The oldest recordings of the archives of the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy (LMTA) were accumulated in the 1950s & 1960s. They are part of the Europeana Sounds corpus to be published on the Europeana platform and the Music Channel.These recordings are marked with the types KF (audio library of the Conservatoire) and KLF (folk audio library of the Conservatoire). During the 1960s, it was possible to record folk songs of countryside singers at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy only when they came to Vilnius (from distant villages they were often accompanied by collectors of folklore pieces, and it happened to be the first visit of theirs in Vilnius); later, in the beginning of the 1970s, the recordings were started to be made in villages.

Jadvyga Čiurlionytė and her colleagues with singer Grasilda Dambrauskienė (Vilnius) 1958. Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre , CC-BY-NC.

Jadvyga Čiurlionytė and her colleagues with singer Grasilda Dambrauskienė (Vilnius) 1958.
Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, CC-BY-NC.

For this purpose, a tape recorder was used which was heavy to carry by one person. There were live witnesses of post-war resistance to the Soviet occupation fights in the villages, people who had come through deaths of their close people and exile. Songs-romances on lines created by partisans were sang in villages. Singers often used to sing those songs during expeditions. The lines used to be changed a little bit, but sometimes they sang the original variant too without any fear saying that “I am over ninety, I have no fear any more”. But there was much to fear.

During the Stalin’s rule, it was enough to sing such a song or tell an anecdote somewhat openly to have the whole family exiled to the land of “white bears”. Folklorists, collecting songs in villages were carefully observed. Therefore, information of presenters of recordings suffered sometimes because recorders in order to safeguard themselves and a singer, omitted personal data (this happened with some of the tapes of same private collections). Such tapes came to the archive of LMTA most often only after recovery of independence, when private collections were started to be accumulated.

Anelė Žiogelienė listens to the song recorded by herself (1961). Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre , CC-BY-NC .

Anelė Žiogelienė listens to the song recorded by herself (1961).
Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre , CC-BY-NC.

Song collectors avoided recording of romances, religious songs also due to a possible “danger” of a genre and because of the attitudes of that time that this part of folklore is less valuable than calendar, wedding ritual folklore. Not willing to have problems, most folklore collectors recorded only calendar, work, and wedding ritual songs. Sometimes they asked one or another singer to sing a “social protest” song. Such “folklore” was often created by the method of a primitive melody on the spot, during recording, or the text contaminated from work song variants. Possibilities of folklorists were also very limited. There was a lack of sound recording equipment as well as tapes for recorders.

Sound recordings made during the folklore expeditions, brought to the archives of the then Conservatoire were rewritten to another tapes (written-off acetone tapes of the Lithuanian radio were also used for this purpose). During rewriting, the most “valuable” songs were selected, and the songs that did not satisfy the occupational authority as well as songs that lacked quality, beginning or ending, were erased. Fortunately, in all times there were people who deliberately or unconsciously did not do their job accurately. Namely because of this reason, some religious songs existing in the authentic tradition sang by village singers, and some fragments of romances or prayers of shepherds survived.

Today the archive staff work as detectives sometimes seeking to restore the identity of singers. Sometimes personal data is recovered by comparing to accurately described sound recordings, sometimes living elderly village habitants are addressed for help to recognise voices of their grandfathers. A small part of schedules is restored by questioning folklorists involved in the expeditions of that time. Today, implementing this project, digitalising sound recordings and revising descriptions of songs recorded in magnetic tapes, the job had to be especially accurate. Thanks to this project, the oldest and most valuable part of the archive has become easily accessible for students and all who are interested in traditional Lithuanian music.

by Varsa Liutkutė-Zakarienė, Musicology Institute Ethnomusicology department