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No new posts for what seems like ages....  No, I did not fall off the face of the earth, or get lost in a Slough of Despond (though I've spent some time there), or decide to quit blogging — or even taken off for Parts Unknown.  I've been caught in a tangled web of my own making!  The thumbnail version is something like this:

Some of you know that my archive of recordings is already partially in the American Folklife Collection at the Library of Congress.  But about half of it is still here at home, because I have to finish digitizing it (so I have copies) before I can send it.  AND...the part that's there is, I would say, virtually inaccessible, because if you look at that page, you will see only the most general information about "what it is":

  • 104 sound cassettes : analog.
  • 4 sound discs (CD-R) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
  • manuscripts 1 box (11 folders)

Huh?  You, looking at that, might ask, "What's IN those 104 sound cassettes, and how can I find out enough about it to know if there's anything there that might be of interest to me?"

The information about it is actually all very thoroughly documented in the "box of manuscripts", and probably also on one or two of the CD-R's — but how would you know that, or know how to access them?  So I've recently been in contact with the folks at Library of Congress, and as a result of that correspondence, I've been copying all my digitized files onto a small drive to send to them, AND....getting the primary documentation (the "track-by-track" one) transliterated into Latin script, so you can read "Zatvoren Gergin založen" instead of "Затворен Гергин заложен"!  You still might not be able to understand it, but at least you can read and copy the letters!  (And then, accordingly, I will have to do some re-alphabetizing, because З comes early in the Cyrillic alphabet, whereas Z is at the end of the Latin alphabet!)  So many details, so little time.  Once I've done all that and sent them the drive, I hope they will find a way to put enough of it into the record that a human being who just happens to learn about it, but doesn't know me from Adam, can have a clue.

MF 1988 tapes
MF 1988 tapes

And...of course, in the process I have turned up a @#$%-load o' little problems, or at least questions.  Like: since taking them the tapes I took them in 2006, I have photographed the actual cassettes, etc. that I still have at home, so that I have a visual record of what I have as well as the text record that, Martha being after all Martha, varies from trip to trip, and at minimum tends to get pretty complex.  The 1988 material (that I'm now finishing up digitizing) looks like this:

But I didn't take pictures like that for the material I gave them in 2006, included in which are a couple of tapes I didn't intend to give them, because they're copies of material someone else gave to me.  BUT, I can find some of those at home, but not all.  So what DID I actually send them???  Well, my contact there has kindly sent someone to photocopy the physical tapes I did send, and now (after a week and a half of wondering) I do know.

And exactly what paperwork documentation did I send them?  I kept notes, that I thought were "definitive", but 10 years later, those definitive things can become highly debatable!  Then there are little details in my documentation, which (having been done over a period of 35 years or so) is not the same for each trip.  I won't even attempt to go into that, because I'd be sitting here all day writing, and you'd have stopped reading!

Anyway, this post is to let you know that I've finally gotten that situation roughly under control and definitely underway, so I can come back to writing about the fun part: writing about the material.  I even came up with the song for my next "real" post while doing this paperwork stuff, so I hope to get that out soon.



Many kinds of emergencies can happen when one is working in the field - being struck by lightning, having a baby, having a grandchild break an arm or a leg coming down off a pile of hay (this doesn't happen to the 60- and 70-year-olds who have spent their lives doing this, but it does happen to their city-raised grandchildren who come to visit in the summer).  Then there was the evening when I saw a friend come home from a day's haying carrying a broken pitchfork [picture].  "What happened?" I asked.  "Oh, I'm strong, I broke it!"

My own emergency was of quite a different nature.  In 1980 I went to Bulgaria planning to traipse around to as many villages in the south-western part of the country as I could in three months, recording old songs from (mostly) old ladies with a brand-new Sony cassette recorder.  My husband Dick and our son Peter came with me for half the time.  Dick had selected the recorder (a new model, very high-quality but small enough and light enough not to be a burden to carry).  At the time his profession was repairing audio equipment, so he brought along a small selection of tools in case he needed them: needle-nosed pliers, a small soldering-iron and some solder, screwdrivers, a bottle of nail polish.... After a few weeks we began to notice that the machine was not making very good recordings. Inspecting it yielded no clues.  For awhile we thought maybe the cold weather was causing the problem, so we would carry it inside our jackets to keep it warm.  But it continued to get worse, not better.  When we found ourselves in Blagóevgrad, or guide suggested we visit the local radio station, where Dick could use some of their test instruments.  There was a power outage...but they had their own emergency generator, so he was able to work on it.  But he just couldn't figure out what needed fixing!

Gotse Delchev, Jan 1981
Looking out over Gótse Délčev from our hotel window in the winter of 1980-81

We continued south to the beautiful town of Gótse Délčev, where someone loaned us a machine of lesser quality as a stop-gap measure.  Finally, one afternoon Dick sent Peter and me out for a walk while he worked on it.  When we came back, we found him literally in tears.  Why?  Well, he had realized what the problem was: within the first 30 hours of using this brand-new machine, the record/play head (the soul of the machine that makes the recordings and also plays them back) had...worn out!!!

Now what?

Gótse Délčev, Blagóevgrad region, Bulgaria
Gótse Délčev, Blagóevgrad region

Well, since I was officially a participant in the scholarly exchange program with Bulgaria, I was entitled to help from someone at the US Embassy, so we braved the wilds of placing a telephone call—which in those days was not a trivial matter.  Fortunately we were able to do it from our hotel (rather than going to the Post Office).  We were able to reach my contact, and he asked me where we were.  "In Gótse Délčev," I said.  There was a pause, and I don't think I will ever forget his reply.  "Well," he said thoughtfully, I know who HE is [one of the partisans at the turn of the 20th century, see Gotse Delchev], but I don't know where you are."

