A.Singing in a Sounding World

A bonfire party, featuring a performance by a Latvian folk troupe of old women in brightly colored headscarves and heavy skirts who sang rude things at each other.

LUTES IN LATVIA (22-31 July 1997)


In his classic monograph Latviešu dancis the great music collector Emīlis Melngailis (1874-1954) starts out his chapter called “A sounding world of yore (Latvju skaņotā senātne)" with a tribute to a 90 year-old informant, Beltoviču Grieta, who has for him become emblematic of the Latvian traditional singer:

There are countless numbers of songs in the brain patterns of the zintiniece (master singer, wise woman) who has been composing her bottomless memory dowry with voiced wreaths from childhood on under her grandmother’s direction. The more there are, the more (she) wants to take in. In her realm of sound this zinteniece (wise woman) manages so as to be unconscious of her own prowess. She doesn’t sing from memory something unchangeable at all, something (merely) heard, but creates according to various voice lines within a region of some higher-level lawfulness…When I ask her to repeat, she begins her singing so: (example). When she doesn’t care for my pestering, she throws in an irregularity, a changed rhythm: (example). The second stanza is resolved differently. The mood is the same, but the line unique. If I ask her to stop or to repeat, something quite different will emerge, just as logical, but not the same (example). (Melngailis, pp. 7-8)

A mastersinger draws endlessly from a world of sound of interrelated plentitude. Everything has its own sound, tone, or voice. All phenomena can be addressed directly in the process of apdziedāšana (singing to or about). The way of direct address through celebratory singing does not differentiate between a person, deity, or natural phenomena. It is an alternative direct address to the more formal appeal lūgšana (the term used for Christian "prayer") to a more abstract god.

The illiterate singers of Melngailis’s time developed a repertoire learning from mothers, grandmothers, other family members, and, according to dainas, listening to sounds of the surrounding nature. If inspired by nature, a song apparently is improvised by listening to a sound. The first half of a daina distich is more likely to be the formulaic source, while the second is the improvisatory lyric target. There are dainas that complain about the second half of the song being lost when the singer is unable to come up with an appropriate comparison to complete the song. Singing accompanies virtually all activities from birth to marriage to death. Smidchens notes that just as lead singers of peasant communities "have enormous active repertoires of songs and melodies which they can recall at a moment’s notice" (p. 231) so do present-day leaders of ethnographic ensembles. Additionally modern ethnographic ensembles, such as Kelmickaite, Tonurist, and the Stalti have the advantage that potentially: "Their passive repertoire includes every published collection of folksongs and the holdings of their national archives, as well. These are the sources from which they constantly take songs and learn or relearn them for performances." (Smidchens: 231) However, because during the Soviet period the practice of traditions was often classified as nationalistic, bourgeois, and therefore undesirable, the performers of the grass-roots folklore movement often had to seek out grandparents, rather than parents. Seeking out the oldest generation also happened in the first Awakening because social conditions associated with literacy, industrialization, and urbanization had changed so rapidly in such a short time.

Music is, of course, an integral part of culture, a means of defining and expressing people according to different categories within a society. Therefore, the same recorded music will be interpreted and performed differently by different members of society not only on the individual level, but as representatives of their culture. What is being communicated by music becomes inherently problematic, a matter of level and focus. Sufficient distance creates the illusion of commonality that may be significant as a means of identification, especially for an outsider.

Singing is most often equated to the process of living in the many songs about singing. Everything in life is accompanied by song. It is also opposed to weeping and sorrow. This attitude is not na?ve or maudlin, but comes from a life of hardship and is a concrete and effective way of dealing with adversity.

Bēda, mana liela bēda, Es par bēdu nebēdāju.

Liku bēdu zem akmeņa, Pāri gāju dziedādama.

Sorrow, my great sorrow, I didn’t worry about sorrow too long.

I placed sorrow under the rock; went over it singing.

The emic daina view of singing as the process of living seems to resonate with the modern ethnomusicological perspective that music is a complex socio-cultural expression involved in all important aspects, such as economics, politics, art, gender, class, and identity.

In nonresponsorial singing the daina distich is a self-contained unit but in performance it must be fit with another "half" though some distich pairs become so strongly associated that they are seen as verses, and that is how they are recorded and archived. The quatrain, in turn, is either chained in nonresponsorial singing or sung alternatively in responsorial singing:

During the process of singing a quatrain is followed rather freely by other quatrains. The choice of the following dainas is up to the singer; it depends on his/her ability, skill, knowledge, and is determined by the situation, local habits, textual associations, etc. Though each quatrain is short, the singing can go on for hours. (Muktupāvels, section 2.2, prepublication)

However, the manner of collecting in the past from individual singers outside their usual communal performance did especially grave injustice to antiphonal singing. The performance requires a call and response interchange of two groups and the singer forms her reply as an answer. Unfortunately, no actual responsorial performances were recorded until recently. I am aware of no published actual musical analyses of such performances. The lack of such analyses makes a study of apdziedāšanās difficult that has an orientation toward sociocultural context. In this paper, I, therefore summarize some of the internal evidence from descriptions of performance within the daina texts themselves as well as general relevant literature on the subject with the hope that with this preliminary work, interest in recording and analysis of field performances will be encouraged.

Blacking did not believe it methodologically proper to compare music from different societies or historical periods "unless they have in common many non-musical as well as musical features." (Music, Culture, and Experience. Selected Papers of John Blacking: 13) Musical structures are related to a specific culture’s social relationships and ideologies. Informed by Durkheim and Alfred Schutz, Blacking subscribed to intersubjectivity or mutual intelligibility of its interpretive and expressive schemata, signs, and symbols where "music plays a central role as the carrier of symbols which are intended to create and sustain social solidarity." (Ibid: 24) Musical performances can relate to or symbolize central themes of celebrations. In pre-industrial agricultural Latvia, the expectation was that anyone could sing and understand musical sound patterns as the result of imbibing techniques of composition and performance "with the milk of one’s mother" (ar mātes pienu). (Observed by Blacking among Venda, p. 57-8) In my view, intersubjectivity does not exclude the contesting of dominant patterns, nor does it mean that there aren’t contradictions.

Some key observations about performance have been emerging since the second independence. Dace Bula (1992:130) in discussing the 99 song recorded repertoire of G. Vanaga notes that she did not use logical or thematic progression in the chaining of her texts: "A key word in the previous text introduces the next theme; in subsequent texts this theme is varied." She points out that in calendar custom (ieraža) songs, the songs come up as the situation for the activity warrants and in the long romances, they are connected in thematic consequence, but other songs come up associatively. (Ibid) This, of course, is structurally repeated in the responsorial call and response of challenge songs. Reflexive dainas stress the continuous flow of sound together with a witty pick-up of an element from the previous delivery as a launch of one’s own composition. This resonates with the general literature on the challenge genre, such as the Afro-American sounding or dozens, where success is measured by ability to incorporate something from the opponent to make it a true call and response.

When I asked through e-mail of ensemble leader Ansis A. Bērziņš <http://ansis.folklora> about the 1999 Midsummer celebration he attended, he didn’t consider that particular performance event to be memorable:

I was at Ērgļi at the Pelicēni but it wasn’t anything special. It was raining now and then, as is usual on Midsummer, but there was a large empty klēts-building which nullified the effects of the rain. There was apdziedāšanās, but not of high quality. The other side had singers with poorly developed logic and a low level of understanding of folk song structure. So now and then it was not possible to figure out what they wanted to say.:) In any case there was little enjoyment. We sang against them only formally. (personal communication, 6/99)

Clearly performance competence and a good match are necessary for a memorable contest. If there is significant disparity and one side is too weak to put up a good fight, the singing doesn’t last that long. The more evenly matched the sides and the wittier the callers, the longer the performance will last and the more enjoyment everyone will have. Ansis Bērziņš, thus, relates competence to both talent and knowing the tradition well enough to build on it improvisations. Skill is not automatic and talent has to be trained. Structure, redundancy, and a holographic ability to construct wholes from the cue of a few words linked together are positive foundations for creativity rather then its opposition. Only the performer who has mastered the language and principles of poetic construction has a wide choice of alternatives from which to choose and manipulate.

From his experiences Ansis Bērziņš affirms that at the beginning more formulaic material was used until the singers had warmed up, and then they would go into stronger improvisation routines. Formulas would also be used to bide time during theme-switching:

Of course as to apdziedāšanās and the choice between improvisation and known verses, then it is more influenced by the singer remembering or not remembering appropriate known verses. That is why usually at the beginning when the topic has not yet been developed, and with that what is appropriate is not what is of pressing relevance, one uses known verses. (personal communication, 5/19/1999)

Members of ethnographic ensembles, as the classification indicates, feel a strong sense of continuity between their performances and those of their ancestors:

That’s how it is. Unfortunately the masses like thrown together "world music," though in my opinion the real value is in the actual ethnographic performances. No amount of musical perfection, professionalism, and originality can replace the natural beauty of something that was communally created through the centuries. (Ansis Bērziņš, personal communication, 5/19/1999).

Aside even from the folklore and ethnographic ensemble groups, Latvian music is seen to be connected to its musical folklore: "Folksongs...are the living source of Latvian professional music." (Latviešu muzikas chrestomātija: 5) On the question of using the music of the local, nonprofessional singing groups of the countryside Ansis Bērziņš felt they gained from the exposure:

I believe they (feminine) can gain a lot – an outsider audience and maybe a trip abroad. For a countryside ethnographic ensemble that is something; their possibilities are much more limited. (Ibid)


The sounding world of the dainas

The first indication there is of a festival approaching is an anthropomorphicized representative or festival deity arriving, usually on horse, accompanied by characteristic sounds (skaņas):


Kas skanēja, kas žvadzēja Manā sētas pagalmā?

Tur sajāja Mārtiņbērni Ar sudraba zobeniem. (LTDz IV, 17402)

What was clanking, what was jangling in the courtyard of the compound?

The children of Martin (day) have ridden here with silver swords.

This is consistent with a world that is marked in every instance with song, sound, and music. But some beings are especially marked through idiosyncratic sound, most notably Pērkons (Thunder) who arrives with tricināšana (thunderclapping) or dunēšana (booming, rolling) and Vējšs (Wind) or Vēja māte (Wind Mother) who make wind noises such as klabēšana (rattling, clattering). Others announce their presence by the rustling of their favorite trees, still others with dūkšana (humming, buzzing), but different from the other gods, the day sky god Dievs arrives in something close to silence “without rustling the bird cherry blossom, or disturbing the ploughman’s horse.” Ceremonial clothes of the 13th century and earlier are characterized by attached metal platelets, and even after they disappear from all regions, except those in Kurzeme, the dainas retain descriptions how platelets jangle from the woman's headdress, her cloak, and the hem of her skirt and from the man's footcloths or boots and cloak. The metal platelets also reflect the light, so that the play of sound and light are interrelated and further related to imagery of light shining on water already leading into Otherworld mythic concepts. Even after embroidery replaces the metal ringlets squeezed around threads and platelets, daina songs retain imagery of light and sound in connection with the movement of the ceremonially attired. For example, sound, movement, and light are simultaneously activated in the word rotā, referring to a shimmering motion of the sun, as well as the refrain for spring songs or in eastern Latvia Midsummer songs, and the word for decoration, jewelry, and adornment. Songs accompanied by marked movement are called rotaļas (singing games) and merge into dance (dejas).

