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The birbynė is a Lithuanian aerophone that can be either single- or double-reed and may or may not

have a mouthpiece. It is sometimes considered the national instrument of Lithuania, a status shared
with the kanklės.

The Kanklės (psaltery)(pronounced [ˈkʌŋkles]) is a Lithuanian plucked string musical instrument

(chordophone), related to the zither. It is roughly in the shape of a trapezium (British) or trapezoid
(American). The instrument is fitted with several wire or gut strings under tension which produce tones
when plucked. It is usually rested on the player's lap and played with the fingers or a pick made of bone
or quill.

The instrument is similar in construction and origin to the Latvian kokle, Russian gusli, Estonian
kannel and Finnish kantele.

The body of the kanklės is constructed of one piece of hardwood, hollowed out to make a cavity. A thin
sheet of softwood (usually spruce) is used to make a sounding board, which covers the body. Sound
holes, which traditionally take the shape of a stylized flower or star, are cut into the sounding board,
allowing sound to project outward.

At the shortest side of the body a metal bar is attached, to which the strings made of wire or gut are
anchored. The opposite ends of the strings are attached to a row of tuning pegs inserted into a holes at
the opposite side of the body. The tuning pegs allow for adjustment of each string's tension, and
therefore its pitch.

Skudučiai – pan-pipes.

Folk music

Lithuanian folk music belongs to Nordic music branch which is connected with neolithic corded ware
culture. In Lithuanian territory meets two musical cultures: stringed (kanklių) and wind instrument
cultures. These instrumental cultures probably formed vocal traditions. Lithuanian folk music is
archaic, mostly used for ritual purposes, containing elements of pre-Christian faith. .

There are three ancient styles of singing in Lithuania connected with ethnographical regions:
monophony, multi-voiced homophony, heterophony and poliphony.

Monophony mostly occurs in southern (Dzūkija), southwest (Suvalkija) and eastern (Aukstaitija) parts
of Lithuania. Multi-voiced homophony is spread in whole Lithuania, in western part (Samogitia) it is
the most archaic.

Folk song genres


Sutartinės (from the word sutarti—to be in concordance, in agreement) are highly unique examples of
folk music. They are an ancient form of two and three voiced polyphony, based on the oldest principles
of multivoiced vocal music.

The topics and functions of sutartinės encompass almost all known Lithuanian folk song genres - work,
calendar cycle ritual, wedding, family, wartime, historic, and other songs. Thee melodies of sutartinės
are not complex, containing two to five pitches. The melodies are symmetrical, consisting of two equal-
length parts.

Sutartinės were sung by women, but men performed instrumental versions on the kanklės (psaltery), on
horns, and on the skudučiai (pan-pipes). Sutartinės were sung at festivals, gatherings, wedding, and
while performing various chores. The poetic language is not complex, but it is very visual and
expressive. The rhythms are clear and accented. Dance sutartinės are humorous and spirited, despite the
fact that the movements of the dance are quite reserved and slow.

At present the sutartinės have almost become extinct as a genre among the population, but they are
fostored by many Lithuanian folklore ensembles, who take great pleasure in keeping them alive.


Laments (raudos) are one of the oldest forms of musical poetry. They originate from funeral customs..

Many laments reflect the ancient Lithuanian world outlook, and a unique perspective on the afterlife.
Laments often depict the world of the souls, where loved ones abide. Lamenting at funerals can still be
heard in eastern and southern Lithuania, where this tradition has been particularly strong.

Wedding songs

Weddings were major celebrations, lasting a week or longer, attended by the relatives, friends of both
families, and included the entire village. The great variety of wedding customs gave rise to a wide array
of folk poetry and musical forms. Different vocal and instrumental forms developed, such as lyrical,
satirical, drinking and banqueting songs, musical dialogues, wedding laments, games, dances and
marches. From an artistic standpoint the lyric songs are the most interesting. They reflect the entirety of
the bride's life: her touching farewells to loved ones as she departs for the wedding ceremony or her
husband's home, premonitions about the future, age-old questions about relationships between the
mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and the innermost thoughts and emotions of the would-be bride.
The rich repertoire of prenuptial lyric love songs is also often ascribed to the category of wedding
songs, since the lyrics often have to do with upcoming weddings. During the actual wedding, the lyric
songs were sung by the women and girls in chorus, often in the name of the bride. The bride herself
usually did not sing.

War-historical time songs

Many wartime historical songs were written down without their melodies, and the melodies that are
known do not have stylistic characteristics singular to the genre. In general, the character of these songs
is not march-like, but more lyric or epic. In time many wartime historical songs became war ballads, a
unique genre all its own, which is alive and well to this day.

