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The Tamburitza Tradition

From the Balkans to the American Midwest

Richard March

Publication Year: 2013

The Tamburitza Tradition is a lively and well-illustrated comprehensive introduction to a Balkan folk music that now also thrives in communities throughout Europe, the Americas, and Australia. Tamburitza features acoustic stringed instruments, ranging in size from tamburas as small as a ukulele to ones as large as a bass viol.
            Folklorist Richard March documents the centuries-old origins and development of the tradition, including its intertwining with nationalist and ethnic symbolism. The music survived the complex politics of nineteenth-century Europe but remains a point of contention today. In Croatia, tamburitza is strongly associated with national identity and supported by an artistic and educational infrastructure. Serbia is proud of its outstanding performers and composers who have influenced tamburitza bands on four continents. In the United States, tamburitza was brought by Balkan immigrants in the nineteenth century and has become a flourishing American ethnic music with its own set of representational politics.
            Combining historical research with in-depth interviews and extensive participant-observer description, The Tamburitza Tradition reveals a dynamic and expressive music tradition on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, illuminating the cultures and societies from which it has emerged.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Languages and Folklore of Upper Midwest


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

This book was a long time in coming, which is responsible for some of its peculiarities. My formal research for this work began in 1975 when Dr. Richard M. Dorson, my professor at the Folklore Department of Indiana University, received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct research on the urban folklore of the...

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A Note on Language Usage

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pp. xix-2

The terminology of the tamburitza tradition draws on words and linguistic rules from three languages. Throughout this book I use Serbian or Croatian words that are commonly used in English-language discourse about the tamburitza tradition. I have employed the terms as they are habitually used by American participants in the tradition. For...

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pp. 3-15

Six young men, their faces stern with concentration, are picking out the fast and intricate melody of a folk dance on their tamburitzas, fretted stringed instruments that range in size from smaller than a mandolin to larger than a string bass. The musicians are wearing clean, pressed, pajama-like Slavonian folk costumes of coarse white...

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1. The Soloistic Tambura Comes to the Balkans

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pp. 16-33

As the crow flies, it is scarcely 100 kilometers from the center of Zagreb, the Croatian capital, to Šturlić, a Bosnian village. The rough terrain, rivers, and mountains make the actual journey on land a good deal longer, but even so, given this degree of geographic proximity, the cultural distance between Zagreb (a “little Vienna”) and...

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2. A National Music and the Illyrian Movement

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pp. 34-55

On a March evening in 1978, I attended a concert in Samobor. Samobor is a small but growing town, thirty-some kilometers west of Zagreb, nestled along a rippling stream in the beautiful foothills of the Žumberak Mountains. In the old center of the town the flavor of Austrian days still seems alive. On the ornate facades of a neat...

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3. The Tamburitza Matures and Migrates to America

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pp. 56-92

The accomplishments of the Illyrian movement proved to be crucial in determining the nature of the tamburitza tradition, especially in its soon-to-develop orchestral form. In Zagreb, the Illyrians developed a musical ideology still influential today, and in Osijek, South Slav patriots established the first urban tamburitza...

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4. Ethnologists and the Politics of Folklore Festivals

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pp. 93-110

In the later part of July each summer, the streets of Zagreb fill with hundreds of colorfully clad celebrants. Everywhere you turn on the public squares, in parks, sometimes even on streetcars, bright embroidery on stiff linen meets the eye and the rich tones of peasant song are heard. The residents of Zagreb tend to think of themselves as...

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5. The Tamburitza Tradition Takes on American Ways

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pp. 111-136

In Gary, Indiana, Broadway has always been the main drag. Plotted in 1905, it is a geometrically perfect straight line, aligned straight south from the steel mills; the sooty sulfurous coke plants and basic oxygen furnaces are perched on the south shore of Lake Michigan. Broadway runs under the railroad tracks, through the struggling, half-abandoned...

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6. The Soloistic Tambura

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pp. 137-164

With the strap of my Uher tape recorder over one shoulder and the strap of my Pentax camera over the other, I waited on the asphalt parking lot in front of my apartment building in Velika Gorica, Croatia, one early morning in spring 1978 as my colleague from the Ethnology and Folklore Institute Dr. Jerko Bezić...

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7. Tamburitza Combos

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pp. 165-212

In 2009, on a blustery fall day in early October, I made the two-and-a-half-hour drive from my home in Madison, Wisconsin, to the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Illinois, to attend the 2009 Tamburitza Extravaganza. In a land of urban sprawl, curving residential streets, and strip malls, the Westin Hotel in Lombard, venue of the event, towers...

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8. My Little (Global) Village

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pp. 213-225

At the beginning of September 2003, five young musicians from the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland areas, members of a recently formed tamburitza combo with the potent-sounding name Otrov (poison), jetted to Croatia to participate in Zlatne Žice Slavonije 2003, a festival of tamburitza music in Slavonska Požega. Although...

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9. Tamburitza Orchestras

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pp. 226-252

As an “uplifted” form of peasant culture, the large tamburitza orchestras are the most direct descendants of the musical ideas of Ljudevit Gaj and the Illyrian movement. When I did my field research in the 1970s, tamburitza orchestral ensembles were most numerous in Croatia while Subotica in Vojvodina and Ruma in northern...

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10. Folk Dance Groups

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pp. 253-269

The tamburitza is intimately associated with South Slavic folk dance. Tamburitza and dance exert a substantial mutual influence upon each other. Having replaced earlier traditional instruments like gajde and dude (types of bagpipes), dvojnice (a double fipple flute), or lijerica (a pear-shaped bowed stringed instrument) as...

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pp. 270-272

The tambura, a Middle Eastern long-necked lute, was brought to the Balkan Peninsula by Ottoman invaders nearly seven hundred years ago. It was a basic chordophone, highly portable, and originally made from natural materials. This type of lute has continued to be played in something quite similar to its original form, notably...


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pp. 273-278

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 279-286

The Tamburitza Tradition is a study of a folk music idiom that has evolved in the context of a cultural and political movement to affirm the national identity and to validate the cultural autonomy and worth of South Slavic peoples, particularly Croatians. The musical tradition is practiced in its original homeland and in Croatian and Serbian ethnic communities around the world. The tamburitza...


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pp. 287-298


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pp. 299-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296032
E-ISBN-10: 0299296032
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296049
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296040

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 36 b/w photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Languages and Folklore of Upper Midwest
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OCLC Number: 858861924
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Tamburitza Tradition

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Subject Headings

  • Tambura (Fretted lute) -- History.
  • Tambura (Fretted lute) -- Balkan Peninsula.
  • Tambura (Fretted lute) -- United States.
  • Tambura (Fretted lute) music -- History and criticism.
  • Folk music -- Balkan Peninsula -- History and criticism.
  • Folk music -- Middle West -- History and criticism.
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