It's a cold day in late September, 1988, and I am only going to be in the Sámokov region for another week. I am headed up to a small monastery above the village of Govedártsi. On the way I notice that a group of women is working in a field off to the right of the road. It's noontime, so they are napping under sheets of plastic (for warmth).
I head over to see who's there and what I can stir up. I spend awhile with a woman I know, who seems to be awake, and she tells me some songs. After a half-hour or so the others begin to wake up, as it's getting to be time to go back to work.
Background: There's a woman from Govedártsi whose songs have been mentioned to me several times (no details given), but there's never been an opportunity for me to hear them. So now I become aware of a bit of a fuss, and see that people are trying very hard to rouse a woman who seems to be digging herself into the ground with great determination. "Come on, get up, get up!" One of the men even kicks at her foot to get her up, but she only digs in harder. After a few moments I turn away to resume my conversation with the woman I'd been recording...and all of a sudden I hear more commotion behind me. I turn around, and there's the woman on her feet, her buddies goading her to SING! Later I realized that the few men present had moved away and gone back to work (potato-digging that day) — you'll see why this is important, but let's listen to the song first: Тръгнала йе баба(Tragnala je baba), recorded in Govedártsi, Samokov region.
So what IS this song, that she's singing so quietly, that causes so much giggling??? I'll admit, it took getting back to someone I know well enough to translate the critical words for me to understand it! Here's what she sang (heck, I'll give you the musical notation too!):
Not many of these came my way, but I did catch a few! "When did you used to sing it?" "Oh, when we got together! Especially if there were boys present!"
Amazingly enough, there is very little material that I have lost through an accident in the recording process. Out of over 200 cassettes, only 3 or 4 times when I accidentally recorded over something, forgot to turn on the microphone, etc. The minidiscs were always harder for me — I somehow never "understood" those recordings. Dick would copy the recordings to the computer, but I didn't take care to monitor the names he gave the files, or really verify what we had (and we'd gotten sloppy about identifying things, too).
In this case, I knew that we had recorded at least two discs in the village of Drúževo, north of Sofia, near Milánovo. But I could only ever find one file. Yesterday I was looking through yet another hard drive with backup Bulgarian material on it, and I noticed a folder named "Saved minidiscs" — I remembered the name. One was about Drúževo but had a mysterious phrase "Martha announce" in the file name. That sounded odd. The two files were very nearly the same length, but I opened both so I could compare them. Took me a little while to feel 100% sure, but it turned out to be the long-missing file! I am so excited to have it back! The woman I had recorded on that day and the next had given me some traditional songs, and some that she herself had composed. Finally I can see what I really heard there!
I was going to make a start on a new song post, but it got too late (2am), so I have to put that off for a day or two in order to do it justice. It's a promise!
A blog is supposed to be a place where you can write to help yourself think things through, so here goes. (When I can take the time to figure out how to do it, I could keep such things in a section accessible through the menu, e.g., "Martha's working notes" — but trying to do that right now would take time from my primary task, so you'll have to put up with "a useless interruption"!)
In trying to make life simpler, I think I made it more complicated for myself! Here's why:
In 1990 I have no less than THREE sets of recordings:
• August, when I was in Bulgaria for a short time to arrange for the visit of the Bistritsa Babi to the US;
• October when the Babi were in the US; and
• 1990-91 when I went back to Bulgaria for about 6 weeks.
On that winter trip, I went to Bulgaria specifically to work intensively with baba Linka, who was from the village of Bistritsa. I kept my recordings of ALL of our sessions (made in Sofia, where she was living with her daughter) on a set of 15 cassette tapes that I labelled "Linka". So far, so good.
BUT. On that 1990-91 trip I also recorded a number of times in the village of Bistritsa itself — people other than Linka. I also recorded in several other villages: Plana, Govedartsi, and Madžare. All of THAT material (both Bistritsa and not-Bistritsa) went on a set of five "not-Linka" tapes. I have been identifying those tapes (clumsily!) as "not-Linka" material. And now, I have to figure out how to identify them ALL as Bistritsa tapes, while still preserving a distinction! (Why ever? Well....first, because it's just easier to have all the Linka material in one place, not interspersed with the other material. There is so much of that, and relatively so little of "everything else" — I'm not trying to create a travelogue of "Martha's minute-by-minute journey through Bulgaria in the winter of 1990-91" — I am focusing on the material, how to find what you need in it easily.)