Janīna Kursīte emphasizes that there is a fundamental difference between the way Christmas is celebrated today, quietly with peace on earth, and the way it was celebrated only a few generations ago: “Rumbling, jingling, jumping, dancing (rībināšana, šķindināšana, lēkšana, dejosšana) that is characteristic of the solstice periods is to reproduce the creation of the cosmos. This renewal of the world is accomplished by the deities but also mummers and Yāņi children.” (Kursīte, 1996,406-7)

Many of the festival, calendar, and work songs are of the type known as recitative where melody and poetic line coincide more strongly than in the “singing” songs where the melody-line doesn’t follow speech intonations as closely. In these teicamās songs the melody is confined to a narrow interval. They are communal songs performed by chorus with a leader and second voice(s). The stanza consisting of two couplets or distichs is related to the melody structure, the musical period approximating the textual one, and is unrhymed. Other folklore genres, such as incantations and proverbs are related to folk lyrics, often imperceptible in difference from a daina distich.

Aplīgošana ("to līgo about," parallel to apdziedāšana – sing about) is a type of singing linked to the specific calendar time of Midsummer. Defining the solstice songs is the refrain līgo with a sense of swinging or swaying motions (līgo laiva uz ūdeņa – the boat sways on the water) uniting with the sound. The swaying ligo-motion is one in which all of nature partakes:


Līgo saule, līgo bite Pa lielo tīrumiņu.


Saule sienu kaltēdama, Bite ziedus lasīdama. (32566)

Līgo Dievs ar Perkoni, Es ar savu bāleliņu.

Liniņu talciņš Brakšķēt brakš

Miežu, rudzu talciņš, Līgoti līgo. (LTD II, 1458)

The sun sways, the bee dances across the great field.

Sun drying hay, bee gathering flowers.

Ligo (sing, dance), Sky-god with Thunder-god; I with my kinsman. (LTDz, II, 3745)

The flax work party sounds "braks braks"

The barley, rye gathering ligo-sings and sways.

In singing every creature attunes to the sun's cosmic dancing. In a pre-Socratic daina world all of nature dances and sings. Even the death goddess, Shade Mother, dances on top of the grave greeting her new guest, "Shade Mother jubilates dancing on top of the grave. Many sons – ploughmen, many daughters - grinders of grain." (27537) While in asymmetric dialogic, the living take leave of the dead "Turn a dance, kinsman in great sorrow. Having given your brother to the Shade (or Earth) Mother's daughter." (27699)

A necessary requirement was that the lead singer teiceja (sayer, caller) have a powerful, far-carrying clear voice since understanding the words is a necessary part of the musical performance. The linguist Karulis liked to quote one daina, "Kas tā tāda skala mēle, manu dziesmu skalotāja. Ka tu tāda skalotāja, kam pa priekšu neskaloji?" "Skalu" is regional for "loud," far- carrying, presumably open throated, and shows the humorously aggressive challenge of a song leader to the second voice, which instead of repeating and breaking the call of the first voice is improperly topping it: "Who is that loud tongue, making louder my song? If you are such a caller, why don’t you come forth and call?" The teicēja was singled out for special responsibility and the specific target of attack by the other side.


Uzvinnēju, uzvinnēju Viņpus upes dziedātājus:

Ne ar darbiem līdzu tika, Ne ar skaistu dziedāšanu.


I beat them, I overcame them the singers of the river's other side;

Neither could they keep up with work, nor in worthy singing.

According to dainas about singing, the lead singer is not simply yelling, but "calling" or "saying," linking the speaking to the singing world. The kind of voice that is valued in addition to being far-carrying is one that is clear, bright, and focused. Two women’s styles are dominantly recognized, high and low. When high, it is the natural resonance of the singer’s voice, rather than falsettos, recognizing that some can sing high, while another low. Since the singers were also farm workers whose work was accompanied by singing, the singers were physically fit and with good natural breathing capacity. Each region was recognized to have its own different style, and a singer’s repertoire could include other styles she was familiar with than those of her group, as in the songs where the singer boasts she can bend her voice three ways appropriate to three different regions and their different styles.

The song is always directly addressed to someone or something in a form of dialogic as if anticipating response even when the singing is not responsorial:


Katra kalna galiņā. Zied ābele pret ābeli

Dzied māsiņa pret māsiņu Katra kunga novadā. (LD 251)

Apple tree blossoms to apple tree, each on top of a hill.

Sister sings to sister, each in a different manor.

The singing group was self-sufficient and the vocal drone was the only accompaniment. Usually the only musical instrument used in the vocal performances – and that usually at weddings – was the rattle-stick puškaitis, trideksnis, or eglīte, associated with women. It has handles with attached metal platelets to the disc mounted on it. It is usually small enough to be hidden under a woman’s shawl and struck on the open palm or the wood table. Sometimes broom length ones were struck on the floor for dancing. (Grasis, Garezers summer camp) The first name is related to the term for tassel (pušķis). In the colorfulness of the different colored threads and cut threads swinging free similar to jangles of the sistrum jangling a magic effect is created. The top of a small pine tree was cut to the third branch to make a literal eglīte (meaning "little pine tree"). The pine tree, as other trees, may be sacred in some belief system contexts.Archaic style" in Latvian music is usually associated with narrow intervals, different kinds of vocal drone, heterophony, and antiphony, a clear but far-carrying sound in at least a high and low natural voice, as well as certain calls and yodels.


A singing identity

Reflexive dainas on singing about the singer being an example of "singing people" becomes central to Latvian regional and national identity. Singing is equated with living and surviving. This view goes back in part to Baron’s arranging the songs about singing as emblematic of the entire corpus in the first volume:

Who can speak for me? Who can sing for me?

I was of those people, singers, speakers. (72)

Singing I was born, singing I grew up.

Singing I passed through life. Singing went my soul to the garden of the sons of the sky. (3)

I gave my sister, a singer to a stern (bargi) people;

When the in-laws began to feud, (rati cela) my sister went about singing. (189)

Always with my brothers I walked about singing;

Do not scold me, suitor (tautieti); even with you I will do so. (59)

Who can sing all songs, who can speak all words?

Who can count the stars? Pick out the pebbles of the sea? (38)


Searching for ongoing many-layered identity in historical singing descriptions


Dziesmiņai, nabadzītei,Abi gali pazuduši

Jemsim bērus kumeliņus, Iesim, galus meklēdami. K 958, 8292 LTdz

The song, poor beggar woman, both ends are lost

Let us take bay horses, ride out and find the ends.

Sie sitzen so oft ganze Nachte bei einander, indem sie immerfort nach derselben Melodie Gedichtchen uber Gott und die ganze Welt absingen. (J.G. Kohl, Die deutsch-russischen Ostseeprovinzen oder Natur und Volkerleben in Kur-, Liv- und Estland, 1841.

J. Kohl’s description stating that Latvians would sit all night by themselves singing about God and the World, among other evidence, indicates sacred folk song singing to be widespread even in the 19th century, yet their description indicates them not to be church hymns but indigenous folk songs.

Texts of dainas not differing significantly from those collected later were written down from the 16th century on. However, even in the 19th century there was little recording done of performance and practice. While it is intensive and difficult work to put together the scattered evidence, enough information exists from the recordings even with all their failures, most notably that they were filtered through the Western academic classical canon of the day, to have a sense of Latvian traditional music that does give some idea of singing in the historical past. For one, the singing goes on today, a large number of daina-texts are commentaries on singing, and there are historical descriptions and text examples. As an obvious example, there are multiple sources that indicate ritual singing was an essential part of both mundane and sacred life:


The wedding participants danced through the night.

(Adam Olearius, Schleswig, 1647)


Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu. Dziedot mūžu nodzīvoju;

Ar dziesmām guldiet mani Baltā smilšu kalniņā. (F596)

Singing I was born, singing I grew up, singing I lived my life;

With songs lay me down in the white sand hill. (grave) (3) (probably most quoted daina)

Collecting dainas for the purpose of choral arrangements was one of the most important ways of constructing Latvian identity in the 19th century. Western (German) models for adaptation of folk songs for choir performance were used. Folk song use peaked in the folk music group and ensemble of the 1960s – 1980s as countercultural identity to official Soviet culture. (Smidchens) By this time there was a conscious attempt to avoid 19th century Western models and return to reconstruction of performance as it was recorded in the field in the 19th c. Apdziedāšanās became a part of staged performance.

The folklore movement in Latvia started at the very beginning of the 80-s. At that time it was more of a political action than a musical trend - singing and playing was inevitably accompanied by an interest in Latvian history, the very beginnings of Latvian national archeology, ethnography, mythology and traditions. All these subjects were at least partly forbidden and never talked about during the communist regime. At that time folk bands were more like centres of national studies and cognition. In 1981 Ilga Reizniece formed the Iļģi folk band. Like other folk musicians Ilģi visited old people – bearers of this ancient knowledge, learnt songs and mastered various folk instruments, made their national costumes and musical instruments themselves. Like other folk musicians Ilģi toured the country teaching people long forgotten songs, dances and traditions and striving to revive them.>

During this time Western music entered Soviet Latvia. The entry was uneven, surreptitious, and often bootlegged with a clear countercultural tone that often expressed a counterrevolutionary anti-Soviet stance. The culmination of this musical subversion of Soviet style was the rock opera Lāčplēsis, which is sometimes considered to be the third reincarnation of the Bearslayer myth after the "epic" first created by Pumpurs and the second a play written by Rainis. The present period is one of deep realignment with a multiplicity of traditions and proponents. There are varying degrees of recontextualization of old musical traditions as international urban and particularly American genres, such as jazz, rock, rap, and hip-hop become the musical lingua franca and dominant genres. There are also a variety of approaches, involving disputes of authenticity, as folk groups and ensembles enter the world music scene. Regional groups from rural areas rise to challenge the state musical hegemony, centered in Rīga and other urban centers. These urban centers, not the regional countryside, often provide the stage and setting for performances by rural groups and ensembles for larger urban audiences.


Recruitment of Regional Music for National Identity

The recruitment of regional music for national identity is the topic of much Latvian literature on music: how dainas became the voice of the Latvian people and how people from all segments of society participated widely and often with great enthusiasm.

Concretely, a large part of that literature is a treatment of how the primary music folklorists – Jānis Cimze (1814-1881), Jurjāns Andrējs (1856-1922), Jāzeps Vītols (1863-1948), Emīls Melngailis (1874-1954), Alfrēds Kalniņš, Jēkabs Graubiņš, and some others adapted folk music to the needs of choir music, as that was the primary purpose of recording folk music at the time. About 29,000 melodies are recorded in the music archives, the repository of systematic Latvian folk melody collection initiated in the 1870s.

