In the northern part of Romania, there is a county named Maramures. It is well-known for its accurately preserved traditions and old customs. Among these traditions, music plays an outstanding part.
People from Maramures have a kind of round dance called 'hora'. It is basically lyrical music, with themes such as love, missing someone, mourning, army songs, lullabies, ballads, and carols. All these traditional songs make up the charm of this interesting Romanian region. The enchanting atmosphere created by singing and playing or dancing on this kind of music is completed by the beautiful traditional costumes that people wear, usually on special occasions.
Melody accompanies lyrics, but also musical instruments, either solo or within an orchestra. In this respect, we can distinguish a most fascinating particularity of the Maramures folklore―the virtuosity of interpretations has in fact reached unprecedented performances, by melting the musical notes with the tonality of words, in a perfect harmony. Thus, a legend said to belong to the beginning of the 20th century, referring to the stealing of some sheep, speaks about the great performance of a shepherd's daughter, who managed to communicate with the village people through a 'tulnic' (which as an archaic, pastoral instrument, a sort of didgeridoo, a few meters long). The beautiful thus obtained song is yet impossible to translate well into English, like many other typically Romanian traditional songs and poems. In fact, some words referring to deep emotions and concept are untranslatable, yet the ballad is very likely to touch hearts beyond language, like in most cases.
The most remarkable musical instruments in this Romanian region would be the tulnic, the whistle, and the violin or the 'cetera'. These are often accompanied by a 'zongora', which is in fact a regular guitar with two, three, or four chords. All these have recently been enriched with the so-called 'doba', which is an artisanal, middle-sized, two-membrane drum. The typical Maramures bands also includes a second violin (counter violin) and a 'gorduna', which is a sort of small contrabass (see Tiberiu Alexandru, 1989).
The remarkable thing is the lack of instruments is replaced by the rhythm of the dance, the hand-clapping, the stamping of the feet, which brings this contemporary cultural act closer to ancient rituals. The message is sent to the audience through a subconscious channel of communication, with the help of the melodic element. In prehistoric times, the word accompanied by music and dances was man's miraculous protector when facing the unknown, the frightening forces of nature, which needed to be softened.
The so-called 'leaf round dance' is on top of the typical dances here. It was initially signaled by a musicologist named Bela Bartok in 1923, but still persists nowadays only in the country of Lapus. The melody has no fixed form, and its duration is limited only by the context, and by the spiritual mood of the interpreter. The melodies of the song per se are built in regular verses and have a compact architecture. However, they allow certain melodic improvisations, which are either rhythmical or ornamental, depending upon the interpreter's virtuosity.
Concerning the symbiosis between melody and lyrics, we also have to mention the fact that this relationship is usually flexible, meaning that, the same poetic text is sung in different places, at different times, using different tunes. In other words, tunes don't necessarily have to be related to certain texts―they have an itinerary characteristic. The only exception to this rule are the carols, in which the tunes are strongly related to the texts, at least in certain regions or communities.
The choruses of the songs play an important part, both from the melodical and lexical point of view. Ostentatively repeated at certain time periods, the chorus is meant to induce a certain spirit, generated by the tune and the message of the words that compose it. Thus, a certain 'psychosis of words' is achieved,―these words turning into incantations that lead the souls from the profane, laic universe to the most mystical and sacred one.
We can therefore identify in the choruses of certain songs, lullabies or carols, a strong relationship with the sacred. These incantations and tunes were believed to have a purifying, prophylactic function for curing certain diseases and also cleansing one's spirit.