• “Playing the Fujara is like Archery”: Interview with the Fujara player Marco Trochelmann

    In real life, Marco Trochelmann is a high school teacher for music and German. Originally, he is a piano player and drummer, but he discovered the Slovakian bass flute Fujara already during his university studies. The instrument put such a spell on him; he could not take it out of his hands. Until today, he has been producing several Fujara CDs and compositions for the instrument. Marco Trochelmann also conducts workshops on a regular basis and he operates a comprehensive website called, dedicated to this extraordinary instrument. In an interview with Helen from DAN MOI he talks about his experiences as a cross-boarder musician in Slovakia and provides with an understanding of playing techniques and sound parameters of the Fujara. He says, “I have been living with the Fujara for over 20 years now and for me the instrument has still a lot to do with freedom, namely the freedom to explore and to research.”


    How did you discover the Fujara?

    Marco Trochelmann (MT): In 1997, I moved to Berlin to study music and German studies with the aim to become a teacher. My main instrument was the piano and besides that I practiced drumming and singing. I encountered the Fujara in a Berlin student digs. I intended to record some music with a fellow student. But he had a Fujara standing around, which a German instrument maker had stored at his place. The whole evening I tried out the instrument. There are still recordings with the Fujara and a dissected grand piano around from that evening. I was permitted to borrow the instrument. Finally, I had it for 10 years until the instrument maker wanted to have it back.

    When it comes to playing techniques, what must one observe to play the Fujara well?

    MT: You need to listen carefully. The instrument “tells” you, whether something is good or not. You need to practice in a focused and self-critical manner, play a lot and experiment, but more than anything else it is important to give yourself into the instrument, so that listening becomes eavesdropping.

    The fingerings have different “meanings”. The air pressure is decisive for what overtone is being addressed. Over the years, I realized playing the Fujara is like archery. It is pretty easy to shoot an arrow, but to hit what you’d like to hit is much more difficult. The same is true with the Fujara. You can play nice tones rather quickly as you don’t need a specific “approach” if compared to other instruments, but to play the tone that you aim to play is the real challenge. The higher the tone the more difficult it gets. “Easy to play, hard to master” hits the nail on the head for the Fujara.

    How are classical shepherd’s tunes characterized?

    MT: The classical Slovakian shepherd’s song form begins with an initial blow (rozfuk) that has often a personal touch. The connoisseurs of the art are able to distinguish who is actually playing. After a deep “murmur” this flourish changes into a melody. The melody is merely hinted at and is almost played in a jazz-like manner. Listeners that are familiar with the song may already recognize what will be played. Then, the singing part without any instrumental accompaniment follows. In the interludes the Fujara sounds again and at the end the melody is played one more time with the so-called prefuk, also known as woosh. The tonality is usually mixolydian. On the diatonic flute the basis of the most melodies is also a scale that starts at the quint tone of the basic tone, for instance basic tone G – tonality of the melody: D mixolydian (D major with c instead of c sharp).

    What experiences have you gathered at the Fujara festivals in Slovakia?

    MT: At the times of the festivals a lot of stuff happened for me in my little Fujara world. In this respect, 2004, 2008, and 2013 were particularly important years for me. I got to know Pavol Smutny, Winfried Skrobek, Winne Clement, Dusan Holik, Milan Koristek, and many more. Fujara players, makers, friends – people I have communicated through the internet with in the preceding years, people that I may have met on Facebook or Youtube materialized right in front of me and there was a surprising and uncommon atmosphere of familiarity. Exchange, inspiration, motivation, and a sense that things were starting to happen. We played concerts in Detva and Zvolen and performed together on the big stage in Detva during the folklore festival in 2008.


    I received quite some praise and acknowledgement for my extraordinary Fujara sound. Many were interested, but there were also critical voices as my play was very far away from the traditional Fujara music.

    Then out of the blue Dusan Holik, the founder and main organizer of the international Fujara festival, passed away after a heart attack in 2017 and currently nobody knows when and where a next international Fujara festival is gonna happen in Slovakia.


    What role does the Fujara play in the national culture of Slovakia?

    MT: Today, the Fujara is known in the whole of the country, but it will be mainly played in the Podpol’anie region around Detva. There, the Fujara tradition is still alive. In my point of view, the fact that Slovakians re-discovered the instrument is connected to the UNESCO declaring the Fujara (and its traditional melodies) to the world culture heritage in 2005. That attracted international attention and produced a kind of feedback effect. Many makers realized that the Fujara was acknowledged in other countries and that is why young Slovakians also started to gain interest in the instrument. National groups began to use the Fujara as a status symbol and meanwhile it is also a symbol of Slovakian national pride.

