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The Sirba in Romanian Fiddle Music


by Miamon Miller

The tune "Sîrba în Grădina" (literally, sîrba in the garden), is from the southern region of Romania known as either Muntenia or Wallachia. This area has a distinctly different history from that of Transylvania which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the close of World War I. Muntenia was ruled by the Ottoman Turks until it achieved independence in the second half of the 19th century.

There's not only a greater degree of ethnic homogeneity, the region has many distinctive musical characteristics, setting it apart from Transylvania. Perhaps most immediately noticeable is the scale which although utilizing an A major key signature, employs a raised 2nd and 4th degree as well as the lowered 7th. Even though the violin is typically the lead melodic instrument and an ensemble may have bowed or pizzicato bass and rhythm violin, accordions and a type of hammered dulcimer known as "ţambal" (pronounced 'tsambal' and most commonly known as 'cimbalom') are part and parcel of a larger group.

The sîrba is a line or circle dance and like many other regional dance genres is done at a fast tempo. Romanian transcriptions typically use a time signature of 2/4 even though melodically there is a distinctive triplet 6/8 feel. This transcription practice reflects the duple character of the dance and the musical accompaniment which for all instruments- with the exception of the cimbalom- are in 2/4. I've chosen the opposite tack and have transcribed this tune with a 6/8 time signature using duplets for the accompanying violin part. It's literally one of those 'six of one' choices. You may also notice that there are some seeming errors in the harmony where c-naturals clash with c-sharps in the melody. These crossrelations are not unusual as long as they occur in different octaves.

A few final observations: the word 'sîrba' literally refers to "Serbia". In other words, at some point, Romanians felt this dance reminded them of that they saw done by Serbs. Klezmer music has its 'bulgars' and Romanian its sîrbas.

Lastly, two points regarding orthography: Romanian has at various times in its history used two different symbols for the same vowel sound: î or â. In terms of the spoken language they are absolutely identical. Therefore, whether you may see the transcription written as "sîrba or sârba în grădina" there would be no difference in pronunciation.

Nouns that end in "ă" are feminine. Since the definite article is postposed and for feminine nouns it means changing the "ă" to "a", if you see sîrbă, the translation is "a sîrbă". However, if you see "sîrba" you would translate it as "the sîrba".




author bio

Miamon Miller has been playing the folk music of Eastern Europe for 40 years.  His performance credits include the Aman Folk Ensemble in Los Angeles as well as Fuge Imaginea, Bucovina Klezmer and Trei Arcusi.  Miamon initiated the Romanian and Trans-Carpathian music courses at the East European Folklife Center's summer workshops and taught them for nearly 15 years.   He has an MA in ethnomusicology from UCLA and was awarded a 10-month Fulbright scholarship in the mid 70s' to study a Romanian-Transylvanian instrumental genre.

Here is a guide to some Romanian pronunciations that Miamon sent.

A, a       - a as in father
Ă, ă     - a as in around
Â, â       - i as in girl (see Î)
E, e       - e as in let
I, i          - i as in machine
Î, î           - i as in girl
O, o       - o as in note; also o as in gone
U, u       - u as in duke
 
C, c       - c as in cello (ch) when before E or I, otherwise c as in cat
Ch, ch   - ch as in chaos (k)
G, g       - g as in germ (j) when before E or I, otherwise g as in go
Gh, gh  - gh as in ghost (g)
J, j         - z as in azure (zh)
Ş, ş     - s as in sugar
Ţ, ţ      - tz as in quartz (ts)
 
DIPTHONGS AND TRIPTHONGS:
 
The Romanian language has many dipthongs (and tripthongs), which are pronounced separately but in rapid succession. The weaker vowel almost becomes semiconsonantal. Examples are:
 
ai           - ai as in kaiser
au          - au as in sauerkraut
ău       - a as in about combined with u as in flute
ea          - ea as in bread
ei           - ei as in seine
eu          - eu as in feud
ia           - ya as in yacht
ie           - ye as in yes
io           - yo as in yoke
iu           - yu as in yule
îi            - i as in hike
îu           - similar to eu in feud
oa          - wa as in wash
oi           - oi as in spheroid
ou          - ou as in dough
uă         - wu as in wuther
eai         - yi as in yikes
eau        - yow as in yowl
ieu         - ieu as in lieu
 
The letter i at the end of a word is silent unless preceded by another letter i.
 
COMBINATIONS:
 
Ci, ci     - chi as in chief
Ce, ce   - che as in chess
Chi, chi             - chi as in Chianti
Ghe, ghe          - ghe as in ghetto
Ghi, ghi             - gee as in geese
Ge, ge              - ge as in genesis
Gi, gi     - gi as in giraffe




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