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  • Author or Editor: Lynn Hooker x
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Every summer devotees of Hungarian folk music and dance attend camps in idyllic rural settings in Hungary, Romania, and North America where they study “authentic” repertoire with expert instructors. At such camps, traditional material is elevated on the altar of authenticity through constant comparison to the “real thing.” These comparisons underline the fact that North American camps are far away from the “homeland.” In other ways, however, these North American camps are their own homeland: they are a powerful nexus connecting people from different regions, creating what some frequent participants call an “instant community.” The unique character of these events is clearest at after-parties, when the “authentic” repertoire of scheduled programs is often displaced by popular forms from Hungary and Romania as well as genres from beyond the region. As the days and nights wear on, the atmosphere transforms from sacred rite to carnival. Drawing on fieldwork at camps in Hungary, Romania, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Quebec, and Michigan, I discuss how camps organizers and participants canonize “authentic” folk repertoire through conscious festivalization strategies. I then examine how the carnivalesque atmosphere of these camps both undermines purified concepts of “authenticity” and creates a sense of connection unique to North American camps.

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The tradition of European “classical music” has long evoked the exotic, and two of the most prominent exotic referents in that tradition are the Middle East, first and foremost the Turk, and the Hungarian Gypsy, raising the questions of how these “exotic” traditions are related, and what their comparison might tell us about the idea of musical exoticism more broadly. In this essay, I briefly survey the “Turkish style” and its use in Classical-period opera; discuss its replacement by Hungarian- Gypsy style in the nineteenth century; and finally examine the interesting juxtaposition of Turkish and Hungarian-Gypsy topics in two fin-de-siècle Central European operettas, Der Zigeunerbaron by the Austrian Johann Strauss Jr. and Gül baba by the Hungarian Jenő Huszka. An examination of these works and their reception reveals fissures between the Viennese and Budapest versions of operettas featuring “exotic” topics and characters, and between the operetta industries in the two cities. These details offer a fascinating look at the dividing line between exoticism and auto-exoticism and at the significance of references to Turkish and Hungarian- Gypsy topics in the Central European cultural climate of this period - in short, a reconsideration of what it means to be Hungarian, and for whom.

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The advent of a more open society in Eastern and Central Europe has created space for political and cultural freedoms unthinkable under state socialism, particularly for the Roma (Gypsy) minority. The years since the change of regime have revealed apparently insatiable appetites for “Gypsiness” among consumers, impresarios, and recording companies, and artists from the East Bloc, many of them from extremely modest backgrounds, have filled niches in the business of sating those appetites. Yet for many Roma in the region, the political changes of twenty years ago have been disastrous: the end not only of full employment and a robust social safety net but also of the limitations on free speech and rigidly enforced state monopoly on violence that hid racial tensions under a veil of oppression. This paper addresses the contrast between the conditions of the Roma population at large with the successes of a handful of successful musicians. It also considers the ways some musicians in Hungary are working to improve both the conditions for Roma and the perception of Roma by non-Roma in and out of the region.

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With a few exceptions, the scholarly literature on Hungary’s Gypsy music remains frozen in an increasingly remote past, in what Budapest journalist Imre Déri in 1912 called “the old patriarchal relationship between the Gypsies and the gentlemenmerry-makers.” Yet Gypsy musicians thrived in the twentieth century, through dramatic social and economic changes, adapting to new institutional frameworks and audience expectations. In the early days of the Hungarian Radio, culture brokers attempted to regularize sound production to fit the technical demands of this new medium, in the process asserting new controls over the musicians; their proposed changes led to a public conflict with the musicians, the “Gypsy war” of 1934. Under socialism the state initially strove to break the “feudalist-capitalist” framework of the previous system by closing restaurants, but then reopened them as sites for workers’ entertainment and tourist revenue; additionally, Hungary’s professional folk ensembles (created there and throughout the East bloc after the model of Igor Moiseyev’s ensemble in the USSR) filled the ranks of their orchestras with Gypsy musicians almost exclusively until the 1980s. Using oral history interviews and journalistic and archival sources, this essay shows how these artists sought both economic stability and recognition as they negotiated changing conditions.

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