Ladies and Gentlemen,

Polish singing traditions developed over the centuries in local communities have been fading into oblivion. The reasons for this situation are various: civilizational transformation, changing aesthetic fashions and preferences, negative stereotypes that distort the image of traditional culture, or finally – lack of continuators from the communities in which the tradition, knowledge and customs have been handed down from generation to generation.

The ethnographic and musicological archives, such as the Institute of Art’s at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw and MCSU’s in Lublin, contain thousands of songs. Can they still captivate today’s collective imagination of Poles? Can we save those valuable components of non-material culture from oblivion? Is a contemporary man raised in a different cultural code still able to read the ethical and ontological meanings from before hundreds or thousands years? What is the importance of singing songs whose functions were clearly defined and that belonged to the order governing local traditional cultures? Do we still believe in Adam Mickiewicz’s words that the song will survive?
We have been asking these questions since 1999, since the first edition of the Oldest Songs of Europe International Festival. The Festival constituted a part of a bigger yearlong programme implemented by the Muzyka Kresów Foundation that also organized Summer Schools, vocal workshops in bigger Polish cities, as well as conferences and presentations. All these activities aimed at the revival of rural singing traditions.

Several participants from different corners of Poland selected from among the hundreds of people connected with the Foundation’s programme formed the International School of Traditional Music Ensemble. The Ensemble in the years 1999-2003 practiced the singing techniques intensely, participated in field studies, met singers and musicians, organized scientific conferences, performed, and recorded albums. These activities, however, were slowly becoming less intense since the members graduated from universities, found new jobs and started their families. However, soon the new wave of the Ensemble started forming around Anastazja and Zofia Bernad.

This natural parting turned out to be also the beginning of a new stage in nearly all artists’ lives: they followed their individual paths towards traditional culture. In a few years these people became focal point of communities and organizations that realized their own, often long-lasting and international programmes focusing on the traditional culture. Thanks to them, traditional music in the urban context facilitated formation of communities, revealed talents, released energy, and articulated individual expression.

This year’s edition of the Festival is entitled The Return of the Singers and is devoted to those artists. We are very pleased to invite you to their concerts. The joy connected with the success of this cultural transplantation is accompanied by the awareness that those artists have taken up the mantle of preserving and handing down the values of traditional culture. We hope that it will continue to reveal the best in them and in their students, and they will still be able to combine the past with the future.

Monika Mamińska, Jan Bernad

© Crossroads Centre 2018
Photo: Roman Reinfuss (from the collection of Museum of Folk Architecture in Sanok)