Most people take music for granted today because it is everywhere. It permeates almost every aspect and moment of our lives through the many technological advances that allow anyone to tap, click, or ask their smartphone or virtual assistant to play their favorite music. The appreciation of live music takes a bit more effort. You have to click and buy tickets, you have to show up at the concert hall, theatre, or bar where your favorite artist, group, or orchestra is playing, it becomes a special event. Live music for occasions is also a treat for guests at weddings and christenings, for example, where some choose to hire a DJ to play recorded favorites instead of hiring a band in an attempt to cut costs, while others choose to hire both a DJ and a band for weddings, especially. There are, as we all know, certain songs that must be played at a wedding reception. It’s tradition and it hearkens back to a time when music highlighted the important milestones in life and was always performed live.
Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music by Christopher C. King delves into the history of music all the way back to the pre-Homeric period. This thoughtful and well-researched book is a must-read volume for those interested in music, even if your village is about as far from Epirus as can be. King’s travels in search of 78s, those big, black records from the olden days that were played on record players, led to his discovery of Greek folk music in early recordings. He was captivated by the sound and traced the root back to Epirus where much to his delight, the tradition going back thousands of years continues on. A cast of colorful characters emerges and their extraordinary stories, intertwine with the history of the region and its music in this compelling work of nonfiction.
King explores music as a powerful form of communication, a tool for healing and even survival, as a shared experience for the community, performed by musicians who were and are revered for their talents. The book is a treasure trove of information and offers insights into the ways recording folk music often brought about its demise. King is a harsh critic of contemporary popular music which he calls “a dulling, inescapable, even sinister noise.”
He continues, “I understand many people have strong attachments to contemporary music, but I cannot deny what I hear. In modern music, I hear self-centeredness, a constant referencing of individual artistic expression. It is all about the ‘me.’ But in the old music that I love, I hear selflessness, continuity, and communal expression. It is all about the ‘we.’”
King is a Grammy-winning producer, musicologist, and prominent 78 RPM record-collector, who has written for The Paris Review and the Oxford American. Profiles of him have appeared in the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He lives in Virginia.
Nicholas Gage, the renowned author of Eleni, praised King’s book, “A blithely informative, immensely entertaining, beautifully written discourse on a music tradition, born in an isolated mountain region long before Homer composed his epics, whose echoes can still be heard today all over the world.”
Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music by Christopher C. King is available online and wherever books are sold.