The term “bucium”, derived from the Latin word “bucinum” (meaning curved horn or trumpet blast) is used n the Muntenian Carpathians of Arges and Prahova, and in the Moldavian Carpathians of Vrancea and Neamt. In Romania’s northern regions the name might be linked to the Slavic “trambica”, and may have been taken over from the Huţul and Rusyn populations. Other names of the same instrument are “trambita” in Bucovina and “trambita” or “tranghita” in Oas and Maramures.
The tulnic is an instrument with origins lost in our Dacian roots, somewhere at the dawn of civilization. It resembles the Alpenhorn but the sounds of the two instruments are quite different. Their usage however is sometimes similar. Specific to mountain dwellers in particular, it is mostly used by shepherds for signaling and communication in the forested mountains, as well as for guiding sheep and dogs, and it also used to be way to signal military conflicts in the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. Although it’s a huge instrument, ranging from 1.5 to 3 meters, women in the Apuseni mountains are using it frequently, sometimes to call their loved ones, other times for more practical purposes.
Depending on the region of the country, communications through the bucium song happen in different times of the day and have different meaning. While the shepherds are those who mostly use it (in the evening to call their sheep and dogs, or in the morning to take the sheep out), it is also an instrument leading funeral processions in Oas, Maramures and other villages in the north of Neamt. In the Apuseni, where women are the patrons of the tulnic, it’s mainly a communication device for those living in the highlands, similar to how Scandinavians use their luur.
The tube is made of well-seasoned deal, maple, ash, lime or hazel wood which is conical or cylindrical bored, slit length ways, hollowed out and then glued together. In northern Romania, metals are added to the tube: it can be made of galvanized iron and folded like a trombone. As it does not have valves or finger holes it can only play the pitches in the natural harmonic series.
My memories of the tulnic involve groups of women from the Apuseni mountains being brought to Bucharest to play these marvelous instruments on folk shows aired every Sunday. They came with their folk costumes and where in a complete contrast with the show host or the popular singers using makeup and modern jewelries. They were simple women, extremely modest, and you could easily tell they would have preferred not to be asked so many questions. They were there to sing, nothing more and definitely nothing less.
On those shows I found out of all the love stories behind the tulnic. The sounds of this instrument still seem to me the best to express lost love, missing the one you’ve lost or who is far away. When those women started singing, everything else just stopped, no one could think of anything else, except the song and the eyes of the musicians. There was a special glow, one seeming to hide secrets from long ago. No doubt angels chose this instrument to announce the Judgment Day!