FOLKLORE AND FESTIVAL

FOLKLORE AND FESTIVAL

Kristin Kuutma. Tallinn

This title presumably evokes for the majority of you an image of a group of people, dressed in national costumes, singing or dancing on a stage. And actually it is quite the case today in our part of the world, if not even on the whole planet. The present day concept of folklore at festivals is often perceived as ancient songs, music and dances staged on an arena for a passive audience. But it is undoubtedly relevant to discuss festivals themselves as particular folklore phenomena.

Thus in the following I am going to dwell on applied folklore -defined as the hereditary artistic small-group face-to-face interaction -as an expressive form of contemporary culture, and its emergence at public display events, such as festivals. According to Beverly J. Stoeltje festival is a cultural performance, which is scheduled at regular intervals, temporally and spatially bounded, programmed, characterized by coordinated public occasions, and heightened occasions of aesthetic expression (Stoeltje 1983, 240). A festival provides opportunities to observe the communicative system of the culture, conveyed through semiotically complex performance events. Although a festival enfolds large-scale social units, there obviously occurs small-scale social interactional communication, performance which constitutes face-to-face interaction. A festival performance serves the purpose of the articulation of the group's heritage, it is a communicative situation actively engaging participants, presenting a combination of participation and performance in a public context (Stoeltje 1992, 263). One motivation for participating in festivals is social interaction, festival strengthens the identity of the group by bringing it together; the messages of festival reflect the shared experience of the group, it communicates about the particular society while telling a story which people tell themselves about themselves (Geertz 1973).

Festivals are regularly recurring cultural performances which are calendrically scheduled, and set apart by an annual cycle. In societies based on an agricultural and pastoral economy, festivals were organized in terms of the agricultural and natural course of the year. Traditional festivals observe also religious calendars. Typical traditional festivals in the European context would be harvest festivals, equinox and solstice celebrations, etc. In the Estonian case here should be listed St. John's Day celebrations, Yuletide or Christmas, Shrovetide, Martinmas, to name a few among the many. In spite of the fact that we do continue observing these celebrations mentioned, they have lost the significance as symbolic enactments of agrarian rituals and feasts even for the present-day farmer in his modem urbanized living environment and industrialized production process. But nevertheless, festivals as cultural performance continue to be expressive instruments of contemporary social practice, though their contents and the context of participation has altered considerably.

In the modem urban experience folklore is no longer limited to oral tradition, and it appears in contexts to which it originally did not belong. Hermann Bausinger, in his book about Folk Culture in a World of Technology, describes folklore (regarded here as the ancestral artistic expression) as a counterworld in the modem age (Bausinger 1990,140). Folklore itself has become a hobby, it belongs to the realm of leisure activities, it is perceived as a mediating agent of antiquated values. With the assumption that antiquated is "authentic" and therefore timeless, it is rescued in a time alien to it, necessarily changed, but for all that admired and regarded with amazement (Bausinger 1990, 156). Bausinger refers to the observable use of folkloristic phenomena and expressive folkloristic manifestations as folklorism, which in his words denotes the applied folklore of yesterday. Folklorism is the by-product of the modem culture industry and it signifies the commodification of folklore, the process of a folk culture being experienced at second hand (Bausinger 1990, 127). While discussing tradition, Bausinger argues that it is not passed on from generation to generation in language, art, and music as a time-honoured body of knowledge and values, but it is rather in a constant stage of disorder and confusion, about to disintegrate under the pressure of change. And members of the society strive to restore and maintain tradition in new rituals, displays, and in diverse forms of entertainment (which are constructed, and if necessary invented), or in the revival of old ones. Bausinger's arguments con with Eric Hobsbawm's treatment of the invention of tradition by considering tradition not as a cultural given but as a cultural construct (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1983). And whereas essential building blocks of current festivals comprise newly contextualized pieces of tradition, to the current discourse should be introduced the argument about tradition whether being genuine or spurious by Richard Handler and Jocelyn Linnekin, where they assume that tradition is neither genuine nor spurious because it is not handed down from the past as a thing or collection of things, but it is symbolically reinvented in an ongoing present (Handler & Linnekin 1984).