How about, to distinguish the two tapes from 1990-91 numbered 3:
• "1990-91 Bistr-L 3b" (Linka tape #3b, specifically side B)
• "1990-91 Bistr-xL 3b Danče's nameday" (not-Linka tape #3, sp. side B)
This might work. I will still keep them in separate folders: 1990-91 Linka, and 1990-91 not-Linka.
Thanks for listening — now back to work! There are a few "real" posts simmering…
Eureka! (Or whatever the word is.) I think I've solved it. Writing this did really help, but sitting down with old files names in one (text) column and new files names in a second column was what really worked: I could change them as much as I liked until I was satisfied with the result. At this point, if I wanted to, I could even mix together the Linka and the xLinka material, because the file names would keep it nicely sorted out. I'd take a screenshot for you, but I can imagine anything much less interesting!
Hi all—I've both been busy at digitizing my cassette tapes that Dick didn't get to, and have been unable to get into this page to tell you about it, because of a technicality with the site. But here's a quickie-update.
First, Peter was here in October, and not only cleaned up (streamlined) a lot of the wiring of my computer/audio set-up, but selected for me a nifty little machine into which I can record my cassette tapes, leaving my computer free for me to do Other Things while digitizing progress is being made: a Tascam DR-40. This is pretty easy to use, AND did not break the bank (they cost about $150). In addition, I now have a decent portable device on which I can make new recordings, besides digitizing the ones I have.
So I bombed through several trips' worth of tapes, and then...I tried to record one, and it sounded—not merely "bad", but AWFUL! I could hardly hear anything, and the sound was wobbly. I cleaned the play head and pinch rollers, tried it in the other deck, in the other direction, but nothing helped. Yet evidence showed that I had once listened to this tape and taken careful notes on contents! Suddenly I remembered seeing Dick do something many years ago. Just as he had done, I whipped the tape out of the machine, turned it over to inspect the little felt pressure pad that keeps the tape snug against the record/playback head. I guess I can't show you exactly what I saw, because that piece of evidence is lost in the shuffle, but here is the difference between a Good pressure pad and a Bad one:
Sometimes they get eaten entirely away, which was the case in the poor cassette I had in hand!
So now what? Fortunately, having lived through this problem before, I knew what to do. I keep a bag of cassettes whose contents I don't care about, for exactly this purpose. You have to unscrew the 5 screws holding the cassette together, separate the two halves CAREFULLY, and remove a good pad (mounted on a narrow strip of springy metal) from an otherwise "dead" cassette. Having done that, you open your damaged cassette with even more care (the other one was just "practice" for this part). Most of all, you do not want to scatter the contents. You don't want the tape itself to unwind, or get out of its "track"; you don't want to lose the plastic sheets that encourage smooth tape travel; nor do you want to dislodge the little rollers with pins inside that can come out and get lost. Did all that work? GREAT, if so, you carefully (using tweezers) lift the bad pad out, throw it away or keep it in your Demo collection, and equally carefully plop the new pad assembly into its place. Once you're sure it's in correctly, reassemble the cassette (being sure the tape doesn't get pinched somewhere as you do so), put back the screws, and voilà! a cassette with a working pressure pad!
But then, having discovered this one VERY bad one, I examined all the other cassettes in my big box o' recorded tapes. I discovered some 30-35 that had pads in greater or lesser need of replacement! I've now spent several hours (is it more than 4? I didn't count) doing this, and as far as I know everything is back in working order. In the process I noted a few tapes I thought I should just re-digitize, because though their pads were not Awful, they were definitely not good. I got pretty good and even quick at doing this, and am thinking of making a video—if I succeed in that, I'll put a link here.
