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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress
presents the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

May 27, 2010 Event Flyer

Folk Music from the Slovakian Mountains:
The Fujara and Other Overtone Flutes

Presented by Bob Rychlik

2010 Botkin Lecture Flyer for Bob Rychlik

The fujara is the largest member of the overtone flute family. It developed in the seclusion of the Slovakian mountains, and, until recently, was barely known outside Slovakia. Even today, only a small number of traditional musicians play the instrument, and only a handful of craftsmen know how to make it. However, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the fujara has been "discovered" by the rest of the music world, and an increasing number of musicians and listeners are embracing this magnificent "Queen of the flutes." The fujara's imposing size, (up to six feet long), and the intricate decorations on the flute's surface draw immediate attention, but listeners only begin to understand the true uniqueness of the fujara after hearing the first tones of its meditative, soulful, and overtone rich voice.

The roots of the fujara reach back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when small three-hole overtone "pipes" (which are actually fipple flutes) were popular throughout medieval Europe as part of one-person "pipe-and- tabor" combinations. According to musicologists, this flute was introduced to Slovakia by foreign troops around the 15th century. It took root there as a folk instrument, and its design was gradually adapted into larger and larger instruments.

The fujara was originally developed and played by Slovak shepherds. Its unique voice was used to play slow, lyrical, melancholic folk melodies, which the fujarist played in alternation with sung lyrics about various topics: shepherds' daily routines and hard lives; love; the beauty of nature; and the adventures, capture, and execution of forest outlaws. Traditionally, many songs start with rozfuk, a descending cascade of upper overtones. This is the most recognizable fujara effect, and helps the fujarist to orient himself on the overtone scale. The melody is often embellished by ornamental notes, by over-blowing certain tones (prefuk), and by rapid improvisation on the lowest tones (mumlanie), as the player imitates the sounds of nature, such as birds, streams, and wind.

The fujara is played vertically, and its size would normally be limited by the player's reach; his hands must cover the three side holes in the tube, while his mouth must blow one end. Slovak fujara makers overcame this limitation by adding a small parallel air tube, connected to the fipple, which permitted the player to comfortably reach the side holes. Since this innovation, the fujara's length has been limited only by the size of drill available to bore the tubes, and by the playability of the instrument. Both tubes of the instrument are traditionally hand-drilled from the trunk of an elder tree (Sambucus nigra), or some other hardwood, and then richly decorated. The fujara's length determines the key of the overtone scale from which other tones are derived.

All overtone flutes play in a natural scale, where intervals are pure small-number ratios such as 3/2 or 4/3. (Today’s listeners are more accustomed to hearing the modern, equally tempered scale, where all intervals except the octave are slightly off from these ratios.) The tone color and overtone range of any flute is mainly influenced by its length-to-bore ratio ("Aspect Ratio," or "AR"): low AR generates a strong and round tone in the fundamental octave, with suppressed overtones and no range in the overtone octaves, while high AR results in a weak fundamental octave, but tones that are rich in overtones, as well as several more octaves in overtone range. The fujara, with its extremely high AR, has the widest overtone range of all flutes

The fujara has been an instrument of solitude, contemplation, and meditation; when played the traditional way, it has a peaceful and relaxing effect. Today many non-traditional players use the fujara only for its unique sound effects, and fail to take full advantage of its two-octave range in diatonic scales and its ability to play in several major and minor keys. In this presentation, I will demonstrate the fujara's versatility by playing examples from the traditional repertoire as well as classical and contemporary music, including several of my own compositions.

I will also demonstrate the smaller koncovka ("end flute"), one of several types of Slovak fipple flutes, which traditionally has no side holes. Flutes without side holes exist in several other countries, including the Scandinavian fipple seljefloyte (willow flute), the open-end blown Romanian tilinca, and the Russian kalyuka. I have created a new type of overtone flute, with a single finger hole placed to raise the pitch a whole step at several overtone levels. By opening the side hole with the left hand or closing the end hole with the right hand, either fully or partially, I have filled in the missing tones in the diatonic scale of the koncovka, and now can play a much greater variety of songs and melodies in two major and minor keys. This new instrument has become my favorite woodwind besides the fujara, and I look forward to introducing it at this lecture/demonstration.

Bob Rychlik

Multi-instrumentalist Bohuslav "Bob" Rychlik was born in Czechoslovakia, where he fell in love with the acoustic guitar, and later, the 5-string banjo. He taught classical guitar, studied various folk and blues finger-picking guitar styles, established several country and bluegrass groups, and organized musical gatherings and festivals even prior to moving to America in 1984. He received his first fujara as a gift from Slovak friends in 1999. After mastering the instrument, he started sharing its beauty with others. He has played fujara with the modern dance troupe CityDance, and has given over 70 fujara/overtone flute performances at folk festivals and Czech and Slovak events. Bob became the first foreign member of the exclusive "Fujarasi" guild in Slovakia, recorded his first CD, Ideas with Fujara, and was featured on Czech and American TV and Czech and Slovak radio. His love for American acoustic blues and Slovak overtone flutes intersected when he discovered he can play blues on the flutes and he became member of Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation. He is working on a new method-book for playing the fujara, composes for fujara, guitar, and keyboard, and is preparing his next CD.

AFC logo The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.


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