Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Georgian Choir in NYC: Supruli

Well, there's plenty of news since last March... I've led Georgian singing workshops in Vermont, Montreal, Toronto, and I have a monthly workshop in NYC now. I also led a second "songmasters" tour to Georgia last summer; we worked with Karlo Urushadze and Tristan Sikharulidze (Guria), and Andro Simashvili (Kakheti), and our singers performed in the ArtGeni festival in Tbilisi. It was an excellent experience, and we left Georgia just days before the bombs started dropping... Things are not well in Georgia. But we'll keep praying that things improve. I also had some concert performances with Trio Kavkasia at Swarthmore College (PA), and with the Toronto Consort in Toronto. 2008 ended without any particular fanfare for me, but 2009 has begun with a bang. I've been invited to do a solo art show at a gallery in Maine! I'm very excited & am working hard on new things for the show. I've also just begun directing the NYC Georgian choir, which I've named Supruli. I'll be leading a Village Harmony teen camp in June, and hopefully returning to Georgia again for a third songmasters tour in July. We'll see! Lots more to write - I'll try to do post again soon!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ilia Zakaidze

Ilia Zakaidze, one of Georgia's most famous folk singers of the 20th century, died sometime in early 2008. He had been suffering from cancer for some time and had been quite ill. I had visited him in 2006 and recorded a lengthy interview with him, hoping to use it for a CD of his songs. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more complicated than I'd hoped making such a CD due to the demands of the archives that hold the recordings, so nothing materialized before Ilia's death.

I had also wanted to help organize official recognition for Ilia as one of the soloists whose voices are soaring through the cosmos on the Voyager spacecraft, which was launched in 1977. This information had remained shrouded in uncertainty for years, since the recording of Chakrulo had been provided by Radio Moscow, and was credited only as "Georgian Male Choir." I was actually the first person to verify that it was, in fact, Ilia Zakaidze (top voice solo), Rostom Saginashvili (middle voice solo), and the Georgian State Ensemble, directed by Anzor Kavsadze. I determined this by locating the actual recording on the commemorative edition of "Murmurs of the Earth," the story of the Voyager spacecraft, which was issued in 1991 with a CDRom that included all of the sounds and images sent into space on the Voyager. I listened to the recording of Chakrulo and matched it to a recording I had from the Georgian State Archives of Zakaidze and Saginashvili, directed by Kavsazde. All three men were still alive in 2007, but to my knowledge, no media splash was made for the 30th anniversary of the launch. Sigh... anyway, at least we know, and I hope that somehow I'll eventually be able to make that CD (or someone will).

Ilia's voice was considered to be the quintessential Georgian folk model. One Georgian friend of mine told me that in the 1960s or 1970s, if you said "Georgian folk music," everyone would automatically think of Ilia. He will be missed. My first memory of him is actually quite an unusual one: I was in Georgia with The Kartuli Ensemble (the American choir I first began singing Georgian music with) in 1994. We had been invited to participate in the International Congress of Georgian Scholars and Expatriates Abroad, and we had a concert at the Tbilisi Philharmonic. The grand finale was Chakrulo (the same song that was sent into space on the Voyager), sung by Ilia Zakaidze (top voice solo) and Nugzar Kurtskhalia (middle voice solo) with the Georgian State Ensemble - they sang verse one - followed by Glenn Knickerbocker (top voice solo) and me (middle voice solo) with The Kartuli Ensemble on the second verse, and then all the tenors joining for the blowout blitz on the third and final verse. It was cathartic, and, of course, it was not until years later that I learned just who it was that I'd been singing with that night. It's a memory I'll treasure forever.

I have so much more to say about Ilia, but his voice can convey more than I could ever put in words. I'll leave this as a pale introduction for any of you who have never heard his voice:

Sing beautifully, Ilia.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Whoops... there goes the summer!

Well... much has happened since I last posted. I traveled to California in December to work with the Kitka women's ensemble in preparation for a joint project with Kavkasia. I taught them a number of Georgian songs and helped them polish up some others they already had in their repertoire. They are wonderful! I couldn't have had a better time or asked for finer results. In January I traveled to Toronto for some concerts with Kavkasia, and then back to California for three joint concerts with Kitka. Our grand finale was the Svanuri Sazeimo Perkhuli, a two-choir round dance which brought the house down. It was magical. I sincerely hope I have many more opportunities to work with Kitka in the future.