    Is there a scene for the Fujara on an international stage and has there been an upswing of the instrument in recent years?

    MT: I believe, the first international Fujara wave happened at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Back then, the instrument was quite popular with the world music scene in Switzerland. Gérard Widmer started quite early to combine it together with the didgeridoo player Willi Grimm.

    Around the millennium the internet and finally the acknowledgement as UNESCO World Heritage in 2005 were 2 factors that extremely helped. I appear to belong to a group of musicians that have been riding on the second wave.

    Who comes to you to learn the instrument?

    MT: People who encountered the Fujara and who are deeply moved by it and its sound, and now look for a teacher. The stories how the people found their way to the instrument are totally different. Frankly, it is not quite normal to encounter the Fujara and then wanting to play it (except for people in Slovakia perhaps). At my workshops or my private lessons completely different people from diverse parts of the society find their way to me, but I experience all of them as curious people on a quest. Among them, of course we also have the professional musician who feels like getting to know the Fujara and who wants to save some time by getting clear guidance. The people are great and I like it a lot. The Fujara as a reason to meet seems to be a good reason.

  • Queen of the flutes: the bass flute Fujara

    During the opening celebrations of the cultural centre of the Slovakian town of Detva, which was conducted by the president of the parliament (and the later president) of Slovakia, Ivan Gašparovič, he gave a memorable present at the reception of his guests. He accepted the invitation of the host to play a piece on the Fujara that calls the very region its home. Without a moment of hesitation, Gašparovič began to play a piece on the bass flute that has the height of a man. No other gesture could have conveyed to the town of Detva that Gašparovič is connected to Slovakian culture. 

    Photo by Tibor Szabo.

    Detva is located at the bottom of a valley near the West Carpathians in Central Slovakia. Since the 1960’s, the small town is well-known as a centre of vivid Slovakian folklore. Detva is also the cradle of the shepherd’s flute Fujara. In the memory of the Slovakians, the Fujara has accompanied the concept of national sovereignty and independency for more than 300 years. With the founding of Slovakia in 1992, the Fujara became not only a cultural, but also a national symbol. Ivan Gašparovič himself was often giving one of these extravagant instruments as a gift to his state visitors. The Fujara can be seen in this field of tension between national roots, cultural adaptability, and modern adaption.

    It is the distinctive size, the form and the sound that make the Fujara something special among the European flutes: its sound is deep, smooth and organic. At the same time, it also sounds agile, strange and futuristic, which is due to the dazzling high overtones up to 4 octaves. The melodies originate by skillfully combining hand movements with overblowing the basic tones. That’s how those special sounds come to life. They roar, flow, gently scream, call out, and time and again find rest in murmuring sound colours.

    Instrument of Outlaws and Shepards

    Among the Slovakian Fujara masters there are names like Pavol Smutný, Tibor Kobliček, Juraj Kubinec and Dušan Holík. They know how to play the traditional way. The Fujara music is based on a handed-down repertoire of shepherd’s and bandit’s songs. Yes, bandits and thugs were also companions of the Fujara. As the history of Central Slovakia goes, they were supposedly living on the meadows and in the woods, practically close neighbours of the region’s shepherds. When shepherding the herd, the shepherds were playing various flutes. Two of them are well-known: the little Koncovka and the big Fujara. The Koncovka is sometimes called the little sister of the Fujara. Its size is approx. 50 cm and it does not have any grip holes. The tones are merely generated by overblowing and opening as well as closing of the lower opening of the flute. The bigger flute, the Fujara, was considered as the instrument of the herd leader and highest-ranking shepherd. The smaller Koncovka was rather played by his assistants. That is also one of the reasons the Fujara is being called the “queen of the Slovakian music instruments”.

    The above-mentioned close vicinity of shepherds and social outsiders is reflected in the portfolio of the Slovakian songs: those songs do not merely tell about the life with nature and an emphasis on humane and sincere interconnections. Those are also improvised pieces that reconstruct the flow of the river or the murmuring of the trees. The disenfranchised people that lived outside of the villages incorporated the call for justice and freedom against occupation and suppression into their songs. The robbers and the bandits of the 17th century are also the ones that are considered as fighting for Slovakian independency. Their most well-known representative was the robber Juraj Jánošík who today is regarded as a national hero.

