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The land of the Muses

Traditional Greek music and dancing

The origin of the word “music”, prevailing worldwide in different variations, is Greek and describes the art of the Muses, the nymphs offering inspiration to humans. Since primeval antiquity, the effect of sounds on the soul has been the object of research by distinguished scholars like Pythagoras. Teaching musical harmony was for the ancient Greeks just as important as teaching mathematics.

Ancient pastoral Arcadia, celebrated during the European Renaissance, gave birth to Pan, the god who used to bewitch nature with the sweet sound of his flute. Apollo invented the lyre, the first stringed instrument, to give as a gift to his brother, Hermes. Dionysus combined music with dancing to free the powers of humans.

Greek nature, with its moderate, warm climate, allowed people to live in its embrace, to hear the burbling brooks, the rustling leaves whispering a lullaby, the birds instinctively glorifying life. Observing these phenomena gave birth to music, rhythm and song. Folk rhythms, originating from the ancient Greek ones, are in tune with the rhythm of the universe. The dances are usually performed in a circle and portray the perpetual movement of the seasons, creation and life. A characteristic example is the tsakonian dance, a typical dance from Kynouria Province. It is a hieratic dance in 5/8 time, representing the battle between Apollo and Python, the huge serpent. Its rhythm and steps have remained unchanged for at least 40 centuries. Greek musical tradition has a long history and lives on in each corner of Greece.

 

 

Life as inspiration

Traditional Greek music is indissolubly bound with the cycle of life. Its songs glorify love, birth, toil, even war and death itself. Greek mentality is depicted in the word “charmolýpe (joyful sorrow)”, the unbreakable and creative relationship between happiness and pain that is an integral part of life.

The ancient Greek tradition carried on through the Byzantine period, both in ecclesiastical as well as in secular music. The peculiar distinction of musical types into “paths” was born in Byzantium. These musical paths can be identified with the “sounds” in the Byzantine musical education. Outstanding, renowned musical composers from the “Greek Renaissance”, such as Koukouzelis and other anonymous artists enriched the musical tradition of the Greeks.

The continuity of the Greek musical tradition is apparent in every corner of Greece. The exceptional Epirus polyphonic songs in the pentatonic scale are direct descendants of ancient Greek melodies. Cretan music vibrates with the beat of the Kourites, the protectors of Zeus, who stamped their feet hard on the ground, exactly like the vrakoforoi [Cretan men in their traditional costume] of today. The primordial power of the Thracian lyre, songs and dances, echoes of Dionysian worship. The Pontian warriors’ tradition is evident in the Pyrrhic dance. The melodious island music from the Aegean Sea, with its fiddles and rapid steps, has its roots in the great Cycladic civilization, as we see it depicted in statuettes. Thessaly and Macedonia, Central Greece and the Peloponnese, each part of Greece has its very own musical trait. Last but not least, the Ionian Islands glorify life in the sweetest way that echoes the bond between the Ionian Sea and the neighbouring Italy and Sicily. The songs of Magna Graecia in southern Italy provide a wondrous bridge between cultures and peoples.

 

 

Music that unites…

The Greeks are used to sharing and communicating with each other. Joys and sorrows were always shared with their neighbour. It is precisely this feeling of camaraderie that is expressed through music and dancing in Greece. The festival where everyone eventually participates in a circle of power and creativity, remains a well-kept tradition in each corner of Greece. Reunions of people who left their homelands, important feasts like Easter, as well as simple, spontaneous get-togethers – a wedding is a good example - are an excuse for all-night partying accompanied by age long notes. The dance may be a kalamatianos, tsamiko, or Thracian baiduska, perhaps even the “dance of the engineer” from the Dodecanese Islands, or a Cretan pentozali, whatever the dance, people will get together, join their hands, coordinate their steps and become an integral part of an indissoluble chain. Travellers finding themselves alongside the locals, will not be excluded from the rite. They will enter the circle, only to feel truly united with the others. This is the magic of Greek reality, as expressed by its musical tradition. Man becomes the centre of the universe, taking part in the eternal dance of the earth and the stars.

If you happen to be in Athens, a fantastic show is there for you to relish, offered to you by the famous dance and music group of the “Dora Stratou” Theatre. Other than watch them on stage, trust them to initiate you to the rhythms of the Greek music with some dance lessons!

 

 




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