Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale

Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale

If you find yourself in Istria and happen to hear an unusual style of singing by two singers, one in falsetto and the other in a normal key, accompanied by even more unusual sounds of instruments, try not to be impatient and keep listening until the end. Once you get used to the strange notes, a whole new world will open up before you.

 

The distinct, two-part type of folklore singing accompanied by traditional instruments developed in the area of Istria and the Croatian Littoral, although the sounds of this complex musical expression can be found in a much wider area. Part of the complexity of these songs lies in the untempered tonal intervals, and sometimes the singers also need to sing through their noses in order to produce the specific notes needed for the two-part singing. At first glance, it may seem very rigid and strictly defined, but there is actually quite a lot of improvisation in this art form, especially when combined with a textual part, where words are substituted with syllables that are meant to mimic the sounds of the flute.

 

 To give the songs an authentic and traditional sound, there are certain rules to follow – the notes must end in an octave and in unison. There are four subtypes of two-part singing depending on the area – tarankanje, which mimics the sound of the woodwind instrument sopilebugarenjediskantno pjevanje, and “tanko” (softly, literally “thin”) and “debelo” (strongly, literally “fat”) kanat singing.

 

Two-part singing in the Istrian scale can be accompanied by a flute, bagpipes (or gajde), a fife or the string instrument tambura, but the most common instrument is the sopile mentioned above. This conical instrument has a wooden reed and is always played as a pair, where the smaller or “female” sopile accompanies the larger, “male” sopile, lowered by a minor third. In addition to the distinct sound, sopile are unique in that they are played in the Istrian scale. Don’t be intimidated by the various local musical terms and the unusual Istrian scale; seize the opportunity to explore this unusual form of music. You’ll discover an entire culture specific to Istria and the Croatian Littoral, which has a great deal more to offer than just singing and dancing. Ready to explore?