The focus of this year’s festival is to present masters performing together with pupils. And although today it may be quite an obvious formula, it wasn’t like that for a long time. In the beginning of the 1990s, when we and a group of friends set off into the Mazovian and Lublinian countryside, we must have been the only “youths from the city” who wanted to learn dancing obereks and singing old songs and were delighted to hear the musicians’ tales and anecdotes. The Musicians received us with disbelief, since nobody in their home villages had been interested in them and their music for a long time, and wouldn’t have dreamt about learning to play. What for? Both the music and the musician’s ethos had been rejected by urban and rural modernity and were to be dumped and replaced by more contemporary and worldly rhythms. No young people, whether in the city or in the country, played obereks and mazurkas, nor did they sing folk tunes anymore.
Soon after, officially in April 1995 the Warsaw – based House of Dance was established. Now we celebrate its twentieth anniversary. The idea behind it was simple: invite good country bands (of which there were still dozens in existence), let them play dance music and learn as much as we could from them. The circle started to grow and multiply, more and more young people wanted to play music country style.
Genuine crowds came to dance. And then the next stage started, that of summer activities called “caravans”, which attracted many people. Still, the phenomenon was a niche. At the same time a generation was growing up in Poland, who never heard Polish folk music, never danced a traditional dance and who would not believe that they even existed near them.
When we initiated the All Mazurkas of the World festival in April 2010 our goal was to reach out to a wide audience with the message that Polish country music was not a museum piece that belonged behind the glass or in a heritage park, but a current creative form and part of contemporary culture. We wanted to emphasize that village musicians and singers were Master Artists whom we could listen to with pride and emotion like we do to pop stars. We proposed weekly workshops with those Masters, creating a space for personally experiencing the making of music together.
During the next five years we have observed a growing interest in traditional music across Poland. More and more young people were seeking out Masters in the country. And musicians who had been nearly forgotten were now becoming targets of „pilgrimages” and enjoyed growing admiration and respect. There have been many successful attempts at taking over the repertoires and musical styles of old masters by the students who learnt by way of close personal relations and reaching back to the sources in rural communities. The Kolberg Year proved especially effective with this respect, as well as the grassroot initiative called Schools of Tradition. The first Convent of the Schools of Tradition during the autumn edition of the All Mazurkas of the World Festival in November 2014 made it clear that actions implemented at the places from which the music comes are of great importance.
One would think the change is an attribute of the pupils. Well, as it turns out in the course of the joint activities the masters have changed too. They have undergone an „update’ of sorts. The music was needed and the people were needed too.
Now we are able to create a festival focused on master – pupil communication. We do not ask the pupils where they came from, the city or the countryside, this region or that one. Nor do we tell them which workshops to pick. They choose the region and the Master themselves. Their freedom and passion direct them and make them go on crazy escapades on their dime. Some ethnographers and instructors find it inadmissible. They say „This student is from the wrong village”. They do not appreciate how refreshing it is to have a student from far away.
I remember the workshops we had as a group of students of Jan Gaca in a school in Nieznamierowice. As the first order of things we would introduce ourselves, saying “I came from Wrocław and I’m here to learn to dance”, or „I came from Toruń and I’m here to learn the drum”, or „I came from Lublin and I learn the violin from Jan Gaca”. Our hosts felt like they were the centre of the universe, and quite rightly so.
What are the prospects of the “Pupils” generation? Singers and musicians are there to serve the community. But what to do when the 21st century communities fall apart or fail to emerge altogether? Maybe the music itself has the potential to create and strengthen human relations and build communities? Maybe apart from carrying sounds and styles into the future, they will also transport the world of strong feelings and long lasting relations enchanted into the melodies.
The “Music of Kielce Region” concert gathers Masters and pupils of this musically rich province. A musical bridge between Poland and Austria will be built during the “Warsaw – Vienna Railway” concert. And finally, the “Masters and Students” concert is going to demonstrate the different stages in the process of learning from six Masters from different regions.
It is our tradition to invite you as well to participate in singing, dancing and instrument playing workshops that will fill our days from Tuesday till Saturday.
We hope that the Old Tradition competition will reveal new talents to us and the festival clubs and Dance Night will allow even the most demanding dancers to trip the light fantastic. There will be a Fair, where instrument builders will provide tools to anyone who needs them and the Little Mazurkas will give much joy to children and parents.
Can anyone try dancing, singing or playing a musical instrument? Only a couple of generations ago music skills were pretty common. Almost everyone in the country (and the city) could sing and dance, and there were musicians in every village. People would meet and compare their versions of the folk songs. One could dream.
Our heartfelt thanks go to everyone who supports the idea of All Mazurkas of the World.
We wish you great many thrills and excitement, and discovering your Master.
Long live the Mazurkas!
Long live the Masters!
Long Live the Pupils!