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Strings of Tradition - What is Kanklės?

Hi everyone! Welcome to my first blog post, I thought it is important to start with what the kanklės actually is and how it all began. I have been playing this instrument for more than half my life, but I am still learning new things about it every day. Since it is not as old as other well-known instruments, I believe there are simply too many undiscovered things.

Kanklės can be traced back to the 15th century, when it was used to accompany people singing in church, and later in folk music. However, it is essential to note that the kanklės did not look like the ones you see in the photo above.

The traditional (first) kanklės was made from a block of wood and only had 5 - 12 strings, depending on the region of Lithuania.

If you would like to learn more about the various types of traditional kanklės, click here:

The traditional instrument carries a beautiful and significant message, which can also be applied to modernised kanklės. When a family member died, people would go to the forest and cut a tree to make the traditional kanklės. They believed that whenever you played the instrument, the dead person spoke through the strings. With that said, I take this message to heart and try to carry it with me to every concert I perform at; not only does it help me get into the right mood when performing, but it also puts listeners in the right frame of mind, especially if the music is nostalgic or sad! If we allow our mind, it can be really used to try and hear what the instrument is 'saying'. Following this heartfelt message, it is easy to see why it has been dubbed the "singing tree" by some!

As you probably guessed, the traditional kanklės could not be used in concert settings for a few reasons: first, due to string limitations, only folk songs could be played, and second, the instrument's size means it may not be best suited to playing in larger settings because it is simply too quiet.

In 1964, attempts were made to transform traditional kanklės into concert kanklės, showing a desire to integrate the instrument into Western Europe's Classical music scene. The concert kanklės, now with 29 strings, has a four-octave range and includes chromaticism using metal levers placed on the side of the instrument.

Kanklės are still evolving, with masters of the instrument experimenting and adding more strings. Trust me, even one extra string on the instrument can make a huge difference! And, yes, electric kanklės are a thing now, which makes it easier to amplify the instrument in larger halls but may alter the instrument's original sound.

Thank you for taking the time to read my first post! In the following posts, I will discuss the instrument's popularity in and outside of Lithuania, how it is played, our music repertoire, and much more!


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