Saturday, April 30, 2011

More Interesting and Unusual Instruments in Balkan Folk Music (part 4 of a series)

This is part 4 in a series about musical instruments in Balkan and Bulgarian folk music. Today's featured instruments are the panpipes, the gadulka, and the kaval.

Some people regard them as instruments of torture, and they are entitled to their opinion. They should also avoid The Alien Diaries like the plague, because the music here may give them a splitting headache, or worse, make them want to jump off the nearest bridge :) You can read about some of my favorite "instruments of torture" and their use in Bulgarian folk music here:

These are not the musical instruments that you'll find in your local band or symphony orchestra; although they may have some distant cousins there. You can learn to play them if you can make it to a Balkan Music and Dance Camp (if you're lucky enough to have one nearby), and you can maybe find a gadulka teacher in a large city, let's say, New York. Otherwise you'll have to do some traveling.

The first video is a that of a young woman playing a Romanian folk dance on the panpipes. The panpipes, also know as the panflute, are a multiculturally friendly instrument, like the accordion and the clarinet (both of which I've covered in previous posts). The panpipes has been around the world, but are most often associated with the music of South America (especially music of the indigenous people in Peru and Bolivia), and with Romania.

The gadulka is a string instrument, similar to the the fiddle, used in Bulgarian folk music. Nikolay Kolev, who plays solo gadulka in this video, is one of musicians of Kabile, a wedding orchestra from the Thracian region of Bulgaria. This piece is a rachenitsa, a Bulgarian dance in 7/8 rhythm (think apple-apple-pineapple).

The kaval, also known a shepherd's flute, is an instrument used in Bulgarian, Romanian and Macedonian folk music. In this performance, a kaval player, accompanied by two drummers plays a piece from Macedonia. It's in the odd time signature of 9/8.

Music in odd time signatures is typical of the Balkans, especially in Bulgaria and Macedonia. For more on this read :

The next video was taken during a performance of the Bulgarian band Lyuti Chushki at Mt. Holyoke College last year. The musicians play a very popular Bulgarian folk dance, Dunavsko Horo, on tambura, gadulka and kaval. For some reason you can't see the kaval player, but you can hear him loud and clear.

The tambura is an instrument used throughout the Balkans, where it's also known as a tamburitza. The strings are plucked with the fingers.

The tambura/tamburitza will have its own writeup in a future edition of The Alien Diaries., since it's played widely throughout the Balkans and is especially popular in Croatian folk music.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

(photo from Wikipedia commons)

Wishing all my readers a Happy Easter! Today's post will focus on Easter eggs, since they are so popular in Easter celebrations around the world.

Here are some beautiful Bulgarian Easter eggs from the Universe of YouTube:

Although it's a lot of work making them, if you're interested, this video will show you how: (Note: the music in this video is not Bulgarian, but Serbian, but that's OK, they do a fantastic job with those eggs!)

Although eggs can be many different colors (and some are multi-colored), according to tradition, at least a few must be dyed red. The red is the symbol for the blood of Jesus, who died on the cross on Good Friday, and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Easter is a holiday celebrating new life and the Resurrection, and the most important festival in the Eastern Orthodox church. The Easter egg tradition was originally of pagan origin, and later incorporated into Christian celebrations.

There are some beautiful Easter eggs on the Bulgarian National Radio's website, along with some information on the holiday and some great music.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Celebration of Life and a Tribute to my Music Buddy 1998-2011

Tomorrow would have been his thirteenth birthday.

Recently I lost a very good friend and member of the family. He has been featured on this blog a number of times because he was my partner in musical crime, that is, he liked Bulgarian folk music. He had a loving family, and a wonderful life, his loss has left a void in our lives and a paw print on our hearts.

My cat, Fatso, died after a five month battle with heart disease, eleven days short of his birthday, on April 9. He has been with us since he was ten months old, when we adopted him from a shelter. My children grew up with him, he was their constant companion during the trials of adolescence, and their comfort when life was difficult.

Congestive heart failure is a terrible way to go, in both people and animals. The heart doesn't pump efficiently, and the result is fluid buildup in the body. Medication helps, but all it does is prolong life for a short time by eliminating the excess fluid; the heart becomes progressively weaker, and death ensues.

An aunt and a close friend have succumbed to heart disease during the past year, which has made Fatso's death especially painful. It's the people who are left behind who suffer the most. The deceased are in a better place.

You can read the tribute to my aunt here:

The best way to remember those who passed is to celebrate their lives, and this I will do with video and music.

In this clip, Fatso's playing a game with my daughter. And that's not Bulgarian folk music in the background, but In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg.

If you click this next link, you'll see him lying on the bed, relaxing to some music by the Bisserov sisters, a folklore group from the Pirin region of Bulgaria. His tail flicks in time to the music.

There is a tradition of playing bagpipes at funerals. This custom started with the Irish immigrants who came to the United States. Many of them were in a dangerous line of work such as police or fire fighting, and death in the line of duty was frequent. It became a tradition to send the deceased off with bagpipe music which was loud and mournful and suited the mood of those left behind.