There's one more thing, though. Having replaced the damaged goods, how do I prevent it from happening all over again? You know what moths like to eat: WOOL (and some other things, including, as I've discovered, some things like polar fleece that I don't believe are edible!); these little all-important pads are made of felt, which is usually made of—WOOL. OK, this is a problem I've been dealing with for a number of years. I've now seriously reduced the number of moths in my house and stuff, but they do come back, either because you miss some eggs, or because new ones enter your house.
The solution is amazingly simple: you asphyxiate them with carbon dioxide! (Don't believe what you grew up with hearing about moth balls—I've found a living larva in a garment that had been kept for about a month in a heavy plastic bag with mothballs! Even if mothballs get the living moths and larvae, they don't appear to get the eggs....) So your prep is pretty easy: you arm yourself with some heavy-duty "contractor" plastic bags (check them for leaks, though), or some bins—or even clean trash cans—with loose-fitting lids. You put your stuff in one of these things, in a place where you can leave it undisturbed for several days to a week. When you're all ready, you go to the nearest store where you can get DRY ICE (pellet form is most convenient, but you do what you gotta do). USE GLOVES so you are not handling it with your bare hands, because you'll get a nice "burn", the stuff is COLD. You rush home with this, because it sublimates pretty quickly. You put about 1/2 to 1 pound of dry ice into each bag/bin/barrel, and close the top LOOSELY. As the dry ice sublimates, it releases carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air, so it settles. You want it to drive out the air, and you don't want the bag to explode! Leave it undisturbed for a few days to a week, and you should be home free. Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides has a nice page on this.
Here is a little story I heard in the village of Govedártsi, south-west of Sámokov, Bulgaria, in 1988. I've been saving it, but I think the time has come to share it:
Dobrínka Spásova Kalpáčka was born on the 28th of November 1918 in the village of Raduíl, some 20 kilometers to the south-east of Sámokov. I met her on the afternoon of August 2, 1988, in Govedártsi, a village about the same distance from Sámokov but to the south-west.
This was a bright sunny afternoon relatively early in my two-month stay in Govedártsi (I had a Fulbright grant to do in-depth research into old songs in four villages in the Sámokov region) and I was a bit at loose ends. I thought I’d look for a woman I'd met and recorded a few days earlier—we had found her out tending her cow and she told me some pretty interesting songs, and said she was usually at home in the afternoon. So I had knocked at her door, but, finding no one about, I started down the road, hoping to find someone who knew where she was. But it was noontime, and no one but me seemed to be out and about. Soon I came upon a little grassy patch with a woman sitting in the midst of it in a little patch of shade. Her legs were stretched out straight in front of her the way village women sit (you can see this in the picture at the end of this post), her shoes were off, and she was crocheting. She looked up, and I asked her if she had seen Tina. “No,” she replied, “what do you need her for?” I mumbled something incoherent about looking for old songs, and she said, “Oh, I can tell you one....”
Thus began a delightful session which I remember with great pleasure to this day. My new-found friend was Elénka Ilíeva Mírčeva, herself born in 1921 in the village of Govedártsi. We chatted for a few moments, and her friend Dobrínka walked by. “Dobrinka, come on over here!” she hailed her. Dobrínka replied something that I couldn’t catch, and her friend repeated, “Come over her and we’ll tell the young wife some songs”—and she turned to me to confirm: “Are you married?” When I assured her that I was a married lady, she launched into the song about Krali Marko and Filip Madžárin (not one that, by my lights, would be inappropriate to tell a maiden, but perhaps she was just checking). Dobrinka helped her out a bit, and then it was Dobrinka’s turn. Before she began, I asked the routine information: her full name, when and where she was born. When she mentioned the village of Raduíl, I told her that I had recorded there several years ago. She was excited about this, said I must have recorded her cousins (I could not at the time remember their names, but later checking proved her right). Then I asked her how long she had lived in Govedartsi....