In the contemporary Estonian context rather a characteristic phenomena are multiple festivals where the mobilizing mechanism permeating the events and coordinating the emotions of the participants is mostly singing, but also dance and music, performed either as part of folk tradition or as a social act of entertainment. Here should be mentioned song festivals, both national and regional or local, because today song and dance festivals are arranged annually in all districts of Estonia, often there are additional festivals enfolding one or two villages, or a town, or even separate ethnic groups. There occur also other types of festivals, such as community days and regional fairs. At these festivals the organized and audience oriented cultural performances are usually displaying the leisure time activities of the community with 3 general functions: organizing of the community as a sociological function; expressing of personal and collective emotions as a psychological function; and with the function of expressing, reinforcing, and creating culture (Turner & McArthur 1990, 86).

I have chosen to take a closer look at three festivals arranged in July 1995 which observably manifested themselves as presenting folklore:

* the Setu song festival leelopäev;

* the folklore festival Baltica;

* the Viljandi folk music festival.

The Setu song festival leelopäev is arranged in a three year interval, it is a small community festival adopted in the 1970s by the Setus as following the pattern of the Estonian national song festival laulupidu, with the special objective to demonstrate and experience the Setu identity. (The Setus are an ethnic group of the Finno-Ugric origin inhabiting the southeastern region of Estonia.)

The international folklore festival Baltica was started in the 1980s, it gathers performing groups of folk dance and music in the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) in turn. This summer Baltica was held in Estonia for the third time. The aim of the festival is to assemble amateur groups performing expressive elements of traditional culture which represents the peasant heritage in most cases.

The Viljandi folk music festival is an invention of the 1990s. It is arranged by the former and current students of the Viljandi Culture College who have majored as folk musicians. This festival involves mainly younger generation of musicians performing modem interpretations based on traditional music heritage.

Setu leelopäev is rather deeply rooted in a traditional community festival, if compared to the other two events discussed here. It is organized by the local villagers, the song repertoire performed is exclusively observing the Setu tradition (except for the single guest performers, of course), the costumes worn are regional and in most cases inherited from preceding generations; traditional dishes are prepared, dances are danced; family members from far gather to celebrate the Setu festival at home. The performing singing groups come together from all over the region, participating are also leelo choruses of Setus who have either migrated into towns in other parts of Estonia, or who have roots in Setumaa. All the singing groups who have turned up at the celebration are granted the opportunity to perform during a limited time range at the main event of the festival. The ritual of the festival includes the festive procession, the opening of the ceremony, the main event, closing ceremony. The main event of the festival is arranged as a stage concert, which durates for nearly half a day. But the audience has not gathered there in order to seek entertainment by an energetic show. The relations between the performers and the audience were interactive. The song texts carried intended messages for the attentive listeners, and the traditional customs acted on the stage communicated directly to the observers who were expertly familiar with the performed rites. The Setu community festival leelopdev was arranged with the special objective to demonstrate and experience particularly the Setu traditions. The occasion was a manifestation of community life and identity, and although it is a rather recently adopted celebration, on the surface following the general Estonian song festival pattern, in essence it does not deviate from the traditional village community festival, and the Setus themselves appraise both.

None of the festivals discussed here are traditional calendrical festivals, though Setu leelopdev was celebrated on St. John's Day according to the Russian Orthodox church calendar which the Setus have traditionally followed. And in fact the first two festivals deviate from the annual cycle, but they are rather characteristic to the contemporary Estonian cultural activities and the folkloric revitalization movements of self-conscious efforts to preserve the heritage of folk music, song and dance. The contemporary folklore festival is a modem cultural production based on the festival paradigm which include complex, scheduled, heightened and participatory events where symbolically resonant cultural phenomena are placed on public display. Modem folklore festivals display forms of folk culture as conceived by folklorists and cultural programmers, and executed by practitioners whom the organizers of the particular event have selected (Bauman & Sawin & Carpenter 1992).

