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 16.02.2011 Trembita. The sounds of the Carpathians

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All info about trembita

It sounds like… trembita

Trembita. Carpathian wind instrument

What is trembita? When you come to the Carpathians probably you’ll meet some restaurant or café with the same name. You can also meet the image of this instrument on posters and logos as a symbol of Hutsulshchyna. It’s easy to see trembita in any Hutsul or Boyko folk festival. Traditionally there’s a custom to meet guests with trembitas.

It’s a big luck to hear the sound of this instrument in its home environment – native hills and meadows. Ask those who travel the Carpathians every year did they see a living trembita player or master. It’s enough the fingers of one hand to count all Ukrainian trembita masters. And they make trembitas not for the local shippers and folk artists but mainly for concert bands and professional musicians.

A hundred years ago this tube without holes made of larch or spruce was like today’s telephone. When an urgent message was to be sent far and wide over the mountains, trembita players climbed high to the top of the nearest mountain, and standing there they played the tunes well known in the Carpathian villages. The sound of trembita can be heart 10 km away. In fact, it comes from meadow to meadow, from mountain to mountain, from top to down of mountains. When somebody dies trembita sounds grievously, notify relatives and friends with certain melody about grief. Each tune had a significance of its own, and the message, carried over long distances, was immediately understood, be it a warning of danger or cause for rejoicing. When shepherds were driven sheep to the mountains, they let it know with a sound of trembita and gathered the cattle in flock. Trembita was playing at Christmas time. Maybe that’s how the highlanders described the voice of the God’s Angel that signaled the birth of Christ. However, trembita never plays on occasion of somebody’s birth or wedding. It’s voice is sad, solemn but never hilarious.

In the Carpathians we met Mykhajlo Tafiychuk. This old Hutsul is a famous master of musical instruments. He is over seventy years old. It’s not simple to make a trembita. Not any wood is good for making trembitas — only those are chosen which have been struck by lightning. The more the tree is damaged by the lightning, the louder the trembita made of its wood sounds. You have to carve a long stick from the trunk of spruce. Trembita can reach four meters. First the stick must to dry at least one year. Next the rod must be cut along and make the ditch in both halves. Trembita sounds louder when it has thin walls. But in this case it’s easier to break it. Nowadays the masters make folding trembitas for musicians to ease the transportation. But they sound worse.

To make trembita its halves must be kept together. Next they are compressed and fixed with the birch bark. The hardest thing is to find a good birch with smooth bark – not too old and not too young. It’s like with the girl.

Before play trembita its hole must be filled with vodka or hot milk. It’s easy feel the analogy with a human voice when trembita is playing.

When somebody dies trembita players stand in the yard near the house, from the side of the head of the deceased. They play like as a dead is exhaling his soul.