“My father was killed in the war in 1918, and I was born after that, three months later. My mother had been pregnant, and she had me three months after he was killed. After that–my mother came here, she married someone from Govedártsi, and she brought me here when I was eight months old. Trouble was, the people here didn’t want me, and they sent me back. So I lived with my grandmother and my uncles in Raduíl. And—but when I was born, my mother didn’t want to nurse me. She wanted me to die. Y’ know, a child with no father, you know how much that costs. And her breasts got infected. They started to hurt. OK, but it wasn’t like it is now, there wasn’t anything you could buy to feed a baby. And so I was hungry, and I cried and cried, and somebody said to my grandmother, ‘Maria, there’s this Turkish Roma woman nearby, she has a little one. Go talk to her, let her nurse yours too, so the baby can go to sleep, and stop crying.’ And my grandmother went to see that Turkish Roma woman. ‘Selíma,’ she said, ‘would you be willing to come and nurse our baby too, such-and-such happened, its mother is sick and can’t nurse it and we don’t know what to do–she’s very tiny.’ And Selíma, granny Selíma, said, ‘OK, I’ll come. Granny Maria, I’ll come and nurse it.’ So for two whole months a Turkish Roma woman nursed me.”
“Wow!” exclaimed her friend Elenka.
“Two whole months.”
“That means you have Turkish—blood— ”
“Oh, I’ve got Roma in me too,” affirmed Dobrinka.
The thing that struck me at this point was Elenka’s reaction. Clearly the women were good friends—neighbors, as I later learned, and indeed close friends—but from everything I could tell (short of “breaking” the mood by intruding my own questions) Elenka was hearing this piece of information about her friend for the first time. She spoke almost with a sense of wonder, that Dobrinka had “Turkish ‘blood’” in her veins from being nursed as an infant by a Turkish Roma woman.
“Turkish Roma,” continued Dobrinka. “Yes! Well, after awhile my mother’s breasts got better, and— And then she re-married, and she brought me here [to this village]. Well, that was fine, but they didn’t want to have to raise me, here, and they sent me back. OK, but then in ’23 they killed two of my uncles. Both at the same time. And the other two—well, they worried them—you know how they worry people like that. So I went to school there, first and second grade, and then when I was ready to go into third grade my grandmother died, and I[??? something unclear] back here. And that’s the way my life—”
By this time my own mouth was hanging open. With such a story I would sooner have expected a hardened, embittered person—but the woman who sat with us on the grass seemed to be graced with one of the gentlest, most generous souls I have ever encountered, an impression which did not change as I saw her in later years, on other occasions.
“But,” she continued, “wait, let me tell you something else, Elenka! One year we were in Velingrad [a beautiful spa town on the other side of the Rila mountain range] on vacation with the child [presumably her grandchild], I had Sašo with me.”
“Oh yes, tell the young lady!” urged Elenka. (She seemed to know this story, but later she reacted to it as if hearing it for the first time.)
“I’ll tell it. I took Sašo—he was only this big (she shows me how tall he was), we were on vacation together. OK, but the place where we got our food was a little distance away from where we were sleeping—about as far as to the little square down there [down the hill from where we were sitting]. One morning we were headed down for breakfast. Everybody had gone on ahead, and I was waiting for the child—he was playing with this ‘n’ that. And I was standing there by the road waiting for him, and as I looked down below the road I saw some Roma picking camomile. And all of a sudden one of them, big as my husband here [husband Spas had joined us by that time], he was a little closer to us, and he jumped over the gully by the side of the road and came up to me. Right up onto the road. And he says to me, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘From Govedartsi,’ I said, ‘and where are you from?’ ‘I’m from Bratánitsa, near Pázardžik,’ he says, ‘but I was born in Raduil. Aren’t you—my mother’s told me that she nursed a little Bulgarian with my milk?’”
“Good Lord!” exclaims Elenka, and we both gasp.
“Well, if you would believe it,” continued Dobrinka, “I felt as if the ground had just fallen out from under me, and then came back. What a thing—just imagine, what a coincidence, to run into your brother like that! So we stood and talked for quite awhile, and—and to this day I’m angry, it just didn’t occur to me to get that boy’s address.”