The first descriptions of music and singing are from the 18th c., and polyphonic recitative is described, often associated with the lower collective burdone at weddings, work parties, calendar occasions, and sometimes spring singing rotāšana. The singing is a part of the agricultural way of life. That includes apdziedāšanās of two sides in improvised contesting of wit and endurance, alternatively taunting and making fun of the other side sometimes for hours until one side runs out of appropriate songs. The recited melody varies according to the stress of the language and the content of the text. Lyrical songs may be sung solo or collectively in unison but also polyphonically, most often in two voices. These include social protest songs (satirical, orphan, recruit). Johann G. Hamann in his Kreuzzuge des Philogen, 1762, noted such details as singing by women in varied activities, rhythmic cadence within a narrow tone range, and the invitation of the best singers to weddings and name-givings of other farms. (Straubergs. 1952, vol. 1: xxix)

Ethnomusicologists, such as Muktupāvels and Boiko, have studied with musicians who perform in the countryside, are a part of the folklore movement which resulted in ensembles that fused regional styles to create a national sound, and have studied historical records, descriptions, and notations to arrive at a sense of the dynamic oral traditions of performance which changed in time and varied in space. The folk ensembles in particular are conscious of encapsulating and reflexively expressing national culture to themselves and to the audience.

Historical sources going back several hundred years generally attribute daina-singing to women and instrumental playing to men, a common enough Eurasian division. The sources generally express astonishment and/or repulsion at the barbarism of the music, suggesting it is quite different from their own experience, a number of sources comparing it to barbaric howling and gasping of wolves, which suggests the singing did not conform to Western art music canons. For example:

1550 - Sebastian Munster, Cosmographia: "When they sing, they howl plaintively as wolves and continuously repeat, shouting out the word ‘Jehu!’ If they are asked what this ‘Jehu’ means, they answer they do not know - that is how their ancestors sang, and that is how they sing."

1610 - Dionisii Fabricius, Livonicae historiae compendiosa series. Stanno Ruiensi, 1795. (Published almost two centuries after the writing of the chronicle.) "Their songs consist of distichs that correspond as to number of syllables, are witty, and contain meaning in two lines. They are sung in the same tone and melody."

1777 - A. W. Hupel, Topographische Nachrichten von Lief- und Ehstland, I - III. Riga. Has a lengthy description of how Latvians and Estonians spent much of their time in music and notes that women were the primary singers, particularly at weddings, but men would join in when their tongues were loosened by drink. He characterizes the girls’ singing to be shouting, and prefers the singing of Estonians better than that of the Latvians. The Estonians divide into two groups and sing in unison, one singing out, and the other repeating. The Latvians usually sing in two voices and drag out the last syllable, so that some do a bass-like drone.

1841 - Johann G. Kohl, Die deutsch-russischen Ostseeprovinzen, Dresden & Leipzig: "The singing is such that one of the singers of the women’s choir begins either something thought up on the spot or a verse that has happened to come to mind, and calls it out in a peculiar coarse melody. All of the choir participants fall in the last few words with an extremely long-held ‘o’. These ‘o’ voices differ by a third interval one from the other. Then the ‘o’ weakens and becomes more quiet, until all the voices in unison and suddenly, with almost a gasp expelling the remains of their breath, break off. When that is done, another singer starts a new verse solo with a new thought, to whose last words the choir again falls in with an ‘o’. Often they sit this way all night together and in one and the same melody sing songs about God and the world. The voices are so low and the whole sense of the music is so savage that at first it is difficult to believe the singers are girls. It seems as if in their choir rough warriors are singing; this savagery contrasts most markedly with the gentleness of the topic. Even in their spinning rooms the singing of the girls is of such barbaric howling and gasping nature.

Unfortunately, even though recitative leader – chorus songs are sung to this day, one can only imagine the sound. There are no recordings from the past that do more than suggest what the musical tradition might have been like in full bloom as part of pre-industrial agricultural life-style and thought. Considerable diversity of music types from different regions is represented, including homophony, heterophony increasing melodic thickness, and polyphony. Preference was given to text collection rather than music notation, to say nothing of recording possibilities. But more importantly, it was in the interest of the first Latvian musicians, such as Cimze, to prove the opposite: that Latvians were, in fact, a cultured and civilized people, not savages howling like wolves. There has been some interest in contextualizing Baltic musics among other Eurasian musics, drawing a map down to the Balkans in one direction. There is also archeolinguistic discussion of "the Illyrian conncection" (cf Dini: 29) or Thracian," but the comparisons are not simple as Baltic music was filtered and normalized through Western high culture canons of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially by Cimze who adapted the music to Western (German) choral needs even as similarity to "Greek modes" were acknowledged. There are obvious characteristics, such as drawing out the drone sound, and enhancing it by cutting it off suddenly, that have persisted.

Descriptions of singing, particularly mentioning improvised apdziedāšanās at weddings, funerals, and work go back to the 16th century. There is a two-voiced (with drone), narrow-range Midsummer song from 1782 (1777) in A.V/ Hupel Nachrichten von Lief- und Ehstland.. Garlieb Merkel in stating that at weddings Latvians dance and sing several days at a time to the sounds of fiddles and bagpipes concurs with many descriptions that continue with considerable consistency on through the 18th century and into present times. Songs are sung quickly in the improvisatory style of chanted songs, and changes in meter from 3/8 to 2/4 corresponding to changes from dactyl to trochaic or the opposite are especially noticeable among the mumming (ķekatu) songs. (Latviešu muzikas chrestomatija: 10, 24-25). The older songs are in narrow range, sometimes with pentatonic elements, the newer favor diatonic natural scales, such as the Eolic, Myxolidian, Frigian, and Dorian as well as natural major and less often minor. Complex arrangements are also recorded. The melody typically is complete with the first strophe of the short daina quatrain. The metrical structure has strict rules and corresponds to trochaic, dactylic, or mixed. The folk songs themselves describe the process as "stringing" the two-liners or chaining the quatrains.

The Herder library houses 78 Latvian folk song texts and one melody, many of them popular still today. Most melodies were written down in the 1860s and 1870s and then again in the 1890s suggesting considerable stability. After 1925 melody texts were housed in the Folklore Archives, and the first phonograph recordings made. Folklore expeditions since that time have resulted in new material, as well as material that is similar to what was recorded before. Ethnomusicologist Valdis Muktupāvels shows how the performers of today’s folklore ensembles have developed in close association with the folk musicians and singers who perform in the countryside:

The newcomers learn those dances, thus continuing the tradition, which was revived and invigorated by the folklorists of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The real revival of folk dancing took place in clubs, pubs, or rural surroundings, but certainly not on the stage or within planned festival activities…The usual practice is not to use recorded music in folk dance parties, every effort is done to play the dance music live. It can be fiddle alone, or together with bagpipes, drums and accordion, which can provide the right accompaniment for dancing...Ilga and Māris are regarded as excellent musicians with a real depth of sound. They have learned music and wit from rural musicians and singers, and have absorbed emotions and power from nature. (Latviešu danči: 2-3)

Muktupāvels does not see the development of Latvian folk music in isolation, but contextualizes it in a larger Baltic regional context:

Folklore and folk crafts festivals in Vilnius, midsummer solstice celebrations, the first festival "Baltica" and many other events with a lot of dancing gave a strong impulse for that in Latvia. (Latviešu danči: 3)

The metric structure of Latvian folk song as sung today has strong rules. In his ethnomusicological observations Muktupāvels notes the high degree of uniformity of textual metrics, mostly octosyllabic trochaic with a small but significant percentage of dactylic and some mixed “set against a great variety of metres in melodies, from simple or compound duple metres to complex asymmetrical and mixed metres (5/8, 5/4, 7/8, 6/4=2/4+4/4, 7/4 and others). Such metres are common, as are changes of metre within a melody (e. g. in Midsummer solstice celebration songs, the texts are sung in 2/4, while the līgo refrains are often in 3/4).” (Muktupāvels, section 2.2, prepublication). This is consistent with Bērzkalns, “The very interesting metrical combinations show that the anonymous folk composer did not favor symmetrical solutions, contrary to the folk poet’s canonic rules.” (Bērzkalns, p. 537) He also notes that only a few seem to deviate from the temperate system. (p.537) The melodic structure is simple, consists of reiterating short melody phrases, the oldest built on two or three tones, this also being considered characteristic of Latvian folk song, (Sneibe: 64) and often guided by alliteration. Most recitative songs have a range of five or six tones corresponding to the number of strings on the kokle, but some cover an octave. Bērzkalns characterizes them as Greek modes and singles out the Dorian, Aeolian, and Phrygian (p. 537). Recitative melodies cover only one strophe (two lines), though melodies in nonresponsorial songs have 10, 11, 12, and more measures. The text, of course, consists of two distichs or one distich repeated. Repetitions and refrains, increasing the measures to 12, are characteristic of solstice līgo-songs, spring rotā-songs and other seasonal holiday songs, as well as other recitative songs. Contest songs are characterized by the absence of refrain, understandably because fast exchange would be interrupted.

The basic four-line structure goes back to Indo-European heritage and related forms are found among the neighboring peoples. (Sneibe, 1989: 61) Some recordings include breath being gasped so that the melody isn’t actually finished, or the drone may drag it, or there may be an exclamation. (Sneibe: 63). There is more freedom as to structure, such as measure, in the first distich than the second. (Sneibe: 64)

The melody-movement of older songs tends to be related to the speech intonation as varied in performance. The effect is half-sung, half-spoken with the musical melody flow related to speech. The same basic melody may cross genres and may be used for multiple functions. Sneibe considers melodic formula to be more fundamental than genre and sees Latvian music as an example of such polyfunctionality. The ceremonial voice (godubalss) is always associated with ritual and does not fully stabilize in melody and there is a higher degree of variation in text. (Sneibe: 65) Typologically related tune families are recorded and classified in terms of variants of the same type. The songs are thus multidimensionally and mathematically related as stable variants of each other. Sneibe follows V. Toporov who considers Latvian folk songs to be a source of studying archaic Indo-European musical pattern and structure. (Sneibe: 66)


Apdziedāšanās as magic ritual music

Occasions for responsorial apdziedāšanās as well as the recitative style of singing include the ritual calendar festivals godi, family cyle of life celebrations svētki, and work parties talkas. The act of singing as celebration is a life-affirming magic act; to celebrate-sing about something (apdzied) in the most general sense is to, as Velius puts it, stimulate "growth and flourish of all the living beings" addressed: (Velius: 69)


Lokatiesi mežu gali, lai balsiņis pāri skan

Dzied putniņi, dzied ganiņi, Mežu gali gavilēja.

Sway forest tops so voices may cross over.

The birds sing, the herders sing, the forest tops yodel. (cited from memory – commonly heard)

The great collectors of folk music, E. Melngailis, A. Jurjāns, and J. Vītoliņš connected apdziedāšanās with bourdon type of group singing, which Melngailis identified with the "ceremonial voice" (godubalss – lifecycle celebration voice) in his list of types of "voices" (balss), including for instance "spring voice, rye voice, wedding voice, long voice"). However, the three domains of recitative, drone, and ceremonial voice are not identical, though with significant overlap. Vocal drone is also found in other archaic style that is nonresponsorial, while what is regionally known as the ceremonial voice is usually but not always associated with the recitative polyphonic vocal bourdon.

