Dudki and other wedding instruments

The celebrations of Saint John’s Day and Kupała Night mark the end of a busy ritual period within the calendar year. Up until winter, graced with AdventChristmas and New Year, folk culture is predominantly focused on farming and vegetation.

The most important feast celebrated in July is the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which falls on 2 July. On this day, people observe and forecast weather: „If the rain starts on the Visitation, in the end it always tries your patience” – they say in the coastal region of Pomerania (Pomorze). There are regional designations of the Virgin Mary of 2 July, too, e.g. in Prątnica, Kashubia (Kaszuby) she is called Matka Boska Lipska (the Virgin Mary of Lipy), in reference to the harvest fair held in the village of Lipy. The Virgin Mary celebrated on 2 July was also sometimes called ‘Jagodna’ (the Blueberry Virgin Mary), but this designation has been long outdated. August is chiefly associated with harvest, but the theme of harvest will be discussed in another essay. As culture changes and many rural inhabitants are not exclusively employed in farming any more, the summer months, such as July and August, have become a perfect time for getting married.

A wedding group from the Duchy of Łowicz, source: Polona.

A wedding ceremony must surely be followed by a wedding party. Therefore, we will have a look at the various instruments that provided wedding dance music in different parts of Poland.

Enjoy weddings while they last

‘Cause your life will soon be past

– a wedding chant from Lubelszczyzna (Lublin Land)

West Wielkopolska (Greater Poland)

Wielkopolska is famous for its widespread use of bagpipes in folk music and therefore they could not be lacking at a wedding party, either. Interestingly, the names of some types of these instruments include clear wedding references, e.g. kozioł ślubny and kozioł weselny.

A kozioł ślubny, also known as kozioł czarny (black kozioł), and a dudki doślubne performed in an ensemble with a three-stringed mazanki (a type of fiddle).


After their performance, the time was ripe for the introduction of the largest bagpipe instrument found in Poland – kozioł weselny, also known as kozioł biały (white kozioł), which played alongside a fiddle and an E flat clarinet.

The repertoire performed by a bagpipe ensemble (kapela koźlarska) at weddings includes wedding melodies, polkas played after the church ceremony on the way to the wedding party and a variety of dance melodies performed at the wedding party itself, such as polka, wiwat, walcerek, oberek and szocz.

Kapela Koźlarska Adama Kaisera (Adam Kaiser’s Bagpipe Ensemble), photo by W Matysik, see the source.

Rzeszowszczyzna (Rzeszów Land)

Similar to Krakowskie (Kraków Land) and Tarnowskie (Tarnów Land), it was common in Rzeszowszczyzna, up until the end of the nineteenth century, that the folk ensembles employed only two musicians: one played a fiddle and the other a small home-made variant of the double bassHowever, the turn of the twentieth century witnessed sweeping changes in the line-up of these ensembles – they were augmented by a clarinettist (who doubled the melody in variational heterophony) and, after the First World War, a second fiddler (called sekund) and a percussionist playing a large, double-membrane drum, which was gradually replacing the stringed bass instrument.

An ensemble from Rzeszowszczyzna, from the left: Bogumiła Oczoś, Franciszka Oczoś, Grażyna Oczoś, Henryk Kretowicz and Bernard Oczoś, see the source.

This region has been associated, folk music-wise, with the hammered dulcimer, which was, however, a late introduction – it did not attain its remarkable popularity until after the Second World War. Within the ensemble, the dulcimer played an accompanying role, but as it clearly exhibits soloistic properties, it had been common for dulcimer players to perform as soloists. Wind instruments, such as trumpets and saxophones, were also used, albeit on a less frequent basis.

Except the most common polka, walczyk and oberek, the weddings in Rzeszowszczyzna also featured sztajereks and tramelkas. The most famous ensembles and musicians from this region include Kapela Sowów (Sowa Family Ensemble) from Piątkowa in the Dynów Piedmont, Rodzinna Kapela Albiny Kuraś (Albina Kuraś’s Family Ensemble) from Lubzina and the distinguished and excellent fiddler, or multi-instrumentalist (to be more accurate), Henryk Kretowicz.

The Beskids

The Beskid Mountains (Beskids) lie in the south of Poland and cover the area around the towns of Żywiec, Łącko, Nowy Sącz and Koniaków. The region is inhabited by various types of traditional highlander communities, i.e. Silesian Highlanders, Żywiec Highlanders, Łącko-Kamienica Highlanders, Lachy Limanowskie and Piwniczna Highlanders (so-called Black Highlanders). The Lower Beskids also used to be populated by the Lemkos; however, as a result of Operation Vistula in 1947, the area’s ethnic composition changed and so the Black Highlanders lost their Lemko neighbours.