In 1989 I saw Dobrinka and her husband again, and she told me the story again. At the end of that conversation, I asked how the Roma man had recognized her? (I had secretly wondered if they might have seen each other occasionally as they grew up.) But both Dobrinka and Spas said definitively that it was a "completely chance" meeting, and he did not know or "recognize" her. It just turned out that way. I wish I had a picture of him too!
For the die-hards who would like to hear this conversation, I'll put it here—but I don't really expect many people to listen to it!
Later that afternoon, Elenka told Dobrinka how I had visited the village two summers before (with my husband and son) and had gone up into the field where a group of women were haying—another magical occasion. The women had sung, and we had recorded, and Elenka had recognized me from then, although she didn’t let on right away.
This may not be a very exciting story, but I want to share some of how I've been spending my time and allowing my recordings to entertain me lately. I've been to Bulgaria 26 times and counting, and made recordings of some sort on all but the first trip. My first recordings were made in 1978 (on a $40 Radio Shack recorder), and the most recent were several videos I took last summer. Three of these trips were formal research trips (including one funded by IREX and one by Fulbright) of 3 months apiece, on each of which I recorded about 50 90-minute cassette tapes. The others ranged from a week at the shortest, to a month or more, with correspondingly less recorded material.
This means I have a LOT of recordings!! Now, the three biggie trips (1980-81, 1985, and 1988) are documented to a fare-thee-well: big, fat 3-ring binders stuffed with an inch and a half of pages each. (I would go back to Bulgaria and friends would tell me my Bulgarian was better, and ask me what I'd been doing. "Oh, listening to my tapes," I would say.) These contain complete transcriptions of all the songs plus notes on everything people said that I found potentially interesting (and we didn’t stop the tape recorder between songs, mind you — if you do that, you ALWAYS miss things, because usually the singers don’t “decide to sing something", tell you about it, and wait till you’re ready before they start singing! A song will start in the midst of a conversation, often while people are talking. Or they may sing lightly, and decide to continue; or sometimes they will “try a song out” first (and not want you to record the trial — but we quickly learned to let the tape recorder run, because if it does go well they won’t want to repeat it. So you record everything and figure you can pick and choose later!) I’ve also made a short "index" listing for each session (date, what tape number, names of the singers, and a listing of the songs and interesting discussion points, with very little comment), and lists by first lines for each trip. And a few other forms of lists, depending on what struck me as useful at the time.
I’ve been wanting to make a map showing everywhere I’ve recorded, and also to have a master inventory of everything I’ve recorded, so I recently started to work on this. But...projects always seem so much simpler when you get the idea, than they do when you start to implement them! For the informal trips I made after about 1990, when I was primarily “visiting with friends” but also recording, I have a very spotty set o’ documentation. Some of these are transcribed and indexed as carefully as the big trips, but others...to be painfully honest, there are some I have never actually listened to. All I know about what’s on them is the location and possibly the date — whatever I wrote on the label to identify them. Some of them are very neat; others look like this: and, after all these years, even I can’t figure out exactly what that means!
Around 2000 we started using a Sony minidisc recorder. When we came home from a trip, Dick would usually make computer files from the recordings, and we would erase the discs so we could re-use them. Even later we started using a Zoom recorder, again saving the material to our computer so we could re-use the memory chips. Now, cassette tapes can have labels stuck onto them, but minidiscs and (worse yet!) files on the Zoom recorder are much harder to label when you are “in the field”. To complicate matters, I never got into the habit of keeping good external “research notes” in any organized fashion. I’ve never been too good at writing and talking and gathering up equipment, etc., etc., all at the same time! That is merely “difficult to do” on a formal recording trip; when you’re visiting friends and having parties...it becomes downright impossible!
So here I sit, surrounded by piles of sometimes barely-identified objects, trying to identify a variety of objects positively and make a good list of the contents — which for my present purpose means listing location, date, what tape number/disc/whatever it’s on, how many songs I recorded in that place on that date, and a very cursory description of the informants, usually as simple as “8 women born between 1917 and 1942.”