Raisa Deņisova and Mārtiņš Boiko identify burdone as sung in Latvia as characteristic of the Eastern Balts who settled in southern Kurzeme, southern Vidzeme, and north Augšzeme, and West Latgale. (p. 10) Noting the work of Russian scholars in identifying Baltic hydronyms, they identify burdone singing among Slavic peoples as identical with Baltic hydronymic names. The conclusion is that the Slavic peoples (Ruthenians, western Russians, northern Ukrainians) borrowed this style of music from the assimilated Baltic peoples. (p. 11) Similarly some Estonians also borrowed this style of burdone singing, which was not characteristic of other Finno-Ugric peoples. (p. 11)

Breaking news at the end of 2000 was that Deņisova was to release her findings in association with genetic studies done by Finnish scholars that indicated a particular “Baltic gene” that centered in Latvia, but was also found in significant concentrations in Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland with the gene decreasing as in northern Russia in the east, Poland in the west, and Gotland Sweden to the north, but insignificant in the rest of Europe and absent in Asia or Africa. The information suggests speculation about an isolated population associated with archaic musics as there is a rough overlap in area where the gene is present.

In southern Kurzeme drone singing is combined with narrow-range recitatives, mostly at weddings or name giving, but in Bārta and Nīca associated with spring rites. Augšzeme or Sēlijaa (southern Latvia) is known for spring singing by groups of young girls gathered on hills, rotāšna, with the vocal drone. The Sauka district in Augšzeme yields a few polyphonic songs, which Boiko identified as related to polyphonic sutartines in northeast Lithuania. (Boiko) In western Kurzeme the spring songs were sung with the vocal drone, but without a rotā refrain. Kurzeme has the most widespread drone singing, while Zemgale has the fewest surviving examples, but probably that was not the case in the past. Kurzeme is also known for a type of recitative that differs from the narrow range recitatives. Latgale, especially the west, has recitatives most often at weddings or work-parties. It is also known for the use of the refrain rūto instead of līgo found throughout Latvia and kalado Christmas refrain songs. Vidzeme has the most recently developed variations. But both a repeated drone, using one or two tones to repeat the text, and a drone with extended, long-sung vowel linked with refrain melodies were used in Vidzeme.

Benedikta Mežāle sums it up that “for apdziedāšana each region has its favorite voice, designated differently” and the style of delivery also varies from strong sounding to deliberately restrained. (p. 16-17) The singers know the neighboring styles and sometimes employ them, as well as there are some melodies that are used throughout all of Latgale. (p. 17) She observes that a Latgalian singer may claim that Kurzeme singers sing in the same voice, and vice versa, when the singer herself differentiates much more finely into kinds of voices she employs. (p. 18) This suggests that when someone speaks of “one” melody or type of singing, they are, in fact, only identifying very coarse features that help classify the song as belonging to a particular region or singer.

There appear to be a number of different archaic style musics. Mārtiņš Boiko identifies a type of song in Kurzeme, particularly its southwest, sung at weddings and name-givings, but which do not appear often with drones:

They differ from the narrow range recitatives. These could be called songs of contrasting registers. In these very unique songs the flow of the melody and rhythm is greatly influenced by the flow of speech, but they comprise all or nearly all the scale-range and within this range their melodies ‘behave’ quite differently from those of the recitatives: in the first bars the recitative melodies already comprise all or nearly all the scale-range of the song, reaching its upper and lower tones, also using the in-between forms. In the first half of the songs of contrasting registers only the upper part of the scale is used – around the extreme upper tone (first register); in the second half of the melody the lower sound of the scale and the ‘space’ around it are used in the same way (second register). Besides, the ‘space’ between these extreme tones (registers) often remains unused. The singers of these songs seem to be playing with the contra-positions of the melodic parts of various pitches (registers). In one type of these songs, there are even three elements to be contrasted. (Boiko, handout, no date)

Sneibe generalizes godubalss to be, that which is used on different ceremonial occasions, but especially in performing those considered as dievadziesmas (sacred or ritual songs), though the specifics vary regionally. The style classically known from historical sources is characteristic of the suitu region of Kurzeme: "The drone is sung on a vowel "e" (as in there), in unison with the last tones of the soloist, and in the end is raised one tone up to make a unison with the countersinger. The vowel quality of the raised drone is also changed from "e" to "o." (Muktupāvels, Ibid). However, other types of vocal drone are found characteristic for southern Kurzeme, eastern Zemgale, and central and northern Latgale. It is believed the vocal drone was formerly a widespread technique consisting of different types:

In few recordings from southern Zemgale the drone starts higher and then is lowered one tone down. In southern part of Vidzeme and Latgale syllabic drone is used, that is, the same text is sung both in the melodic and in the drone part. There are few cases of even/ monotonal and syllabic drone both being sung simultaneously in Kurzeme and eastern Zemgale…(Ibid).

There are also songs in south-eastern Latgale of narrow tonal range that do not use drone, but "are rhythmically rather free and highly ornamented." (Ibid) The existence of a number of different archaic styles suggests some of the musical differences may go back to different musical traditions of the different Baltic tribes (cf Boiko).

The delivery style differed regionally, but required strong breath control. The Kurzeme style is considered sharp, intense, forceful in contrast to the more gentle delivery styles elsewhere. Anda Beitāne notes several Kurzeme styles, including one actually in Lithuania but inhabited by ethnic Latvians. “It is rich with strong accents. You can hear the characteristic combination of syllables. If a syllable ends with a consonant, then a vowel is added to unite it with the next syllable. So the singing has the effect of nonstop flowing where many, strong accents stand out.” (p. 11) In another region, the forcefulness is so strong, that the distich ending is “pulled off” (noraut) as the singer advances to the next line. (p. 11) A Latgale delivery involves "fasttalk" (ātrruna) with freely used long-held sounds that have to be improvised into the rhythm according to the mood of the singer. In Latgale polyphonic vocal drone is also associated with the work party (talka) voice in which work parties sing with the wind so other work parties who answer can hear them. (Beitāne: 12) Beitāne mentions the peculiar custom of the caller giving the drawer a punch with her fist when she is supposed to come in. (p. 13)

Zaiga Sneibe (1989) and Valdis Muktupāvels (1999) have done the most recent ethnomusicological analyses of apdziedāšanās. (In private communication, Muktupāvels singled out Sneibe’s article.) Responsorial singing is classically done in the recitative style.

This style is characterized by the domination of text over melody, and actually the melodic formula, which is in the base of a recited song, is varied according to prosody of the text. The "spoken" character of the recited songs is reinforced by narrow tonal range, usually not exceeding a fifth, by the lack of melodic ornamentations and by syllabic structure of the chant, that is, each syllable corresponds to one tone. (Muktupāvels, prepublication of Garland article)

Muktupāvels accepts the usual division of daina singing as “recitative” in contrast to “sung, though folk etymology recognizes energetic exulting outdoor gavilēšana (yodeling, shouting, exhulting, cattle calling) characteristic of herders as distinct from the action of dziedāt (to sing):

The sung songs are performed mostly solo, but other singers can join as well, thus resulting in a unison, two- or multi-part singing. Two- or three-part singing, resembling that of western Lithuanian homophony, is characteristic for southwestern Kurzeme. Singing in thirds with the melody in the upper voice can be heard all over Latgale, and this style is certainly influenced by liturgical singing. Besides, there may occur more or less frequently added thirds up from the melody, thus resulting in triadic sequences.

Melody of the sung songs, with its range often exceeding an octave, is basically as important as text, and lyrical character of those songs can be reinforced by some musical refinements: ornamentation, short vocalizations, refrains. Most of the sung songs' texts are the "long songs", though some quatrain sequences might be used as well. (Ibid)

Etymologically, however, even the word dziedāt is derived from the IE *gē(I) which indicates shouting or calling, consistent with descriptions of singing in the dainas as calling, and the historical sources as howling. (Karulis I: 250) Songs about singing also emphasize that the singing is far carrying and apparently in the chest register. The etymology of the Baltic verb dainot, however, seems to be connected to actions of swinging, shifting from one foot to the other, or dancing, which predisposes to the theory that dainas may have been in earlier times dance songs, rather than songs in general. (Karulis I: 196-7).

Sneibe notes interest in similarities found in different performances of different regions, which can not be explained by recent communication, but go back to structural and functional roots of those traditions: "In form, content, and function the ceremonial voice has close connection with other more generalized Latvian folk song characteristics, which belong to the most archaic and characteristic elements of Latvian musical poetics" (61).

Sneibe also notes that Melngailis’s recorded the Latgale godubalss as a ten-beat strictly structured recitative melody, excepting twelve beat Midsummer līgo songs, and then points other ceremonial voice text extensions with small end expressions like "eh" or "ai," extra vowels, or long sounds at the end to be indicative of an old phrasing requirement, rather than anomalous. They have the effect of extending the beat and suggesting a melody structure history somewhat independent of the text, at least as now sung. (p. 63). She especially underscores Melngailis’s finding that instead of the expected 4+4+2 beat phrases, there is a tendency to pause only at the sixth beat and in the closing tenth beat, thus dividing into 6 and 4 beat phrases, which is somewhat independent of the principles that build up the text. Sneibe connects the repetition of the last textual phrase at the end, the uzvija, as adding two beats to make ten in conformity with the structural requirements of the melody, rather than a peculiarity of the text. (p. 62).

Since the literature on the subject is detailed, technical, and as yet unresolved, it may be sufficient to summarize that the answer of how to reconcile these apparently independent structural-phrasing principles in melody and text seems to lie in understanding historical changes that the Latvian language has undergone. Among complexities involved is the existence of the same melody in ten-beat trochaic meter versions alongside eight-beat dactylic meter versions. One of the characteristics of apdziedāšanās songs has been their use of mixed trochaic and dactylic meter in contrast to the majority of songs, which are trochaic, or the dancing and mummer’s (clowning) songs, which tend to be dactylic. Kursīte remarks on the strange polymetry, often of three lines, of many apdziedāšanās songs: “Polymetric three liners are most often found either in apdziedāšanās…or connected with name-giving (dīdīšanu – stamping in place while singing). (Kursīte, 1996: 159)


Gan baģāta tautu meita (8 syllables)

Ruda bija villainīte (8)

Caur zemi līdusi pie mana brāļa. (11 syllables) (LD 21 989,1)

Ēdate, vedēji, tā garda gaļa:

Tā jūs’ pašu balta ķēve,

Ko vakare atj`jāti. (LD 19 266,6)

Plenty rich is this girl,

Reddish was her shawl;

Crawled on the ground to get to my brother.


Eat, bride snatchers, that’s tasty meat.

It’s your own white nag

That you rode here. (Kursīte, 1996: 159)

In the recitative, the melody tends to be of narrow range, rarely exceeding a fifth, lacking in ornamentation, and varying with word improvisation. There is therefore variation from stanza to stanza in the music in accordance with the text. A stronger syllabic treatment of the text than usual in apdziedāšanās, emphasizes the words so they can be understood and responded to. One characteristic of responsorial songs is that they do not have refrains. Since the second voice repeats the distich called out by the leader, the result is a quatrain, unlike nonresponsorial songs where two distichs are linked.

