (Arvīds Brastiņš 399). Jānis Norvilis used functional harmony to arrange folksongs. Diatonic scale and frequent use of drones in all parts characterized his style. His instrumental arrangements, without going into detail, may be regarded as a kind of art music.

Composer, teacher, and folklorist Arturs Salaks became the musical leader of dievturi in 1936. In his opinion, the sources for Latvian music, including patterns for new music, were to be found in folk music, especially in its most archaic strata. Thus he developed his own arrangement style, which he named "the Latvian style." In addition, he had his own style for original compositions, characterized by four-part choral arrangements, with or without soloists, and frequent use of drones and antiphonal singing. The sentimentality and sweetness of singing in thirds and sixths and the quite primitive use of three basic harmonic functions dominate his compositions.

Arturs Salaks himself practiced kokles playing. From my personal communication with him, I can conclude that he was influenced by Jānis Norvilis and by some unidentified players of zither-like kokles in northern Latvia. From those players, he remembered the technique of using the metal ring on his left thumb, and in 1980 he could still demonstrate this technique, though rather poorly, perhaps because of his age.

Salaks tried to "improve" zither-like kokles to make it possible to switch from one tonality to another. He devised a special metal cylinder with handles and tuning pins that was placed on the right side under the strings. By turning the handle, the pins touched the appropriate strings, thus tuning them half a tone higher. Since several strings could be tuned simultaneously, it was possible to switch from one tonality to another with a single move of the handle. Thus Arturs Salaks changed diatonic kokles into a polytonic instrument. He did not make the instruments himself, but sketched out his intentions and instructed the maker. As a rule, the basic parameters of his kokles - that is, the shape, construction, number of strings (17-70), presence of bass strings - were quite similar to those of the zither-like kokles.

Arturs Salaks also attempted to create an ensemble or even an orchestra of folk music instruments. Along with the kokles, he introduced two-string fiddles and shepherd clarinets. His work was interrupted by the Soviet occupation in 1940 and the onset of World War II. He resumed his work on new models of kokles several decades after the war.

The idea of a kokles ensemble reappeared again and again in contexts. Composers, especially Emilis Melngailis (1874-1954), promoted the idea. In keeping with his interpretation of selected folklore texts, he envisioned that a kokles ensemble should consist of thrice nine (or twenty-seven) instruments of different sizes and musical functions. His idea did not find many followers in the 1930s, and the kokles continued to be played mostly as a solo instrument in the urban vicinity.

The development of kokles styles after the World War II must be discussed in the context of Soviet rule. On the one hand, the Soviet era encompassed the ideology of socialism and the supposed disappearance (practically, the near extermination) of national particularities (essence) while, on the other hand, it brought about the formal development of so-called national cultures. With regard to music, the development of such "national cultures" was to be sought within a genetic-hierarchic scheme: folk music - amateur music - professional music. In this schema, the term "folk music" denoted musical folklore uprooted from its natural surroundings and viewed through the prism of art music, together with certain kinds of popular music. "Amateur music" referred to the artistic activity of the masses, whereas "professional music" required professional education. Thus the development of a national musical culture was interpreted as a process to "improve" folk music to the amateur or professional level.

Playing folk music instruments fit well into the aforementioned scheme as amateur art. It could involve many people, and its "folkishness" could be ensured in a repertoire that included arrangements of traditional music. Thus, playing folk music instruments, especially kokles, which represented the most important symbols of national culture, was reinterpreted in Soviet ideological terms and successfully integrated into Soviet musical life. Kokles ensembles consisting of many members were encouraged and collective music making earned a permanent place.

A family of instruments and voices to accompany the kokles - piccolo, soprano, alto, tenor, bass and double-bass - was developed to meet the ensemble playing needs (Vertkov 96). The kokles of Sergejs Krasnopjorovs had 14-23 diatonically tuned strings (Vertkov 96 and pictures nr. 300-3), but instruments with 23-26 strings were established later, in the 1960s (Āboliņa 5-6). In addtion, half tone switches were adjusted to each string, making it possible to tune it instantly a half a tone higher. Later, the so-called double switches were invented, allowing pitches to be raised or lowered by a half tone and transforming the kokles from a diatonic to a chromatic instrument. Instruction on the new instrument - the so-called "concert kokles" or "modernized kokles" - became a part of children's curricula in music schools, music colleges, and the folk music department of the conservatory. Simultaneously, the kokles' traditional status as a man's instrument underwent basic changes. By the 1960s, it established as an instrument played mostly by women. Only the bass or the double-bass kokles continued to be played by men, maybe because of its larger size and the extra power needed to pluck the thicker strings.