Where am I with it now? In retrospect I would say that, because I already had Lists galore, I breezed through the material up through 1988 (though at the time it seemed pretty slow and painstaking, but then....I was inventing my system as I went along). But then I got to about 1992, and things slowed down and got way more difficult. I’m now up through 2001, with something between sketchy and full info for all the trips since then, and man! but it can take me days to finish listing one trip! (On what date DID I go to X in 2001? Oh, maybe my calendar will tell me....nope, I didn’t make notes in the calendar! In the more recent years of digital cameras, the date on my photos helps...) I guess it's fair to say that I'm coming down the home stretch, I have 7 or 8 more trips to do, then I can start merging all the trips into one humungous Master File.
The Good News is that, in the course of doing all this, I discovered that I can still make the minidisc machine work. And yes!! I left the sound system set up so that all I have to do to record something is play it (no plugs to chase down and rearrange)! I made the delightful discovery that no, the fact that my Tablet has a pretty strong magnet in it does NOT seem to have damaged the tapes that have spent under it or piled on top of it (magnets, you know, erase cassette tapes! but evidently this was not strong enough to do damage). And, I’ve been getting reacquainted with tons o’ Good Stuff to post here. Just the other day I played a 90-minute collection of some songs I find particularly beautiful (solo harvest songs, sedenka songs, and “table songs” — sung as entertainment at some festive occasion) and found that I wanted to just post ALL OF THEM! Well, bit by bit.
So, if you’ve gotten this far, thank you for humoring me by reading my rant about what my days have been filled with lately, and now....I think I’ll get back to it, so I can finish the List and get to the eventual Map, and have more beautiful, interesting songs for you!
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.)
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!
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!
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!”
Something that I've come to realize, as I work with my recorded material, is that the songs really DID function as a means of communication, in a time where there was not even electricity or telephones, much less cell phones, where people lived. Here I would like to share some small examples of that.
A particularly striking one, to me, is the day in the summer of 1988 (August 16, to be exact!) that I went with my husband Dick and my friend Erica to a place a bit outside of Govedártsi, south-west of Sámokov—a place they know by the name of Lakátitsa. (Peter, my son, was not with us that day— he had gone somewhere else with a friend.) It was along the road that leads north-west from the village in this screenshot from Google Maps.
So, instead of going out to the working site in the morning with the women, we were driven out later by someone, arriving towards the end of their noonday break. But the women (whose job at the time was to feed hay into the baling machine) were still sitting, showing no sign of working, because the baler was being repaired by the men. Once we arrive and settle in a bit, two women start singing for us. And while they are singing, suddenly, from wa-y-y-y high up the steep hill to the south of us, we hear another group of workers calling. A bit of a shouted conversation ensues— "Right away! We're getting up right away!" After a moment three people started to sing. I tried to find something playable on my tape, but unfortunately they were so far away that we got next-to-nothing. However, after they finished, the women told me the words to the song they were singing:
Море я ста'яйте да ста'яме, дружино верна зговорна
на поста(т) се наредете, дружино верна зговорна
да видиме коя нема! дружино верна зговорна
Come, stand up, let's stand up, oh my faithful band [here: of co-workers]
take your places, so we can se who's missing!
I later realized that with their song they were "asking" about what was happening—the kind of real "in context" singing that I had secretly hoped I might find! "What's going on down there? Why aren't you working?!" The noontime break is over, you should be back to work, why aren't you?
Three years earlier in the village of Mádžare (just east of Govedartsi), Ánka Fílipova, a woman who eventually told me a large number of beautiful songs, had been telling me a song to which I will devote a whole post one day. It's a song Anka considered particularly "hers" because the heroine is named Yána (a variant of Anna, as is Anka). "You see those two teeth-shaped mountains up there? [on the ridge of the Rila Mountain.] When I was a girl, I would go up there gathering blueberries, and when I sang, my father could hear me all the way down here in the village!" From the map, it looks to me as if this might have been a good 2 miles "up". Yes, I thought, the woman had a strong, beautiful voice. And then...
