The desire for a quality treatment and presentation to the general public of traditional musical instruments from the collection of the Ethnographic Museum of Istria has been pondered for a number of years. Two cabinets with exposed specimens, which are currently in the permanent museum exhibition, are not sufficient for recreating all the intangible cultural specificities of Istria that these objects, as witnesses of tangible culture, contain and carry within themselves: the mastery and the tradition of their production and the sound that skill playing transforms into a recognizable music that, if necessary, accompanies singing, dancing, or simply functions independently in a variety of situations. In addition, as items that come to us from the past and find their place in today's daily life, they are a good source for understanding the various changes in the local culture and society in general. The same applies for the museum and ethnological profession that, like society, are subject to review and change of discourse over time.
The idea of a more holistic approach to musical instruments of Istria has matured over the years, and in 2011 we started a plan to change part of the old permanent exhibition in which instruments are presented. In addition to enthusiasm and interest in the topic, the job as curator-ethnologist does not necessarily imply a high level of competence in the fields of ethnomusicology and ethnoorganology. We therefore asked Dario Marušić for help, a man who dedicated his life as a musician and researcher-ethnomusicologist, devoted primarily to music, more specifically, to forms of expression related to Istria. When mentioning Istria we think about a historical, geographical, cultural and social dynamic entity, regardless of its former and present political boundaries. The wider cultural and social context in Istria and the particularities that derive from it suggests the close encounters, exchange, adaptation, adoption and abandonment of the different traditions and innovations that over time, in long-term processes, lead to the creation of new expressions and traditions. This dynamism also manifests itself in the particularity of traditional music in Istria and the instruments on which it is played.
Having seen that the realization of the exhibition, as we originally planned and wished for was impossible due to lack of finances and physical space, the idea of the museum exhibition began to be developed in a different form. In the end we opted for a more modest publication or catalogue in print and digital format. Other informative and didactic contents would be added to it, not necessarily exclusively related to the instruments from the museum's collection. This primarily relates to the selection of audio and photo records collected during the study. In order to create a more comprehensive view we didn’t stay only in our museum, but we peeked in the holdings of other museums in Istria with valuable collections of instruments: the Heritage Museum of Porec, the National Museum in Labin and the Heritage Museum of Buzet.
The goal originally contemplated for the exhibition, which also determined this publication, is significantly different from the possible aspirations to prove some kind of authenticity for which the Istrian traditional instruments could serve as a solid support. One-way pursuit of authenticity would lead to a denial of all that is not included in these uniform definitions and would result in the neglect of other component parts of a particular tradition in its entirety. Regardless of the path and origin of certain cultural practices, a characteristic object or ideas, once they take root in the everyday life of another region they become its integral part complementing a wider picture.
From the abstract to the concrete: there is a view that the untempered instruments specific to certain parts of the Istrian region - sopele / roženice, mih / mišnice, dvojnice / pipes, šurle, sopelice and tamburica / cindra – are "autochthon" Istrian instruments. Tempered instruments, which are also used in the context of performing traditional music in the northern part of Istria, such as double bass, violin (fiddle) and diatonic accordion, unlike the former, are considered to be "domesticated" instruments. (Pernić 1997: 93) The conclusion that emerges from these statements is that the musical traditions of the older date, which refers to untempered performance styles, are regarded as "authentic", while recent temperate styles (from the second half of the 19th century) in traditional music are regarded as less authentic. The only criterion taken into consideration is time, not the music and its context. The social context of music is extremely relevant today to ethnologists and ethnomusicologists and results in different criteria. That the use of tempered instruments in the context of performing traditional music is not limited to northern Istria, is proven by the presence of the accordion in the whole peninsula, and it was a common practice to accompany it with the sopela, which significantly affected the older musical heritage (Marušić, 1995: 14).
If we accept the thesis of "autochthon" and "domesticated" instruments then no "autochthon" instrument should be regarded as such, since it is a generally accepted thesis that the aforementioned untempered instruments came at a particular historical moment in Istria from other parts of Europe and the Balkan Peninsula. There is no doubt that in the musical practices in Istria, some instruments are used for a longer time, and some for a shorter period, but that does not diminish their contribution in creating a distinctive traditional music, which, like other cultural phenomena, in accordance with time transforms and takes on different forms. This does not mean that it is less traditional than the music that had been present before a hundred or three hundred years, it is just - different. The changes that have occurred in the way of living, the language we use, technology, education, diet, understanding of faith, family and other spheres of everyday life, have not led to the extinction of local communities and cultures. Adapting to change has enabled the survival and further development, and that's what's happening with traditional music, to a greater or lesser extent. We believe that for the further development of musical practices, which are based on traditional forms, each labelling of more or less authenticity is counterproductive. This is not to diminish the value of authors whose views on the matter are different. Their contribution to the collection of valuable information and recording of unrepeatable music tracks on the field is priceless. Without that we would be much the poorer today. Simply put, the view that as authors of this publication we represent is that in the study of cultural and social manifestations in Istria in general, as well as in music, the consideration of the multiplicity of cultural phenomena and acceptable methodology (within our profession) is more justified than exclusive one-way interpretations.
