There are a lot of old things in my grandfather’s workshop that stir memories of my childhood. I can see myself on his knees again, shouting for joy. I can also remember peeking at him through the holes in the fence during great wedding feasts – in the yard where children were banished from the occasion with his fiddle in hand accompanying my uncle the violinist.

Now it seemed to me that the alto or viola was not very different from the violin. But the sound it produced was definitely louder, you might think it was a whole string orchestra! Later I noticed that the alto was much, much bigger and thicker than the violas that I had seen in town. Why? Once again, my grandfather explained it to me.

"When I was young, I played along on a normal violin. But I wasn’t happy. I needed an instrument whose sound would fill the yard or even further and make people want to dance!… Then I bought this alto from a neighbour who had made it at home. I could see at a glance that it was much sturdier. He also sold me this short bow, the "straight" bridge and the three strings. In those days, he made the strings himself from chicken gut sme Read More

There are a lot of old things in my grandfather’s workshop that stir memories of my childhood. I can see myself on his knees again, shouting for joy. I can also remember peeking at him through the holes in the fence during great wedding feasts – in the yard where children were banished from the occasion with his fiddle in hand accompanying my uncle the violinist.

Now it seemed to me that the alto or viola was not very different from the violin. But the sound it produced was definitely louder, you might think it was a whole string orchestra! Later I noticed that the alto was much, much bigger and thicker than the violas that I had seen in town. Why? Once again, my grandfather explained it to me.

"When I was young, I played along on a normal violin. But I wasn’t happy. I needed an instrument whose sound would fill the yard or even further and make people want to dance!… Then I bought this alto from a neighbour who had made it at home. I could see at a glance that it was much sturdier. He also sold me this short bow, the "straight" bridge and the three strings. In those days, he made the strings himself from chicken gut smeared with garlic and lightly dried on a special device. Curious, I impatiently asked my grandfather to see this machine. "No, that would be impossible he said." My neighbour is dead now and his children have moved to the city. Today, musicians buy their strings in stores".


© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Contra

The contrã (or the brace)

City of Carei in the Satu-Mare region Viola maker - Dumitru Iederan,
Museum of the Romanian Peasant
c. 1991
Wood, metal strings
Instrument: 66x24cm, H: 6cm, Bow: 46x3cm
© Museum of the Romanian Peasant


The contrã or brace is the viola used by shepherd's musicians in Transylvania (north-west province of Romania) to accompany taraf (small traditional group) music. The instrument is either built by a viola maker (here made by Dumitru Iederan of Carei) or bought in a store and converted.

The bridge of the contrã is lower than on a regular viola. Three strings are stretched close together on its flattened curve (A – D – G) and a short thick bow is used to sound all of them at the same time. Musicians use simple fingering to press the strings, playing only major chords (at various places along the neck) as required by the music. The contrã is used to accompany melodies with irregular rhythms (songs, ritual chants, shepherd's melodies) as well as dance tunes.

"Free" accompaniment describes a succession of chords obtained by irregular and fairly light movement of the bow on the strings.

The contrã is used to play dance tunes (Româneste, Fecioreste, De învârtit, etc.) very precisely and energetically highlighting the rhythm in quavers and semi-quavers. The direction of the bow changes Read More

The contrã or brace is the viola used by shepherd's musicians in Transylvania (north-west province of Romania) to accompany taraf (small traditional group) music. The instrument is either built by a viola maker (here made by Dumitru Iederan of Carei) or bought in a store and converted.

The bridge of the contrã is lower than on a regular viola. Three strings are stretched close together on its flattened curve (A – D – G) and a short thick bow is used to sound all of them at the same time. Musicians use simple fingering to press the strings, playing only major chords (at various places along the neck) as required by the music. The contrã is used to accompany melodies with irregular rhythms (songs, ritual chants, shepherd's melodies) as well as dance tunes.

"Free" accompaniment describes a succession of chords obtained by irregular and fairly light movement of the bow on the strings.

The contrã is used to play dance tunes (Româneste, Fecioreste, De învârtit, etc.) very precisely and energetically highlighting the rhythm in quavers and semi-quavers. The direction of the bow changes after each group of two quavers or semi-quavers.

The contrã often makes a good partner for a lightly prepared double bass. It is used for popular festivities (weddings, Sunday dances, etc.) either on its own or with other instruments when the melodies are played by one or more fiddles or viola's called ceterã. Dancers have to listen to the contrã carefully, otherwise they get entangled.


© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Contrã: Audio

Contrã: Audio

Canadian Heritage Information Network
Canadian Heritage Information Network, Centre des recherches et études andalouses, Centre des musiques arabes et méditerranéennes Ennejma Ezzahra, Musée de la musique, Laboratoire de recherche des musiques du monde, Musée acadien de l'Université de Moncton, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Musée d'art et d'archéologie de l'Université d'Antananarivo, Musée ethnographique Alexandre Sènou Adande, Musée national du Mali, St. Boniface Museum, Lycée de langues étrangères Alexandre Dumas, Museum of the Romanian Peasant

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand that music is an expression in all cultures
  • Understand that the relationship between personal feelings and music transcends borders and cultures
  • Develop respect for music from a variety of cultural contexts
  • Examine traditional music practices in selected Francophone countries
  • Demonstrate geographical awareness by identifying Francophone countries
  • Be aware of the musical contributions of various cultural groups in their own community
  • Understand that all world music can be organized within a standard classification system

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