PhD - Music at weddings in Zagreb (Tanja Halužan)

Formed around a ritual of transition, weddings have always been one of the most important life-cycle customs in Croatia. Even though nowadays, in changed social and economic circumstances, the bride's and groom's lives are not so strongly affected by marriage as they were in the past, it appears that marriage is still one of the key events in the life of an individual. In the Zagreb area, as well as throughout Croatia, the urge of modern individuals to celebrate their marriage is very much alive and present: it is the ritual upon which they spend the largest amounts of time, energy, and money. 

Recent recent wedding traditions in Zagreb manifest significant influence from the global market and world mass media. The wedding industry and its customers are embracing these trends thanks to, on the one hand, the increasingly successful advertising and marketing strategies of leading media companies, and, on the other hand, the 'imposed' market demands driven by the idea of profit and influenced by trends in world popular culture. Generally, weddings are designed according to the financial status of two families thus often reflecting their social (and cultural) capital, but sometimes they seem to be demonstrations of desired attitudes, values and status. Thus, wishing for the perfect wedding, couples are ready to pay large sums of money, something which often results in their going into debt. Hence, it is quite impossible to observe any aspect of wedding celebration outside the context of economy and the issues of consumerism. 

Exploration of rituals and customs in their relation to music and meanings communicated by musical performances have long been essential components in the research done by ethnomusicologists. Wedding involves, perhaps, the most elaborate rituals in Croatian culture. They are moments in which music's role is almost inevitable and usually realized on several levels. Creating webs of significance, music underlines many central ideas, enhances the transimitted meanings, and functions as a communication medium. Music is also a central means of conducting the process of a wedding: it helps to articulate a wedding's structure and provides a time continuum. It is through music that different, often targeted, feelings and emotions are evoked in order for everyone to participate. Triggering emotions, music can also enhance or create a sense of identity and community among the participants, and, at the same time, function as the platform of an encounter of identities. Often carefully chosen for the event, music reflects both individual and collective taste. Musicians are, thereby, among the most important participants in this ritual, filling multiple crucial roles.

My interest in this research topic developed from personal experience of attending myriad weddings of friends and family members and noticing the inevitability of music at these events, but also observing the subtle differences in the ways in which music is used. Concentrating on music at weddings in the Zagreb area, in my research I focus on three things: first of all, the above-mentioned role of music at the wedding as an essential part of these rituals of transition; second, the phenomenon of music labour, not only the functions of music in the rituals and the work generated thereby, but also the role of musicians in the inevitable negotiations about wedding performances and other important work that is part of making a wedding successful; finally, and third, I am especially interested in the ways in which community dynamics impact wedding planning and the music chosen and used in wedding events. I am paying special attention to the complexity of the term "music labour" and its related meanings, as well as to the questions of motivation and emotion in music choice and music-making connected to weddings. Although wedding performances are considered low-prestige events by musicians themselves, they are highly lucrative, resulting in the professionalization of wedding bands. Still, due to a legally poorly regulated music market, the musicians are usually forced to work in a precarious, very often semi-legal mode. Since music is a primary way of articulating the collective identities that are fundamental to forming and sustaining social groups, focus will also be directed towards different modalities of (momentary?) collective experience. 

My primary intention in this research is to provide an in-depth insight into the current prevailing musical practices as related to weddings in Zagreb in particular. And, through this work to strive to provide a framework for defining and understanding the role of musicians and the characteristics of music they perform (and create?) in specific local and ritual contexts.

In addition to continuously reading and searching through relevant literature, I am currently conducting semi-structured interviews with musicians, venue owners, and wedding couples who are reached through known contacts with snowballing method used in order to include more participants. Also, I am conducting a digital media ethnography of online activity connected to the wedding scene, which is further supported by ongoing participant observation at the wedding events themselves.