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A few words to clarify the content of the song in my previous post, "Are the songs beautiful?"  When I played this song for the singers in Zdravets, first of all I was delighted that my singing partners were as excited about the song as I am, and want to sing it.  But when I told them the text of the song, I got an unexpected question about the last part of the story:

....What Gjúro 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."

"So," they said, "they're all dead (the mother and sister and wife)?"  That interpretation had never occurred to me, but my friends have learned that cuckoos are not especially propitious omens in these songs, so they thought that Gjuro's imprisonment had killed the whole family.  But I wasn't so sure, and today I had the opportunity to ask a Bulgarian friend, a singer herself, who knows the song repertoire very well.  She confirmed my own interpretation (that they are not dead, but missing him terribly), and fleshed out for me some of the extensive symbolism in the song tradition:

  • First, a falcon or an eagle is recognized as the bearer of news (if the story is about a young woman, it might be a dove instead).  He has been to Gjuro's home and found desolation:
  • Gjuro being imprisoned and unable to take care of it, the yard has become overgrown with weeds;
  • the tree in the yard (trees representing the roots, in this case the foundation of the home) has withered and died;
  • the three women (mother, sister, wife), bereft and abandoned, are represented as cuckoos, because cuckoos are known for their plaintive, lonely call.

So much intense feeling packed into a few short lines!  And so easy for us to completely miss the real meaning of the song, that lies just beneath this delicate phrasing.   This is one reason that I never decline to hear again a song that I might have heard a dozen times: because this singer might add a few words that completely change my understanding of the song, or clarify something I've puzzled about for years.  I'll have more to say along this line in another post.


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