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The American Musical Instrument Society


The Curt Sachs Award 2004

Ivan Mačák —Preserver of Slovakia’s Musical Heritage

Twenty years ago, as its president, I attended a meeting of CIMCIM (the International Committee for Musical Instruments of the International Council of Museums) organized by Ivan Mačák at Dolna Krupa castle near Bratislava. The aim of the meeting was to bring together representatives of CIMCIM and the Working Group on Folk Music and Instruments of ICTM (International Committee for Traditional Music).

The dark drive from the airport to Dolna Krupa made us aware of how difficult the situation was in this land and how different life here was from that in the west, which enjoyed freedom. At 9 o’clock in the evening, no people were in the streets and all the curtains of the houses were drawn. During the meeting at Dolna Krupa, a curtained van stood outside the castle, giving us the impression that we were being watched all the time. We wanted to call home, but that was not at all easy. I was advised to call from the post office in Bratislava so that no one would be involved in letting me use their telephone. Later, walking in the square in Bratislava, Ivan Mačák whispered to me that the man cleaning the square was an intellectual with a doctorate in science. These images have remained imprinted on my mind. I felt that by coming to Slovakia we had given hope to colleagues who wanted to discuss how to save their countries’ heritages.

In Slovakia political events of the 20th century have had great impacts on cultural activities. I remember seeing Czech soldiers marching down the streets of Antwerp as part of the German occupation forces; then Europe was divided into the western and eastern parts, and the Czechs and the Slovaks were forced to coexist. After 1950 a barbaric suppression of religion began in Slovakia, harming the cultural life. The Soviets began to liquidate religious institutions, imprison monks and priests, prohibit the activities of the church, and loot and burn historic documents, old musical instruments, and other precious objects. It has been said that the destruction that occurred in Slovakia during this period exceeded that caused by the wars of several centuries.

The fall of the Communist regime in 1989 had a positive effect on the possibilities for free expression and international contacts. A deeper understanding of the relationships of musical instruments to their environments and especially to the concept of culture was developed at the beginning of the 1990s as the problem of the coexistence of the Czechs and Slovaks in a common state was discussed. It became clear that none of the politicians on either side knew the importance of the concept of culture, an evolving and cumulative tradition of a society.

Ivan Mačák was quite aware of the value of culture when he started his career as curator of the Slovak National Museum. He stated, "It is well known that when we put musical instruments into a museum collection, we remove them from the environment in which they are associated with other cultural phenomena. If we assign them in this mutilated form to documentation, they do not contain as much information as when they functioned in their original context. These were the considerations which led to the origin of a new method of documenting Slovak folk musical instruments."

Today Slovakia still preserves a living tradition of folk musical instruments, a valuable result of all of Macák’s efforts over the years. Within the framework of a folklore festival, there is now a competition for makers of folk musical instruments. In order to realize such aims, someone like Ivan Mačák is needed, someone whose enthusiasm is rooted in firm convictions. When I suggested Ivan Mačák for the Curt Sachs Award, it was because of his enthusiasm, which I had never forgotten since our first meeting.

~ Jeannine Lambrechts-Douillez


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