We worked my location out and, probably because we were near Greece at the time, his first thought was that maybe we could get a part in Greece.  (Leave Bulgaria and come back?  Really??!  Visas, transportation, all that stuff?!)  But it turned out they did not have the part in the store he was thinking of in Solun (Thessaloniki).

So, quite down-hearted, we wended our way back to Sofia, because Dick and Peter were scheduled to leave Bulgaria in a few days, leaving me there to do another month and a half of research with an inadequate tape recorder.  (In those days you brought absolutely EVERYTHING you might need with you when you went to Bulgaria—down to the kleenex and paperclips.)  I must have called my friend Vergíli Atanásov, a scholar of musical instruments who had technical knowledge.  Wonder of wonders: he had a spare head for a Teac machine that he didn't need right then, which he offered to give me!  Further wonder of wonders: it fit my machine! but Dick didn't have everything he needed in order to install it.  I was able to produce a little nail file that would do, but we needed Epoxy, or something like that.  Which it turned out that our friend Lauren Brody, who just happened to be in Bulgaria at the time, just happened to have.

Armed with my nail file, his soldering iron, and Lauren's epoxy, Dick sat down to work on the tape recorder, sending Peter and me off to Bístritsa where there was a huge celebration scheduled in honor of Bábinden—Midwives' Day, when new mothers visited the midwife who had delivered their baby that year, to the tune of raucous and ribald merry-making, ending in a trip to the river where the young men dragged the midwives into the river (this was January...) and everybody got wet....

Babinden in Bistritsa,
Bábinden in Bístritsa, 21 January 1981

We had a great time watching the formal presentation, then went down the road to watch the fun by the river from a good vantage-point, and later caought  a lovely off-guard photo of the Bístritsa bábi (grannies) in the town square, where the journalists and photographers were lining them up for a formal photo-shoot.

The Bístritsa Babi (Grannies), 27 Jan 1981
The Bístritsa Babi (Grannies), 21 Jan 1981

And came back to our hotel room, biting our fingernails.  As we walked into the room, we heard the tape-recorder playing: Dick had pulled off his repair!

The next day, Dick and Peter returned to the US, leaving me in Bulgaria till the end of February with a now-working tape recorder.

There is a small sequel to this story.  After I returned in 1981, we contacted Sony about our problem.  They tried to blame the tapes we were using (not a major brand), but we told them we used those tapes in all the tape recorders we have as well as at the place Dick worked, with no such problem.  They replaced the head; the new one wore out also.  The machine is still working with Vergili's Teac head!




Getting together this post, which I thought was going to be simple ("Just put up some nice songs"...), has taken me a good week!  There is SO much more to say about each of these songs, and pictures to show, and customs to well as all of the music, texts, and maps to gather.  I hope I've learned my lesson and will try to present more limited posts from now on!

This is a HUGE topic, which I am going to have to break into manageable chunks...

One of the things I was specifically looking for, when I went to Bulgaria in the winter of 1980-81, was harvest songs (which became generalized to include ALL field-work).  Even though it was winter, I recorded over 100 of these songs!  And of course, on my other trips I have similarly recorded a great many, especially in the summer of 1988, when I was there from July through early October.

Everywhere I went, I found that some of these songs were sung solo (or by two voices singing in unison), others were sung with a drone.  In each case, a second person/group to sing would repeat each verse, singing the same words sung by the first group.  In the process of recording these, I learned that a great many of these songs had very precise times when they were sung, at the time when the tradition was strong.  I also learned that for the achingly-beautiful solo harvest songs, each village has its own melody (sometimes more than one, but often only one) to which they were sung.

Another time I'll talk more about which songs are sung when, which are solo/which are group, and all that - but first, I think I will pamper myself and offer you some of the solo harvest songs whose melodies I particularly love.  So, without further ado, bathe yourself in these songs!  Texts will be at the end, as usual.

Bg map-Screenshot, Cherna gora

Бегала Янка
(Begála Jánka), recorded in ‏ Čérna gorá, Pérnik region.
  For me, this melody has a feeling of immense space if I see, stretching out in front of me, a huge field that we're going to be working in all day!

Bg map-Screenshot, Bistritsa


I wanted to put Bístritsa's beautiful harvest melody here, but could not find a suitable recording when I first posted this.  I've found it now, see "Harvest Songs...part II".


Bg map-Screenshot, Plana

Ой Петъре, Петъре юначе
(Oj Petâre, Petâre junáče),
recorded in Plána, Sofia region.  A cautionary tale - read the translation!  Plána is not far from Kovačévtsi, you can hear a similarity in the melodies.

Bg map-Screenshot, Kovachevtsi

К вечерум се робье продавая
(K večerum se rob'je prodavaja), recorded in Kovačévtsi, Samokov region.  The theme of children separated at a young age, whose lives cross again later in life, is very widespread.

Bg map-Screenshot, Dragovishtitsa

Облагала се Драгана
(Oblagála se Dragána), recorded in Jambórano (now part of Dragovíštitsa), Kjustendíl region.
  A beautiful melody with a terrifying text, if you get all the way to the end.

Bg map-Screenshot, Pernik

Карай, Райо!
(Karaj, Raja!), recorded in Vladája, a suburb to the south-west of Sofia. Before singing, Kúna explains that this song is sung towards evening, when the girls are hurrying to finish the field.


Song texts:

T- Ch.Gora '80-2 Begala Janka


T- Plana '80-15 Pojde Pet'r na rai bozhi d'ide



T- Kovach '85-23 K vecherum se robje (fr 2Girls booklet)

K večerum se robje prodavaja, pdf

T- Jamborano '80-11 Oblagala (hand-wr w transl)


Karaj, Rajo, daleko e kraja!



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