Historical Tradition in space and time

Epirus’ Polyphonic Song

Epirus’ polyphonic song constitutes one of the most interesting music forms in Eastern Mediterranean and in the Balkans, but also in the world repertory of folk polyphony. The melodies of polyphonic songs, together with some more from Epirus and Thessaly, are unique in the Hellenic space where they have maintained the non tonal pentatonic scale (scale that is composed by five notes without minims). This scale, according to certain musicologists, is identified in the Dorian way of ancient Greeks, characterized the so-called “Greek harmony”. Next to this scale, elements that reveal an old origin of such a scale are its phonetic, common, rhetorical and tropic character. In our days, Epirus polyphonic song is met in the north-western area of the prefecture of Ioannina (villages of Pogoni, Parakalamos, villages north of Konitsa), in minimal villages in the north-eastern of Thesprotia (Tsamantas, Lias, Vavouri, Povla) and, mainly in the villages of the Greek minority in the southern of Albania (Deropoli, Ano Pogoni, Bouthroto, Chimara). A polyphonic band usually consists of 4 to 11 members. Its composition includes distinguishable roles and its structure reflects, according to certain researchers, elements of an ancient tragedy’s choir. The singing’s adequacy of a polyphonic song presupposes the existence, but also the joining together of different voices – roles in the polyphonic band. Thus, the polyphonic song presupposes the collectiveness of expression, but also strict distinguishing of roles that reflect also the unwritten hierarchy in the composition of a band and the distribution of roles.

The polyphonic song was an integral part of the folk processes that related with the circle of life (birth, marriage, death) and the circle of time (Greek Halloween, new year & spring customs, etc. ). Their operation lasted until the first decades after World War II, before, that is to say, the social cohesion of each community is disrupted by the big internal and external immigration that occurred in active population. By categorizing 222 polyphonic songs that were transliterated from various publications according to their content, it can be realized that their thematic reports are related to birth, marriage and death, religion, love, immigration, work, nature, while historical and frontiersmen songs are not absent. The demotic polyphonic song, initially based in the “worldview” of the rural society that created it, was included in all expressions of social life of Epirus. Songs’ important role in the performance of various customs’ processes in Pogoni, ceased to exist with the passage of years. With the change of society it was enriched, developed and it is shaped, henceforth, in an urban environment losing its previous importance, which was directly connected with the circle of life and time. The change of songs’ operation, but also their reformed meaning, is connected with the wider social change that is observed in the Hellenic space during, mainly, the postwar period. The wider historical changes and the social transformations that are observed in the Hellenic space after the last war, have involved, amongst others, important changes in the polyphonic song as well. One of the “products of” urbanization in Greece from the last war and later is the foundation of Cultural and Local Associations, but also of Cultural Centers for the diffusion of traditional polyphonic song.

Aim of these centers is the promotion and study of Epirus traditional music and the maintenance of beams with homelands. It is characteristic that the first records of demotic songs ignored and, in a sense, used as complementary the polyphonic song. Thus the first records included one or two polyphonic songs, while the first few records that included exclusive polyphonic songs appear during postwar years and hardly at the end of 20th century have we completed publications – recordings of polyphonic songs. Most of them have been published by various non-profit organizations and associations (Record Companies, Institutions etc.) and not by local associations of villages that are the main representatives of such songs (Parakalamos, Glyna). Most probably, the activity mentioned above is related with the commercialization of songs and comes in to incompletely cover the absence of a national planning for the maintenance of polyphony, despite the fact that the national rhetoric for the particular phenomenon is redundant. The polyphonic song revives only in cultural events that associations organize, dancing parties, dancing nights and concerts mainly during summertime. The contemporaneous study on the song is limited, henceforth, in the few cultural events where it is realized and not in its operation during a customs’ process concerning the circle of life or time. Its form and operation are researched, henceforth, through the events where it revives, the persons’ activity, the role of institutions and of course through the relations that are created and compose polyphonic song’s new character.  In our days there has been created a significant number of bands that operate in various cultural centers of Athens and Ioannina and revive the polyphonic song. It is characteristic that the relatively newly established groups that are created in the urban centers and the members that compose them are not necessarily related with the place of origin of polyphonic songs. The naming of certain groups (Polyfono, Chaonia, Inoro etc.) refers to the particular type of songs being performed defining the wider area of Epirus, where the particular singing was prevailing. The songs that are selected and performed by the abovementioned bands are drawn respectively from the wider variety of polyphonic songs. The teams that are named according to singers’ place of origin (Parakalamos, Ktismata, Dervitsani etc.), are composed in their majority, from members that draw their origin from the same village and perform a “limited”, local repertory of songs. In addition, the way the polyphonic song is spread has changed; the oral process of learning the polyphonic song is progressively abandoned and replaced by the systematic teaching (in most of cases in written mode) in public conservatories or private faculties.

