In response to the UK’s imminent exit from the EU musician Griselda Sanderson has devised a year-long project – Drawing Threads 2020.
Throughout the year she will be following filaments of European music that cross her path. Cultures, traditions and languages cross borders. These in turn are perpetually drawn and re-drawn, and her musical explorations will reflect that.
The journey has begun! Month by month she will add to her discoveries, recording and posting each piece as the year progresses while she explores the highways and byways of Europe.
‘Χαραυγή (Dawn)’: from the laouto playing of Giórgos Nkompákis, Crete
The source for Dawn is a solo lauto performance by Giórgos Nkompákis released in 1976 on the compilation album Tragoudia tis Kritis – Songs of Crete (Columbia Records). The melody in this version is arranged for violin and viola, with accompaniment on cittern and percussion by Louis Bingham.
The Music & Instruments
“The Cretan lyra (ΚρητικήΛύρα), an upright fiddle, is central to the traditional music of Crete (Κρήτη) and other islands in the Dodecanese and Aegean Archipelagos. Following a trail of lyra music led me to discover this piece from the large, mountainous island of Crete. Its slow introduction and faster movement with tumbling phrases immediately appealed to me. Set in the Phrygian mode it has a distinctly Middle-Eastern flavour. Crete’s music echoes the cultural influences produced by waves of invasion over the centuries. In the C9th the island was conquered and ruled by Muslim exiles from al-Andalus, led by Abu Hafs. Later it was part of the Byzantine world and was a province of the Roman and Ottoman empires. It became a part of Greece in 1913.”
The lyra and laouto (λαουτο), the Cretan lute, go hand in hand. Where one is found, the other is often there to add colour. Traditionally, the lyra is known as a singers’ instrument for accompanying the voice, the laouto providing rhythmic and harmonic support. In this instance the piece is an instrumental for solo laouto. The music is transcribed from the playing of Giórgos Nkompákis. The introduction is arranged for viola, matching the range of the laouto. The violin plays the faster passage. Louis Bingham added percussion and a cittern accompaniment, reflecting the lauto/lyra combination.
“The viola and violin I play were made by my father, Derick Milton Sanderson, luthier in central Scotland from the mid 1960s through to the late 1980s. The violin is a Guaneri model.”
Making the Video
The title of this piece, Dawn, provided inspiration for the video. With the increasing day length the sun takes on extra significance in May, the first of the summer months in the northern hemisphere. Dawn is measured in three stages before sunrise, each 6° degrees apart i.e. when the sun is 18° (astronomical dawn), 12° (nautical dawn) and 6° (civil dawn) below the horizon.
“I opted for nautical dawn (rising at 3:50 BST) to allow time to walk to the video location, though on awakening a faint light was already discernible – enough to see where I was going. A beautiful half moon hung in the South-East.
“I had made my calculations as to timing and direction, but they were slightly skewed by the fact that from my chosen location the point of sunrise happened to coincide with the highest landmark in the area. This meant the sun took longer to rise than I had anticipated, and when it finally did it was obscured by cloud. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience, if a bit cold and windy.”
“Life in lockdown continues for the majority of people around the world. My deepest sympathies go out to all those who have lost loved ones. My admiration is unbounded for all those battling to help the sick in hospitals, care homes, refugee camps and war zones around the world. Here’s hoping this chaos will ultimately lead to a more peaceful place. I hope my music brings a bit of cheer in these troubled times.”
‘Two Doves’ & ‘Pa Žaliu Užuolèiu’ (Under the Green Oak): trad. Lithuania (Lietuva)
This month I have arranged and recorded two traditional Lithuanian songs. The style is not traditional, but is intended to evoke a landscape brimming with the mythical beasts, peasants, magicians and nobility that populated the old tales of Lithuania’s forested landscape and coastline.
The first melody, Two Doves, was used as incidental music in a storytelling, puppetry and music show on which I was working this time last year based on a traditional Lithuanian folk tale, The Hedgehog Bride.
