Living Foundations of Folk Culture
They were guests of more than three hundred places, held about four and a half thousand concerts. They have been publishing the ”Gudalo” magazine already since the XIX century, initiated the founding of the educational department for traditional dances, have their own Scientific and Investigative Board, Workshop for the Reconstruction of Costumes, ethno-musicology field research. All this clearly indicates the contribution of ”Gusle” to original Serbian culture and folk art

Text: Marina Gorski, Aleksa Komet
Photo: ”Gusle”

Academic Society for Cultivating Music ”Gusle” from Kikinda is the oldest cultural and artistic society in Vojvodina and one of the oldest in Serbia. Its beginnings were a hundred and forty years ago, when an attorney from Kikinda, Milan Petrović, organized the Singing Society ”Gusle”. That society soon began attracting singers-enthusiasts, amateurs, as well as people educated in music, authors remembered in the cultural history of Serbia. For example, composer Josif Marinković was appointed kapellmeister after an open competition. The present director of ”Gusle” Society Zoran Petrović reminds us of it:
– Josif Marinković spent two years here as kapellmeister, followed by other excellent composers of the time: Robert Tolinger and Hranislav Hartl, as well as conductors Matijas Melihar, Franta Vah, Radivoj Terzić and many others. If we also add the unselfish help of Milan Paču, PhD, considered the founder of piano school in Serbia, it is clear that strong foundations have been set from the very beginning. The Society was ready to resist the challenges of turbulent times. Already at its founding, Milan Petrović fought persistently for two years to receive a registration license from the Austro-Hungarian authorities. The first official performance of the Singing Society ”Gusle” was on February 14, 1876.
That date is considered as its beginning. Already in the last decade of the XIX century, ”Gusle” was the strongest Serbian singing society.
– They became famous for their activities very quickly, so they started receiving invitations for guest performances – continues Zoran Petrović. – Chronicles state that the society performed in Arad, Timisoara, Szeged, Novi Sad, and in 1887 won first place at the big competition of singing societies. It is a kind of a milestone, which led Milan Petrović and Robert Tolinger to initiate the forming of the Union of Singing Societies. They waited more than twenty years to realize their idea, and it happened only in 1910 in Sombor. ”Gusle” was one of the founders.
The society is also important for promoting chorus music by publishing the Gudalo magazine, from 1886 until this day.
– It was the first music magazine in the Balkans, and Petrović and Tolinger had the biggest contribution in its establishing. Earlier issues included texts, reviews and critiques of pieces of music, events and performances, as well as new compositions of local authors. However, the latest issue of Gudalo writes about ethno-musicology and ethno-chorology subjects. It is a result of the successful project ”Gusle” has been involved in since 2002: an ethno-camp researching the folklore tradition of Banat. Through this project, we managed to connect experts (ethno-musicologists, ethno-chorologists and ethnologists) with practicians. The model proved to be successful, because we encouraged many experts to take a more active part in the work of cultural and artistic societies, and their managers to educate and actively cooperate with experts from similar fields.


Ethnological research keeps reminding us of the richness of Serbian cultural heritage, expressed through tradition and customs. The ”Gusle” Society continues cultivating the long ago taken over mission to revive the creative spirit of Serbian people in Banat and beyond, although contemporary times impose very challenging standards.
– Modern times request greater dynamics, stronger expression and effects. We often see the result of someone’s work on stage, not based on traditional music folklore. Not wishing to depreciate such an approach, we tend to have the real traditional folklore, which we discover through our own and numerous other research, as the basis of staged musical works we present to the audience. Folklore thus receives a completely new dimension. We are sure that ”Gusle” contributed to a significant change of the approach to performing at least Serbian dances from Banat in the past ten or so years.
Director Zoran Petrović especially emphasizes that the ”Gusle” Society initiated the founding of the department for educating experts in the field of traditional dances. The department was established in Kikinda in 2006.
– The Traditional Dances Teacher department within the College of Professional Studies for educating teachers, is unique in Serbia. The role of our Society in starting this project was very important, and the useful effects are that our present ensemble, as well as the entire professional team for folklore dances, has all necessary professional qualities and qualifications. With the founding of this department, the state accepted that there was a need for such a vocational profile. It admitted that there is serious professionalism in this field, which is one of the rare good examples in the education and school system reformation today.


Academic Society for Cultivating Music ”Gusle” has more than six hundred active members, distributed in six groups of folklore schools, as well as in numerous orchestras, ensembles, sections, singing groups, choruses.
– The Society also has a Scientific-Research Board, involving numerous reputable experts of ethno-musicology and ethno-chorology – continues Zoran Petrović. – It is also important to mention the Costumes Workshop, which achives supreme results in the reconstruction of folk and stage costumes. Besides manufacturing faithful replicas by ourselves in our workshop, purchasing original pieces of folk costumes is also a good way of forming an excellent costumes’ fund. Unfortunately, there are not many contributors, and they rarely give away valuable pieces of folk costumes. Unlike museums, ensembles use the folk costume as stage costume, which is a good way of making traditional art more popular. Perhaps ethnologists and curators would be angry if we said that we represent a moving museum on stage, but there is certainly some truth to it. Although our costumes are not in depots and exhibition windows, we do our best to maintain them well, keep and wear them with respect. We also have the Society Friends’ Club, whose member can become anyone with a good will and wish to cooperate in realizing our programs and events.
During its hundred and forty years of working, the Academic Society for Cultivating Music ”Gusle” won many important awards, including Sparkle of Culture from 1976 and Vuk’s Award from 1986.
– Besides numerous awards, we should mention that our Girls Chorus won third place at the international festival held in 2001, in the Czech Olomouts, in the competition of a hundred and one choruses from all over the world. The Big Folk Orchestra won Grand Prix at the International Festival in Radnev, Bulgaria in 1999, in the competition of professional ensembles. We successfully organized the International Festival of Pipers, as well as the International Festival of Folk Orchestras, with more than sixty ensembles from eight countries. We were guests of more than three hundred places in the country and abroad, made more than four and a half thousand concerts. We printed many compositions. We are especially proud of the fact that we organized the first radio broadcast in Serbia in 1931.
”Gusle” has been gradually restoring the space of the Kikinda Kurija for more than ten years, and already use a large part of it for their needs.
– The Society is not the only user of this building and that sometimes disturbs our and the work of institutions next to us. If the initiative of the cultural department of the Municipality of Kikinda succeeds, to finally get our own space and adapt it for our needs according to highest standards, it will be a great step forward – says Petrović. – It is one of the preconditions to have more young people joining us, to become actively involved in music and traditional folklore. Many programs for which we didn’t have conditions for could thus be realized. We considered it a sign that, regardless of the economic and general crisis, there is still a will to preserve traditional culture in Serbia.


– We financed most of the adaptation of the Kikinda Kurija with our own resources, while since 2007, we had big support from the local authorities – says Zoran Petrović. – We have achieved high standards in the halls used by dance ensembles. We are now completing the restoration works on the Kurija yard, which meets all conditions to become one of the best open staged musical spaces in Serbia.


These are not Windmills
– The idea and objectives such as ours may seem to someone as a battle of Don Quixote – says Zoran Petrović. – But, since the satisfaction from this is not in the material things, it is sufficient to see a smiling children ensemble, experience ovations at the end of a concert or be asked for an encore, in order to be completely certain that this is the real thing. A thing worthy of, if needed, tilting against windmills.


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