Monday, May 11, 2020

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the National Dance of Bulgaria

Dancing - however you do it, even if it's in your living room - is a great workout.

Festivals and in-person dancing, unfortunately, have been cancelled for a while until a vaccine or effective treatment can be found for Covid-19. These days the place to dance is your living room, via a Zoom connection. 

One of my favorite dances, rachenitsa, is the national dance of Bulgaria. Today's post will educate you about it.  If you have been reading this blog on a regular basis, you will know almost as much about rachenitsa as the Bulgarians. They, of course, know more about it than we do.

Tom Pixton does a great job of explaining the dance with text in Video #1.  He also arranged and played the music. He is a musician from the Boston area who plays at various gigs in New England.

This compilation is a delight for the eyes and ears. It is very well put together.

Rachenitsa na Horo means to dance rachenitsa in a line as opposed to solo or couple. We usually do the line rachenitsa at dances.

There are plenty of them, from every folklore region of Bulgaria.  I believe the music in Video #1 is a Thracian tune.  Thrace is the largest folklore region of Bulgaria. There is also a Thrace in Greece as well as one in Turkey, a source of confusion for some people.

Video #2 is a Thracian Rachenitsa. This is a dance performed in the town square during celebrations and holidays (just for the fun of it).  The dancers are of varying abilities; some are confident and some are hesitant.  The gadulka, gaida, clarinet, and accordion are important instruments in Bulgarian folk music.

The gadulka is the most Bulgarian of folk instruments, even more so than the gaida (bagpipe).  Some people find the "buzzy" sound takes some getting used to but I love it. You can hear the gadulka in the video from 1:06 to 2:18.

Video #3 is a rachenitsa arranged for violin. Although I have listened to Bulgarian tunes arranged for non-Bulgarian instruments such as the violin, piano, and marimba, the ensembles that played them kept the Bulgarian soul of the music.  To me this is just a classical piece in 7/8; it just doesn't sound Bulgarian. This melody is Bulgarian in name only.

Rachenitsa can be in 7/8 or 7/16; it depends on the speed of the music.  The best way to get the rhythm is to say the words apple-apple-pineapple.

Video #4 is another classical rendition of rachenitsa. This one is much closer to its Bulgarian roots.  The music is by Petko Stainov, Bulgarian composer who lived from 1896-1977.  It's part of his suite: Thracian Dances.

What is unusual about this version is that it was arranged for brass instruments. Stainov originally wrote it for symphony orchestra. (if you want to hear the symphonic arrangement, read the post on Petko Stainov below.)

Brass music is very popular in northwest Bulgaria and also in Thrace.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Variations on a Theme by Petko Stainov: Rachenitsa Travels to Guatemala

Classical Musicians Play Balkan Folk Music

The Accordion in Bulgarian Folk Music

The Gadulka in Bulgarian Folk Music

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance: Thracian Rachenitsa

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