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5

Back in February I posted five of the melodies used by different villages in their solo harvest songs—but could not at the time find a recording that I had made of the haunting melody used in Bístritsa (a village in greater Sofia, on the slopes of Vítoša Mountain).  (I didn't feel right about publishing someone else's recording, but I couldn't find my own at the time.)

Bg map-Screenshot, Bistritsa
Bístritsa, Sófia region

It turned up recently, in a rather interesting way:  I've been compiling a master list of all the places I have recorded, with dates and tape numbers, number of songs I recorded, and just a little information about who I recorded.  In thinking about my recordings in said Bistritsa in the spring of 1985, I remembered that my first recording session in the village that year was on a day when I stopped by to see Dánče (Dana Ovnarska), then the youngest member of the group.  It just happened that Ménka Arónova was visiting her at the time, so after having a bite of lunch, the two of them did some singing for me.  I didn't remember what we'd recorded that day, but I did have a dim memory of having later studied very closely a recording of Ménka and "someone else" singing that song, working very hard to reproduce the vocal ornaments that they were using.  "Aha," I said, "maybe they did the solo harvest melody that day!"  And it turned out to be exactly the recording I'd been looking for!

Ménka and Dánče singing for me in Danče's kitchen, 9 March 1985
Ménka Arónova and Dánče Ovnárska singing for me in Danče's kitchen, 9 March 1985


От пладне се мома провикнала
(Ót pladne se momá proviknála), recorded in ‏ Bístritsa, Sofia region.

Pánka demonstrating reaping with sickle and palamárka
Pánka demonstrating reaping with sickle and palamárka

At the end of the song I left our discussion for you to hear.  It's a rather juicy song, this one!  They tell me that they used to sing this song right after they got up from their noontime rest to start reaping again.  These solo harvest songs were sung  while they were bent over reaping (one woman singing, another answering with the same words).  (Try singing this way some time....it's amazing how the position almost seems to pull the voice out of you!)  Were the singers working close to each other?  "Ah!  They might be, but they also might be far apart" —and Dánče told me how she would sing with her aunt, the aunt working and singing in her own field, and Danče answering as she worked in hers!


Song text:

От пладне се мома провикнала—
да би защо, моме, за низащо!
Ке промина една лудо младо,
ке промина, мирно не замина,
на везело моми свилна китка.
Викна мома, викна колку може:
"Де сте да сте, мои девет брайкя,
де сте да сте сега тука да сте,
да фанете младо неженето!
Ни го бийте, ни младо губете—
при мене го вързан докарайте,
да го тури мома вечна мъка,
летен дено под зелена сенкя,
зимен дено ю 'ладна одея,
да седне мома срещу него,
да го гори мома с църни очи,
да го бие мома с бели ръце,
да го петни мома с медни уста."

After noon a young girl cried out—
as if she had a reason, but she had none!
Because a crazy young lad had come by,
had come by and had not passed on peacefully
but had snatched her bouquet of jasmine.
The girl cried out with all her might:
“Wherever you are, my nine brothers,
wherever you are, come quick!
Come and catch that young bachelor!
Don’t beat him, don’t judge him—
just tie that young fellow up and bring him to me
so I can torment him forever—
in the summertime in the green shade,
in the wintertime in the cool house.
I’ll sit opposite him
and burn him with my black eyes,
I’ll beat him with my fair arms
and bruise him with my honey lips!”

In going through my material lately, I came across a song to whose file-name I had added simply the word "WOW".  Hmm, which one is that?  So I played it, to see what had impressed me.  Sure enough, it's well worth a post.

Bg map-Screenshot, Lozen
Lózen, Sófia region

Contrary to usual practice, though, I'm going to hold the song till I've talked about it a bit, because I think you'll get a lot more out of it after I tell you something about why I think it's so special.  I recorded the song in what was in 1980 the village of Górni Lózen.  Now there is only one town, Lózen, but in 1980 there was a little bit of a break in the houses between Dólni (Lower) and Górni (upper) Lózen.

The song, which the women said they used to sing when they started gathering (after the harvest was in) to spin, tells a very familiar story:

Two dragons are fighting in the mountains, from them flows a river that flows past Sofia to a dark dungeon.  No one is in the dungeon but the prisoner Gjúro, with a grey falcon on his arm.  He feeds the falcon with bits of his fingers, sheds tears to give him water, combs his hair to make a nest for the falcon.  The falcon asks why he is feeding him so well: "Are you planning to send me far away, or are you planning to use me in battle?"  Gjúro is not planning to do battle.  What he wants is to send the falcon to his home to see what's going on there.  The falcon has already been to his home, he says: "The yard is all overgrown with weeds, and in the weeds there is a dead tree.  On the tree sit three cuckoos.  One of them is your mother, calling you to breakfast; the second is your sister, calling you to dinner; the third is your wife, calling you to bed."

But now, listen to how they sing it!  The two parts barely diverge from each other...one part goes up a little while the other goes down a little, then they converge again—repeating this a few times to give the "melody":

Два се змея на планина бият (Dvá se zméja na planína bíjat), recorded in Górni Lózen, Sófia region, 1980

Listen closely, though, and you'll hear something fascinating!  There's really a lot of subtle detail in this very minimalist song.  The two groups sing different intervals: when the lead singer in the first group goes up to her higher note (which happens a number of times in each verse), at the beginning of the verse she goes up only a little bit (a half-tone), but later she goes up noticeably higher, even a full tone!  But the lead singer in the second group goes consistently to the same interval (only a half-tone).  Does this bother anybody?  Not a bit, as long as you are used to singing with the lead singer you're singing with!  Criss-cross the groupings of singers, though, and you'll get consternation and sometimes (when I first heard this I didn't really believe it, but it's true) COUGHING!  There's really a very physical component to this singing...

So, is this song "wow" because it is beautiful?  Yes, and no.  Personally, I find the minimal melody to be very compelling (incidentally, such melodies are considered to be among the most ancient).  And that subtle variation between the two groups of singers fascinates me  (Try to sing it, and you'll see just how fascinating it really is!)

Those who know Bulgarian and might find it interesting to listen to the discussion that precedes the song, in which one of the women gives the whole text, complete with commentary (they only sing part of it, though).   And here is the full Bulgarian text (in my somewhat messy hand-writing!)

 

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