A concrete example of the multiplicity and diversity are the very instruments from the Museum's collections which we present in this publication. At a sufficiently large, and thus representative sample, and based on detailed measurements of each instrument, we empirically proved that there are no two identical instruments within each type of instrument. If there are two identical instruments, how to determine which of them is more authentic? Can we do it by comparing the year of production, techniques of production, materials, proportions or sound? Is a handmade sopela more authentic than those made on a lathe? Is it correct to call a sopela, sopela or roženica, or to call a double flute, duplica or volarica? What sound is the right one if each instrument sounds, at least in the nuances, different from each other? The situations and contexts in which traditional music is performed changed entirely in the course of time. Are weddings and other occasions, like working in the fields or minding cows and sheep in the past, equally authentic (if authenticity is defined as honest, unadulterated expression) as today's festivals and concerts, various folklore events in tourist areas and traditional dance workshops in agro-tourisms?
This can be compared with the narration of stories and legends that came to us by word of mouth, which have a general storyline framework, but many details, decorations and variations depend on the skill and imagination of the narrator. The same is true about traditional instruments and the music itself. It is this diversity and relativity of freedom of interpretation and the skill of instrument makers (and performers), innovation within the framework of which were inherited and learned each in its own way, are the main reasons for the longevity of different musical traditions in Istria, as well as a number of stories that can be learned on the subject; stories that sometimes can be contradictory, not necessarily exclusive but complementary.
The goal we wanted to achieve (originally through a planed exhibition to a greater extent, and as much as possible through this publication) is to put life into the instruments and to pay attention to those who created these objects. From today's perspective this might seem understandable as a matter of fact, but museum practice until recently paid attention primarily to objects, while the people who are behind these items were in the background. In the collection, processing, and presentation of objects that context was secondary. Therefore it is no wonder that today we have a chronic lack of information in the "biography of the objects": the intangible components that define them, the specific persons who created and used these objects, the reasons and ways how these objects come from someone's private collections, closets and attics to the museum storeroom. Besides the search for materials on the persons who have contributed to making musical instruments from the Museum's collections, it was also important to investigate the current status on the making of traditional instruments, compare it with the older masters, realize the extent of the impact on each other, to listen and record the life stories of people who dedicated a big part of their lives to music. Since the catalogue is more visual than textual, this was a chance to illustrate the theme and content-related archival material, photos, drawings and manuscripts of researchers whose efforts, knowledge and valuable information we couldn’t and wouldn’t avoid.
The publication can be divided into three main parts. The opening statement is followed by the description and the development of the collection to which the traditional instruments belong. The first instruments from the collection of the Ethnographic Museum of Istria coincide with the very beginnings of the Museum’s activities, and this obliges us to highlight the parallels between the origin of the collection and the founding of the Museum itself. The historical overview of the section will be used to look at specific museological practices, directions and policies in the collection and presentation, which inevitably, and regardless of the time we can connect with the political and ideological realities of the Istrian peninsula. The central part of the catalogue begins with the review on traditional instruments in Istria and it serves as an introduction to the presentation of instruments from the Museum's collections in the catalogue.
The catalogue is structured according to the type of instrument, and not by the inventory number. As an introduction to each group of instruments we made a general description of the instrument and its parts. Also described are the different names that are in use, as well as the methodology of professional processing (measurement) of items which is displayed visually and textually. Information about professional processing can be found in the catalogue’s units, together with photographs and descriptions of each instrument. Short sketches and illustrations by makers of traditional instruments from Istria can be found along the instruments. Descriptions of the visual material that was used in the publication are, for practical reasons, are at the end of each unit (introduction, catalogue, instruments makers). The publication ends with a conclusion and short discussion, as well as with guidelines on the subject of museological, ethnological and other possible approaches and practices in the context of traditional music’s research and presentation.
In the end, we also include the bibliography which can be useful to everyone interested in a more meaningful study of phenomena related to traditional instruments and music in Istria and it can also serve as a basis for new research and comprehension. This can also be defined as the main and immodest goal of this publication.