Sneibe’s analysis of the interrelation of text and music, subsuming insult songs under a more inclusive and archaic category of "ceremonial voice," significantly associates it with the sacred and with magic. She notes that ritual singing is communal - pulkā dziedams (sung together) - sung by a chorus, expressing the collective voice of a group seconding the improvised selection of the lead singer, and connected to rituals of magic (p. 61-2). She says. "In form, content, and function" this type of song...belongs to the most archaic and fundamental elements of Latvian musical poetry folklore." (p. 61) According to Sneibe, even in the more recent examples, the process to a stable melody is not complete (p. 64) and the ceremonial voice tends to be polyfunctional or used at different ceremonial events. This suggests a less differentiated earlier mental frame that connected or did not strongly differentiate sacred ritual performances performed at different occasions. In short, it attests to a sacred frame in which the recitative drone was a key and the existence of a specifically sacred type of archaic and non-Christian music.

Sneibe confines her remarks to Latvian material, but it is interesting that drone singing has been seen as an archaic form of harmony by such music evolutionists as Bob Fink:

Early attempts at harmony, such as drones (used in Scottish or other bagpipes, or as one of the two "double flutes" in ancient Greece, for example), could have been an attempt to make a sense of "keynote" more audible. The accidental harmonies (and dissonances) resulting from this were a step beyond the earliest harmonies formed by singing the same chant or melody an octave apart (or at 5ths apart called "organum"). In organum, the voices all move up or down to conform to the single melody. With a drone, however, one voice carries a melody independently of the drone accompaniment. It is not hard to expect that some modifications of the drone (making it, historically speaking, become more of a melody unto itself) paved the way to early "counterpoint," which is the singing or combining of separate independent melodies rather than combining the same melody at different pitches to suit different voice ranges as in organum. (

Without engaging in theories of music evolution, here and there allusions to similarities of archaic style Baltic and Balkan vocal drone techniques have emerged (cf Akerbergs). However, the challenge of Karl Brambats’s seminal article "The Vocal Drone in the Baltic Countries: Problems of Chronology and Provenance" (1983) has not been fully taken up (though Muktupāvels and Boiko have initiated articles on the subject). For ideological, financial, and other practical reasons work has been largely local and little serious attention has been paid to broader mapping of Eurasian musics. Brambats sees an underlying model in regional areas of the Baltic, the Balkans, and the Caucasus which he suggests may have a Thracian cultural connection, going all the way back to female-centered Old Europe culture described by Gimbutas. Also one might note the etymological similarity of doinas in the Balkans (Moldavia, Transylvania, Croatia, Serbia, Rumania, Greece) and duna, doyna, danaveda, daenas of India and Iran in addition to structural and musical similarities to Finnish Kalevala runa beyond the scope of this paper.

A typical description of the full recitative with all the voices is by Valentīns Bērzkalns:

A recitative song was begun by a teicēja (teller, caller) who sang a line alone; then, in repetition of the text, the melody was taken over by a number of locītājas (modulators). The locītājas were joined by several vilcējas (drawers, draggers, drones) who chose a single vowel and sustained it on one note until the end of the melody. Sometimes a song would have two such sustained notes, similar to pedal points. In addition, the group could be joined by a sijāt?ja or sīkaliņa who sang an additional ornamented upper voice. Hence, it was an improvised polyphony. The recitative songs did not have a regular text. The words were improvised according to the requirements of the subject matter and the conditions under which the singing took place." (Valentīns Berzkalns, LCP, p. 537)

The delivery has to be loud, powerful, and clear – apparently in the chest register. The drone is broken off abruptly. Rhythm is beaten in a energetic way by the lead singers with a sistrum (trideksnis, eglīte). The exchange is non-stop. The other members of the singing group help the lead singer come up with responses, sometimes even starting up a song if the lead singer pauses for immediate lack of material. (Mežāle: 12) If it is known who the guests are, the singers may think of appropriate material ahead of time (Mežāle:11), as indicated in dainas about girls writing songs in a “chamber” Effort was made not to repeat songs, and the more original material was especially valued.

The melody varies even if it is the same “voice” that is being sung repeatedly, and is secondary to the content and accent of the words. This is the primary source of musical variation and creation in this kind of setting. The accent on words and the intonation of syllables is going to be different each time it is sung. Most often the variation occurs in the first and third beats. (Goldins: 78) The rhythmic figure can be seen as a musical reflection of syllable intonation. Goldins discusses the drawn intonation syllable (stiepti intonēta zilbe) in western Latvia, around Bauska and the suitu region, in Rucava, and going on to Selian territory, but is retained in Latgale mostly in the former Selian areas. (Goldins: 79) As a result of influence on the melody by what is stressed in the words, where in a dipody one syllable words are followed by three syllable words, there the beat in the second note will be higher than the surrounding ones, the common pattern in Kurzeme and Zemgale teicamās (chanted) songs. (Goldins: 80-1)

No one was supposed to be offended. Being addressed, though in insult, was to be offered good luck, and if someone was chastised, it was a way to bring things out in the open and thereafter consider it settled. A good lead singer was able to turn an address to something appropriate to the individual or occasion, as opposed to a random stock utterance. Genuine insults, disabilities, and overly serious or painful subjects were avoided. (Mežāle: 10) If the butt of the address was able to take it by returning the joke, or laugh about it freely, the joviality of the occasion was enhanced.

The Setu region of Estonia has polyphonic vocal drone singing but the lower voice sings the text while holding the tone, unlike the Latvian where the lower voice is a held tone and does not sing the text. A lead singer, a chorus group with two or three voices is also involved, and competition of groups occurs with group members assisting the lead singer in improvising material. A mapping of the musics in northeastern Europe would reflect the musical relationships of Finnic, Baltic, and Slavic peoples. Comparison has been done with Kalevala syllabic-quantitative verse meter and with rune-verse in that Volga-Finnic and Baltic peoples lived as neighbors in the Dniester region, and Finnic peoples originally inhabited northeastern Latvia, while Baltic peoples lived in the Ingria region.

The structure of the polyphonic drone Latvian singing group, again, seems to conform to both the dual and the tripartite structure and may inform a Baltic expression of one and the many. There are, of course, the two contesting groups. Within each group there is a song leader, one with a powerful voice and sharp mind whose voice stands out in contrast to but is also singled out as a spokeswoman of the group. While most of the collected drones have a two part scheme in that the second soloist continues the part of the leader, Karl Brambats suggests that the three part songs described in the early accounts were formerly more widespread than is indicated by percentages. In his elaboration of the conceptual scheme or model that seems to underlie vocal drone songs of the Baltic, Balkans, and the Caucasus, he makes the interesting observation that the modulator, the locītāja, picks up and does something "unnatural" to the first voice, which the word locīt describes as the process of folding, oscillating, turning, or meandering - and the analogous Epirus term as – breaking, cutting, or crumbling. The second voice locītājas are not seen as mechanically repeating, but bending, folding, meandering, twining, or twisting almost as if in a plaiting or weaving or the movement of bees. In the singing dancing game rotaļa the participants sing, "meander, bee, through the branches, if you find another, put her (him) in your place (ložnā bitīt, cauri zaru zariem, ja citu atrod, liec to savā vietā). Emīls Melngailis touches on the meander in another context by saying that a good dance leader leads as a “fox throwing meanders” (līkumus meta), not as a "wolf moving straightforward only. (Melngailis p. 13)


Dzied, māsiņa, pavilkdama, Dzied atkal locīdama:

Brīžam taisna mūža taka, Brīžam gāja līkumā. (LD 325)

Sing, dear sister, holding (pulling, drawing),

Sing again breaking (folding, interweaving):

Moments life’s path is straight, Moments it goes meandering.


Flowing continuous sound pattern

Melngailis also makes an interesting observation relevant to an understanding of the magico-religious aspect of the musical performance: "The foundation of music is a periodically flowing pattern (ritošais raksts)." [p. 14] The imperative to keep a continuous "flow of sound" (Cf RLBZK Rakstu krājums 16, 233, cited in Straubergs, 1952, I, p. xxx) suggests a magic process to integrate parts into the whole and specifically to unite the two opposing groups. It points to a deep structure activity apparently similar to what Granet and Schrempp have studied. The lead melody singer starts the next verse before the droners cut off. One side picks up in response to and where the other side leaves off. It is a magical activity, in some sense similar to incantations, which are also chanted in a continuous manner, to return the two to the one or the many to the one. Rapid exchange is also facilitated by melodies not exceeding a strophe. Also repetitions and refrains, common in recitative songs, such as seasonal holiday songs, including līgo- and rotā-songs, are dropped.

The illusion of continuous stream is reinforced by a memory that works as such, fusing what units are stored in the brain into a creative seamless whole without being consciously aware of linking separate units. The term plūsti valodiņa (flow language) is therefore a natural one coming from both the experience of streams flowing in nature and language appearing to be generated by a similar process. In view of the importance of snakes and rivers in Baltic mythology, and considering that both the snake and river move in a meander and is emblematic of the life and death and rebirth force, the continuous meandering movement of a snakes and rivers is suggestive of a "periodically flowing pattern."

It is no accident that magic incantations are to be said rapidly one word after the other, without interruption, thus reenacting a primal flow. It is no accident that the apdziedāšanās is related to such a process by its requirement to be sung in rapid recitative without the interruption of breath or melisma, and the breath released with the voice suddenly being cut off. But the responder must be quick to take up where the last one left off, so there is no interruption to the skeining process of passing back and forth. It is also an illusion and function of memory that "the same" is being handed down person-to-person, generation-to-generation. Human memory has limits to distinguishing different versions of the similar, but a tendency to collapse like into the same. When dealing with the sacred or magic-purposeful, one will invoke what appears to be the powerful "eternal."

One key is that the two, three (or sometimes even four) voices have to come together and fit together properly. Ending a strophe together in unison seems particularly significant. Straubergs: "At the beginning the song has the sound of one voice, then three voices, and at the end it is again unison: "Short was called, long was drawn, ending with a swing." (Īsi sauca, gaŗi vilka, Kā līgoti nolīgoja, LTDz, I, xxx) The individual voice of the leader is taken up and altered or even broken by the second and then it is "covered up by a vigorous drone" (Brambats, p. 29) and becomes one with it. A powerful, long-carrying voice and the drawn-out long note creating tension is valued in both the Balkan and Baltic cases. Perhaps the locītāja functions as a mediating voice between the one and the many, the communal choir singing as if the never-ending, solid eternal or cosmic sound. She sets the stage for the constant background vocal drone, which is of deep sacred significance. One may also note the effect of starting out with maximum freedom as the leader (teicēja/ saucēja) calls out the song, to greater constraints as the second voice can not freely improvise but must repeat the first even if it does modulate it, but all become one ending with the drawn out drone emphasizing the strong linear movement, which is broken off suddenly. Akerbergs in her observations characterizes this phenomenon in relation to the singing group "Vilcējas” as having a notion of unison as polyphony rather than the western notion of polyphony as contrasting harmonics and independent line characteristic of western notions.

According to Akerbergs the Swedish-Latvian group stresses the importance of blending together to form an intense sound:

The blending together is another indication of the social nature of this activity, and the result, thus, is that you can’t really hear yourself – one doesn’t have the perception of oneself as an individual anymore. It is therefore difficult to hold onto a drone note because you have integrated so completely within the group-intense tone that you don’t hear yourself sometimes sliding down from pitch." (Akerbergs: 12)

This type of singing, the people of the group listening to each other to try to produce the same sound, but in fact each creating their own tone rather than achieving say perfect pitch - heterophony, appears to be in the spirit of ganja singing famous in southern Europe. Akerbergs in her comparison of samples of Latvian and Bulgarian two-voiced drone singing as a response to comments about the "Balkan sound" of traditional Latvian songs seems to arrive at such a conclusion. Citing Donald Hall (1991), she proposes singers might be seeking the so-called chorus effect, resulting from frequencies almost the same, and creating a slow beat or bell ringing effect, "the ebb and flow of multiple beating". (Ibid, 14) The effect is powerful and physiological. Latvian musician Austris Grasis from Germany in his classes of traditional music at the Latvian summer intensives at Garezers (Long Lake, Michigan) would emphasize that singing on a hill was the preferred group setting because the voices blended better at a distance in addition to carrying furthest from an elevation. Grasis’ practical observation could lead one to ponder the possibility raised by Fink:

Melodies were the most important feature for early musicians, and so they were able to accept the mix of the accidental harmonies and discords formed by the separate melodies, so long as it all created a tolerable whole. (Fink, 1980).


Drones, the magical ground

The ceremonial or religio-magical significance of the drone sound as a pitch-centered, single sustained tone producing a continuous low buzzing sound similar to a bee in the Baltic might be related to the drone and overtone phenomenon so often associated with magical creation and destruction of musical space as observed in healing rituals of different cultures throughout the world (cf Gardner, CD flyer, 1996). The literature on drones suggests it is the characteristic natural or root tone of an entity. As a low sustained humming or buzzing single tone, it provides musical ground or center. As a drawn-out sound it is accompanied by mathematically sequenced or spaced natural overtones or harmonics whose vibrations have a profound physiological and psychological effect, so that "everything happens over and in relationship to them."(Reck, 279).

The Latvian pedal or non-syllabic drone, holding one syllable, "e" characterized as more intense and brighter or "o" characterized as thicker, wider, and more fluctuating (Akerbergs. p. 11) without ornamentation is classically used within the Latvian recitative godubalss tradition. In her sample of Bulgarian and Latvian two-voiced droning, Akerbergs found her Bulgarian sample to tend to take the upper note of the melody in contrast to the Latvian taking the lowest note. (Ibid, p. 8) Consistent with Reck, she agrees that the drone functions "to keep a solid foundation of tone, over which the soloist can feel free to sharpen and flatten...(since) the drone will return her to the original pitch." (Ibid, p. 13) Similarly, Robert Erickson says, "If pitch is constant and unchanging we are free to attend to other dimensions." However, Akerbergs found the Bulgarian syllabic drone in contrast to the Latvian pedal drone to be related to somewhat different views. (Ibid: 11) In contrast to her perfect pitch Bulgarian sample, Akerbergs found in the Latvian samples "when the drone enters, you can hear the soloist adjusting her pitch every so slightly to the drone, since the soloist sings pitches slightly sharp and flat, and does not always end up on the same tone she began on." (Ibid: 13)

Dance specialist Jēkabs Stumbrs observed that drone sounds emanated from different sources of nature, usually background, such as the selected buzz of bees, and was capable of inducing altered trance states. In dance “the observer was not separated from the dancer. These dances created a sense of unity augmenting the sense of togetherness and self-awareness. In a group these people dancing felt capable of confronting supernatural powers - unknown and terrible powers of nature. Dance as religious expression is of course another important aspect of the celebration. In all celebrations primitive people have a tendency to raise intensity to its highest tension.” (Stumbrs: 1258)

B. Bee-Women Making Ritual Connections

In the Baltic the natural and most obvious insect producing a drone is the bee and there is much to support the economic, cultural, ceremonial, and mythological importance of the bee.

Amber, honey, and wax were primary exports from the Baltic in the 12th centuries and poetically Latvia may be called Amberland (Dzintarzeme). 10th century Russian chronicler Nestor mentions honey and wax as trade items from the Baltic region. (Rizga, "Meža drava daiņās,” p. 273) The Baltic peoples learned to not destroy the bee colony in honey gathering earlier than their neighbors in the Russian region. (Rizga: 274) In a 1349 treaty the Salaspils Livonians retained their rights to bee trees. Some of the last insurrections on part of Latvian nations against the German conquerors were on account of bee-tree infringements. Violations of bee trees was one of the reasons given for a number of uprisings, starting with the 1212 Autine Livonian uprising against the Cēsis knights. Latvian possession of bee trees decreased with each century along with other rights to the forest, which formerly was held in common. A few forest bee trees were recorded in the early part of the 20th century in the deep forests of Dundaga.

Bees are frequently humanized. The term for their death is the same used for the death of humans, rather than animals (izmirt not izsprāgt). (Rizga: 279) The bee addresses the beekeeper commenting on the quality of the cavity the beekeeper has hollowed out for her home.

There is an implied dialogue in the songs where the singer bewails the bee complaining, weeping, or rejecting a newly hollowed home as being splintered or too narrow with songs that show anger, or reject the bee’s complaints:


Aiz kājiņas bitīt sēju Pie resnā ozoliņa:

Kam tā manu dējumiņu Skabardoju nicināja.” (Endz. 1162)

Šorīt biju agri cēlis, Trešu dēju ozoliņu.

Atskrējušas trīs bitītes, Vaino manu dējumiņu.

Še, bitītes, cirvis, kaplis, Dējat pašas, kā tīkamas,

Dējat pašas, kā tīkamas, Pa savam prātiņam. (Endz. 1163)

I tied the bee’s foot to the thick oak tree:

Why did she my hollowing reject as splintered.


This morning I rose early, a third oak I hollowed out.

Three bees ran up, complain about my hollowing.

Here, bees, have the axe and hoe; hollow it out for yourselves.

This group of songs seems to reflect domestic disputes, where the bee complains that the bee-keeper has made her house full of splinters, and others where the bee-keeper who is often identified as a "young man" becomes so angry at the complaining of the bee about his ineptitude in constructing for her a dwelling that he either threatens her with (mild) violence or tells her to build the house by herself.


Šķērsu bite silu skrēja Ar to ziedu vezumiņu,

Atradusi skabardoju Jauna puiša dējumiņu.

The bee criss-crossed the forest, a wagon full of flowers.

Splintered she found her home that the young man had built for her.

There is also a whole cluster of bee songs about the bee running, shouting, or crying about her home, or the forest being burned. "Bitīte kliedza, Bitīte sauca: Siliņi deg, Siliņi deg! Nekliedz, bitīte, Nesauc, bitīte, Snaudaļa kodeļu Dedzināja.” (Endzelīns, 1095, p. 294) (The bee shouted, the bee called: the pines are burning, the pines are burning! do not shout, bee, no need to call, bee, shuteyes girl was only burning a flax tow.) [The alliterative dactyl is lost in the English translation.] The motif of the burning house calls to mind the ladybug’s burning house, also a domestic vignette, as well as possibly relating to an archaic mythological narrative involving the sun goddess and infidelity among the celestials.

A tree is marked both by an ownership sign and by the fact that it is topped and capped with a pine bark roof and a stone, so that it will be slightly lower than its neighbors and thus protected from lightning and storms. (281) As bee keeping in the forest became increasingly restricted, bee keeping was moved to the homestead. Some of the hives made of capped hollowed logs with a valna-covered entrance were preserved in Latgale until the early part of this century. (Ibid: 290)

According to Bīlenšteins the family ownership signs were written on the valna (door) of the dore (bee dwelling hollowed out). To hollow out a bee dwelling was to dori dēt. The valna acted as protection from woodpeckers and bears as it was attached to a log that would strike the bear when he moved the valna. When a family member moved, they kept the original family sign, but added a distinguishing detail to the original sign.

Different members of the family owned different swarms. When a girl married and moved, she did not loose her ownership of the swarm. (Ibid: 280) Some swarms were owned by several people called dalībnieki (Ibid: 280), and bee trees could be inherited.

Healing drinks are made from honey and honey is offered at special occasions or to guests and has special symbolic importance at weddings.

Lithuanian (Baltic) kinship alliances were made by future and former owners of swarms, and the winter celebrations emphasize the role of mantic bees. There is strong evidence that provides an archaic means to link men who are not related by blood in a constructed social arrangement to a kinship system that is grounded on seeing female kinship as basic, natural, and unproblematic. It does so by projecting the idea of sharing a swarm, whose swarming is a matter of fortune and chance personified as Laima, to a fictional kinship, a bee brotherhood. In analogy to the fictional bee brothers, in a marriage the "real brother" (īstais brālis) and brother-in-law (ķeluvainis=sister’s husband) are linked in mutual obligation as socially constructed brothers. The very close relationship of brother and sister, where in many songs, the girl must choose between brother and suitor, as well as a significant cluster of songs referring to endogamous marriage, would support an archaic strong emotional threesome tie of brother, sister, and husband that is strongly evident in the dominant exogamous patrilocal marriage system depicted in the daina world.

Unfortunately Greimas does not elaborate, citing lack of documentation and hoping that it will be provide by "cultural historians," on the issue if "the so-called aveline bičiulyste-bandžiulyste - cannot be explained as a social form of friendship ‘among women,’ and not among men." (Greimas, p. 170) There are songs about singing that are concerned with attuning or adjusting into harmony with the other voice(s). Baltic songs that test the new sister-in-law (mārša) if she "fits" in the singing style of the women of the natal household, as indicative of fitting in socially and in the work rhythms, are evidence for a sense of strong female group identity and appear to have a similar sentiment expressed in Balkan ganja singing:

Let us try out singing with brother’s (cousin's) bride:

If the song fits together, living we will fit.

The fit is good enough with brother's (cousin's) bride:

In the winter grinding flour, working in the summer field. (306)

Bees are viewed as singer-women in the songs where a bee and gadfly feud and contest. Mantic bee singing is consulted at Christmas: ("Let us go listen to the bees on Christmas eve. If the bees are singing well, it will be a warm summer." - Eima bišu klausīties/ Ziemassvētku vakarā./ Ja bitītes daiļi dzied, tad būs silta vasariņa.). Marija Gimbutas has written about the great antiquity of the Baltic bee goddess. In Lithuanian her name is linked with weaving, Austeja, and in the dainas the bee is honored as "Sky Daughter (Dieva meita)." This same address, "daughter of Dievs" is also that of Saule – Sun. Saule is also sometimes known as "Mother of Earth" and there are myths that consider the earth to be the daughter of Sun and Moon. In Latvian territory there are two regional bee deities, the beekeeping aspect of the light and horse deity Ūsiņš, and Bee Mother (Bišu māte) [cf LD 32446, Tdz 51728]. Different deities associated with bees are found among other Baltic peoples. The bee has semantic associations with much of the feminine sacred in Latvian mythology, through human enactment as that of the "Midsummer mother." The black snake that is elsewhere identified with the Great Goddess (usually Māra) is also identified as the bee mother:


Melna čūska ietecēja Manā bišu dārziņā;

Tā nebija melna čūska, Tā bij bišu māmuliņa. (Tdz 51728)

A black snake came into my bee garden;

That was not a black snake. It was the mother of bees.

