Friday, September 22

Voices from the East


A&E


Wednesday, October 7, 1998

Voices from the East

ON-CAMPUS: The hauntingly mellifluous sounds of Bulgarian folk
music reverberate in Shoenberg Hall

By Megan Dickerson

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Except for the limited English of leader Georgi Doichev, the six
members of the folk music troupe Bulgari linger behind a
restrictive language barrier. Ask them a question in English, and
these highly educated, classically trained musicians, who play
Schoenberg Hall at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, shrug their shoulders,
forwarding the petitioner to the paternal Doichev for
translation.

But deposit the five men and one woman in a room brimming with
eager UCLA ethnomusicology students and members of the music
community, and watch the walls fall down.

All originally hailing from Bulgaria (a relatively small, Balkan
country) the troupe will soon see the end of an American tour that
started at the dawn of September.

At 8:00 p.m. the ensemble settled into a hemisphere of
red-cushioned chairs at a Schoenberg master’s class.

In a glowing introduction, ethnomusicology chair Tim Rice said
he’s grateful that "perhaps the finest musicians in Bulgaria" could
appear at the first meeting of what will be a weekly event, a free,
advertised ethnomusicology master’s class taught by the best in the
field.

This particular class goes hand in hand with the work of the
UCLA Balkan Ensemble, which Rice has spearheaded off and on during
his 11-year tenure at the university.

Rice, a specialist in Balkan folk music, possessed an edge in
bringing the famous Bulgari to the halls of Schoenberg. A veteran
of fieldwork in the rich Bulgarian music community, Rice met group
leader Doichev in Bulgaria in 1979. In 1991, this Los Angeles
contact led Doichev to a two-year ethnomusicology lectureship at
UCLA. Two years later, Doichev organized Bulgari, which, in
translation, simply means "the Bulgarians."

The group represents the best performers in each instrumental
area, with Doichev harvesting outstanding musicians from Bulgaria’s
National Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance. According to Rice, the
demise of the communist government, which was hospitable to folk
music as a symbol of national identity, led to financial
instability for the members of large ensembles. So joining a small
touring group turns out to be not only a means to see the world,
but a matter of economic need.

At the evening’s master’s class, Doichev soon took to the center
of the group to conclude Rice’s brief introduction.

"I apologize for my English," Doichev said. "Let us play for you
a couple of tunes. And then if you have any questions …"

Doichev receded to his red chair. A couple beats of the gudulka,
a bowed fiddle, a few strums of the tambura, a plucked lute and the
group was ready. Doichev nonchalantly funneled air into his
bagpipes and the room filled with sound.

The music that burst from Bulgari’s instruments is recognizable,
but only vaguely. To the uninitiated, the quick, nasal bagpipes and
muted drum echoed the tonality of Indian sitars, and drew visions
of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Maharishis. But, aside
from some instrumental similarities, the playful melody was unique
- like the Turkish music masquerading as Bedouin song in "The
English Patient," it took on a mysterious, floating sound, as if it
belongs corked in the souls of the Bulgarian people.

The sound was, indeed, very traditional, preserved from century
to century by the lack of industrialization in Bulgaria before
World War II. It spoke a language of small villages that cultivated
very unique musical styles due to mountainous separations.

"I don’t think there’s anything in the world quite like it,"
said linguistics graduate student Angela Rodel, who spent a year in
Bulgaria. "I like the Middle-Eastern sort of sound, the mixed
meters. I mean, it’s such unusual music for such a small country -
there’s such variety."

This heterogeneity was reinforced when the petite Radostina
Kaneva quietly stepped to the forefront. One expected her sound to
be soprano and subdued. The notes that sprung from her mouth,
though, were deep and feathery, while her gestures were subtle.

She finished a solo, and the music joined her with greater
volume, mirroring the fluttery quality of her voice. She barely
moved her lips, but the deep-felt tone that left her lips emanated
from her diaphragm, she later explained.

In a question-and-answer period following the class, a student
asked to feel the vibrations of her abdomen as she sung. She
complied, laughing, as Rice translated the request for her.

The master class continued with the audience participation that
makes this evening a musical dialogue, not a concert. Kaneva and
Doichev passed out copies of "Trugna Zhelka," a song about a boy
hedgehog who trips and kisses a girl turtle. When the turtle
complains to a judge, he replies, "A bachelor can do (whatever he
wants). You’re a girl – stay home."

"It’s not exactly a women’s lib. text," Rice said, in response
to several female groans of disapproval.

The class of twenty-five wildly varying students of Balkan art
forms sung along with Kaneva. Soon, Kaneva brought in a harmony
that added depth to the piece, and a few minutes later, the
instruments joined the newly-formed chorus. Although most of the
students were speaking a language somewhat foreign to their
Southern California tongues, the easy harmonies coalesced in a
melodic drone, uniting the natives of Bulgaria and their
pupils.

As the clock neared 10 p.m., the members of Bulgari were ready
to show the class just how unique Bulgarian music, the music of the
hills, the music of the people, really is.

"In America, you call this ‘Take five,’" Doichev says, with a
smile. "In Bulgarian, it’s ‘Take eleven.’"

Leading Bulgarian singer Radostina Kaneva is accompanied by
gadulka player Georgi Andreev during the Balkan music master
class.

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