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2

Here is a story that seems particularly appropriate right now.  It comes in several parts:

Dolen, Blagoevgrad region

Part 1 happened in the winter of 1980-81, when, together with Dick and Peter, we wanted to visit the village of Dólen (some 17 miles east of Gótse Délčev), because we knew there was a very special kind of singing done only there, and in the neighboring town of Satóvča.  One of the things we learned is that there is some pretty fierce rivalry between the towns as to who stole it from whom! but that is not part of this story.

The first thing that happened, when we arrived in Dólen on a wet and icy 14th of January (the roads were closed later in the day, so we felt lucky to even get there), was that the ensemble director Silvéta Mánčeva greeted us, but told us that the women didn't want to come.  They'd promised to come when she'd asked them the day before, but today it was so icy that they did not want to come out at all....  So she went to try to round them up.  We waited in the warm Cultural Center (I still remember watching steam rising from our wet coats and jackets as they warmed up from the heat of the stove).  And they did come!  But before I go any further, let's listen to an example of this kind of singing:

Слага се слънце, надведа (Slága se slântse, nadvéda), recorded in Dólen (near Satóvča) in the winter of 1980-81  (song texts at end of post)

When we recorded this, all of the singers insisted that none of the young people in the village could do this "high singing (na visóko)"; even Silvéta herself, born in 1947) could not do it.  "It takes a special voice."

I was lucky enough to be able to record several examples of just the "high singing", without the lower part, which stood me in good stead later.  Here is a little sample:

Лесни се, горо (Lesní se, goro), recorded in Dólen


Part 2

After I came home in 1981 with my treasure (about 75 hours of village singing and discussion — almost 900 songs, including a few instrumental melodies!), I gradually started to assemble some "favorites" — songs I especially liked, good songs for sharing, songs that I thought local singers might like to learn...  Among these was "Slaga se, Slântse" (above).

So, sometime after 1985 I sang for awhile with one of Boston's earliest ensembles that did Bulgarian music, Evo Nas.  We singers decided to try and see if we could do this na visóko singing.  To our considerable amazement, we found that once we wrapped our heads around the notes we were trying to sing, and took that "leap of faith"....IT JUST FLEW!  I think we were sitting on my livingroom couch when that happened the first time.

After another year or two Evo Nas folded (too many members had moved away, but by 1989 a couple of us die-hards had formed the ensemble Zdravets, which is still going strong in the Boston area — and the singers continue to sing this song to this day.

Part 3
Moving on to the summer of 1988, I was in Bulgaria on another recording expedition for three months, during several weeks of which my husband Dick, my son Peter, and my long-time singing partner Erica Zissman joined me.  We were offered the services of a car and a driver for a few days, and decided that one of the places we would like to go was Dólen.  We cherished the hope that we could get the na visóko singers to come — even if only for a few minutes — to listen to our na visóko singing and tell us if we were doing it "right".  We arrived in the village just about 6pm, which is a TERRIBLE time for village women - at that time of day their flocks are coming home from pasture and need to be greeted, milked, and bedded down for the night.  But we found Silvéta, and asked nicely, and once again, she managed  to round up four of the women who did this singing.  Interestingly enough, Erica and I found that we could not sing with them, because in the eight years since I had recorded them, there were tiny changes in timing and possibly even pitches.  But what do you know?  If they sang, and we answered them (in the traditional style)...  it worked just fine!  But at that time young people in their own village still could not do it.

Part 4
Fast forward to the summer of 1991, when the big national folk festival was held in Koprívštitsa.  (Dick and I led a tour, and nearly all of Zdravets came, but again — that is another story.)  We narrowly missed the performance of the group from Dólen, but caught up with them afterwards, and they sang a little for us.  Who sang?  Who sang na visóko?  Everyone — the older women, the younger women, I think there were kids there who sang — and Silvéta sang!  I guess that if two crazy Americans (of all things) could learn to sing this way....!

Coda
Unfortunately there are two sad parts to the coda.  One is that by 2010, when on a later tour we stopped again in Dólen, there was no singing group there anymore, though there was a strong one in Satóvča, who sang for us, and persuaded me to do some singing with them (I had no partner on that tour, though).

The other sad part is that my dear friend Erica, with whom I started singing in 1971, succumbed to a cancer she had been fighting for six years, at the end of February.  The tiny sliver of silver lining is that Zdravets had sung this song in a coffeehouse two days before she died, and I had shared this story — and I did manage to visit Erica the day before she died, and remind her of this adventure.  We shared a moment of gratitude for the way our lives were intertwined.

Erica Zissman (1951-2018)

Song texts:

6

Today I was amused to see this update to a news item:

Fake news, but once upon a time....

I'd been noticing this item for several days, and every time I did, I found myself thinking, "Hmmm....have they been listening to old Bulgarian songs?"  So today I want to share with you a song about Jánko and Janínko.  But first, I'd like to point out that anyone who gets involved with Bulgarian folklore will sooner or later bump into the 500 years of "Turkish slavery", when Bulgaia was ruled by Turks.  If you're dim on this important piece of history, check it out online.  The Wikipedia article on Ottoman Bulgaria is a good place to start.

So, as you can imagine, a lot of terrible, tragic things happened to individuals and to families in that time.  One that is well-represented in the Bulgarian song repertoire is exactly our "song of the day", the one about Jánko and Janínko.  I just went searching through my lists to see when and where I've recorded it; I see that I have more than 20 versions of it (and counting)—plus an additional song I recorded in Bistritsa, that may be yet another version, or it might be an offshoot that developed in a somewhat different direction.

In other words, this is a very powerful story, that village people remember.  I guess it all goes to show that "there's nothing new under the sun"! though I'd like to point out that most likely this Bulgarian song originated not in someone's fancy (like the news item), but in response to a real event.

Here is a nicely-sung version, which I see that I already gave you early last year, but I will re-post here, with its beautifuland haunting Samokovsko "harvest song melody":
Bg map-Screenshot, Dragovishtitsa

К вечерум се робье продавая (K večerum se rob'je prodavaja), recorded in Kovačévtsi, Samokov region.

You can find the text and translation for this version in my post from February 2016, "Harvest songs...Part 1".

Eléna Nikólova Božílova, Béli Ískâr 1988 (click on the picture to see it larger)

But, to give you something new this time, here is a version that I recorded three years later in Béli Ískâr, also Sámokov region, from Eléna Nikólova Božílova, born in 1931.  Elena has given me many magnificent versions of songs, and I consider this the granddaddy of this song.  It is a good example of the way a consummate singer can breathe life into a story-line.  Here are two pdf files, one with the original Bulgarian text, and one with a translation.

Now, I know that if you read the translation carefully, you're going to wonder about some peculiar, even illogical, things about the plot.  This was only the second song she gave me, and I don't think she'd yet gotten over her shock at meeting me.  You see, I had met her husband in the village square, and he took me to their home, certain that we would find her there.  But no....she was nowhere to be found.  He went out to look for her, leaving me alone in the house.  It was a warm day and I started feeling a bit drowsy, so I lay down to rest a bit, when....Elenka walked in!  She had NOT met her husband before coming home, she just walked in and found a total stranger lying down in her house! and she seemed pretty cross.  I tried to explain calmly why I was there and what had happened, and she gradually relaxed.  In the end she became quite friendly to me—you can see this in her smile here, but that took a little while.  She gave me 21 fine songs, and when I saw her again in 1994 and she told me more than 30 more!

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