Furthermore, honey, and amber ("tears of the sun") are metaphorically linked in a semantic field with the bee. Greimas notes that, as among the Greeks, Austeja is the guardian of married family life and the patron of females in passage from girlhood to married womanhood. (Greimas: 162; see Locke for discussion of Greek melissai or "bee women" and Demeter’s festival Thesmophoria). The semantic field of the sacred feminine associated with bees, honey, amber, and the sun is completed with the honey cake of the Shade Mother and her identification with the Sun Daughter, as well as fermented honey drink seen as healing or even as an elixir of life. All of the sacred feminine is also ultimately related to the sacred male as in the popular daina often heard even today:


Kam der kalni, kam der lejas, Kam der zaļi ozoliņi?

Dievam kalni, Laimai lejas, Bitei zaļi ozoliņi. (LD 30336)

Whose are the hills, whose are the vales, whose are the oak trees green?

For Dievs the hills, for Laima the vales, for the bee the oak trees green.


Bees are a metaphor for women, honey for sex, and blood-honey-tears associated with the three stages of being a "bride" [Lith. marti, Latv. līgava]: courted girl, bride during marriage ceremony, and young wife until the birth of her first child. (Greimas: 173-180) Stealing bees or honey is linked to the violation of a woman, and archaically both were similarly punished as assaults on clan honor by disembowelment after being fastened to a bee tree by the navel.


Nāc, puisīti, tu pie manis, Es tev došu medu ēst:

Man bitīte iešuvuse Vēderiņa galiņā. (LD 35 154)

Come, lad, to me, I will give you honey to eat.

The bee has sewn it there at the end of my stomach.

The value of the mistress of a household is underscored by Lasicius’s report that the "head" of a woman was worth more in terms of payment than that of a man, and the keys carried by her were symbolic of her power within the farmstead. (Greimas: 160).


Bitīt liela, bitīt’ maza, Bitīt šūnu šuvējiņ’;

Meitiņ’ liela, meitiņ’ maza! Meitiņ kreklu audējiņ. (8876 V 302, 2200 Latv. T.Dz. II (1980).

If she’s great or if she’s small, the bee is the sewer of combs.

If she’s great or if she’s small, the girl is a weaver of shirts.

The connection between bees, song, creative activity, and women is very strong. For instance, throughout the daina collection one notices the importance of bees and how bees are likened to the primary desirable female virtues (tikumi), such as industry, harmony (saderība), and productiveness. Further, woman is semantically linked not only to bee and honey, but also to the linden (the forest tree with blossoms for honey), and the sun (who sheds amber tears, as the source of maternal warmth and healing):


Kā lācīši man zirdziņi, Kā ozoli arājiņi;

Kā šūniņa man maizīite, Kā bitīite cepējiņa.


Es nelaužu liepas zaru, Es jau pati liepa biju;

Ozoliņa zaru lauzu, Man vajaga arājiņu.


As bears are my horses, as oaks the ploughmen;

As honeycomb my bread, as a bee my baker of bread.

I don’t break the linden branch; I was linden myself.

I broke the oak branch; I need a ploughman

Further there is link of woman as weaver-creator to Saule and Laima as cosmic weaver creators and bee as weaver-creator of the honeycomb: "Put on, brother, three coats. You have three weavers. (Your) sister weaves, (your) bride weaves, the bee weaves in the oak tree." And the link of bee, woman, and sun imagery: "Oh, bee, oh bee, your great diligence! you ran day, you ran night without sleep." The same formula is used for the sun running day and night without sleep. The bee also brings in symbols of the sun as blessing: "The bee is a diligent woman, a doer of great work. She fills the hive full with golden wheels of wax." Other songs describe her building ability in constructing the honeycomb.

It is significant that the goddess of fortune and chance, Laima, is the patron of creation generally and of singing creation specifically. She is also the guardian of married life, of women generally, but especially interested in the female in-between state of girlhood and womanhood as well as all aspects of birthing. Laima, as also the bee, is associated with the linden tree emblematic of women, whose flowers provide nectar in forest bee keeping (dravniecība). Linden trees were sacred trees to which sacrifice was offered and linden forests were sacred forests. The decree of Laima, or chance, as she determines the swarming of bees, also determines with what deserving beekeeper a bee-woman should properly share "honey," which is consistent with the erotic songs of apdziedāšanās sung by married women emblematic of fertility, as opposed to girls, and constrained to ritual occasions. In Latvian mythology the linden is fully juxtaposed to the male oak, not subordinated to it. The world tree can be either an oak or a linden. The historical sources are mixed if men and women made sacrifice separately, men to oak and women to linden, or if both sacrificed to the same tree. Probably there were tribal differences and possibly some gender differences may have fused in more recent times.

Baiba Putniņa (1991) explores the connection between the sacred drink of celebrations alus (beer), medalus (mead) and honey. There is a large section of dzīru dziesmas in the Barons collection about beer, its brewers, and its drinkers. Beer is mentioned throughout the cycle of songs, including young men’s and young women’s songs." (Putniņa: 3) Alus is a ceremonial honey drink among all the Baltic peoples with many customs associated with its brewing and use, one of those being bringing in a bear for strength and bees for sweetness.


Iesaliņa malējiņa Bitīt nesa saujiņā; Alutiņa brūverīts Lāci veda namiņā; Liec, lācīti, savu spēku, Bitīt, savu saldumiņu! (LD 19627).


Apenītis tā sacīja, Gar skaistīti tecēdams: Meitaām diet, meitām lēkt, Puišiem rāpus vazāties! (LD 19549)

The malt miller (fem.) carried the bee in her hand; the beer brewer brought the bear into the room; give us, dear bear, of your strength, bee of your sweetness.

Hopling said the following running past the hedge. For girls to dance and jump, for boys to crawl and gad about.

Women often were the actual brewers, (Putniņa: 7) though the dainas more often specify the father to brew the ceremonial beer as at Midsummers in opposition to the mother making the ceremonial cheese. In any case, singing, women, bees, and brewing are connected in a number of songs:


Dziesmiņai māsiņai Otra puse pazuduse; Darīsim ruden’ alu, Meklēsim otru pusi. (LD 922,2)

Alutiņu brūvēdama Biti bāzu kabatā,

Lai dzied alus dzērājiņi, Kā bitītes stropiņā. (LD 764)

Biš spītenis I pārskrēaja Pār namiņa čukurīti.

Kas bijāt brūverīši, Lieciet miltus kubulā. (LD 19567)

The song, our sister has lost her other half.

Let us make autumn beer; find the other half.

When I brew beer, a bee goes in my pocket.

May the beer drinkers sing as bees in a hive.

A bee swarm went over the roof of the house.

Those who are the brewers place the flour into the vat.

In another song (19481) the beer is made magically sweet because the brewer has sex with his girl, but in another song (34421) the beer fails to ferment for the same reason.

Finally, one may add the bear to the semantic field of bees and honey. Not only is the bear addressed as a beekeeper, which is easy to understand considering the bear’s craving for honey, but the bear is, strangely enough, also associated with a sexually desirable woman and in erotic songs specifically her pudendum (the bear with a whistle in its mouth in the nerātnās dziesmas.) The connection of honey to sex is evident even in English. Finally, there are legends of sex or marriage between bear and human, resulting in the birth of a strongman (stiprinieks). The national myth of Bearslayer is based on such legends about Bear-son.

Insect humming and buzzing are often seen as of special sacred importance or even an otherworldly sound or communication, and drone sounds as well as honey drinks are used in healing rituals. Bees are associated both with life, sex, death, healing, rebirth, magic, and the divine female principle. The magical sword used by heroes to kill the monster, Velns, Mother Velns, Juods, or Mother Juods is made of bišu dzeloņi (bee stings – cf LD 1997). The sting of the bee is also equated to the sting of a sharp tongue, which is valued as a sign of intelligence in a girl: "Oh, bee, honey-one, your sharp sting. Three days it hurt; the fourth it still smarted." It has sexual associations in songs where the Midsummer god Yanis climbs the oak tree, but is stung by the bee (Tdz 53 842). In tales witches ride bee trees or beehives through the air to their celebrations. Sometimes bees and witches are contrasted, as when bees are invited, and witches denied entrance to the farmstead during seasonal celebrations. ("Run, bee, where you will, run into my forest patch. My forest land is bound with iron, with silver it is girded." or "Run, bee, where you will, run into my farm. My farm is wrought with iron, the witch couldn’t get in.") Iron and magic girding keeps out witches and forest laumas.

A full study examining the world of sound as related to bees would be productive in connecting that to the drone perceived as buzzing, which also has been connected to the otherworldly and the magical.

In terms of apdziedāšanās, there are a number of dainas where the female bee is involved in agonistic dialogic with the male gadfly.


Bite, bite, mērga, mērga Ar dunduru strīdējās;

Dunduram zaļi svārki, Bitei vaska vilnānīte.


Pasasēdi bites meita, Ozoliņa zariņā,

Iekam sila sirsenīts Brūnus svārkus šūdināja.

The bee, the girl, the bee, the girl, she feuded with the gadfly.

Gadfly has a coat of green, bee a shawl of wax.

Sit well enough, bee daughter on the oaken branch.

The hornet of the pines was sewing a brown coat.


Kursīte has looked at some of the insect symbolism as related to cosmic themes (1996: 368- 374, 384-6), which suggest these should all be looked together as a complex. The mosquito appears to have a bigger role than the gadfly in a strange theme about falling from the cosmic tree, but, again, the sexual theme appears as when the mosquito is “beating” a smaller female mosquito (LTdz 25731 variants). The insect is also associated with magic users. Witches often fly about in the form of insects, such as butterflies or flies, or as birds. Stopping up the mouth of the witch’s body so the insect or bird can’t re-enter the body is a way of killing her.

The ritual song exchange is between a honey-making and honey-offering female insect and a blood-drawing male insect, apparently symbolizing a girl (tautu meita) and boy (tautu dēls) in courtship from different clans. The archaic and magic aspects of the apdziedāšanās ritual is further elaborated in light of historical contextual information, which shows married (but not necessarily elderly) women as the primary singers in apdziedāšanās, and the ones properly singing sexually explicit songs for the well-being and fertility of the clans being allied. Laima has blessed the young man who succeeds in having an industrious bee-wife: "How could life be better for the beekeeper’s son in the forest? The bee brought him silver in the hollow of the old oak tree." The silver refers to precious metal he could trade for the liquid gold, but the scene set up is one of domestic happiness. In former times, not every man had the privilege of a wife; only one who had land or other means to support a family. Bees are seen as participating in different stages of the wedding, thus appearing as a wedding singing group:


Kur, bitītes, jūs ietit, Liela drūzma dziedādam'?

Iesim vaska ceļu liet, Dravinieka meitu ved.

Where, bees, are you going in a big swarm singing?

We are going to pour a path of wax. The beekeeper’s daughter is being taken (on her wedding journey).