The second song, Pa Žaliu Užuolèiu (Under the Green Oak), was sourced from the album of Lithuanian vocal ensemble Obelije Grupe sent by band member Eglè Česnakavičiūtè. Eglè made juostos – traditional hand-woven sashes – for our production’s costumes. The lyrics for this song, though not used in my version, are:
Under the green oak I thresh the barley And the straws fly away high above the oak By the great Dunaj River there sits a girl She brushes her hair, her yellow braid: “Oh you my braid, my braid, the golden one, Who shall you go to my dear? Will it be a poor soldier or a captain? Neither to the poor soldier nor to the captain You, my braid, went to a foolish drunkard He dried you out, just like a linden.”
The Music and Instruments
Working on music for the aforementioned theatre show last year, Louis Bingham and I decided to make instruments to create a unique sound world. Inspired by the sound of the kankles (a traditional Lithuanian folk instrument) Louis made a lyre using materials to hand – a wooden wine box fitted with guitar strings and harp pins.
Tiny sounds magnified are a good theatrical device, so I brought in a musical box to add some magic. A few years ago I was introduced to this type, which allows you to create your own music by punching holes in a card. I arranged the melody for Two Doves, and spent several happy hours preparing it, note by tinkly note. The scene with the musical box was to illustrate the appearance of the nobility to the peasant, a woodcutter, and his mythical companion, a talking hedgehog. It also symbolised the love story that was to evolve. I have used the original musical box with its hand-cranked mechanism (and resulting slight inconsistencies in tempo) and added lyre, nyckelharpa and percussion to create my arrangement.
These two traditional songs have simple melodies. However, when repeated, one changed note in an otherwise identical phrase provides scope for some interesting harmonies. The second song Under the Green Oak involves more composition based on the asymmetrical timing of this song. The original melody is a vocal piece with two interlocking parts over a slow seven-beat pattern. Two nyckelharpa parts replace the vocals.
Because of the lockdown it was not possible to record in an alternative location, so this is a studio recording. However, I did manage to find a suitable green oak in the corner of a local field under which to record the video.
Lithuanian Folk Art & Culture
Historically, with access to seaports, trade in amber, silver, grain, flax, oxen, fur and lumber provided Lithuania with a strong economy. It was the last country in Europe to adopt Christianity in the C14th. However, this small Baltic state has had its trials. In the C15th the Duchy of Lithuania was the largest state in Europe in union with neighbouring Poland, but at the end of the C18th it disappeared from the map for over one hundred and twenty years. The country’s economy remained largely agricultural until the start of the C19th, and to this day Lithuania boasts a number of forested national parks. Lithuania has been partitioned or occupied for much of its existence, but became independent in 1991, joing the EU in 2004. Today its main exports are refined oil, chemicals, plastics and farm machinery, but it still has the rural economy at its heart. Its current government is a coalition led by LVŽS, the conservative ‘Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union’.
It is not surprising, therefore, that folk arts remain an important part of Lithuanian identity with a strong oral tradition rooted in the rural community. Ceramics and metalwork took place in and around homesteads. Beautiful woodcarvings adorned the gables of cottages; richly patterned weavings were part of traditional costumes; ornate Karpiniai (papercuts) and Vilniaus verbos (woven patterns of dried flowers and grain stalks) were displayed in the windows of houses.
Despite the influence of Poland, its larger neighbour, Lithuania’s language has remained distinct. Suppression of Lithuanian culture may have had an effect on literature, but oral transmission has kept the various traditions alive. It is only recently that traditional folk tales and music have been written down. Most feature a striking contrast between the peasantry and nobility, as in The Hedgehog Bride, the tale on which our show last year was based. Eglè Česnakavičiūtè (who wove the traditional sashes for our show’s costumes) along with members of her band Obelije Grupe, has been researching the vocal tradition of their region, seeking out women of the older generations who remember the songs to record, learn and perform them – then pass them on. Their aim is to keep this oral tradition alive for future generations.
“The year moves on, but not as we had anticipated. I’m sorry that sadly for many of us life has drastically altered its course in the most unexpected of ways. I myself was ill at the beginning of March. I am extremely thankful to have been able to participate in events that happened at the start of the year, especially the Balkan music and dance weekend (See February’s blog), and a surprise guest appearance with Spanish musician Efren Lopez alongside Meridianum Ensemble band mates Louis Bingham and Steve Tyler at Halsway Manor in Somerset. These happenings gave me a boost of inspiration that will keep me going for some months. May we all continue to support one another in these strange times. I wish you all the best, wherever you are.”
