Collections: Colin Quigley - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Dance, Music, and Custom in Romania (1993-2003)

home collections


Young men of the village Calușer group sing in their church before proceeding to visit houses throughout the community, Oraștioara de Jos, Romania, 1998. Image from video © Colin Quigley.

This collection is drawn from a larger collection that spans 1993 to 2006, recorded throughout Romania, and containing nearly 100 tapes. For the EVIA Project, ten hours were selected to highlight dance/music idioms as performed in traditional customary contexts. The most complete and compelling recordings are of mid-winter calendar customs in communities that the collector visited in December and January of 1998 and 1999. The customs—which contain archaic elements, are regionally distinctive, use multiple expressive means, and keep multiple meanings in play—are now specialized to particular villages where they are maintained with a measure of local pride, and some official support. Thus they also represent a range of folkloric influences that are largely inescapable in the Romanian context.

Traditional artistic creation takes place as a part of everyday life, reflecting its circumstances and conditions. Alongside the forms of oral literature (prose and verse, either sung or recited) stand musical, choreographic, and dramatic works. Some are performed only by women, others by men, children, or the elderly. The customs of mid-winter are major occasions for celebration. Colinde, traditional Christmas songs, are sung all over Romania by groups of carolers visiting homes throughout their communities. These songs are striking for their archaism and the richness of the rhythms found in the simple melodies, and are all the more impressive when performed by groups without any special training such as the căluseri from Orăştioara de Jos in the Hunedoara region. Various traditions are intended to bring plenty and happiness during the coming year. The oldest form of good luck visit—going from house to house wearing animal masks (goat, deer, and bear)—is practiced at New Year's, especially in Moldova. Other musical traditions are not linked to particular occasions. These genres include the doina (lyric love song of so-called tagble song) and cântec bătrânesc (ballad or old song). There are a few examples of such in this collection.

A variety of musical instruments are to be heard in this collection, some very old in form, others newer and factory made: a simple leaf or fish scale; relatives of the guitar; instruments of the violin family, often modified from their standard construction; and modern instruments such as the accordion, clarinet, trumpet, and their variants. Instrumental music reaches its peak artistic value when it is joined with dance. Dance music takes hold to provoke a veritable euphoria; dance melodies are constructed to incite joy, to rouse the elemental energy of the body, focused in rhythmic movement, with a powerful role in physiological and implicitly psychic release.

Romanian dance is a singular phenomenon with an undeniable continuity, while at the same time revealing a great diversity in structure and style. The explanation of this remarkable diversity of choreographic forms must be sought first of all in the historical circumstances of region and central position vis-à-vis the cultural currents of West and Southeast Europe, where both group and couple dances are characteristic. The repertoire includes dances of archaic style and simple structure (some of them maintaining a ritual function), alongside men's dances with a complex harmonic structure and acrobatic elements—căluseri (men's ritual team dance) and fecioreşti (men's display dance)—sometimes performed along with the more numerous Transylvanian couple dances.

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Colin Quigley (PhD, University of California, Los Angeles) has research interests in European and European-American traditional music and dance, and specializes in folklore, ethnochoreology, and ethnomusicology. He has taught in the Folklore Department of Memorial University, Newfoundland, and was a post-doctoral research fellow at its Centre d'Etudes Franco-Terreneuvien. Quigley was awarded a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship to Romania during 1997-98, and served as curator for the Romanian program in the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Quigley has taught and performed Anglo-, Celtic-, and Franco-American traditional music and dance throughout the United States and Canada. His monograph, Close to the Floor: Folk Dance in Newfoundland (1985), is an investigation of relationships between dance forms and dance events. Quigley's book, Music From the Heart (1995), examines the interplay of creativity and tradition in the composition of French Newfoundland fiddle music. Quigley is an associated member of the Section On Cultural & Social Anthropology of The Institute For Cultural Anthropology at Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania. He is currently investigating the impact changes in ideologies of national and ethnic identity have on folklore performance in post-communist Europe.

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