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Susanne Rosenberg: Photo by Lena Köster

Kulning – Herding Calls from Sweden

by Susanne Rosenberg, singer
together with Sven Ahlbäck, fiddler

Kulning - Herding calls, is a special high-pitched vocal technique, a vocal means of expression, mainly used by women in the grazing pastures in Scandinavia. It has been used at least since the Middle Age and functions primarily as a means of communication between the shepherdess and the animal and can be heard many miles away. Today kulning – herding calls are used in many different forms and surroundings: In concerts, as an ingredient in new compositions, as a vocal technique and therefore it still lives even thought the grazing pastures are not so common any longer.

Susanne Rosenberg, Swedish folk singer, artist and lecturer, presents a live performance of Kulning- herding calls with comments together with the fiddler Sven Ahlbäck.

This paper originates from notes used for a live presentation/concert held at the "Istituto Svedese di Studi Classici a Roma" at the PECUS conference and wasn't originally intended to be published as a paper. I have made some small changes in the manuscript, so that it should better fit in with the demand one should have on a written paper. But it still has the obvious characteristics of a live presentation. Hence, a good advice would be for the reader to listen to the recording of the music along with reading the paper to grasp the intension of the performance (

PECUS. Man and animal in antiquity. Proceedings of the conference at the Swedish Institute in Rome, September 9-12, 2002. Ed. Barbro Santillo Frizell (The Swedish Institute in Rome. Projects and Seminars, 1), Rome 2004.

Herding calls

Vallåtar från Gammelboning
in tradition after Nynäs-Stina Sundman, Gästrikland, Sweden
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice

Rikorpi låten
Traditional tune after the fiddler Gustaf Jernberg originating from Gästrikland, Sweden
Performed by Sven Ahlbäck, fiddle

We started off the concert with a traditional herding call from the middle of Sweden, often called "kulning". And after that you heard a polska – a traditional fiddle tune – based on a herding call.

There is much to say about both the environment and of this music itself regarding this specific tradition. I will try to bring about some feeling of the music, how it sounds when sung and played and also to provide some explaination. The tradition of using "kulning" in it's natural environment, the Swedish pastoral landscape, Anna Ivarsdotter will speak more about in her paper.

As you may have understood by listening, the herding call has no lyrics. You sing on the sounds that feels good and that helps you to get the message through! That doesn't mean that it has no meaning, because it has. It is communication! The cows that I called for would understand that I wanted them to come home to be milked. They would understand the signal.

As you may have noticed there are no cows here, so probably there are none around! It's a very loud way of singing and really not suitable for singing inside a room. If I stood outside I would easily have been heard for over 5 km in the woods or on a hill side, so if I went out in the Villa Borghese and did my herding call maybe somebody at the Basilica di San Pietro would be able to hear me (if it wasn't for all that traffic!).

You need to be heard. You want to be heard. You want to communicate. You want to make music. So you need a specific voice technique to do it in the specific environment that the forest and the hillsides are.

The women shepherdess lived the whole summer, maybe from May to October far away from the village by themselves in the woods or up on the hillsides at the summer pastures, taking care of the animals. They were constantly confronted with different kinds of dangers and threats. They needed to have a useful way of communication.

"Kulning" or herding calls is by tradition female singing style. Therefore the technique is very much adjusted to and developed from the possibilities of female voice. Compared to classical singing techniques as soprano voice you use a different timbre which can be obtained by using the resonance room in different way. In "kulning" you place your voice in the front of the mouth and instead of lowering the larynx as is common in classic singing you slightly raise it. The nasality of the sound and the way of starting every phrase and tone with a slight "pickup" also helps the sound to be straight and keep a clear direction of the voice. You often use the difference between the chest voice and the head voice to emphasize the originality of sounds. Especially when you do short, quick phrases often for small and quick animals like sheep and goat!

Grazing songs

But herding calls is not the only music used in the pastoral landscape. There is also other music that in one way or another is connected with the herding environment. Music that does not have that obvious function for communication but is just as important anyway. Songs that tells us a lot about the special working environment for the women in the forests. This music has got lyrics.

I will sing you four small songs that actually all of them tell the same story. The songs are from different parts of Sweden, from north to south, but they all come from areas where herding has been practiced and the tonality has the same features as in the music you heard before.

These songs comment on the dangerous and hard life that the women lived under during the summer, and tells us that there are a lot of things in the wood to beware of and to be afraid of: Thieves and robbers, wild animals as bears and wolves... There is a special phrase that always comes back in these songs and that is: "Twelve men in the wood"– and that could both actually mean "twelve men" that are around in the wood, maybe thieves and robbers, but it can also mean the dangerous bear that is said to have the strength of twelve men.