‘Galbally Lasses Set’, Traditional Irish Reels
“In these socially restrictive times I have been missing our regular Irish music pub sessions, so March seems as good a time as any to celebrate my connection with Ireland. Luckily I am in isolation with my son Louis Bingham, to whom I am extremely grateful for his accompaniment on guitar & bodhrán, and who helped with the arrangement and recording – a pleasure as always!”
“Ireland, its music, culture and political events have been in my consciousness as long as I remember. Growing up in Scotland, Northern Ireland was our closest neighbour, and my father made regular trip across to Belfast delivering the violins he made. As young teenagers his apprentice introduced my brother and I to Irish music via the record player in our dad’s workshop. While we messed around with tools and half-finished instruments amongst the wood shavings, music from Dick Gaughan’s early group Five Hand Reel, Planxty, Boys of the Lough and the Bothy Band drifted over us. We both soon started playing Irish fiddle music in a wave of enthusiasm. Then came Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey, Donal Lunny’s duo with Andy Irvine followed by his groups Moving Hearts with Davy Spillane and Coolfin. A glut of field recordings was there for anyone who wanted it – and so it continued to this day. Deep gratitude also goes to all my Irish friends who have dragged me along with so many others in their enthusiasm for their traditional music.”
“Over the last few years I have played regularly for traditional social dances (Scottish country dancing and ceilidhs). In a three-hour dance evening we do about twelve dances, each with three or four tunes – that’s about forty-two tunes in an evening. The rural country dances of Ireland at the end of the C19th might possibly have gone on a lot longer. Musicians’ repertoires must have been vast. Tunes were notated as an aide-memoire, but mostly they were played from memory. The repertoire would frequently be added to with new compositions, and older tunes adapted with individual and local variations.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of Irish dance tunes, so selecting some was not easy. For this project I decided to go back to a source I have used a great deal over the years – O’Neill’s Music of Ireland published in 1903. The tunes would all have been collected from Irish emigrants in the US round about the turn of the C19th & 20th. I have several of his books, and though many tunes are picked up by ear it’s always interesting to go back to an earlier source. It is a joy to leaf through those pages, seeking out those less well-known tunes and different versions of popular ones. I’ve always enjoyed the way reels race along – so uplifting for dancing – so I’ve chosen three to make a set for this month’s piece.”
“The first tune in my set of reels is The Mills are Grinding, also known as Tuttle’s (Lúnasa) or The Custom Gap (The Chieftains). “Next up is Galbally Lasses, a 3-part fiddle tune. It was collected from Edward Dennis Cronin (1838-1918), a fiddler living in Chicago at the time who recorded many tunes for chief O’Neill on wax cylinder and was the original editor of O’Neills 1001 dance tunes. Cronin was from Limerick Junction, Co. Tipperary, just twenty miles from Galbally near Tipperary in the province of Munster. The final tune is Thompson’s Reel, which has not been recorded much, though it has been circulating in the US. Flatpicker Eric Thompson (no relation) recorded a version of it. I have altered the key of The Mills are Grinding and added my own variations to Thompson’s.”
Listen to Edward Cronins’s original wax cylinder recordings here:
Irish Dance Tune Titles
“The names of Irish dance tunes are how players remember them and are a constant source of amusement and a great topic for discussion/argument. Even though the melodies have no lyrics, naming them is not a problem, though remembering the title often is. This is probably one reason why tunes often have several titles. Nothing is unsuitable as a title for a tune. Topics range from an occupation such as The Flax Dresser, or the Butcher’s March. Renowned players get tunes named after them, such as Lucy Farr’s, Jimmy Ward’s or Tobin’s Favourite. Events great and small are also commemorated: Condon’s Frolics, The Races at Carrick, The Tailor’s Wedding or The Little Pig Laments the Empty Trough. Any object, no matter how mundane, may be immortalised in a tune title – The Bag of Spuds, The Cup of Tea, the Yellow Wattle. Random names such as Fasten the Leg in Her and I have no Money are memorable enough to keep a melody in mind. Then there are place names. Simply add the name of an Irish city, town or village to one of the following prefixes; The Humours of…, The Lasses of …, The Lads of …., The Maids of…, The Rakes of…., The Road to/from… – you get my drift.”
Irish Road Trip Tune Map
“I know of no other country that has had its geography charted so thoroughly through its music. To illustrate this I have put together the above map of tunes that follow the routes I took on two trips to Ireland – the first when I was seventeen years old. It was a long and winding road, and for every tune named after a place there are probably twenty others – plus all the towns I missed in between.”
“I will strive to put versions of these tunes in my Drawing Threads Byways playlist on Youtube. If you would like to check out my meanderings have a look at my channel here:”
‘Staro Oro’, a traditional Macedonian Dance
“Staro Oro was introduced to me this month during an intensive four-day Balkan music and dance programme with musicians Filip Arilon & Stojan Stojanov from North Macedonia. They visited the UK as part of an international Balkan dance event. Music and song are frequently intertwined in the Balkans, but Staro Oro is an instrumental piece. The source for the notation was Macedonian Singing Dialects 2 from a series of books compiled by Filip & Stojan and published by the Balkan Music Centre, Macedonia.
“The main source recording is from the album Macedonian Dances: Play with Us (Македонски танци: Играјте со нас) By Pece Atanasovski (1927-1996), recorded in the 1950s and released after Atanasovski’s tour of North America. In this version, Louis Bingham and I have stripped down the arrangement from Atanasovski’s ‘folk orchestra’ to just two instruments, violin and tambura.
“I have gone slightly off-piste in my plan to spend the year learning music from EU countries. North Macedonia is not yet in the EU, but is in the process of acceding to it. Historically, Macedonia incorporated several modern Balkan countries. Over the centuries borders have changed frequently and populations shifted around the region. North Macedonia is now a landlocked country bordering Bulgaria and Greece (both EU member states). North Macedonia could be considered a crossroads for many cultural styles. Repertoire flowed across the borders, not only from Bulgaria and Greece but also from North Macedonia’s other neighbours; Albania, Serbia & Kosovo. Roma music features strongly too. The terms ‘alla Franca’ and ‘alla Turka’ reflect influences from even further afield – from Western Europe during the 18thand 19thcenturies and from Turkey and the East. As a result the music, song and dance repertoire is vastly rich and diverse, offering everyone in the community something with which they can identify, whatever their origin. If a well-known tune is played everyone will participate, dancing or singing.”
Preface to the Macedonian Singing Dialects series:
“Centuries-old traditional folk music gives the Macedonian people a strong cultural identity. Folk dances and songs have a spiritual element along with the costumes, each identified by its differences – a continuing tradition that cannot be erased. On the opposite side of art music is folk, passed on from knee to knee, verbally. These express life, work and customs of the people who live it. It has its own national characteristics and also the wider area. In it we find Greek and Roman influences (such as Rusalii and Gevgelija), Byzantine (in the spiritual music) oriental (chalgii & zurli) and western European (songs from old cities). The pieces in performance are ritualistic & spiritual (dodolski, koledarski, rusaliski) or worldly, referencing battles, weddings, harvesting, humour, love etc. The same pieces can have different names in different areas depending on the dance and the place.“
Macedonian traditional music
In 1950s Macedonia there was a renewed interest in traditional music, song, costume and dance. Pece Atanasovski was a key figure in this resurgence, having danced in and led various ensembles such as the state folk dance group Tanec, which played for radio shows and backed famous singers on recordings. From 1960 Atanasovski directed the Orchestra of Folk Instruments of Radio-Televizia-Skopje. The national ‘folk anthem’ is Makedonsko Devojče, composed in 1964 by another Tanec member, Jonče Hristovski. The previous year Hristovski’s wife had been killed in an earthquake in Skopje, leaving him with his two young daughters, so the song has an added poignancy.
The new folk orchestras that had begun to appear combined instruments that would not traditionally be played together: zurna (similar to a shawm with origins in Turkey), gajda (bagpipes), šupelka (шупелка – a flute similar to a kaval), kemane (similar to a Greek lyra), tambura (a long-necked lute, variants of which exist in several Balkan countries) and tapan. This led to some interesting developments. As Filip Arilon explained, gajda players in these larger folk ensembles needed surla (chanters) in three keys so that more of the repertoire could include gajda. In previous eras shepherds, such as the young Atanasovski, would probably have had just one chanter at the pitch in which it happened to have been made.
