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Jan Maliszewski

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Through the generations with a ligawka

In December, in the regions of Mazowsze and Podlasie, one may still hear the sound of a traditional Polish wind instrument, ligawka, calling for the participation in the Advent dawn mass. This shepherd’s instrument, already known in the 11th century, has three tones: two low and one high. Ancient signals survived to this day in an unchanged shape, and every region has its own melody.

These old instruments have no secrets from Jan Maliszewski. This 90 year-old smith is the oldest ligawka player in the region. In his family, playing a ligawka is nothing unusual. A professional himself, he was taught to play it by his dad, who, in turn, learnt it from his own father. All men in the family can play the instrument. Nowadays, this tradition is continued by Jan’s sons and grandsons.

In the old days, if someone wanted to play a ligawka, he had to build it himself. The instrument is made of one-year-old wood. A branch is cut in half lengthways and carved out with a chisel, leaving the outer surface untouched. When the halves are carved out, they are glued together and sealed. The instruments used to be filled with water and exposed to frost to make ice insulate the crevices. The instrument is quite big and heavy. Its name is etymologically connected with the action of liganie, that is, resting the instrument on some other object while playing. When Jan Maliszewski takes part in a contest, the instrument is held by a youth. Ligawki are played during the Advent to announce that Christmas is approaching. Although this centuries-old tradition was almost entirely abandoned in the post-war Poland, it has been revived thanks to the effort of local enthusiasts and numerous contests held in many local towns (e.g. Ciechanowiec, Jabłonna Lacka, Łochów, Siedlce and Sokołów Podlaski). Besides, this beautiful tradition survived thanks to such people as Jan Maliszewski, who continues to go out of his house in the time of Advent and play the ligawka. And then, almost immediately, his neighbour answers his song on his own instrument.

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03-804 Jabłonna Lacka
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