The Croatian bagpipe or gajde is a common instrument in Croatian traditional music in Hungary. It is an ancient instrument with a large repertoire and several distinctive styles of playing, determined largely by the geographical/regional location of the musician. The instrument is constructed by various parts, the bag, which is made of sheep or goat skin, the reeded chanter in which the musician executes the melodies is often made of cornel wood or boxwood, the drone and the blowpipe, of which can be made of conical wood or animal bone.
As a child, Ferenc Tobak was exposed to folk songs through his mother, grandmother and grandfather, who always sang at home while performing their household duties. He began playing the gajde in 1979 learning from recordings of Béla Bartok, Bálint Sárosi, and Imre Olsvai. After he figured out basic techniques on the instrument, he began studying with Sándor Csoóri as well as with a shepherd piper in Zabola Transylvania, Mircea Nicolae. Tobak later researched, met and learned from pipers from Hungary, Moldavia, Romania and with the Croatian piper from the Drava Valley, Pál Gadányi. He also learned to construct the bagpipes studying the style of Croatians from Mohács. He received his credential in Hungary to teach folk music, including the gajde in 1982, and a title of master folk craft artist from the Hungarian government in 1992.
As a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2017, Ferenc Tobak will mentor Lilla Serlegi to further her knowledge of Croatian and Hungarian folk music and her abilities on the gajde by focusing on a folk repertoire that comes from the apprentice’s village in the Gradiscanski region, which include dance songs, laments and music for specific holidays.
Ferenc Tobak also served as a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2000 with his son, Ferenc Tobak, Jr., as apprentice, and in 2006 with his daughter Mária Tobak, who studied the Hungarian furulya (fipple flute).