The melody of spheres


“This is the best instrument of all created by God,” assure the old Hutsuls. It is hard to argue with that since a Carpathian trembita serves as means of communication, route guidance, and a sacred instrument 


If you ever get lucky enough to visit a Hutsul village, any Hutsul, lighting his faika (pipe), would tell you that trembita is not just a giant flute. In fact, it is an essential attribute of any shepherd. Moreover, every shepherd has his own “nouta” known only to him and his family. If curiosity would bring you a little further and you would ask the highlanders about how they make the longest musical instrument in the world and play it, a Hutsul would, probably, tell you that it’s a task not for a skillful master and a strong lehin (young man). It is best to find a “hromovytsia” – fir-tree struck by a lightning for making a trembita. The locals believe that with the thunder from heaven this wood receives the voice of the Creator. After a right tree is found it is “tempered” for at least a year, attached to a fence, to make the wood robust and able to withstand frequent changes in weather. If a Hutsul had no luck in finding a “hromovytsia” he then uses “vorotynnia” – a fir-tree, which has been tempered for at least 10 years as a fence on mountain pastures. When the core is cut from the tree, it is covered with “karuka” – glue made from birch tar, and is wrapped with the strips of birch bark “berestyna.” The bark should be gathered before the Saint Peter’s Day while the birch still has a lot of moist in it. After that a wooden mouthpiece (“pyshchyk”), made of plum, willow, or sycamore tree is installed.

Almost everything in the life of mountain valleys is connected with trembita. For Hutsul shepherds it is a clock, a barometer, and a mobile phone. Trembita does not lose its significance in the lowlands too: the sound of trembita announces a funeral, people go caroling with trembitas. This musical instrument has a unique cosmology and exceptional sacred value. The sound of trembita could be heard only outside in the open air. When carolers went around the village they sang a song along with the ritual dance “Ples.” The same tune was performed during mountain valley march, when shepherds were sent high in the mountains. When the carolers approached a house a trembita would play a morning tune, announcing the beginning of a new day. At Christmas time it had a double meaning: it symbolized the beginning of a day, the birth of the sun, and the birth of Jesus Christ – the sun and the guiding star for the faithful. Trembita also played sad melodies. If someone died in a village, a trembita was played day and night with small intervals for several days in a row, so that the shepherds high in the mountains and people in the neighboring villages would find out about the sad event and could come to say their last goodbyes. While the coffin was carried to the cemetery a melody that reminds “Ples” was played. This is not by chance. “Ples” reflects the movement, the transition from one world to another. After the ritual is over, the joyful morning tune can be heard again at the funeral repast since the dead person began a new life and it would now continue for him. The sacred cycle of birth and death is continuous. These traditions have survived in Bukovyna. In Transcarpathia trembita is played only in mountain valleys and during Christmas holidays.

Based on: Sources: I. Matsievsky, Hutsul Musical Instruments. Vinnytsia, Nova Knyha, 2012.