Saturday, 19 October 2013

Arkan - the Lasso

Halyna Koszarycz
A friend of mine is taking a university course for which she needs to gather music representative of cultures studied in the Alberta classroom.  A music specialist, she and I speak a common language.  Leaning on the cultural inheritance of the non British world, we have an accumulated understanding that the rhythms and melodic shapes are directly derived from the language and syntax of indigenous peoples the world over. So when you hear a specific melody, a lilt in the phrase, a bounce in the rhythms, these are all pulled from the natural speech patterns of regular people in their culturally specific lives, somewhere in the world.

So I extracted a few Ukrainian folk songs for my friend's assignment.  I would have loved to provide her with authentic sounds and rhythms, but as she needed to interpret them herself for the class, it would have proven time consuming.  In order to make the process easy, I originally selected music that was perhaps more western in phrase and rhythm than indigenously Ukrainian.  And I suspect this is why our music is "straightened out" and "fixed", so often.

Nonetheless, the intent was to provide Ukrainian folk-song material to be included in the instructional cycle of a music specialist in public school.  I had an interesting time considering what would be appropriate and fun, so I chose a non-text melody for Arkan - the lasso.  If you have ever seen Ukrainian dancing, one of the circle dances of western Ukraine is Arkan. Arkan is a popular dance of Ukrainian Hutsul people, those of south-western Ukraine.  Traditionally performed by men around a burning bonfire, they stand with arms upon each other's shoulders.  Arkan refers to the step performed around the fire.  Stepping on the right foot, the left foot crosses behind, the right foot steps to the side again and the left foot is brought in front of the dancer with a bent knee, and then the right foot is brought in front of the dancer with a bent knee. The winding step is essentially a rope or lasso that encircles the flame.

The flames lap at their feet as the men fly around the circle in an attempt to capture the flame with their lasso, embracing the primordial vortex of energy  -  this is the arkan.  The cultural baggage with this arkan dance is probably rich with symbols and practical meaning.  I suspect is has to do with keeping the men fit and enthused during the long cold nights in the mountains, vigilant by night, possibly trading, lumber-jacking or on the war-path by day.  I once read how Ukrainian dance is a thinly veiled martial art.  Intriguing, no?

Аркан-гуцульський танець

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