Greek and Bulgarian Salon Concerts

Lyuti Chushki plays as concertgoers dance.
Lyuti Chushki plays as concertgoers dance.  Photo by Margaret Loomis.

Twice over the last week the performance space at Washington Revels was filled with dance and exciting music. Friday night, the music was Greek; last night, it was music from Bulgaria.

The salon concerts are a chance for tradition-bearers in this year’s Christmas Revels to share a bit more of their music than they’ll get to play on our stage in December.

Last night, Tzvety Weiner, who has been valiantly teaching us Bulgarian songs all fall, joined her husband Bryndyn Weiner and her parents, Tanya Dosseva and Lyuben Dossev, to perform several songs (in this configuration, they are “Dossevi”).

Dossevi (with Bryndyn Wiener) performing at the Washington Revels Office
Dossevi (with Bryndyn Wiener) performing at the Washington Revels Office. Photo by Margaret Loomis.

Tzvety gives off an aura of good humor, and now that I have seen her mother, I can report that it’s inherited. Seeing the two of them singing together was a delight. After one particularly silly song–you didn’t have to understand Bulgarian to know that this song was funny–Tzvety announced that we’d witnessed a real accomplishment: the two of them getting through it without cracking up. Lyuben Dossev is a celebrated player of the kaval, a wooden shepherd’s flute, and this was the first time he and Tzvety had performed together–a real treat for us.

After a reception, the second half of the evening was about dancing. The band Lyuti Chushki, which includes Tzvety, played boisterous Bulgarian tunes while concert-goers joined hands and danced. Numbers varied a lot–on simpler dances, dozens of people were up and moving through the steps with varying levels of competence; in one dance, about half a dozen more experienced dancers sprang around the room.

Spyros Koliavasilis and Karpouzi Trio playing a Salon Concert on November 15, 2013.
Spyros Koliavasilis and Karpouzi Trio playing a Salon Concert on November 15, 2013. Photo by Greg Scholtz.

Last Friday, Spyros Koliavasilis and the Karpouzi Trio (Spyros with Len Newman and Margaret Loomis) gave a wonderful concert of Greek music, highlighting traditions from Asia Minor (most notably on the oud and kemane) as well as music from the Greek islands. Spyros plays and teaches 19 instruments and specializes in the authentic practice of traditional music spanning all of Greece.

We heard music played in many different modes. Much of the music was “microtonal”–music that contains intervals smaller than the conventional contemporary Western¬†semitone (our 12-tone equal temperament). It was truly amazing! Margaret plays the santouri, a giant Greek dulcimer with a delightful sound, and her hammers were flying as she played this fascinating music. Len plays the laouto, a Greek version of the lute; that name comes from the Arabic word oud, meaning “wood.” The sound box of the Greek laouto is unusually large and creates a very resonant sound.

We’re all looking forward to hearing much more from these groups over the coming weeks.

Learn more about the 2013 Christmas Revels: Echoes of Thrace
View the Schedule of Performances and Purchase Tickets

It’s Just So Many Words….

In December, I’ll be standing on stage singing songs in Greek, Turkish, and Bulgarian like I’ve known them all my life.

Today, November 14, I’m staring down a really large pile of words in languages I don’t speak.

My memorization system has many parts. Some shorter pieces just stick in my head. But for most songs, it takes more work.

First: index cards. I write out the words, then carry the card around so I can study–and sing from it in rehearsal.

Today's project: My third card of the season. There will be more.
Today’s project: My third card of the season.

I think the card works mostly because the act of writing forces me to to pay attention. It wasn’t until I wrote out the Greek Christmas carol Saranda Meres this morning that I realized the second and third line are the same in most of the verses we’re singing. I’d sung it dozens of times without noticing.

Yeah, my observational skills are amazing.

Another part of the system is vivid mental images. This works better with songs in English; I got a couple of confusing lines of Carol of the Bells into my head by imagining them as little stories that were happening on stoops like the one in Sesame Street.

For lyrics in a foreign language, I try to think of words in English that the words sound like, then string them into some kind of story. In my head, one of the particularly difficult songs in the 2011 Christmas Revels was about projectile vomiting in the desert.

I recommend Moonwalking With Einstein, a fun book on memorization. It gave me good ideas for memorizing and confirmed what I’d noticed: it’s easier to remember things that you wouldn’t talk about in polite company.

The good news is, once the lyrics get into my head, I usually don’t have to go back to the mnemonics. The songs settle in. By singing them over and over, in rehearsal and with the recordings, they really do start to feel like they’re mine. And I can even smile and dance while singing them. (Usually.)

Learn more about the 2013 Christmas Revels: Echoes of Thrace
View the Schedule of Performances and Purchase Tickets