One of the Southern Dzūkija villages, which have maintained most of their old traditions is Žiūrai. Its local old songs are performed in a dialect, which has preserved the features of Dzūkai musical character and has united the community to this day.
In 1970 on the initiative of Jonas Trinkūnas Žiūrai’ residents gathered to a get-together, after which the Žiūrai Ethnographic Ensemble (now – the Žiūrai Folklore Ensemble) was established. The ensemble’s activities encouraged other Dzūkija villages to take interest in singing. The first leader of the ensemble was a teacher Pranas Kalanta and since 1974 it has been a librarian Marcelė Paulauskienė, the main lead singer and organiser of group activities. Having celebrated its 45 years’ anniversary, the ensemble, encouraged by the children of the elder singers and the ethnographer Lina Būdienė, expanded – children, grandchildren, neighbours and užeiviai, non-local new-comers that bought houses in Žiūrai, joined the group..
A unique feature of the monophonic songs performed by the ensemble is the sound similar to heterophony. Such an impression is created thanks to a variety of voice timbres and improvisational skills of the performers. Women perform polyphonic songs in sonorous and low timbres and men usually accompany in higher range. The ways of Žiūrai villagers’ singing and accompanying the melody ‘above the voice’ became an impetus for the development of an authentic Southern Dzūkai polyphonic singing tradition. The collective singing is firm and clear, melodious, preserving cantilenic characteristic of Dzūkai singing.
Wedding songs stand out in the repertoire of the ensemble, what is more, the majority of the elder and the young singers not only know them by heart, but also comprehend their functions. The oldest singers have preserved calendar and work songs as well as their characteristics (refrains, rhythmic formulas and intonations).
The younger generation aim to learn the singing tradition of the Southern Dzūkai, because collective singing strengthens family and community ties, fosters respect for local cultural heritage and helps to sustain cultural identity.
Žiūrai Folklore Ensemble celebrates 45 years
Photograph of Varėna Cultural Centre Archive, 2016.
Submitted by Varėna Cultural Centre, 2017