Sunday, April 27, 2008

Georgia on my mind

Following on from my post the other week: Why don’t you sing songs from India? I came across a really interesting article written by a Georgian ethno-musicologist based in Australia.

Now the internet is a funny thing! Most people don’t really understand how to do decent searches (but that’s a whole other story), and even if you do, often you stumble across something unintended but interesting. Rather like browsing in an old-fashioned bricks and mortar book shop (remember them?), or record shop (can’t remember the last time I saw one of them!).

I was trying to find a recording of a particular Georgian song to see if it sounded like the sort of thing I could use with the choir (I find it really hard to imagine what a song sounds like just by looking at the written score). I stumbled across a blog called the Georgian Music MP3 Archive. Just the sort of place to find recordings of Georgian songs you would think. Well, they are there, but you have to do a bit of digging since recent posts include How does cloning work? Why humans bother with emotions, and 10 tips for avoiding cancer. Methinks this is a good example of blog title not telling you what to expect! (You can find lots of interesting articles on Georgian music, folklore and history by clicking on the appropriate category in the side bar)

Any way, to cut a long story short, I stumbled across: Distribution of Vocal Polyphony among the World’s Musical Cultures by Joseph Jordania. A fascinating read which covers many of the issues I raised in my earlier post, but this time from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about! Joseph has also written an interesting piece about Georgian singing.

I first met Joseph in around 1990 in Cardiff when he (and the sadly departed Edisher Garakanidze who founded the Georgian choir Mtiebi and inspired the book 99 Georgian songs) came to run a week-long Georgian singing workshop organised by the Centre for Performance Research. This was pretty much the first time that Georgian singing had been introduced to the UK in any formal way and we took to it in a big way. Georgian songs now feature in the repertoire of many UK community choirs and there are even several who focus exclusively on Georgian songs.

In the singing world we have become used to it now, but to the uninitiated in this country, when you say ‘Georgian’, it usually refers to the historical period when the Georges were on the throne: 1714 – 1830. Whilst in the States, it also means the state of Georgia or maybe even the South Georgia islands. Interestingly, the Woven Chords choir rehearse their Georgian songs (from the Republic of Georgia) in a Georgian ballroom (dating back to 1768).

The workshop participants were pretty much in awe of these two amazing teachers who could not only sing, but could give detailed background to each of the songs. We were desperate to get more of this harmony singing tradition which dates back to before the 12th Century, but Joseph was more interested in learning Beatles songs! One day he even taught us a version of the Stones’ ‘Can’t get no satisfaction’ in a Georgian style arrangement! Ah, yes, the grass is always greener: your culture is more interesting than mine.

Chris Rowbury


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