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Greek-American Stories: A Special Treat

Sunday, October 28 was a pretty nice day; not too hot or humid.  Our local newspaper isn’t something that has ever grabbed my avid notice. Having nothing else, I sat reading the local newspaper, sipping lemonade, while Bill was weeding his crops in the backyard, hoping he’d not ask for any help with that chore.

Then, an ad caught my eye, below many ads and just above the bottom of the page. I almost passed it by. It included a list of performances to be featured for the coming weekends. One, in particular caught my attention.

“Free outdoor music August 28th, at 4 PM at the Wortendyke Barn Site, Park Ridge. Spiros Exaras Greek ensemble will perform”. That was it! Well, the name is Greek. But it didn’t say what kind of music. No photo or explanation. I wondered if maybe they were a few college musicians who play a few pieces that wouldn’t be something to write home about; something in the recent mode – incessant drumming, a vocalist shouting lyrics that have little meaning or sentiment.

But, what else was there to do, besides weeding, which wasn’t an option for me. So, I told Bill to clean up because we’re going to go out. We’d been house hostages for days now.

”Where’re we going?” he asked. I explained that a Greek ensemble is playing in that historic barn in Park Ridge. No emotion. “Listen! Let’s just get out of the house. Besides, they’re Greek! We’ve got to support them.”  He made a face. “I don’t know!” He thought about his weeds. “We could always leave, ya’ know,” I told him. “We aren’t obliged to stay if we don’t want to.” Bill was still hesitant until I told him it was a free concert. Then, he shrugged and said, “oh, alright!”

The site was spread out with tents shading those sitting in seats already in place. Some attendants had brought their own chairs and sat under the shade of trees. Looking around, I’d say there were about 35 or 40 people. A woman approached and spoke to the audience, introducing the ensemble who had now seated themselves, very casually, in the frame of the entrance of the barn. They were not teenagers. They were seasoned musicians. But, when I saw the bouzouki, I sat up, real straight. Could it be?

“The vocals and bouzouki is played by Chris Papson, guitar by musical director, Spiros Exaras, Megan Gould on the violin and baglama, and Angelos Papadatos on upright base. I will not keep you waiting. I’m sure the players will perform their genre to your listening pleasure. Enjoy!” Smiling, she left the lawn as the musicians began to strum their first piece. Suddenly, my heart skipped a beat. The bouzouki started up with a string of introductory notes that gradually flowed to a lively rhythmic beat. I listened as I recognized the name of the piece; ‘Moiazis San Thalassa’ by Manolis Hiotis. Then, Spiros Exaras quietly, introduced the next pieces by Tsitsanis, my favorites, too. ‘Paliose to Sakaki  Mou’, and ‘Yiati me Xipnises Proi’. My breath cut short with excitement. Next, a Markos Bambakaris’s piece, ‘Ta Matoklada Sou Lamboun’. I was emotionally transferred to my teenage years when music was embracing and melodic. Here were master musicians! Chris Papson sang those endearing lyrics as my mind recalled the dances we, as a family, attended, grabbing hands and dancing in circles freely and happily. In those days, there was an urge to ‘express one’s self’ in song and dance. It brought back the warmth and passion and vitality of the Greeks I used to know. For two hours I sat entranced, listening to these gifted artists who played with professional fervor and expression, something lacking in today’s modern music. At least, that’s my opinion.

There was applause but not how it might have been had there been more Greeks in the audience; Greeks who appreciated Rembetika music.  Rembetika began humbly among the dregs of society, a society that had suffered rejection, deprivation, and exile but has spread far over its frontiers, having made many conquests abroad.

There was deserved applause, especially from me. The tear in my eye was hidden behind my sunglasses. But, for a little while I was swept away from COVID, crime in New York, gas prices, food prices, and even…the weeds!

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