To describe the repertoire, it is useful to examine a manual called Kokles spēle. Teorija un repertuārs. Its contents include about one third arrangements of Latvian folk songs and dances; one third, original kokles compositions by Latvian and Lithuanian composers; and the rest, arrangements of folksongs and dances of different, mostly Soviet, peoples, as well as classical, romantic, ballet and popular music, arranged for kokles.

Kokles ensembles became an integral part of festive public and official occasions, including official Soviet celebrations of "the Great October Socialist Revolution", Soviet Army day, and others. Such celebrations typically included the appearance of kokles-players, dressed in stylized and uniform folk costume together with other elements that emphasized "folkishness" - long artificial braids, massive crowns, etc. A stiff and ceremonial atmosphere dominated these events. Nevertheless, the former symbolic meaning of traditional kokles persisted, and through such events, popular views about modernized kokles as a truly national or folk instrument were maintained.

In addition to the kokles ensemble, another significant component of Soviet Latvian musical culture was the so-called folk instrument orchestra, which refers to a symphonic-orchestra-like grouping of modified folk music instruments. This phenomenon has not yet been fully studied, but we can assert that its rise and existence in some eastern European and Asian countries was decided by their remoteness from centers of European high culture, by feelings of the cultural inferiority, and by the neglect of the importance of individuality. Folk orchestras and ensembles, characteristic of the imperial Russian (Maksimov 7-8), and later Soviet musical culture, were founded in the Baltics soon after the Soviet occupation at the end of WWII. From 1947 until 1961, such an orchestra was a member of the State Philharmonic Society in Latvia, while smaller ensembles of modernized folk instruments continued to exist well into the 1980s and even early 1990s, until state financing was suspended.


Life-style folklorism


The first performances with traditional or "ethnographic" singing took place during the Latvian ethnographic exhibition in 1896. The singers and musicians from Alsunga and from other parts of Kurzeme came to perform in Riga in the 1920s and '30s. Some traditional music groups - the so-called "ethnographic ensembles" - were organized in Latvia in the 1950s. Their primary purpose was to represent Latvian folk culture in festivals, both locally and throughout the Soviet Union. Usually, the organizers of such ensembles were folklorists who had studied the traditional music of a particular region, come to know its singers and musicians, and therefore were well positioned to invite them to come together to perform (Bērziņa 126). Members of such ensembles knew how to perform the local tradition, but producers often changed their singing and playing styles to suit stage performance needs. Too often, the producers had little knowledge of traditional music and imposed academic singing styles, limited and eliminated variation, directed the choice of texts, and turned the performers into actors. A member of the Nīca ethnographic ensemble, Margrieta Otaņķe remembered the staging of her wedding: "And then they sent a producer, and he tried to refine everything so thoroughly that nothing was left of our wedding (Bērziņa 128). Typically, the staging was sentimental, giving the performance an old-fashioned taste and making it a funny, even slightly foolish, event. On the contrary, the instrumental playing within those ethnographic stagings did not differ much from that how it used to be in the country, as the instruments were used mostly solo - for dance or song accompaniment (Cimermanis). Of course, those were basically dance music instruments - violin, zither, concertina, accordion - and only seldom kokles. Generally, they preserved traditional musical features much better than singing.


The profound global cultural processes of the 1960s and '70s had their impact on Latvian musical culture as well. Although a substantial counter-culture was impossible because of the ideological strictures, nevertheless an informal pop, rock and folk movement developed at the grassroots. Students, teachers, and many others recognized the significance of collecting, studying, and seeking to popularize authentic folklore. Folklorists paid the greatest attention to the most archaic forms of traditional music, contrasting them to the latest strata of folklore, which as being degraded by the folk music instrument orchestras, kokles ensembles, and especially by the staged dance groups. Cultivating these resurrected traditions approximated a national resistance movement to Soviet totalitarianism and Russification. The most striking expression of this movement was the folklore festival Baltica '88, during which the chief symbol of independent, pre-war Latvia - the national flag - was publicly displayed. Though still under control of Soviet authorities, this "folklore movement" nevertheless became a strong locus for resistance (Muktupāvels 2000, 506).