And they participate in working and singing, with working and singing also semantically related:


Draviniekam diža laime, Bites riju nokūlušas:

Bites dzied, trani velk, Bišu māte gavilēja

The bee-keeper is in luck. Bees are threshing in the barn.

The bees are singing, the drones are droning, the bee-mother is yodeling.

The sound of bees and trees is coordinated:


Dimdi, dimdi, ozoliņi, Visi tavi zari dimd,

Visi tavi zari dimd, Visas zaru pazarītes.” (Endz. 1085)


Meži rūca, meži šņāca, Bites gāja kumuriem:

Man bij tādis lielis prieks, Man ielīda ozolā. (1086)

Stamp, drum, oak tree, all your branches were shaking

All your branches were beating, all the branchlets."

The forests buzzed, the forest hissed: bees were swarming:

I had so much joy; they rumbled into my oak.

However, bee-keeping itself is one of the few most strictly arch-male activities and tied to archaic tabus that defined the strictly separated gender roles of archaic Latvian society, which seem to involve activities of male and female groups in the forest (mushrooming, berry picking) more so than in working in the field. The collection of scientific articles in History of the Forests of Latvia until 1940 edited by Heinrichs Strods is a thorough, expert review of historical forestry, including forest bee-keeping. The archive collections have many dainas on the subject, such as:


Es gribēju ar bāliņu Līdzi kāpti ozolā;

Aizsameta vilānīte Ozoliņa zariņā. (Endzelīns 1148)

Tautu meita skaidas lasa, Man ozolu dēdinot.

Paga, paga, drosuliņ, Pasacīšu brāliņam. (Endz. 1147)


Tautu meita skaidas lasa, Man dejot ozoliņu;

Šķelmīts biju, ne puisīits, Ja es tev to piedevu. (Endz. 1148)

Iesaliņa malti gāju, Bit’ ar lāci padzirnē;

Do’, lācīti, savu spēku, Bitīt’, savu saldumiņu! (685)


Bites māte man jautā, Ko dar’ veci draveniek’?

Dzēnu pina, valnu raksta, Saulītē sēdēdam’.” (Endzelīns, 1126)


Bitīte man’ māsiņa, Kājas āva ābulā…” (Endzelīns, 1097)


Līgo bite, līgo saule Baltābola kalniņā,

Bite ziedus lasīdama, Saul’ ābolu vītēdama. (Endz. 1103)

Cel, bitīt, vasku krēslu Zem resnā ozoliņa,

Tur sēd brāļi dravenieki, Tur māsiņas rakstītājas. (Endz. 1115)

Cep, māmiņa, tādu maizi, Viegli nest, gausi ēst,

Nu es iešu doru dēt Tālajā siliņā. (Endz. 1122)


Mans tēviņis dravu dara, Es aiznesu launadziņu,

-Tev, meitiņa, tā draviņa Par launaga nesumiņu. (1140)


Es izdūru sila priedi, Rakstīt vien nemācēju;

Gan bitīte norakstīs Medaiņām kājiņām. (1153)

Trīskārt bite riņķi grieze Apkārt manu cepurīt’,

Redzēj mani daiļu vīru, Daiļu doru dējējiņ’. (1156)

Dievs dod vilkam aklam būt, Lāčam strupu deguntiņu:

Vilkam aitu neredzēt, Lāčam medu nesaost. (1186)

Bite meitu aizdevusi Par deviņi ezeriņi…(1207)


Margodama saule lēce Caur ozola lapiņām:

Dravenieka līgaviņa Zelta naudu rēķināja. (1209)


Bitīt, tavu dravenieku Kungi lika cietumā.

Šūn, bitīte, biezu kāri, Vado savu dravenieku. (1212)

I wanted to climb with my brother the oak tree;

My shawl caught in a branch of the tree.


The girl is picking up wood chips while I’m carving a bee-house in the oak tree.

Wait and see, darling, I’m going to tell your brother.

The girl is picking up wood chips while I’m carving a bee-house in the oak tree.

What a rogue and not a lad if I forgave her that.

I went to grind the malt, bee and bear by the mill;

Give, bear, of your strength; bee of your sweetness.

Bee sister asked what the old beekeepers were doing?

They were plaiting a rope, carving a hive door, sitting in the sun.

Bee, my sister, shodding your feet in the clover.


Sway bee, sway sun, in the white clover hill;

Bee gathering flowers, sun swaying clover.


Lift a chair of wax, bee, under the great oak.

There brothers beekeepers are sitting, there sisters pattern makers.

Bake, mother, such bread: easy to carry, slow to consume;

Now I’m going to make a bee-tree house in the far-off forest.

My father was making a bee tree house, I took him lunch.Here, daughter, this hive is yours as return for the lunch.

I hollowed out the pine tree; didn’t know how to carve.The bee will know how to pattern it with her honeyed feet.

Three times the bee turned around my hat

She saw me a handsome man, a handsome maker of a bee hive.

God, give it for the wolf to be blind, the bear to have a short nose;

For the wolf to not see the lamb; the bear to not smell honey.

Thee bee gave away her daughter across nine lakes.

Glistening the sun rose through the oak leaves;

The bee-keeper’s bride was counting gold coins.

Bee, your keeper, was imprisoned by the lords;

Make, bee, a thick honeycomb; ransom your keeper.


In some dainas a bee father (1188) is mentioned instead of a bee mother leading to speculation if this is a regional or later hisorical development.

It is interesting that the vocal drone retained its ceremonial significance when the bagpipe also acquired great importance in the Baltic. Somewhat symbolic, perhaps, since the vocal drone if linked to the bee as an emblem of cooperation and social harmony in the daina world is primarily the voice of women, while instrumental music is that of men. The information Karl Brambats has compiled on the vocal drone further seems to support the view that the archaic functions of the Latvian ritual insult song contest were sacred, namely, to unite and bring into harmony what was sundered in some immemorial time. Original cosmic strife, resulting in division, is thus symbolically reversed through the Baltic ritual song contest.


C. Incantations as Weaving and Anti-Weaving

One may also note that etymologically Austeja is associated with weaving, and the bee is described as engaged in weaving. The specific action of uniting the two sides during the apdziedāšanās ritual could be seen in terms of a back and forth sewing or weaving motion, which the rapid antiphonal exchange suggests. The bee, the weaver, and a needle are seen to repeat the same motion of connection united in the magic action of the archaic term šūšana or sewing. Karulis, until his recent death, was the leading etymologist and excavator of history from language. He is also a proponent that the word Yanis is related to the Roman Yanus, as a deity of gates and of the year dually looking forward and backward.

The movement in terms of whole and parts, which in the apdziedāšanās ritual has the purpose of uniting and constructing, can be contrasted as opposite to magic incantations with imagery of dispersal. These zūdināšanās vārdi (disappearing words), of which records go back to 1574, have the function of destroying or averting harm or some undesirable activity. (Olupe, 1989: 26; Straubergs 1939) Imagery is invoked, such as smoke, steam, puffballs, grinding into fine particles - negative images of division that lead to dispersal and disappearance. They also have the positive effect of clearing and cleaning something negative away. Sometimes it is expressed as imagery of running water carrying away the undesirable, while in other zudināšanās incantations the imagery is of something drying up and becoming harmless: "The tall, great dry fir falls across the road. May the wolf’s path be as long as the length of the tree. May the wolf’s teeth dry up like the dry branches of the (dead) fir tree." (LD 29 427)

Latvian folklorists, such as Kursīte, (1996: 269-272) have accepted the contention of V. Ivanov and T. Gamkrelidze that Baltic traditions, especially daina formulaic phrases, retained significant aspects of an archaic sacred lexic or divine language, and used by magic users and in rituals.

The functions of different female deities connected with different models of creation and creativity are largely combined in the goddess Laima, godess of fate and fortune also connected with the textile arts (spinning, weaving, plaiting), musical creation, and human fertility and birth.

Gimbutas (1989) considered the Balts to have retained the most archaic deity that can be reconstructed from the Upper Palaeolithic, that of the Snake and Bird Goddess of waters in her full power over the cosmic waters (sky), the waters of the earth, and the netherworld. This goddess is connected with a northern European cosmology of the cosmic egg. Laima is seen as her historical descendant. As godesses of Fate among many peoples, she is a plaitor of rope, spinner, and weaver of baskets, shoes, and cloth. Something comes into existence by twisting, interlacing, or intertwining two or more strands. Cosmic weaving is one metaphor for creation and significantly during Midsummer, the Mother of Midsummer is one of characters depicted as weaving. Additonally, Baltic myth uses biological models for the generative forces of the cosmos, both the ornithological and the human female as essentially parthenogenetic. Nature is transformed into culture through the raksts, a word for rhythmic repetition of pattern in different media, including music, art, work, and traces left in movement, such as bird flight. Jaan Puhvel (1974) showed that the motif of cosmic weaving and creation, Laima throwing the threads of life on a cosmic loom, spans both Indo-European and Finno-Ugric belief systems. In one mythical daina the moon god tears the sun goddess’s cosmic weave, thereby causing a cosmic rift: Sun-woman threw her warp, standing in the middle of the air-space. Moon-man running through tore Sun’s weaving." K1707, 2788). Similarly witches, who destroy, heal, and create, are often accused of ruining spinning or weaving. Weaving and singing are related as creative acts overseen by Laima. Terms related to textiles are used to identify aspects of ritual antiphonal singing, such as the second voice being called the vilcēja (meanderer) while the drones are called vilcējas (pullers, drawers). In song, as in textile, something is created and something is fixed from the fluid pre-form process. The minimum offering to a deity is a dzīpars or piece of colored yarn, though a patterned sash is preferred. In the apdziedāšanās performance, there is rapid exchange between them and us as the strange is plaited or woven together with the known through dialogue. Riddles and mythical songs are a minicosm of the dialogue model in that they consist of question and answer, structurally similar to the call and response of antiphonal singing.

A term that could be explored as in some ways similar to weaving or sewing is laipot (to bridge). In Latvian it retains a sense of rhythmic movement similar to the term rotāt in that something, like the appearance of the goddess Māra on a rooftop (Kursīte, 1996: 263, cf LTdz 23555), may be described with the term laipot. However, there appears to be a more static sense in describing linking or bridging, the term for “bridge” being laipa. It grew out of an older sense of "to climb" as the older use of laipa refered to a plank or hewed tree leaned up against something used as a ladder. (Karulis, I: 491-2) Kursīte notes that the rolling motion of rotāt represents "what unites, binds, fuses, what creates a line, sequence, and order...the finish of a creative act, a harmonized solution." (Ibid: 264) The act of singing is sometimes described in the dainas as unrolling a yarn ball of song, and completion as rolling the yarn back into a ball and placing it in a storage container. Apdziedāšanās in the emphasis on continuous exchange of songs could be likened to creating a skein.

The equation of sensory experience experienced through different sense organs, especially sound and sight, is not found uniquely in sewing or weaving isomorphed to responsorial singing or the movement of bees in creating honeycombs or the pounding movement of the pestle. A study of the many different terms for rhythmic motions, sounds, and visual patterns would show a universally understandable cognitive foundation underlying the specific socio-cultural elaborations.