Thursday, July 26, 2007

As if it were alive!

Returned to Vilnius from Georgia on Tuesday; Wednesday saw me at a concert of the Georgian group 'Basiani'.

'Basiani' is a group of 60 - 70 men who belong to the Georgian Patriarch's entourage. As if the pope had a boy band as a backing group, sort of thing. Here we only had 14 members of the group - there would not have been enough space on the stage for all of them, and think of the costs of flights! I wonder if the other 50 members are adrift in other parts of the world, performing...I noticed that the Tbilisi finger theatre is also in Lithuania, performing in Druskininkai sanatoria. (In the finger theatre you just have fingers acting and dancing. Presumably you don't need much of a stage...). It's a sign of desperate times in Georgia if this finger theatre makes money by playing at Lithuanian sanatoria.

So Basiani's programme was folk singing, instrumental music and dancing. Here was a moment of home truths - I thought the group I am singing Georgian folk songs in, Okros Stumrebi, was not too bad, for a bunch of foreigners, and that we were doing well with our songs. But it seems that our songs are at the easy end of Georgian folk singing, at the 'Twinkle, Twinkle' level. These were seriously complicated songs. I noticed also that the harmonies are much more challenging, and I wondered if either we foreigners tend to turn our harmonies into western ones, or whether the songs we sing have the easier harmonies. In Georgian songs, the ones the guys sang, I'm not sure that it did the classical preparation-suspension-resolution bit, but seemed to flit from one suspension to the next, only resolving at the end when they nearely always ended up in unison. Some of those songs had amazing sound constructions.

The programming, while written down on a sheet of paper for the guy who gave the starting notes, appeared to be a bit haphazard. Not sure whether they all knew in advance what they were going to sing, or whether they could not remember, but he kept wandering around, telling them what to sing. Not all people sang all of the time, and the non-singers usually ambled about behind the singers, having a wee chat now and again. Which is of course quite normal in Georgian theatres.

Occasionally one of the singers also played the 3-stringed plucked instrument, the panduri or chonguri, depending on size. It is really played very simply, with very few notes, and the resonance is limited, but it's still quite effective in its rawness. At one of the more instrumental songs (they were all songs, not in the ITunes meaning, but because every piece had singing in it), a drum was also produced, and a Georgian bagpipe! This was a man-sized piece of kit - the Scottish one compared to this is a bit of an ornate girls' blouse!

Imagine a goat, with no legs and no head, and you have the size and shape of the Georgian bagpipe (from here, a website devoted to bagpipes).
(The one in the concert was a bit more goat-shaped than this, but basically you blow up the right front leg. Because it's big, once you've got some basic air into it, you just need to top it up now and again. It's droneless, why - because it has only one output, which is the tune (left front leg). My Lithuanian ethnomusicologist colleagues will notice that the end of the output, not unlike a hoof [though not a cloven footed goat's hoof] has a strong resemblance to the birbyne, the Lithuanian folk instrument; wonder what a Lithuanian bagpipe looks like). So that was interesting. In any case, the choir was quite good at the drone itself - some Georgian songs have a drone.

Finally, in a couple of songs, we had some Georgian dancing. Mostly individuals (of the singing group) doing little solo dances. I'm not sure. Could not see the feet, and with Georgian dancing, much like Irish dancing, it's all in the feet. (I saw it better in the theatre in Tbilisi where in the Midsummer night's dream someone showed someone else (a visitor?) a few steps of Georgian dancing. Not quite sure how that connects to the story, but never mind). One of the dances involved all the guys holding hands, and slowly moving around in a circle. Somehow this does not travel well; it probably works better in Georgia.

It seems the choir had a very enthusiastic fan club, who encouraged them along after what seemed like a slightly tired start. Not sure if the fan club was Georgian; I suppose it might have been - but I could have shouted 'madloba' (thank you) with the best of them. The concert ended with 'suliko' the song that all Georgians are reported to sing, when they get together in exile. The place erupted! The audience did well, considering there wasn't a break in almost two hours, and an awful lot of people had standing places only....


Anonymous said...

Great, I saw them too and thought it was a most impressive concert, thanks for the explaining about the bagpipe insturment, I wondered what that was ;)