Folklore movement enthusiasts formed ensembles and clubs; in 1980 about ten ensembles and two clubs emerged; in the next five years this number reached and exceeded one hundred. Members of ensembles turned away from concert performances to concentrate on popularizing different kinds and local styles of vocal, instrumental and choreographic traditions. The most acceptable practices, especially at the beginning of the folklore movement, included teaching songs, singing with the audience, commenting on calendar festivities and celebrations, and dance parties. Even if the event started as a concert, it assumed more and more features of a singing and dancing workshop and ended with a dance party. This form gradually changed, and by the end of the 1980s it was quite common for a folklore ensemble to perform a concert.

This withdrawal from "folkloric purity" promoted the formation of a new, rather radical position among folklore purists (revivalists, anachronists, neo-pagans), who accepted traditional lifestyles and practiced folklore in calendar and life-cycle festivities, at home, or in circles of friends.

In connection with this folklorism of the 1980s, there emerged a strong interest in reviving traditional kokles consisting of 7-12 strings. Some enthusiasts studied traditional playing styles and made instruments. In the late 1980s there was about a hundred of individual kokles players who made their own instruments. Those who wished to play the kokles, usually started by studying the notated or recorded traditional kokles melodies. Having acquired the initial steps of kokles playing, the majority of musicians were content, and only a few learned other techniques and developed their own style.

Initially, the repertoire for kokles was limited, with only about twenty recorded and perhaps forty published tunes. Thus, already from the early 1980s sustaining the musical life of this instrument required methods of approach that broadened its repertoire. A lot of dance melodies, originally played on other instruments (violin or concertina, for example) were adapted for the kokles. Accompanying a variety of traditional songs gradually became the basic and the most frequent way of using the revived instrument.

The contradiction between the primarily major-key character of the traditional kokles music and the overwhelmingly minor-key character of the most archaic vocal forms caused certain changes and innovations in the kokles style. Kokles were adapted to play in the minor key by raising the pitch of the drone string a whole tone. Later, two drone strings - a fourth and a minor third below the basic tone - were added. This made it possible to switch between major and minor tunings with a simple damping of the extra drone with the small finger of the left hand. Different kokles functioned in different, clearly marked, spheres. Modernized kokles were still taught at special music schools and at the Academy of Music. The 7-12 stringed instrument typical of Kurzeme or Latgale was used in most folklore groups. From the late 1980s and the early 1990s, this type was increasingly introduced into schools.

Revivalists, neo-pagans, and modern followers of dievturība used instruments with fewer strings (no more than 12) that were ornamented with runic signs and traditional symbols to accompany spiritual singing or in personal contemplation and meditation. Members of these circles also embraced the idea that kokles strings effect a mystical connection between the individual and a cosmic soul. Significantly, musical skill was less important than other aspects, say - serenity or spirituality.

Within the past decade, modern folklorism in Latvia has created a phenomenon known as "post-folklore". Ilga Reizniece, the leader of the group Iļģi, coined this term in 1993, when Iļģi released their cassette Rāmi, rāmi and the term "post-folklore" was used to describe the essence of their musical approach. In most regards, it approximates "the new wave" folklorism of Finland. While mainstream folklorism in the 1980s strongly accented demonstrating and teaching traditional music "as it used to be" and folklorists were anxious about "correctly reproducing the materials of traditional music," a different attitude emerged among the small, talented, and creative groups and their musically trained and expert individuals, leaving some room for individual expression and rather freely intuitive and artistic interpretation of traditional music. So, it is the comparison of the folklorism of 1980s with that of the late 1980s and early 1990s that prompts the addition of "post". In that sense "post-folklore" means "post-eighties folklorism." It is important to mention that in "post-folklore," the ritual function of traditional music is recognized and kept in mind by the musicians and the audience, although specific rituals, customs, and mythologies are not necessarily expressed in any visible form. This crucial point differentiates post-folklore from the song and dance ensembles of "stage folklore." The musicians usually have good knowledge and command of traditional Latvian music, but in the music they create, they are also open to other styles - jazz, minimalist, Celtic, Oriental. Compositions are not written down, but created improvised.

