Lithuanian “Songweavers”

Debra Raver (Indiana University)

As Handwoven magazine observes in their Winter 2010 issue, “counting graphed squares” and “watching the pattern grow” in pick-up weaving is “mesmerizing.  You‘ll find yourself saying ‘Just one more row,’ over and over.”   I felt a similar awe watching the patterns emerge in my Lithuanian music transcriptions (inspired by graph-paper weaving drafts).  Row after row, as the vocal parts thread through the transcription boxes, the intervals in sutartinės (Lithuanian polyphonic chants) intertwine like the warp and weft of finely woven linen.  Old sutartinė texts reveal that the more textually layered  voice part was named the “rinkinys,” a term Daiva Vyčinienė metaphorically associates with weaving vocabulary in Sutartinės:  Lithuanian Polyphonic Songs (2002, pp. 11–13).   I discovered a related Lithuanian term is described by weaver Kati Reeder Meek as a known pick-up weaving technique (for patterning cloth).  Importantly, every sutartinė pattern collected represents a performance by “songweavers” (as I call them), which I transcribed from 20thcentury ethnographies and my own Post-Soviet fieldwork.  I found the close-knit voices of city performers still hold as song (and perhaps social) “binding agents”; they also show creative and colorful variegations of a former two-part village weaving aesthetic.  I demonstrate through song and cloth samples how a sutartinė is like a weave, and a weave like a sutartinė.  Presenting Lithuanian sutartinės as a visual-spatial creation, sound and image may spring to life—in the eyes and through the ears—deepening our sense of Lithuanian music and meaning in past and present cultural settings.


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