Since my Fatso liked the gaida, the Eastern European version of the bagpipe, here's Valya Balkanska's version of the Bulgarian folk song Izlel e Delyu Haidutin. It's very haunting and beautiful and her voice is accompanied by a gaida. This song was shot into outer space many years ago during the Project Voyager in 1977 as a greeting from earthlings to extraterrestrials. I hope Fatso can hear it up in the Great Beyond. He is with me in spirit, I know.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Daichovo, Plain or Fancy? Take your pick.....

Daichovo Horo is one of my favorite dances because it's exuberant and lively, and so is the music that accompanies it!

Here's a little background on the Daichovo from the Phantom Ranch website, with the story behind it and a description of several variations.

The Daichovo is a dance from the northwestern (Severnjasko) region of Bulgaria. Although it's danced all over all over the country (and around the world), this is the area where it's most popular. Like many dances from the Balkans, it's in an odd rhythm. For those interested in time signatures, it is in either 9/8 or 9/16 (depending on the speed) and the rhythm is quick-quick quick-slow. The accent is on the first beat, although the fourth is the longest.

Here's another dressed up version of the Daichovo.

After watching these two performances you may be somewhat intimidated by this dance. Not to worry, there are easier versions out there, although to best enjoy Daichovo Horo, you need a little stamina. Maybe more than a little, because it can be quite a workout, so some conditioning helps. If you're interested in incorporating some ethnic dance in your exercise routine, read this post, it's a good place to start :)

On Ethnic Dance and Exercise

The next video proves that Daichovo is a dance for everyone. This group includes people of all ages, some of them quite young. They are probably in excellent shape, since the music goes on for nearly five minutes, and from what I can see no one's left the line....

Here's what I call "Daichovo for Dummies" :) Though I have to admit the instructor does a good job breaking down the steps.

If you'd like to read more on folk dances from Bulgaria and other Balkan countries, you may find these links of interest.

The Flavors of Bulgarian Rachenitsa :

The Travels of Pajduško Horo:

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stars of Bulgarian Folklore: Zvezditsa Ensemble of Dimitrovgrad

From time to time we get a number of Bulgarian students at our Friday night dances who take classes at Mt. Holyoke College.

One young woman was particularly memorable, in that she was part of a folk dance ensemble in Dimitrovgrad. She was a delightful addition to our Friday night dances, although her stay with us was short. She taught us a few dances from her repetoire, and she even complimented me on the way I led Eleno Mome (Elenino Horo). When she finished the semester, she returned to Bulgaria.

I saw her just a few times, so I didn't get her email address, or her Facebook page. She did, however, mention that her dance ensemble, Zvezditza, was on YouTube. Zvezditsa means "evening star" in Bulgarian.

In a recent post I described the Bulgarian fascination with stars, planets, and outer space, and the frequent mention of them in folklore. Read more about this here:

Here are several videos of Zvezditza, a very spirited and talented group. The first one features a rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria.

These are dances from the Pirin region.

And finally, the student I met mentioned she had marched in a parade during a festival on the Mosel River in Germany. This was an area I knew well and I had been to numerous wine festivals in that region.

Here they are dancing a daichovo horo during a parade in the wine village of Kröv.

The world is a small place indeed.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

A Cat Who Likes the Gaida, and The Cat of Gabrovo

Note: Fatso went to kitty heaven the morning of April 9, 2011 after a five month battle with congestive heart failure. During his final hours with us, he was surrounded by love and Bulgarian folk music. This was written a about a week before his passing when he was doing well and we had hoped that he would make his thirteenth birthday on April 20. Such was not the case, and during the morning of April 9th, we took him to the vet when he stopped eating and had difficulty breathing despite medication and oxygen treatment. His transition was peaceful, and he was surrounded by his loving humans and the staff of the veterinary clinic. He will be missed very much.)

My Fatso is totally blissed out in the picture because he's sitting with his favorite humans.

Last spring, when I was out of town (I was at one of Zlatne Uste's gigs in NYC), my daughter called me, a little worried. She mentioned that Fatso seemed a little depressed, and he wasn't very hungry. When I returned home the first thing I did was turn on some Rhodope gaida music that I had downloaded on the computer and then I fed the kitty. He gobbled his food and then settled into his blanket lined cardboard box near the computer, totally contented.

He's my music buddy. He's a Taurus, and the two things he likes most are food and music.

We have a nighttime ritual, in which he sits or lies down nearby while I listen to Radio Bulgaria's folklore broadcasts on the computer, which come on early in the morning over there and at about 10 p.m. here.

I've noticed that he has a liking for the bagpipe (Gaida).

Why critters like musical instruments made from the bodies of other critters is a mystery to me. (The Eastern European gaida is made from goat or sheep hide.) When my husband hears one he always asks me "Who's strangling the cat?"

This is some of Fatso's favorite music. The woman playing it is amazing!

Since today is April Fool's Day, the House of Humor and Satire in Gabrovo is celebrating an anniversary. It first opened to the public on April 1, 1972. Here's the link to their site.

It is said that people in Gabrovo cut off their cat's tails to save money on heat. The Gabrovo Cat, who is a symbol of the town, is also the guest of honor at the Carnival parade.

Many years ago, Fatso lost a bit of his tail. It got caught in the door as he was trying to escape. The end of his tail was fractured and infected,and he had it surgically removed by a vet.

One morning Fatso fell asleep while I was listening to the story of the Cat of Gabrovo on BNR. He had a very strange dream, and he tells his story here.

By the way, if you like gaida music, you will love this post:
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