Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy New Year 2012

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in.
A pessimist stays up to make sure the Old Year leaves.
Bill Vaughan

Some dire predictions for the year 2012 have been making the rounds, especially the one about the world coming to an end on December 21st, according to the Mayan calendar.

You can even buy an End of the World Calendar and have fun waiting for the Big Disaster (which could be alien invaders, floods, fire, earthquakes or even nuclear war):

Everything you always wanted to know about December 21, 2012 can be found here:

2011 has been a difficult year for many people, for some, it has been the year for natural disasters. I experienced two in 2011. One was a tornado, which passed within a mile from here, the other was a freak October snowstorm which caused widespread damage and power outages. I was without power for a week in the cold and dark; there were downed trees everywhere, including one that fell on top of my garage.

Still I consider myself fortunate. Others, such as the Japanese, have had it much worse.

Here's hoping the 2012 will be a better year than 2011 :)

Today's post will ring in the New Year with music from the United States and Bulgaria.

Here in the States the biggest New Year's Eve party is held in Times Square in New York City. Although I lived in New York for many years I never went to a New Year's Eve in Times Square. It was too cold, it was infested with tourists, and there were no sanitary facilities or places to sit down. I went to parties with friends instead, and we watched the ball drop (a New York tradition) on TV.

In the first video, Imagine plays before the ball drops; then at midnight, Auld Lang Syne, based on a poem by the Scotsman Robert Burns (which became popular as the New Year Theme Song many years ago). The finale is New York, New York.. At parties, we'd link arms around each other, kick up our feet and sing along to Sinatra. It was fun, especially after a few drinks.

Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians made Auld Lang Syne a very popular New Year's song in the United States. read more about it and the band here:

By the way, the tradition of using noisemakers and lighting fireworks on New Year's is supposed to scare away the evil spirits who bring bad luck. In this celebration from Bulgaria, the noise from the people and the pyrotechnics is so loud it drowns out the music!

If you listen carefully, you can hear the three traditional songs that Bulgarians play to bring in the New Year. They start with the national anthem, Mila Rodina, then an Orthodox chant sung by Boris Christoff, and the finale is Diko Iliev's Dunavsko Horo.

A New Year's celebration in Bulgaria would not be complete without dancing to Diko Iliev's Dunavsko Horo at midnight. This piece has become the second national anthem of Bulgaria, and the dance is second in popularity to the rachenitsa (the national dance of Bulgaria).

There are other musical versions of Dunavsko Horo, besides the one by Diko Iliev (although his is the most popular). The version these young people dance to at a Christmas show is played by a folk ensemble.

If you don't know how to dance Dunavsko Horo and would like to include this tradition in your New Years Eve party, here is part of a Bulgarian teaching video, if you watch the dancers, you can easily follow the steps.

For some more New Year music from Bulgaria, click this link from the Bulgarian National Radio:

A Happy New Year to all!

If you enjoyed this you may also like Some Interesting New Year Rituals

Afterwards, you can Have a Blast With Diko Iliev. Do it before the world self-destructs on December 21...

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Folk Songs and Dances from Bulgaria

In course of time, religion came with its rites invoking the aid of good spirits which were even more powerful than the bad spirits, and thus for the time being tempered the agony of fears. Paul Harris

You may be wondering...what do evil spirits have to to with Christmas? Read more and find out!

Today's post will feature Christmas songs and dances from Bulgaria. These videos will put you in a festive mood.

In Bulgaria, the word for Christmas is Koleda. It is one of the most important holidays on the Eastern Orthodox calendar. Although it is a religious holiday, pagan elements (such as the rituals to drive away evil spirits) co-exist harmoniously with the religious ones.

The first video of a children's group is really cute, with several boys singing and playing on traditional instruments (gadulka, tambura and drum). Their teacher must be so proud :)

More Christmas songs, but the setting here is not in synch with the season, except for the hats on these guys. What I find odd here are the flowery curtains. Where are the Christmas trees and decorations? Maybe they are dreaming of spring in the middle of winter.

In Bulgarian tradition the men do the singing and dancing at Christmastime. Groups of men (Koledari) go from house to house and sing (this takes place in the smaller towns and villages) and the the hosts at each home give them food and drink. In some respects it is like the Puerto Rican parranda, which I wrote about in one of last year's posts (the link to it is at the end of this one).

Now it's time for some pagan rituals which involve the driving out of evil spirits.

Back in the old days people believed that the sun disappeared around the time of the winter solstice and that scaring the evil spirits would bring it back, which is why the Surva ceremonies were held during the time between the winter solstice and the last day of December. Here are some masked men who intimidate with looks alone. When a bunch of them play the zurna  (a double-reed oboe like instrument) and the drums, the noise is loud enough to scare away any evil spirit who dares to get close.

For more on Surva, read:

Cbristmas would not be Christmas without dancing. These Koledari begin with a rachenitsa (national dance of Bulgaria) then go into a buenek (walking dance). I posted something not too long ago about folk ensembles named Dunav, this is another group with the same name.