Several different types of ensembles are prevalent within the region. The most common in Żywiecczyzna (around the town of Żywiec) consists of a bagpiper and a fiddler. The most popular local dances include obyrtac, hajduk and sarna. The most famous local ensembles are known as Kapela Rodziny Byrtków (Byrtek Family Ensemble) from Pewel Wielka and Kapela z Jeleśni (Ensemble from Jeleśnia).


In the Silesian Beskids, ensembles traditionally consisted of a fiddler and a gajdy (Silesian bagpipes) player. In addition to the widely popular, traditional polkas and obereks, the wedding music of the Beskids has featured such characteristic regional dances as chodzony, krzyżok, obyrtan, owięzok, as well as… csárdás danced in Spisz.

Lubelszczyzna (Lublin Land)

The repertoire traditionally performed in Lubelszczyzna (around the city of Lublin) is dominated by vocal music and spoken folk music. However, instrumental music is also practised within the region. The most characteristic and peculiar musical instrument it employs is the suka biłgorajska (suka of Biłgoraj), a kind of knee-held vielle, which has been jointly reconstructed by Andrzej Kuczkowski, a luthier, Maria Pomianowska, a multi-instrumentalist and Ewa Dahlig-Turek, an ethnomusicologist. However, the fiddle has remained the chief instrument of the region, not unlike in other parts of Poland.

Żywiec-style bagpipes made by Feliks Janowski, photo by W Kielichowski

Before the wedding commenced, the fiddler played several melodies on the way to the church: road melodies, voyage melodies, travellers’ melodies and wanderers’ melodies. The fiddler was sufficiently equipped to provide music for the entire wedding, but that was considered inadequate and hence it was much more desirable to have both a fiddler and a drummer, too. Kapela Braci Bździuchów (Bździuch Brothers Ensemble) achieved something of a cult status in the local area. Its musicians worked for many years with the excellent singer Anna Malec.

Kapela Braci Bździuchów (Bździuch Brothers Ensemble) from Zamojszczyzna (Zamość Land), see the source.

The most characteristic regional wedding dances here include the majdaniak, the suwak and, of course, the always popular oberek and polka. In more recent times, the two-piece ensembles were augmented by wind instrument players, e.g. flutists and trumpeters – such a line-up was adopted by Kapela Bednarzy (Bednarz Ensemble) near Tomaszow Lubelski, amongst other groups.

Kapela Braci Bednarzy (Bednarz Brothers Ensemble) from Nowa Wieś (Podhorce), see the source.

Wedding chants

The instrumental wedding music is inseparably connected with humorous rhyming chants. There are legends about how the wedding guests competed exclaiming them. There are other stories about musicians who were able to pick up and play every chant that had been shouted. In fact, they did not have much of a choice: poor musicians were hardly ever accepted at weddings and if they could not find the right music for the chant, they were no longer welcome.

Hey, mister best man, pour us some rye,

Don’t want to keep the wedding guests dry!

– a wedding chant from Lubelszczyzna.

As the above example shows, the wedding chants were very concise and pithy – that was perhaps their most discernible trait. No less significant was their extemporaneous character, as well as the use of references to the actual events taking place at a given moment. The chants and songs formed the textual framework of wedding parties.

Wedding chants may be addressed to specific participants of the party, i.e. bridegroom, bride, bridesmaids, best men, bachelors or other guests. The subject matter of the chants varied: some of them were performed even before the wedding party began while the guests were still walking from the church. Here is a selection of wedding chants from Lubelszczyzna:


Hey, whose wedding do I hear that’s so musically wonderful?

Maciej’s daughter and Pękala’s – they’re so kind and beautiful,

Maciej’s daughter and Pękala’s – they’re so kind and beautiful!

Oh my Mania, little Mania, you had better study farming,

So that when your back aches finally, it ain’t so alarming,

So that when your back aches finally, it ain’t so alarming!

That boy works so hard and loud,

Mother can be very proud.

Never had to use a nappy,

Błażej’s daughter will be happy!

Our Maniusia, our girl pretty,

Don’t you be so smart and witty.

Rather than this bottle o’ beer,

Bring us half a bucket, dear!

Beetroot soup is not for me,

Weak and pallid I will be,

Dumplings I would rather eat,

Pretty boys I wanna meet!

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