BOSTON, MA – The growing popularity of the music of Epirus was in full evidence in Boston on April 29when an enthusiastic audience crowded the Tsai Performance Center, one of the city’s most prominent concert halls, to hear musicians from Greece play classic examples of what the New York Times has called “the world’s most beguiling folk music.”
Roaring applause and shouts of approval echoed through the concert hall with every song performed by the five musicians on stage. Petros Loukas Halkias on clarinet and singer Kostas Tzimas, who flew in from Greece especially for the concert, were joined by Vasilis Kostas on laouto,
The concert was sponsored by the Panepirotic Federation of America and the Greek Institute of Boston and the musicians were introduced by the president of the Federation, author Nicholas Gage. His remarks follow:
“Those of you who know something about the music of Epiros are going to have the pleasure of hearing it performed by some of the best practitioners of the art. Those of you who know little or nothing at all about this plaintive, stirring music are in for a unique experience and about to join a growing chorus of people who are not from Epiros, or even from Greece, who have become huge fans and promoters of these ancient and widely influential melodies.
“On Sept. 24, 2014, the New York Times Magazine published a seven page article by Amanda Petrusich, a professor at NYU, on the music of Epiros, which it called ‘the world’s most beguiling folk music’ and went on to explain how it has influenced all folk music in the West from ballads sung by troubadours during the Middle Ages to American blues.Like most folk music, the songs of Epiros are about love and loss, often the loss of one’s native land which Greeks call xenitia. The lyrics of most of these songs, backed by the wailing sounds of the clarinet and the laouto, touch the heart like a blade. One brief example cited in the Times article is the song Mariola, the lament of a young man returning to his native village from a long journey to find his wife freshly buried:
“Oh, rise Mariola, from the earth
From the dark soil, oh Mariola mine,
Turn your hands into shovels. Dig
Yourself out, Return to me.
“In a few weeks, a new book will be released by a major trade publisher, Norton, titled Lament from Epirus, that is entirely devoted to the music of the remote region, by a distinguished author, historian, musicologist and record collector named Christopher King. The book is about the history and the value of what is proclaimed on the cover as ‘Europe’s oldest surviving folk music’ and is described by one critic as an exploration ‘into musical traditions so old they must be considered part of what makes us human.’
“Now we would a gentleman scholar from Virginia like Mr. King write a whole book about the music from the most remote region of Greece. As a record collector he picked up an album recorded almost 100 years ago called ‘The Sounds of Epirus’ and was so moved he traveled to Epirus to learn more about its music. That did it, as he writes in his book: ‘The people of Epirus have imparted in me an understanding of music I never had before. The simple act of sharing transcends hospitality and courtesy. It, like the rare music of this region, transforms us and makes us whole.’
“Mr. King will present his book here in the Boston areaon June 8 at Harvard’s Paine Hall, sponsored by the Greek Institute, and I urge all of you to try to attend.I want you all to note one other date, a bit into the future, where you will hear the influence of Epirot music in full measure.An opera oratorio is currently being composed by a professor of music at Yale, Christopher Theofanidis, based on my bookEleni that will rely considerably on the music of Epirus. It will have its premier at Carnegie Hall on March 25, 2021, the 200th anniversary of Greek independence, and then be performed in Greece and many other venues throughout Europe.”