A big thank you to everyone who stopped by and a Merry Christmas to all!

If you enjoyed this you may also like A Bulgarican Christmas, a cross cultural comparision of Christmas traditions (this includes an old Sesame Street video with Oscar the Grouch!)

Dreaming of Spring in the Middle of Winter (if you like flowers and folklore you will love this one.)

The River of Many Names Part 3: Folk Ensembles Named Dunav (there are lots of them!)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Allusions, Musically Speaking

Words are illusions.

First of all, let's begin with the definition of allusion. Most people confuse allusion with illusion. They are two totally different things, although the quote above states that "words are illusions." If you think about it, have you ever listened to a really good story that was the product of a crazy imagination? Most likely it was illusion and allusion at work.

Literary types would define it as a reference to something else in a written work, usually subtle or implied. An illusion, well, that's an idea that's taken up residence in your imagination, or something that you see when you've had too much to drink :)

Of course, to understand a literary allusion, you have to go back to the item it was originally written about. It's the same with music.

Today's post is about allusions in Balkan folk music. If you listen hard enough you will find them :)

The first video is of Gori More, a dance song which came from Serbia via Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hidden somewhere in the music is an allusion to another folk song, which leads me to believe the composer knows something about Macedonian folk music. (Hint: it's at 1:38). Listen carefully, because it's short, maybe about 20 seconds.

Now listen to the song Zajko Kokorajko, from Macedonia. The story behind this song is about a rabbit and his surprise bride (the fox who wants to eat him). The dance is Arap.

Berkovksa Duhova Muzika, a brass ensemble from Bulgaria, crosses the line between traditional and modern. They use an allusion to an American pop song in this rendition of their signature piece, Chichovo Horo, a folk dance from northwestern Bulgaria. This time it's up to you to find it. It's somewhere in the middle, and very well woven into the musical fabric.

Here's the original song, a one hit wonder from the 1950's on the original 78 rpm record.

If you are over 50 you probably remember 78's. If you're younger, your grandparents or parents may have a few gathering dust in the basement.

They were big clumsy things, 10 inches in diameter, made from vinyl and played on a turntable with a stylus. The sound came from the needle moving along the grooves as the record turned. You could get about three minutes of music on each side. They skipped when they got scratched, which was often, which is where the expression "you sound like a broken record" came from.

By the way, if you're interested in Tequila, click this link:

If you enjoyed this, you may also like Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture

And if you didn't get enough of pop culture and folklore, here's more:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Classical Composers Inspired by Balkan Folk Dances

Musicians from the beginning of time have been there to express the mood and the musical feelings in the air for whatever's going on in that particular culture. It's the greatest joy as a musician to be able to translate that, be part of something and watch the scenery around you.
Trey Anastasio

In today's post we'll explore music by classical composers who were inspired by folk dances from the Balkans.

The Romantic Period in classical music, which took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a time of musical nationalism, and composers from several countries used folk motifs as part of their compositions. Some famous examples from the 19th century include Brahms (who wrote 21 Hungarian Dances); Smetena (his folk opera The Bartered Bride is very popular to this day), and Franz Liszt, who wrote a set of Hungarian Rhapsodies.

There were also composers in Balkan countries who wrote music based on folklore themes; most of them they are unknown in the States, except for George Enescu, who did quite a bit of traveling. He gave concert tours in the United States and Europe and spent his final years in Paris, France, after the Communist takeover of Romania. They had confiscated his home in Bucharest, and he never went back.

This video of Romanian Rhapsody #1, composed in 1901 by George Enescu features some beautiful scenery from his homeland. The work was based on songs and dances from Romania; it's a very dramatic and beautiful piece. Although it's a bit long (14 minutes) it's worth a look and listen.

The next piece is by Bulgarian composer Petko Stainov (1896-1977). Stainov composed a number of works based on Bulgarian folk dances, this one is  Rachenitsa (Thracian Dance). The concert commemorates a Bulgarian holiday, March 3, 1878, celebrating the liberation of that country from Ottoman rule.

The last video is of a kolo (circle dance) from the folk opera Ero s onoga svijeta (Ero the Joker). The composer, Jakov Gotovac, was a native of Croatia. When the opera made its debut in 1935, Croatia was part of a larger entity, Yugoslavia.

I heard the orchestral version of the kolo many years ago on a New York classical music station and maybe once or twice. I searched for it on YouTube using the words "folk opera Yugoslavia kolo," since had no idea who the composer was, and I had forgotten the name of the opera, but I recognized the music when I heard it.

This is the lively finale from Ero the Joker, Zavrsno Kolo, done in true Croatian style, with tamburitza accompaniment.

There is an article on Wikipedia about Jakov Gotovac, click here for information about his life and music.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Having a Blast with Diko Iliev (Bulgarian composer of the 20th century who wrote music based on folk dances)

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa (national dance of Bulgaria)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.