During the song and dance festival in the summer of 1993 there was a post-folklore concert with eight participating groups. Afterwards, informal opinion concluded that the 9-12 stringed kokles had been the dominant instrument at that event and had finally demonstrated its potential and capacity for "absolute instrumentalism".


[Table 1. Comparison of the kokles playing situations]


Performance contexts and stylistic groups


Every kokles performance event has a distinctive background or, we might say, it is constituted by the effect of several different factors, among them the performers musical education, skill, social status, type of instrument, motivation for playing, as well as the social and cultural contexts of the specific performance situation. Perhaps the two most important factors are the skills and motivation of the performer. Low or high skill levels determine the situation within which a musician can play comfortably, say, at home, during celebrations and festivities or in concert halls. The choice of the instrument is partly dependent on skill level. Low skill levels leave more space for non-musical factors to become significant in particular playing situations, whereas high skill levels permit a focus on musical results. Motivations can be more personal or more social.

The nature of the music-making event affects the style. Similar situations can result in similar styles, and within the continuum of kokles music several stylistic groups can be distinguished.

In order to establishing a correlation between different kokles styles or style periods, I propose the following scheme as one possible orientation in the quest for relations among kokles styles.


[Fig. 1. Correlation of different kokles styles]


With respect to the cultural dichotomy of traditional and modern, a circle and a diamond-shaped line are used to mark respective style regions. In the modern-style region, four stylistic groups - symbolic, artistic, folkloric and post-folkloric - are distinguishable. In addition, I identify four extremal situations of kokles-playing, represented by breaking points [is it correct? Maybe - vertices] in the diamond-shaped graph. In terms of the playing skill level, there are two extremal situations: kokles hanging on the wall (1), which I call "zero style," and virtuoso playing (3). With regard to the dominant motivation for playing, two other extremal situations can be recognized: kokles for personal contemplation or meditation (2) and kokles ensembles performing for official occasions (4). These extremal situations serve as distinguishing points among the zones of neighboring stylistic groups.

Symbolic styles display low or medium skill levels and a dominating social motivation for performance, for example, in patriotic youth organizations (Mazpulki) or in dievturi services. During the "singing revolution" of the late eighties, I witnessed an old man holding his kokles high above his head, just like those who were holding national flags and posters. Occasionally, he touched the strings to make a sequence of two or three intervals

An increase in skill level gradually transforms the symbolic styles into the artistic styles. Performance situations include kokles ensembles on the stage of a culture club or music school, a kokles orchestra at song and dance festivals. As a rule, only concert kokles are used here.

Folkloric styles typify the use of kokles within the folklore movement. Performance is motivated not so much for social as for personal reasons. It is more spontaneous than pre-planned in character. The distance between the player and the audience either does not exist or is significantly reduced. In comparison to a concert situation, the audience itself is comprised of other folklorists, friends, and relatives rather than of spectators. Low or medium-low skill levels dominate, for it is generally accepted that almost anyone can play the kokles, even publicly.

More skillful post-folkloric kokles players are more motivated to perform for a broad audience, which increases their social motivation for playing, especially in comparison with the folkloric situations. The interaction of the post-folkloric kokles performers differs from that within the modernized kokles ensemble. The former is more likely to play alone or in a heterogeneous ensemble and to display folkloric knowledge, especially in variations and "on spot" improvising than in a homogeneous ensemble reproducing learned [I would like to use "learned" or "pre-learned", or "academic", or something like that, rather than "standard", because it does not carry the necessary meaning] styles and repertoire.

But, in the end, at a certain virtuoso skill level, when musical content of the performance dominates, it is no longer so important whether the background of the player is "folkloric," "traditional" or "academic." The Finnish ethnomusicologist Dr. Hannu Saha aptly describes this situation: "Fortunately, the days are gone in which we were concerned about the very survival of traditional music, or about its 'authenticity.' The modern ethnomusicologist3 shares knowledge, and the receivers of that knowledge4 are free to accept it or to break the rules to their heart's content" (Saha 402).





1 I would suggest to using this word as a general term for the whole Baltic board zither family.

2 Dievturība - a religious system; dievturi - adepts of dievturība.

3 From the position of "bi-musicality" he reflects upon a certain tradition and also becomes himself an active part of that tradition, therefore he is also a musician.

4 "The receivers of that knowledge" and, of course, the ethnomusicologist himself in his musical activities.



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