Vozembouch from Czech Republic


A folk-band instrument (staff topped with bow hung with rattles)

An encyclopaedic dictionary describes a vozembouch (a folk-band instrument – a staff topped with a bow hung with rattles) as an accompanying rhythmical musical instrument. However, this stark definition does not even begin to express the charm of this special instrument. Today the vozembouch recalls on one hand the nostalgia of bygone days; on the other hand it brings merriment, since one can hardly help laughing when looking at this rather peculiar musical instrument. Basically it is a picturesque movable set of percussion instruments and an imaginative musician can do wonders while playing it. Although you may not encounter the vozembouch very often, practically everybody knows it or, more precisely, those who have seen it are certain to never forget it.
Today it is difficult to establish with certainty when the vozembouch originated and what paths of historical development it followed. It is without doubt of very ancient origin; you can imagine – in the mist of ancient times – a man creating a rhythm by striking a piece of wood to the ground and hitting it with another piece of wood from time to time. In the Middle Ages the annals already mention the vozembouch as a rhythmical musical instrument. At that time it was fitted with a string which was played with the use of a bow – later this variant was to develop into a musical instrument called the trumšajt.
The vozembouch has undoubtedly several advantages: it looks good, creates a great deal of noise, is perfect for setting a rhythm and is easy to move. It is indeed a traditional folk instrument, perhaps the only one people still like to manufacture for their own pleasure as well as for more serious playing. Its basic part is a long firm bar, usually made from beech wood, hung with different objects which produce sounds. And what kind of objects can be used? They can be very traditional: tambourine, washboard, small drums, larger and smaller bells, small cymbals, etc. However, they can also be quite unusual, such as tins, metal bottle caps... The vozembouch can be adorned in the traditional manner with colourful ribbons, or quite originally, for instance, with a tie. Its top can be crowned by a decorative cymbal or a little carved wooden head. In this respect there are unlimited possibilities. Only two traditional conditions must be fulfilled – the vozembouch has to be interesting to look at and has to sound good.
The possibilities of the use of the vozembouch are surprisingly wide; the instrument is used to set rhythm in traditional pipe orchestras, folklore musical ensembles, choirs and brass bands. Thanks to its archaic origin it is also used by ensembles focusing on medieval music and its ability to create special sound effects makes it attractive for modern groups as well. It can also be part of minimalist home music bands –vozembouch and accordion or guitar is a popular combination.
The vozembouch is a popular musical instrument at informal dances and club and village celebrations. It is loved by amateur musicians with a sense of humour and popular entertainers, since it goes well, for instance, with the accordion or guitar – such a combination can even re-create the performance of a small orchestra.
The vozembouch was used to accompany various celebrations and important events connected with the cycle of the year and in some regions it continues to be used for this purpose even nowadays. It was popular, for instance, with carollers who used to be accompanied by it in the Epiphany and Shrovetide periods while they strolled through villages. In certain Moravian villages, the same kind of dance is seen at feasts as was seen back in the Middle Ages, with dancers gathered in a circle and moving only to the accompaniment of songs in which the vozembouch sets the rhythm.
The vozembouch is a kind of a joker among musical instruments – it is merry like a joker, omnipotent like a joker and similarly difficult to classify. It is jokingly said that the vozembouch is an instrument for people who are unable to learn notation, but would nevertheless like to play in an orchestra. However, the vozembouch requires a precise sense for rhythm and a great deal of creativity on the part of the musician.
There are real vozembouch virtuosos, virtuosos who are the pride and core of an orchestra and who are even able to assert themselves as soloists, since the vozembouch is an excellent musical instrument for all those who like to be different, who like to attract attention. However, this requires a great deal of exhibitionism, as the vozembouch is not an instrument to be played by the shy.


Hana Tillmanová

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