The latter concerns particularly the international folklore festival Baltica. The preparatory works of the festival included distribution of norm guidelines which were followed by auditional overviews to confirm their pertinence to the festival aesthetics. This practice is actually rather concurrent with the contemporary tradition of organized performance groups and cultural activities in Estonia, which rely on folkloric revitalization while adopting professional methods — written notation, formal lessons, recitals. At the same time there has evolved an imagined canon of folklore performance on stage which should depict the imagined community of our rural ancestors. While quoting Edward Shils, it might be concluded that on the festival stage fictitious pasts are created at the expence of actually existing syncretic traditions (Handler & Linnekin 1984). The revitalization of folk culture are seen as the most important and worth celebrating. Thus the majority of Estonian groups strived at presenting on stage the peasant tradition, and frequently doing it in the form of a pastoral play or folk theatre.

The event structure of Baltica included an opening ceremony and a concluding ceremony, the main event concentrated on expressive performances. The ritual of the festival comprises a festive procession with obligatory regalia and hierarchy, signal melodies, and ceremonies of souvenir exchange. Once again the arena of the main event was a concert stage with longlasting concerts (in this case even indoors) with a medley of different cultures, different expertise in the cultural traditions presented, different artistic aesthetics, different artistic and per-formative competence. The differences between groups that could perform for hours and those that do well to prepare a 15-20 minutes programme are minimized by the festival. Apparently there has been set an imagined canon of an international folklore festival.

According to the manifestations of the young rebellious organizers of the Viljandi folk music festival, the cultural performances occurring at their events are radically different. This modem gathering is actually an expression of counter-cultural activity which uses tradition in order to create a new identity for oneself (Turner & McArthur 1990, 86). The structure of the festival is conspicuously oriented at excellent and artistically expressive musical performance on the stage. The folk music presented adher to contemporary musical expression but it has to follow the aesthetics of traditional music. These cultural performances quite openly strive at discarding the old identities of folk tradition performance while creating a new one based on individual expression, and also age. Age is a conspicuous factor characteristic of the festival audience as well - by visual participant observation the average is around the 20s. The festival audience is expected (with which it willingly concedes) to openly react to the performance, join in to sing and dance, etc. And the same kind of spontaneity is also characteristic to extra-programme music making and dancing. This generation of festival organizers consciously strives at avoiding ceremonies and festivity of the folklore festival canon.

To draw a conclusion, it is obvious that folkloristic phenomena have become a demonstration and entertainment. But folkloristic manifestations continue to increase group consciousness and to serve organizing function. It is a matter of internal consolidation and external representation and recognition (Bausinger 1986,117). The discussed festivals provide a scenery for the interplay of tradition and innovation in communicative social life.

References

Bauman, R. & Sawin, P. & Carpenter, I. G. 1992: Reflections on the folklife Festival: An Ethnography of Participant Experience. Bloo-mington, Indiana.

Bausinger, H. 1986: Toward a Critique of Folklorism Criticism. German Volkskunde. Bloomington, Indiana. Bausinger, H. 1990: Folk Culture in a World of Technology. (Translated by Eike Dettmer.) Bloomington, Indiana. Geertz, C. 1973: The Interpretation of Cultures. New York. Handler, R. & Linnekin, J. 1984: Tradition, Genuine or Spurious. Journal of American Folklore, No. 97, pp. 273-290. Hobsbawm, E. & Ranger, T. (eds.), 1983: The Invention of Tradition. New York.

Stoeltje, B. J. 1983: Festival in America. Handbook of American Folklore, Dorson, R. M. (ed.), Bloomington, Indiana. Stoeltje, B. J. 1992: Festival. Bauman, R. (ed.), Folklore, Cultural Performances and Popular Entertainments. New York. Turner, R. & McArthur, P. H. 1990: Cultural Performances: Public Display Events and Festival. The Emergence of Folklore in Everyday Life. Bloomington, Indiana.

Turner, V. W. 1974: Dramas, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. New York.

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