And then I thought more. What might it have meant to this man, whose daughter was all the way at the top of some of the highest mountains on the Balkan Peninsula, probably with a small group of friends, in mountains where bears, wolves, and all sorts of wild animals abounded, not to mention lonely shepherds, foresters, outlaws (you name the dangers), to hear her singing?
He could hear his daughter singing, and he knew she was all right—at least so far!
I've been having fun reading a Bulgarian book I recently got, and starting to listen to the CD that accompanies it. The publication augments a book I've had and cherished for many years (it's the book pictured on the cover of the new one), Музикално-фолклорни диалекти в България (Folk Music Dialects in Bulgaria), by Eléna Stóin, published in 1981. The original book does a beautiful job of outlining the major folk music regions of the country — Thrace, Rhodope, etc.), plus the smaller transitional regions. It includes a map showing these regions (see below), followed by a thorough description of the region's musical characteristics, and includes musical transcriptions of a goodly number of songs from each region — but no sound recordings.
What this new book adds to this picture is a CD with over 200 sound recordings of these examples — dating from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, a time when the singing traditions were still alive and strong in the villages. If you're not as deeply into all this as I am, you may not know that this is a layer of the musical tradition of which we have very, very few examples that we can actually listen to. So this is quite a treasure! The samples are not long, because Bulgarian folklorists in those days did not have much recording tape available to them, so they could only record a verse or two of the song (some of these songs go on for a long time if sung all the way through), but they did try to get a solid sound-picture of each song: its melody, its harmony if it has any, and the singing style. Plus information about the song's "social function" — when it is sung, and where it fits into the daily or holiday life of the village.
But what I actually wanted to write about here is how impressed, even deeply moved, I was by the half-dozen introductory pages. Here the editors of the book (Tsénka Jordanóva and Mariijána Búleva) deftly and in a very readable way outline how the academic discipline of "Folk Music" developed — and the way it is still viewed by us today! "Dry and dull," you may say? HELL NO! It describes the work of a handful of Bulgarian scholars in a way the not only brings them to life as people, but really caused me to sit back and appreciate the way they evolved a way to think about, talk about, and present this material. Can I bring this to life for you a bit? Let me try.
The editors create quite a picture of Eléna Stóin as a person. Her passion was fieldwork, she is the one who came up with the idea of calling these regions "musical dialects". In the 1950s and 60s when she started doing fieldwork, many of the villages where she and her colleagues recorded did not even have electricity. The idea of being able to record someone's voice and listen to it later!....well, people came from miles around to try this out. Stóin was also keenly interested in the peoples' lives, and made many marginal notes in her fieldwork journals about these things. She sounds so much like "my kind of person" that I found myself really regretting that, although I met her in the winter of 1980-81, I did not really get to know her at all.
As I said, Stóin's book divides Bulgaria's vast folk musical expression into different regional styles (or musical "dialects"), which I will show here on a version of her map that I took the liberty of coloring and labelling in Latin letters as well as Cyrillic:
Click on the map to see it full-size. The areas in which I have done most of my own work are the blue area, Central West, the green area to the right of it (Ihtiman Sredna Gora), the yellow and orange areas below it (Pirin and Velingrad), plus one village near the bottom right of the red (Rhodope) area.
When this book came out in 1981, it became the standard for describing Bulgarian musical folklore. But at that time there were precious few actual field recordings to listen to, so as the music started being taught by professionals, it lost some of its "edge". For instance, the wonderful singer Kreména Stánčeva told me how, when she sang songs she had learned in her village (Kovačévtsi, near Sámokov) for Philip Koutev (director of the choir now known as Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares), he told her she was singing wrong musical intervals (i.e., some of her notes were a little flat, or sharp)! She had to grab some women who were cleaning at the place they rehearsed (they were from her native region but not "trained singers") to sing for him, and show him that's the way they really do sing there!!!
So I will include here just one example of these early recordings, made by a colleague of Elena Stoin:
Йофчар ме, мамо, излъга(Jofčar me, mamo, izlâga), recorded in Kostándovo, Vélingrad region in 1958 by Nikolaj Kaufman.
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.