The songs usually have a poetic touch. And it's quite hard to translate as you can imagine. The lyrics is often sung with alliterations and rhymes and in dialect, so the translation below is just a very brief word by word translation, together with the Swedish lyric for you to get a hint of what the songs are about.

Stor'n stejn (The big stone)
Grazing song from Jämtland , Sweden
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice

Ja klettre opp på´n stor´n stejn,
lure så de höurles allt hejm:

Till tilleri torom,
tolv männer i skogom,
tolv kära vära dom.

Småhunnan hängde dom,
gehll´nbarna skrämde dom,
storoxen dängde dom.

Allt sen je höusle
a Gullros mi gaule

långt, långt, långt långt
sönna Dårfjälle.
I climbed up on a big stone
blow my birch-bark horn so they could hear it all the way home

till tilleri torom
twelve men in the forest
Twelve men they are

They hang the small dogs
They frighten the small goats
They hit the big ox

And at the same time I heard
(my cow) Gullros (Golden rose)mooing

far, far, far, far away
South of the Fools mountain

Ling, linge logen
Grazing song after Lena Larsson, Bohuslän, Sweden
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice

Ling linge logen
Tolfte man i skogen
Bjällekoe bunne'
Fy hundar hänge
Locka mig långt
uti Dårefjället gör de
Där varken vatten eller vete

Där gror löken, där gal göken
Där är bätter än här
Där är gossar att leka med
Ling, linge logen
Twelve men in the forest
The bell-cow they tie
The dogs they hang
And they lure/entice me into the
Fools mountain
Where there is neither water nor wheat

There the onion grows, and the cookoo call
There is better than here
There are boys to play with

Ti tu le lu le lu
Grazing song after Eva Eriksson, Gästrikland , Sweden
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice

Ti tu le lu le lu
Högt uppi berge'
Vad vill du?
Jag vill låna stora kitteln uta' dej
Vad skâ du me' den?
Jag ska koka stora lassen
till lörda' kväll

Vallhund' hängande
Skällkon bindande
Stor Oxen stingande
Fôlk kom å hjälp mej nu!
Ja' sitter ibland tolv skälmar här.
Ti tu le lu le lu
High up in the mountain
What do you want?
I want to borrow the big stew-pan from you
What do you want with that?
I shall cook for Saturday night

The shepherd's dog they hang
The bell-cow they bind
The big Ox they stab
People please come and help me!
I sit among twelve robbers here

Stora Oxen/ The big ox
Grazing song after Anna-Britta Moberg, Gästrikland, Sweden
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice

Stora Oxen ha de slagi'
Röda kon ha di tagi'
Å mej hänga de'
å mej hänga de'
å mej hänga de opp!
Skynden, skynden, skynden 'å!
Skynden, skynden, skynden 'å!
För rövarna i skogen gå
Kom nu!
The big oxe they have hit
The red cow they have taken
And they hang me up

Hurry up!

The robbers are in the forest
Please come at once

But then there are also songs that put a more humoristic view to the life of the summer pastures. You can understand by the lyrics to this next song that this is in the tradition of herding. The lyrics doesn't really mean anything, it's mostly just good words to sing on. But anyway there is a lot of goats and cheese and "stuff" that is clearly connected with the summer pastoral way of living. This is really some fine lyrics and great poetry, isn't it, especially the last verse!

Grazing song after Eva Eriksson, Gästrikland, Sweden
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice

Lillgubben uppå tallbacken,
två döttrar hade han.
Sålde bort sina skinnbyxor
å köfte stintorna gullband.

Getlycka, lôppsôcka,
min get å ja' me'.
Mine getter går i skogen
å gnaver barsken ‘tå trä.

Östnola på Gångbra berget,
där växer ett killingabet.
Då vi ska ut å geta
då ska vi fara dit.

Lillguben uppå tallbacken
Sot Olle speleman
Pannkaka slô tebaka
sötosten kom fram.

Hej hyfsa på killinga byfsa

tre kilo te luvo
En rö en å en blå en
å en mitt uppå kullo.

Mine getter skiter böner,
granngårdsstinten plôck upp,
kokar sig en bönvälling,
å så säger dom att de e' gott!
The little man on the pine slope
He had two daughters
He sold away his leather trousers
And bought gold ribbons to the girls

Goat happiness, flee stockings
My goat and myself
My goats walks in the woods
And gnaw off the bark from the trees

East on the mountain of good walking
There grows good kid grazing
When we go out with the goats
Then we will go there

Little man on the pine slope
Soot Olle, fiddler
Pancake hit back
The sweet cheese is coming

Hallo, put order to your goat trousers

three kilo for a knitted cap
one red and one blue
And one right on the top of the head.

My goats shit beans
The neighbours' girls pick them up
Make themeselves a bean porridge
And say that it tastes good!

