Ivan Sivec: Tisoč najlepših besedil

SLOVENIA - THE CRADLE OF ALPINE ETHNO-POP


Esej je na voljo tudi v
slovenskem jeziku
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erhältlich in Deutche sprache
Music is an important part of the culture of each nation. Nobody knows when and how it emerged. Perhaps a human being wanted to imitate a gust of wind, the rustle of leaves, the singing of birds. According to the manner of composing, we can distinguish between folk music and so-called "serious" music. At the end of the 19th century, with the appearance of popular music and the unforeseen development of the mass media, almost all kinds of music became accessible to the widest possible audience. Moreover, many musicians began to compose music just because of the needs of the media and the audience. Slovenia is the homeland of a special type of popular music, i.e. Alpine ethno-pop music, the Avsenik Brothers Ensemble being its main exponents. Around five hundred musical ensembles in Slovenia and around ten thousand around the world play this kind of music. From Berlin to London and from New York to Tokyo, small and large orchestras also play this popular music, especially music composed by the Avsenik Brothers.

HOW DID POPULAR MUSIC EMERGE?

One of the simplest definitions of music can be found in the Encyclopaedia of Slovenia. According to the authors of the Encyclopaedia, music is "an art whose expressive means are tones, sounds and noises. Folk music concerns untrained composition, while serious music is more or less thoughtful treatment of the sound material." Ethnologist Rajko Muršič finds that "music (is) a medium through which people establish contact with the world and with themselves. It is very important that music is the part of the world (nature) and the human being (culture) at the same time, for only in this way, through periodic ritual acts, it is possible to establish mutual balance and protect against falling into chaos. In practice, this means that a human being loses his ego within a ritual act and is united as an individual in a higher and stronger whole."

It seems rather unusual that scientists began to examine popular music more closely relatively late, even in England only in the 80s of the 20th century. While so-called serious music receives a relatively thorough treatment in comprehensive monographs and reference works, there is not a lot about popular music, and only a few pages have been written about Alpine ethno-pop music.

What in fact is popular music? "Popular music: all music that is howsoever essentially connected with transmission through the mass media and/or performance with the help of electrical or electronic devices."

A basic definition of popular music can be found in The New Grove Dictonary of Music and Musicians:
"A term used widely in everyday discourse, generally to refer to types of music that are considered to be of lower value and complexity than serious music, and to be readily accessible to large numbers of musically uneducated listeners rather than to an elite ... Even if 'popular' music is hard to define, and even if forms of popular music, in some sense of the term, can be found in most parts of the world over a lengthy historical period, in practice its most common references are to types of music characteristic of 'modern' and 'modernizing' societies - in Europe and North America from about 1800, and even more from about 1900, and in Latin America and 'Third World' countries since the 20th century, and even more strongly since World War II ..."