    Fujara Playing Technique

    The handed-down songs for the Fujara combine instrumental play and singing. That’s why the Fujara players have been good singers, too. A performance usually begins with the signature motif, a signal that is called rozfuk. The whole range of tones is played from the highest until the lowest tone of the instrument. Traditionally, on the Fujara a 12-tone, Mixolydian scale is being played. After the opening tune rozfuk follows the first strophe, which is freely played with rich improvisations. Right after the Fujara player stops playing, he starts singing the strophe, to present the text to the listener. The master Ladislav Libica gives an example of such traditional performance in the recording of the tune “Kade idem, vsade trniem”, „Wherever I go, I tremble“: 

    The size of the Fujara is impressive. Its tube is up to 200 cm long. It is rarely shorter than 140 cm. The player holds the instrument vertically in front of the body. Due to its length, the Fujara is played with a mouthpiece that is connected to the body of the instrument and thus makes it easier to play. The blowing technique is similar to the one of the South American Moseño flute. That is why the Fujara (same as the Moseño) is relatively easy to play. Equally to the recorder the tone is generated by a so-called windway. The player blows air through the pipe and a tone emerges instantly. The challenge of playing the Fujara well lies in applying the correct grip and breathing technique.

    The Fujaras have three grip holes at the front and they are located at the lower third of the instrument. The player often needs to stretch his or her arms to reach the grip holes. The middle finger of the left hand covers the most upper grip hole. The right hand is being led to the lower tone holes. The thump of the right hand covers the middle grip hole and the middle finger the lower tone hole. In general, the Fujara does not have a grip hole for the thump at the back of the pipe. A video shows the fingers of the highly recognized Fujara master Dušan Holík at work:

    Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the origins of the Fujara. There is certainty that the making of those instruments can be dated back to the 17th and 18th century. Possibly, other music instruments of the art music sector played a role in its evolution. The bassoon and the Baroque bass recorder may have provided inspiration for making the Fujara. 

    The Fujara in the 21st Century

    Any Fujara is unique and something special. The instrument is still being hand-made. That is why every single one of them follows an individual aesthetic and tonal concept. Over the years, responding to demand the construction method was continuously adapted to the needs of the musicians. Today’s instruments meet the current needs as they are easily transportable, perfectly tuned and therefore combinable with other instruments. The distance of the grip holes, too, is slightly more convenient if compared to older instruments.

    The length of DAN MOI Fujaras are 150 cm or 170 cm and they are made of elder-wood. They have a splendid production quality, are well-tuned, and carefully treated to last for a long time. The flutes are tuned to the 4 basic tones A2, B(H)2, C#3 and D3 or G2, A2 B(H)2 and C3. The newly developed Fujara Integral, with which you can improvise wonderfully, can be played more intuitively. The range can be extended by many tones of the overtone series. When blowing the breathing air into the instrument with a varying intensity more tones of the overtone range can be produced by applying the “overblowing” technique. The Fujaras of DAN MOI are made by a Slovakian instrument maker who has his studio in Czechia. The Fujaras have a delicate ornament in the upper part of the flute. The surface of the flute is treated with linseed oil. They also bear a valve by which condensation water emerging during playing can be discharged.

    Today, there are more Fujara players than ever, not only in Slovakia, but also in other countries of Europe and the American continent. Meanwhile they are rarely shepherds, but work e.g. as doctors, teachers, electricians or lawyers. New compositions for the melancholic bass flute emerge, and more and more people become interested in the instrument. For many years, musicians from jazz or world music have discovered the Fujara and have been bringing her into play in various settings. Musicians as Marco Trochelmann, Bernhard Mikuskovics or Max Brumberg have made the Fujara popular beyond national borders. Nowadays, the Fujara with its touchingly deep and smooth sound is used for therapeutic purposes or for meditation.

    In Slovakia itself awareness for the Fujara has been significantly raised with the won independence in 1993. After the founding of the Folklore Festival and with instrument research in the 1960’s a first increase was already perceivable, in 1975 a Fujara competition for players and instrument makers followed. The latter can be seen as the starting point for the revival of the instrument and its repertoire. The Fujara has become known throughout Slovakia, though its traditional centre is still located in the region of Podpol’anie, Central Slovakia.

2 Item(s)