Hia hia
Traditional polska tune from Härjedalen, Sweden
Performed by Sven Ahlbäck, fiddle

After this great lyrics you heard again a polska that was inspired from the tonality and form of this very song. Or maybe it's the other way around. This is something that we really can't tell. This is music that you learn by the ear. You learn it from someone and it doesn't matter if there is any author back many hundred years ago, you really don't care. It's how you learnt it and especially who you learnt it from that is important.

A herding call is mostly improvised – you call for someone or something and you can never know in advance how long time you have to call. It's like a cradle songs, you have to sing until the baby goes asleep or in this case until the cow comes home.

When you create and improvise the music you use small traditional melodic themes that you vary all the time. Usually I improvise – but because I want to show you a little more of different styles You will hear what could be regarded as a fixed improvisation. An improvisation that is clearly inspired from different shepherdess and different types of calls .- for cows, goats, sheep...and maybe there is also some calling for a men in this to!

Hommage á Karin
Traditional herding calls from Scandinavia
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice

Other music in the summer pastures

In this summer pasture there is not only the voice. There is also instruments as birch-bark horn, goat horn and cow horn ( Fig. 1). And melodies that are played on this instruments. Sven will play a beautiful cow horn melody on his fiddle and after that we will take a religious song that again has this special tonality that characterizes the herding music. The polska that is played after that is in it's turn inspired by the song. Or once again, maybe it's the opposite; maybe the polska has inspired the song and the herding tune?

The religious song has very nice lyrics which is about how you should rejoice the day that you were born. So this is a song that you could sing for your self to celebrate that happy occasion.

Vallåten efter Hjort Anders
In tradition after Ole Hjorth, Stockholm
Performed by Sven Ahlbäck, fiddle

Min födelsedag/ My birthday
Traditional religous song after Finn Jonas Jonsson, Dalarna
Performed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice and Sven Ahlbäck, fiddle

Min Födelsedag fö delsedag f rtjänar att jag
Ett tacksamhetsljud
Till himmelen sänder att prisa min Gud

Som skapat mig väl
Att jag av hans händer
få f tt lemmar och själ

Av skaparen bygd
I moderlivets skygd
Jag fången än låg
Med öron ej hörde med ögon ej såg

Min boning var trång
Jag stundom mig rörde
att slippa mitt tvång

Vid tidens förlopp
bröts fängelset opp
Gud förde mig ut
På trängsel och mörker var lyckligen slut
Då skådade jag
Folk byar och kyrkor vid himmelens dag
The day I was born deserves that I
Send a sound of greatfulness
to heaven to praise the lord

That He did create me well
So that I from His hand
got both body and soul

Created by the Lord
in my mothers womb
still captured I was
Didn't hear with my ears and didn't see with my eyes

I didn't have much room
So I moved about to get out

As time went along,
my prison was opened
The Lord brought me out
The darkness was ended
And then I saw people, villages and
churches at this heavenly day.

Gråtlåten/ the crying tune
Polska after Hjort-Anders, Dalarna
Performed by Sven Ahlbäck, fiddle

Herding calls today

Now we will end our concert with a new piece of music.

Today – as you might have understand already – this herding music have found new ways to be heard. This occasion or concert is proof of that!

Herding call or "kulning" is today used mostly outside the environment that it was created in and therefore it also has possibilities to survive while the natural environment has not. And for me it's a beautiful and powerful way of using the voice both for making music and to communicate.

I've used "kulning" in concerts in Tokyo and New York, with and without national costume, preventing getting assaulted in Stockholm and calling and founding lost friends in Helsinki. I've been using this technique both in new composed art music and with traditional folk music groups.

To sum up we will therefore end with a new tune that Sven wrote. This new herding call and polska he wrote last year for a concert in New York, were we performed it together with orchestra and folk soloist from all over the world.

Nya vallåten
Composed by Sven Ahlbäck, 2001
Peformed by Susanne Rosenberg, voice and Sven Ahlbäck, fiddle

Susanne Rosenberg

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About the Authors

Susanne Rosenberg, Folk singer
Senior lecturer, Royal University of Music in Stockholm
Department of Folk music,
Box 27711, 115 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Sven Ahlbäck, fiddler
Assisting professor, Royal University of Music Stockholm
Department of Folk music,
Box 27711, 115 91 Stockholm, Sweden

Music example 1-9 arranged by Susanne Rosenberg and Sven Ahlbäck,
Music example 10 composed by Sven Ahlbäck
© Copyright of the music: Udda Toner / Susanne Rosenberg & Sven Ahlbäck 2003
published by kind permission of the holder of copyright.

CD's with traditional herding call:
"Lockrop och vallåtar" / Caprice 21483
"Swedish Pastoral Music"/ Hurv KRCD-28:

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