Calendar cycle and ritual songs

The oldest Lithuanian folk songs are those that accompany the celebrations and rituals of the calendar
cycle. They were sung at prescribed times of the year while performing the appropriate rituals. These
songs can be classified into several categories: songs of Winter celebrations and rituals, i.e. Advent,

Christmas and the New Year; songs of Shrovetide and Lent, songs of Spring and Summer, i.e. Easter
swinging songs, and Easter songs called lalavimai; songs for the feasts of St. George, St. John, St. Peter
and Pentecost. Many rituals and some ritual songs reflect ancient Lithuanian animistic beliefs in which
elements of nature, such as the Sun, thunder, the Moon, Earth, fire and other natural objects were
worshipped and endowed with spiritual characteristics. The rituals and songs also reflect remnants of
plant and death cults. Ancient rituals related to agricultural endeavors are practiced to this day in
Lithuania to protect the farm and the family from hardship and misfortune, to thank the good spirits for
a successful year and to ensure well-being in the coming year through offerings and magical acts.

Winter festivals and songs

The most important Winter festivals commenced when the farm chores had been completed—from
November through the middle of January. In order to ensure a plentiful harvest for the next year,
certain rituals, representing fortune and plenty, were performed. The most important Winter festival is
Christmas, celebrated just before the New Year. The four-week period of Advent preceding Christmas
is a time of staidness and reflection, and the rituals and songs of Advent and Christmas reflect that
mood. Songs can be identified by their refrains.

Shrove Tuesday songs are quite unique. They depict the most important moments of the Shrovetide
ritual: the battle of Spring with a Winter unwilling to yield, boisterous banquets, abundant and satiated
Nature in anticipation of an abundant year. Movement, such as riding sleighs through the fields, often
accompanies them to evoke a good harvest. The songs are usually performed in a unique "shouting"
singing style. Since riding to and fro was such an important Shrove Tuesday ritual, it is distinctly
reflected in the songs. Reference is made to horses, steeds, riding through fields. Another important
Shrove Tuesday ritual was the parade of masqueraders. Special songs, such as beggar songs,
accompany the parade. Most Shrovetide songs are recitative-like and their melodies contain the most
archaic ritual melodic characteristics.

During the Easter celebration and Spring in general, the tradition of swinging on swings was quite
widespread (in some places during Shrove Tuesday as well). Swinging has magical powers, which
induces everything, flax in particular, to grow more quickly. The melodic rhythm of these songs is of
particular importance, since it has to do with the movement of swinging. Tonally the swinging songs
resemble archaic work songs.

The songs of the feast of St. George are associated with the reawakening of Spring. The Spring feast of
Pentecost (or Whitsunday in Great Britain) is the celebration of renewal and flourishing greenery.
Before and after Pentecost, tradition demanded that everyone "visit" the crops. Songs called paruginės
(from the word rugiai—rye) associated with this tradition can still be encountered in eastern Lithuania.
They were sung by women, who walked through the fields in groups, "visiting" the crops. They sang of
the cornflower, of the picking of hops, about relations between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law,
and in some there is reference to the actual "visiting."

There are not many songs accompanying the feast of St. John which have survived. Those songs that
have been written down make passing reference to the feast, although the rituals themselves are widely
practiced to this day. One of the most widespread traditions is the visiting of fields between the feasts
of St. John and St. Peter. The feast of St. John is also known as the Kupolė festival (kupolės are
medicinal herbs, gathered on the eve of St. John's.) Most of the St. John songs which have survived are

found in northern Lithuania, including exemplars of the unique polyphonic sutartinė form. The feasts of
St. John and St. Peter marked the end of the calendar festival song cycle.

Songs which were sung during the Summer and the Fall accompanied chores and belong to the genre of
work songs. The exception is Vėlinės on November 2nd during which the dead were commemorated
(vėlė is the word for soul). However, there are no specific songs that have been recorded relating to this
day. Laments and orphans' songs are often associated with Vėlinės.

Work songs

Work songs are among the oldest forms of folklore. They came into being when rudimentary manual
labor was employed. As farm implements improved and the management of labor changed, many work
songs were no longer suitable for accompanying the tasks and began to disappear. Many of the songs
became divorced from the specific job and became lyrical songs on the subject of work to be sung at
any time. Work songs vary greatly in function and age. There are some very old examples, which have
retained their direct relation with the rhythm and process of the work to be done. Later work songs sing
more of a person's feelings, experiences and aspirations. The older work songs more accurately relate
the various stages of the work to be done. They are categorized according to their purpose on the farm,
in the home, and so on.

• Herding songs
• Sheparding songs
• Ploughing songs
• Haymaking songs
• Rye harvesting songs
• Oat harvesting, flax and buckwheat pulling and hemp gathering songs
• Milling songs
• Spinning and weaving songs
• Laundering songs
• Fishing songs
• Hunting songs
• Berry picking and mushroom gathering songs