Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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There are points where adherence to a norm is required, of course; a particular epic has certain themes, certain motifs, and certain formu­lae—similar to the "conceits" of the British ballads—which recur. In the structure, one of the typical arrangements is the ten-syllable line, which remains constant throughout the hours required to complete the poem. Just how a singer who is partly improvising can consist­ently and undeviatingly produce lines of exactly ten syllables is one of the mysteries of this ancient tradition. But even more exacting is the requirement of a word boundary after the fourth syllable in some of the Yugoslav styles; that is, the fourth syllable always ends a word, and no word occupies both syllables fourth and fifth. Here is a sample of this kind of poetry:3
Beg sad pride damu do pendera, Pa dofati knjige i hartije, Kaljem drvo ho se knjiga gradi, A mastila ho se knjiga pise, Pa nacinje knjigu sarovitu, Sprema knjigu Ijickom Mustajbegu.
{Translation): Now the bey went to the window And he took letter paper, A quill with which letters are made, And ink with which letters are written, And he prepared a well-writ letter, He directed the letter to Mustajbey of the Lika.
Example 5-6 gives a short sample of the music, showing its very ornamental style of singing and playing, and including some small intervals. The scale could not be notated without the use of additional marks; arrows indicate slight (quarter-tone) raising or lowering. The notes played by the gusle include, consistently, a tone between C-flat and C, and one between G and G-sharp. Several possible reasons for this use of rnicrotones have been advanced: the influence of Turkish and Arabic music; the ancient Greek tradition, with its enharmonic genus; and the use of the gusle, which, when fingered by the human hand in natural position of tension, produces such intervals.
The rhythm of Yugoslav epics is also worthy of discussion. If
3 Albert B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni­versity Press, 1960), p. 84.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III