Not so long ago, Čalgija was a sub-genre of older urban traditional folk repertoire, following a direct line from a living tradition. Nowaday s Čalgija groups represent a new form of folk-pop music that is popular in Macedonia. If a famous artist records an old folk tune it is guaranteed exposure on TV, radio and online.
The arrangement process
“On the source recording I used of Staro Oro, the instrumentation is šupelka, kemane, tambura and tapan. Pece Atanasovski leads the group on the gajda. As a fiddler I often feel drawn to bagpipe music. I’m attracted by the restrictions of only being able to play a single line plus a drone. Bagpipe ornamentation from each region is highly developed, having evolved through a combination of what is physically possible, regional ‘dialect’ and individual taste. The ornamentation I used in this interpretation is developed partly in imitation of the bagpipes. Each section has its own character, designed to give a lift to the dancers. Fiddle sections are contrasted with melody lines from Louis’ tambura in a pattern of call and response interspersed with short solo passages.”
It is lovely to see text in different languages. The titles of the pieces presented to the participating musicians on the Balkan music course mentioned above were written in English and Macedonian, which uses the beautiful Cyrillic alphabet.
‘Fantasia, Which Imitates the Harp of Ludovico’ ( Fantasia X ) by Alonso de Mudarra publ. 1546
Alonso de Mudarra (1510-1580) was born in Guadalajara, Spain. He spent the latter part of his musical life directing music at the cathedral in Seville after spending some time in Italy. This piece is in his book Tres libros de musica en sifra para vihuela, published in 1546. Mudarra played the Vihuela, (the precursor to the Spanish guitar). It had six double courses of strings, each pair tuned in unison. Unusually, this piece imitates the style of a famous contemporary harpist of the time named Ludovico. Griselda’s interpretation, therefore, is the nyckelharpa imitating the vihuela imitating a harp.
This era was the golden age for merchants in Seville as the Americas had recently been ‘discovered’. By the time of Mudarra’s death he was a wealthy man, and his fortune is said to have been distributed amongst the poor of the city
“To arrange this fantasia for nyckelharpa (37 keys in 3 rows, tuned from bottom to top DGDA) I changed the key from the source notation (in The Renaissance Guitar transcribed by Frederick Noad, 1974) to get as many open strings as possible, ensuring the sympathetic strings would resonate in their best ‘alla-harpa’ style. I wanted each arpeggio in the first section to begin loud, but fade even as each note was added. The dynamics in this section are therefore quite unlike contemporary Spanish guitar versions.
“The opening arpeggiated passages and string-crossing section later on suit the nyckelharpa, but other parts presented some difficulties. At one point in the manuscript Mudarra’s notes state “from here to near the end there are some discords, if played well they do not sound bad”. In this section some notes had to be missed out. This was because the tuning and arrangement of keys on the nyckelharpa meant certain passages couldn’t be played on adjacent strings as required, e.g. the section with the rising bass line. I did my best to maintain the essence of the music.
“The recording technician for this piece was Louis Bingham and the recording location was St Mary’s Church, Berry Pomeroy. The church was built in the 1490’s by Sir Richard de Pomeroy. Its foundation stone would have been laid at about the same time that Columbus made his first journey to America and just fifty years before this piece by Mudarra was published, so it seemed like an appropriate location for the recording.
“The panels of the mediaeval rood screen depict ‘apostles, saints and doctors of the church’.
The images are believed to have been defaced during the English Civil War, around 1640 by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundhead Troops.
” By chance I chose Mudarra’s piece for January, and there is an important connection between the UK and Seville during this month – marmalade. Bitter oranges were originally native to southeastern Asia and had been growing wild for centuries. They were introduced to Spain by the Moors in the C10th when the Taifa of Seville was an Arabic kingdom. In the C12th a cross between a pomelo and mandarin began to be cultivated in Seville. These fruits became known as Seville oranges and were imported to England and Scotland from the late C15th onwards. In England sweets made of orange peel and sugar brought from Britain’s colonies in the C17th developed into the manufacture of marmalade. In December and January the fruits appear, and almost all those from Seville’s 31,000 trees are now exported to the UK for marmalade making. Interestingly, in Iberia the conserve is made from quinces (marmelos), not oranges, and the name marmalade derives from that fruit, not oranges. “