The remaining experiential singers of polyphonic song are a few. Experiential singers are those individuals that learnt the polyphonic song orally, within the community, where the particular singing operated in a multi-level essence and constituted an integral part of most of customs’ processes. The time limits of such process are limited at the first decades after World War II. Most representatives of polyphonic song in our days learn its singing techniques in a study centre where demotic singing is performed. From the beginning of 21st century, as V. Kanellatou also informs us, particular efforts for the dissemination and promotion of Greek-speaking polyphonic song of Epirus are taking place. Via articles and researches, congresses and concerts in the urban centers, Epirus’ polyphony gains a wide urban public, as well as newer singers that are not directly related with Epirus.

arx-ath-xaskou-gamos-repetisti-veizis-xtarisIt is henceforth considered as given that the rich phonetic and musical delivery of communities has shrunk and is rescued only through various institutions and events that revive the past. The old-time polymorph and variety of songs, that characterized areas’ local musical identity, does not exist anymore. The polyphonic song remained for many years on the fringe of revival and tradition maintaining events. The causes of its marginalization should be sought in the songs’ content and in the singing way that does not correspond in the perceptions of the new society that was formed, but mainly in the perceptions’ change and in the significance given to rituals that incorporated it in various social events. In a lot of cases the polyphonic song revived through its transformation, maintaining however some of the old elements. It is characteristic that a significant category of sedentary songs that are performed in their majority in free rhythm as the polyphonic songs, are maintained until our days due to their musical–dancing adaptation. A number of phonetic demotic songs, that the community was singing, were adapted by the instrumentalists to various rhythmical educations, in preexisting moulds and they were included in the dancing tradition; today, they are heard in all kinds of dancing events. A Characteristic example are the songs of “Margiola” that became a dancing song in 5/4 rhythm from epicedium that was before, “Lenitsa mou ton antra sou” (My Lenitsa your husband), which also was adapted in 5/4 rhythm, “Xenitemeno mou pouli” (My bird living abroad), which also transformed from sedentary to a dancing one in 5/4 rhythm, etc. It is known that the band as we know it today has begun to take form sometime in the middle of the 19th century (Mazaraki, 1959); we should also hypothesize that the adaptation process in the dancing repertory of phonetic sedentary songs followed the same time course. Certain characteristic examples can enlighten the above named version, since a lot of sedentary songs in the beginning of the 20th century were included in the dancing songs category, such as: “Basilarchontissa”, “Margiola”, “Mpoulonasaina”, etc. The gap, however, in the interdisciplinary research of the subject is big since the studies by relative social sciences (Folklore, Musicology, Anthropology etc.) are absent; they would also contribute in enlightening other sides of the subject with regard to the terms, the factors and the conditions of songs’ transformation. The growth of polyphonic song band structure and the development of its technical characteristics, reveal a broadness of use but also the adaptation and a development in time and space.

A member of traditional chants, as Lolis reports, in the area of the polyphonic song evolves between phonemes with non-minim relations. The rare exceptions regarding the presence of minims do not influence, by no means, these relations. Moreover in the particular musical material someone can put a “polyphonic veil”. This phenomenon is called by musicologist V.S. Tole “concealed polyphony”. The significance “concealed polyphony” is explained by Lolis as a generalized way of expression that springs from music and customs’ roots of a social cohesion; it is cultivated consciously from generation to generation via accidental or organized artistic activity, giving even today unique and separate musical output. The particular way is formed by the growth of upwards or downwards, near or distant melodic intervals, the rhythmical form, the tinge, the rhetorical expression, the “posing of” scales and other expressions of musical conscience of singers, providing the possibility to be developed in a song an assonance of two, three or four voices simultaneously. (K. Lolis, 2006).

This type of monophonic songs was named figuratively by him as “polyphonic monophony” and included it in his study. Indicatively we can report certain songs categorized based on the way they were sang. We can distinguish: homophonic dance songs (Papades ap’ti Siopiki (Priests from Sopiki), by Nasios Velios, Neratzi apo ti neratzia (Bitter orange from the bitter orange tree), Poios eide ton amaranto (Who saw the amaranth), Mpirmpilomata) and sedentary (Alpha beta, Ena palikariki rousso (a young fella russ), Stou papa ta parathyria (In the priest’s windows)). In the homophonic songs a singer takes the song and then the team repeats the words of the song. Lolis comes to the conclusion that the homophonic song develops initially to three voices polyphonic without ison keeping and afterwards with ison keeping (Lolis 2006).

In two voices’ polyphonic songs the existence of partis and yiristis is required in some cases or of partis and isokrates in other. The two voices’ polyphonic song is considered a separate typological structure, according to Lolis (2006), supported by three versions: first that this structure pre-existed, second, that it is the development of homophony and third, that it is expressed without the hearings of yiristis, that characterize the three voices and four voices’ polyphonic song. We can distinguish the following categories of two voices’ songs: a) dancing (Kinisan ta karvania (They moved karbania)) b) sedentary (Filoi kalos orisate (Friends welcome), Ela mavromata (Come black-eyed girl)) c) sedentary polyphonic songs without ison keeping (Ntelipapas, O Yiannos kai I Marigo (Yiannos and Marigo), Feggari kane ipomoni (Moon you make patience), Defteri mera kinisa (Second day I moved), Verginada).

Three voices polyphonic songs are sedentary where the existence of partis, yiristis and klostis or isokrates is required. The three voices polyphonic songs are sedentary and dancing, with free, simple or mixed measuring and constitute the most popular typological structure of traditional phonetic polyphony, since the largest repertory of polyphonic songs, according to Lolis, includes three voices. The researcher points out that by thoroughly studying melodic, harmonious, polyphonic, rhythmical and morphological hearings of three voices’ polyphonic song in combination with the sociological structure of team that sings it, gives us the ability to reach a conclusion regarding questions of origin and of development of polyphonic singing. Lolis (2006) comes to the conclusion that four voices’polyphony is a later phenomenon in polyphony, based on the recordings of another researcher, Haxhi Dalipi from Avlona of Albania, whom realizes that “in the song of Chimara, richtis is present from the decade of of the 30’s in the 20th century. Information brought by that period’s Chimara citizen, Netsio Moucho, gives new emphasis and blow in the region’s polyphonic singing”.



Logo Polysong 1


sitemap polysong


NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand