Tag Archives | Greece

The Kalamatianos — a twelve-step program

This week in class we dance a simplified version of the Greek Kalamatianos, one of the ancient nation’s most widely known dances. The reason we’re doing a simplified version, other than the fact that kids in our classes are often toddlers and they do a simplified version o every dance, is that the Kalimatianos is tricky. The dance has 12 steps – 10 counterclockwise (“forward”) and two clockwise (“backward”), and the 12 steps interact with a rhythm that has 7 beats, which come in three groups – 3 + 2 + 2. Whatever the footwork, when we dance we can all sing along with one of the most famous kalamatianos songs, “Milo Mou Kokkino” counting as we go: “Slow, quick quick, slow, quick quick” or “Long, short short, Long short short.”

Vasilias Tsitsanis, Rebetiko Royalty

In the 1920s and 1930s a new form of music became popular among the Greek “underclass.” This music, known as rebetiko (also written as “rembetiko”), marked an essential step in the newly “exchanged” Greek population’s assertion of its national identity. Rebetiko composers and performers applied Western instruments to Turkish modes and melodies, transforming the Turkish makamat (modes) into similar Greek “dromoi” (or, “routes”). The most prolific and influential rebetiko composer was Vassilis Tsitsanis, who composed for almost every popular rebetiko vocalist and also played bouzouki and performed many of his own 500 or so songs.  Watch Tsitsanis himself perform live in the ’70s (the music starts at 1:05).

The Fat, the Tall, the Short…and the Bearded?

Lovers of Greek music enjoy a great vocal or instrumental performance as much as anyone else, but they maintain a particular, almost unique respect for composers. Three modern Greek composers have found particularly international success, mainly due to their compositions for film: Manos Hadzidakis, who composed music for the film, “Never on Sunday,” Mikis Theodorakis, who composed music for the film, “Zorba the Greek,” and also for “Serpico,” and Stavros Xarhakos, who composed music for the film, “The Red Lanterns.” The three are commonly known as “the fat” (Hiadjidakis) “the tall” (Theodorakis) and “the short” (Xarhakos).

While he may not be notably fat, tall or short, composer Vangelis Papathanasiou (perhaps, “the bearded one?”), who left Greece for Paris in the late ’60s and formed the group Aphrodite’s Child with another Greek expatriate, Demis Roussos, is more famous abroad than any of the above three. Papathanasiou became so well-known for his theme to the movie “Chariots of Fire” that he is now simply recognized as “Vangelis.” In this video see Aphrodite’s Child perform “I Want to Live.” (Vangelis is the guy banging on the keyboard.)

An Ionian serenade

Greek popular music owes much of its inspiration to folk songs of the Ionian islands, which were never ruled by the Ottoman Empire and therefore didn’t adopt Ottoman melodies and rhythms. Ionian music from the 19th century known as the Heptanesean kantádhes, or “serenades,” are based upon Italian popular songs and are usually performed by three singers, at least one of which plays a mandolin or guitar. In this video, enjoy an Ionian serenade from the island of Zakynthos.

All in favor of the Aulos

Ancient Greeks believed music to be the work of the gods. Not only did Greeks acknowledge Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto, to be the god of music (in addition to being god of light and sun, truth, prophecy, healing, plague and poetry–busy guy), but there were also goddesses known as the Muses (the mousai), who inspired the creativity of all human music-makers; the word “music” even comes from them.

We don’t know whether or not Apollo was a divine musician–his greatest hits album, released only on 8-track, has long been lost–but we do know human Greeks made music an essential part of their theatrical presentations and religious observances. In ancient Greece, music was an essential part of classical education, at least for boys, who started their musical instruction at the age of six. Girls picked up music along the way and joined boys in mixed-gender choruses that performed at spiritual ceremonies and public events. Ancient Greek instruments played instruments like a plucked string instrument known as the pandura, a special kind of lyre called the kithara–the word “guitar” derived from “kithara” — and the aulos, a wind instrument with two reeds. In this video watch a modern performance of the aulos.