So what IS that rhythm???

Now, I'm pretty good at catching on to the rhythms used in Bulgarian music—having danced for many years certainly helps, but even before that I understood music, including rhythms, pretty well.

Ihtiman, Sofia region, BulgariaBut sometimes the rhythm is really—well, "blurry" is the word that comes to mind, indistinct.  It's there, but it's not very sharply executed.  This happens particularly when the singers are sitting still while they are singing, not dancing.  On my 1980-81 field trip I encountered such a song.  This was in the town of Íhtiman (south-east of Sófia, on the way to Plóvdiv), where I recorded a group of women born in Belítsa (a tiny village about 10 km. to the north-east) but married into, and living in, Íhtiman.  Listen to it:

Един Димитър на майкя (Edin Dimitâr na majkja) (see text below)

What do YOU think?  (See answer, below second version.)  At first it seemed very even, but there was just a little something that left me wondering.  I puzzled over this for years, sometimes playing it for our folkdance gurus and asking what they thought, but no one was sure.
Then in 1985 I was able to go back to Ihtiman and meet with the same group of ladies.  "What dance do you do to that song?" I asked them.  They started singing AND dancing, and immediately the rhythm was obvious, though still not sharply delineated.  Listen again, especially you dancers—I think it's clearer when they're dancing while singing:

Един Димитър на майкя (Edin Dimitâr na majkja), sung while actually dancing

Now, after I started writing this post I got cold feet: I wasn't sure if it really is clearer without the visual element, or not.  So I asked people to tell me what they thought (see comments below), as a way test my own theory.  The general consensus seems to be that neither version is really clear, but the "while dancing" one is a little clearer, if only because there is no pause between verses, as there is in the first version.

The answer?

Thanks to everyone who replied for the interesting discussion.  Catherine and Dan nailed it: it's a gánkino!  But in fairness to people who gave different answers, the singing does leave itself open to being interpreted as a devetórka.  I will add the text, because it really is fun to both sing AND dance this, in the old tradition of "хоро на песен" ('horó na pésen', or 'dance to singing'), where marriageable girls led the dancing until later in the evening when the men with instruments arrived.

If you like these rhythm-puzzles, I have one more I can post that is still un-solved, and many examples of kópanica where the 3rd beat is seriously truncated (sounds like 2+2+2+4, rather than 2+2+3+[2+2]), even when they're singing while dancing.


Song text

Ihtiman 1980:14 Jedin Dimit'r na majkja
Ihtiman 1980:114 Jedin Dimitar na majkja
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7 thoughts on “So what IS that rhythm???

  1. Noel

    2-2-2-3, jumped right out at me from similarity to other devetorkas I know. The confounding parts seem to be 1) the ending 2-3 sometimes gets several syllables squeezed in in a rather free-flowing manner, and 2) between verses it's hard to follow the rhythm

    Reply
  2. Dan Goldberg

    I tried to hear a SSSL meter at first, too, Noel, but I couldn't get it to work out quite right. After comparing with a commercial recording of the same song (which, however, wouldn't necessarily be in the same meter), I'm convinced that Catherine is right; it's SSLSS. It sounds to me like the pair of short beats before the long beat in each measure tends to last longer than the pair of short beats after the long beat, so maybe that's one thing that was throwing me off. Going farther in that direction, one might even argue that the first pair of short beats is qualitatively different from the second pair in many performances with an SSLSS sequence. The similarity with devetorkas that Noel hears makes sense, because that basic dance step is very similar to the basic step for gankino horo, mapping the third short beat in SSSL onto the long beat in SSLSS and the long beat in SSSL onto the last two short beats of SSLSS combined. So despite the conventional interpretation of songs and dances with this meter as having five beats, it sometimes also makes sense to count them in four, short-short-long-longer. The rhythms in this song sometimes match the four-count pattern, for example, during the lyrics "e-din Di-mi-" and "i za ne-go," and at parallel points in subsequent verses.

    To respond to Martha's suggestion about the difference between the two performances, I think the meter in the version with dancing is definitely clearer in at least one way that's relatively easy to hear. In both recordings, two groups of women are taking turns singing phrases of the song. In the earlier performance, there's usually some kind of interruption in the meter when one group stops and the other begins, which might be heard as an extra beat or two, or a significant lengthening of the beats, or a short pause (this is essentially Noel's observation 2). In the version with dancing, there might still be some flexibility in the timing when the two groups trade off or at other times, but the interruptions are gone; it's possible to follow the SSLSS sequence continuously.

    Okay, sorry for the essay! I'm just excited by the new blog, and especially by questions about rhythm and meter. Thanks so much for sharing your recordings, expertise, and experiences, Martha!

    Reply
  3. Jutta Weber-Karn

    3-2-2-2-3. The way the second group of singers phrases the last 2-unit in the pattern differs slightly to what the first group (the elder women?) does there. They sing their two notes as triplet (1 - 2+3), whereas the following group sings two equal notes.

    Reply
  4. MarthaMartha

    I'm excited to get people's different thoughts about this, thank you all very much. I will wait another day or two till I tell you what they danced to it, to allow a little more discussion, and then I'll tell you. (One person accidentally replied on the previous mini-post, you might want to check that out too.) Keep talking!

    Reply
  5. Dina Trageser

    I hear 2+2+3+2+2... especially in the last recording, when they're dancing. I've been told that Bulgarian songs never start from a pick-up, so the first note is the downbeat, although my "western" ear wants to put it at the top of the phrase. What a fun discussion!

    Reply

I'd love to hear from you!