Ivan Vrbančič in the reference work Svet glasbe (The World of Music) observes that music accompanies us from the cradle to the grave. We find the following in a chapter entitled "The relation between folk, art and popular music":
"The term popular music is not yet one hundred years old. However, musical entertainment goes far back into the past. It is known that music served as entertainment already in Roman times, and that music accompanied festivals at medieval castles and palaces. Later on, when parties took place in the parlours of rich bourgeois houses, we speak about chamber music. Even the great composers such as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin and others had to entertain with divertimento, waltz or minuet the guests in the parlours of fashionable ladies from time to time.
Towards the end of the 19th century music intended for entertainment moved from the parlours to public places, mostly to the cafés. It has been preserved in this form until now, only the line-up of the musicians has been transformed from the former chamber music ensemble to the present rock group."
The relation between different kinds of music is the main interest for ethnological research. In the same chapter, Vrbančič states:
"The relation between folk, art and popular music can not quite be defined. The differences between them are significant, above all with respect to the emergence and the purpose of each… Folk music is the oldest and popular music is the youngest, and is only the music of the present time, as it cannot count on the future if it has not already assured its existence by now… The findings on the interaction between all three kinds of music are also interesting. We have already established that folk music influenced serious and popular music. The influence of popular music on folk music can be seen in Alpine ethno-pop music. Unfortunately, the quality of the production does not outweigh the quantity." Verbančič is one of the rare authors who also defines the term "Alpine ethno-pop music":
"Alpine ethno-pop is a special kind of popular music. It has been present more intensively in the last three decades. This music has taken on some of the elements of folk music, especially melody. Other musical elements, such as rhythm, form etc., are also not distinctive in original folk music, therefore also not in this kind of music. As regards the content, it has been expanded to include contemporary subjects. It has also made quite a bit of progress with regard to the performance and technical aspects, particularly because of the technical perfection of the instruments that have the advantage over folk instruments, which are often home-made.
The composers of Alpine ethno-pop music are known, and many make good money out of it. As we already know, the composers of authentic folk music are not known."
Music reference works generally divide popular music into the following categories, as can be found at the internet address allmusic.com:
a)Rock and roll: Defined by catchy hooks, energy and sometimes also rebellion against the former form of music.
b)Country: A simple music with endless variations on similar themes. Most of its songs are built around three chords and a plain text and melody. Country music grew out of American Southern folk music. As the genre progressed, old-time music evolved into the rhythmic guitar-and-fiddle driven traditional country that became the foundation of modern country music.
c)Jazz: Some people call it America's classical music. At the outset, jazz was dance music, performed by swinging big bands. Soon, the dance elements faded into the background and improvisation became the key element of the genre.
d)Blues: The blues grew out of African spirituals and work songs. Most blues feature simple, usually three-chord structures. The blues has developed in new directions - particularly on electric instruments.
e)World music: "World music" refers either to music that doesn't fall into the North American and British pop or folk traditions or to hybrids of various indigenous types of music. Everything from traditional Chinese music to African folk is classified as world music. It results from the mixture of various indigenous types of music.
f)Folk music: Every country has its own folk music. Traditional folk music styles emerged differently in every country and influenced one another. Opera and other singers also perform modern folk music. Many artists sing songs either written by the artists themselves or other contemporary musicians, the majority performed in the folk tradition.
g)Reggae: It is a music unique to Jamaica. Reggae's direct forefather is ska, a rhythmic variation based on New Orleans R&B.
h)Vocal music: It is performed either by pop, rock 'n' roll and other individual singers or vocal groups. It is a mixture of all styles mentioned before. Often, these songs are sung supported by an orchestra or a swinging big band. The individual vocal interpretation is the innovation.
i)Religious music: This refers to spiritual music, for example gospel, which is accompanied by accentuated rhythm and sung harmonies. It can be divided into choral music, smaller groups of singers and also into certain types of individual country approaches.
j)Easy Listening: It is an instrumental music that was designed to be soothing and relaxing. Unlike jazz, easy listening music slips into the background and it is intended only for acoustic scenery.
k)New age: New age music emerged from the meditation and holistic fields. It aims to induce a sense of inner calm. This music is therapeutic as well.

And where does Alpine ethno-pop music fit into the above-mentioned list? Muršič writes the following:
"Alpine ethno-pop music is a part of popular music that relates to the local musical tradition and follows the more contemporary pop music. It is a part of ethno-pop."

THE AVSENIK BROTHERS ARE KNOWN ALL OVER THE WORLD

When a person lives all the time in one country, being connected to a certain ethnic group, it is evident that he or she accepts a certain kind of life as something obvious, that is to say generally understandable and fairly ordinary. Therefore, foreign views are surprising in some way, and this includes the views on Alpine ethno-pop music and, above all, on the Avsenik Brothers.
In the book World Music, The Rough Guide, in the chapter entitled Balkan Beats we find:
"Slovenia, which was the most westerly and developed member of the Yugoslav federation, is now a fully recognized independent state… Commercial forms of Slovene popular music reflect the country's historical links with the Alpine region and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In other words: cheerful waltzes and polkas played by accordionists, trumpeters and clarinettists in knee-breeches, and romances sung by women in dirndls. Most of these songs are newly composed and all tend to sound much the same. Indeed, the official festival competitions such as that in Ptuj are likely to disqualify entries that stray too far from the accepted formulae or show dangerous signs of originality. It is this sort of music you are most likely to hear on the radio or performed live. Its beginnings lie in the history of Slovenia as a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the from the fourteenth century until 1918. Slovene conscripts posted far from home learnt the tunes from their fellow soldiers from Vienna, Prague, or Budapest - the popular music of central Europe. Young musicians even now can play melodies learned by their grandfathers far from home on the marches of the empire. The current style was more or less invented about forty years ago by the Avsenik brothers, Slavko and Vilko, who are also immensely popular over the border in Austria and southern Germany, and have received a huge number of gold discs. Practically every other band has copied their style and line-up of accordion, trumpet, clarinet, guitar and brass bass with a vocal trio. Such bands perform at weddings and other celebrations and, during the summer, at the firemen's celebrations held at weekends and holidays at the local fire stations, where there is some space to set up stalls for selling food and drink and enough open ground for dancing."