In late February I went to Chicago for a week-long residency with Dr. Clayton Parr at DePaul University. He had been teaching his choirs Georgian folk and composed choral works and invited me to come help polish things and join them for their performance. Clayton is a powerhouse, amazingly gifted and super-energized. He had already prepared the choirs remarkably well and it was a delight working with them. At the end of our visit we traveled to the offices of Hal Leonard publishing and pitched our book project: "Teach Yourself Georgian Folk Songs" - well, that's not the title, but that's what it will be. It looks like Hal Leonard wants to publish it! I'm very excited.

In March I recorded a little demo of Georgian songs with Emily Miller and Jodi Hewat, calling ourselves Nanina. The recording came out pretty good, although Emily has now moved to Nashville to go to grad school. Sigh... But there will surely be more Georgian music coming from NYC. Watch and see.

In April I did a lovely workshop at Cornell and visited with my dear friend Will Parker, who has the most amazing collection of Melodiya LPs, including many discs of Georgian music. He's going to transfer some to CD for me, and I asked him to do one transfer before I left for Georgia in May. I'll get to that later.

Another significant event in April was establishing contact with Peter Gold, who traveled to Georgia and made field recordings of Georgian Turks in 1968. He published an LP of these recordings in 1972, which I knew about from Frank Kane. I had tried to contact Peter several times over the years, and decided to try again. I found him! He is completely delightful and very enthusiastic about Georgian music. He and I are hoping to travel to Georgia next year for his 40-year-anniversary since his first visit. He hasn't been since! We hope to return to some of the places he visited in 1968, and to give copies of his complete field recordings from that time to several archives in Georgia and Turkey. That should be exciting! We're now looking for a sponsor to cover the costs of the trip. I'm thinking it would also be an excellent opportunity for a documentary. Any takers?

In May I traveled to Tbilisi for my first "tour." Together with my dear friend and colleague Maia Kachkachishvili, I organized a trip to Svaneti for serious students of Georgian folk song. We spent about 10 days in the village of Lenjer, guests of Islam Pilpani, one of the last great songmasters of Georgia. We had two other teachers join us, also unparalleled songmasters: Tristan Sikharulidze from Guria, and Polikarpe Khubulava from Samegrelo. We had a great time, although some bits were - challenging. Yes. The best was towards the end, however, when we all began to see the magic that was happening among the three songmasters. They were reminiscing, singing old songs, joking, having a great time. It was beautiful seeing Polikarpe and Islam swimming in the Black Sea! And Islam hadn't been there for over 20 years. And then seeing them on stage in Tbilisi, especially when they performed as a trio... it was electrifying. I am proud to have been the force that brought them together for this project and I hope I can do it again.

Since returning from Georgia in June, I haven't had much activity. Now I am looking for workshops in closer proximity to my home so that I won't be traveling as much. Day trips are okay, and the occasional weekend, but no more weeks on the road. I've also started doing artwork again, making cartoon furniture and working on some children's book ideas. We'll see where God leads me! I'll be singing in concert with the Kartuli Ensemble on Sept. 23 in Lagrangeville, NY (near my hometown of Poughkeepsie).

There's much more to tell, but another time. Peace to all & keep singing!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Grinnell College, IA (part 2)

Dec. 2 - Today we had the full workshop, followed by an evening concert / presentation, during which Sarah gave a summary of her project. It was entirely delightful! Everyone had a great time and I was quite impressed with Sarah's work & what she had to say. Grinnell purchased three Georgian folk instruments, which I helped obtain from Georgia: a chonguri, panduri, and chunir. I taught one song for each instrument and we performed them in the evening, formally presenting the instruments to the college at the same time. Following the concert, John Rommereim invited us back to his house & we had a lovely evening - especially when our visiting Georgian guitar player from Iowa City, Tariel Barimelidze, began singing Tsangala. It certainly helped warm everyone up - and boy, did we need it! As Alan & I departed the next morning the Bank displayed 6 degrees Fahrenheit. A cold time made warm by lots of great singing & good hearts. Thanks, Sarah, John, and everyone who made this visit possible for Alan & me.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Grinnell College, IA

Today Alan Gasser & I did the first part of a 2-day workshop at Grinnell College in Iowa, arranged by our good friends Sarah Burghardt and John Rommereim. We had a great time, despite the freezing weather outside! (Good thing the workshop was indoors). Prior to the workshop, Sarah, Alan & I did a teaser outside the dining hall - we sang 3 Georgian songs as a trio. It was great fun! Sarah sang the middle voice & had a great sound. Tomorrow we have a full day of singing, followed by a concert/presentation in the evening. We're hoping to be joined by a Georgian guitarist who is currently living in Iowa City. More to follow!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Latest Workshop: Oberlin College

On Nov. 18, 2006, I did a one-day workshop at Oberlin College, arranged by my old friend & fellow Georgian singing lover Avery Book. I taught 5 songs at the workshop and then we had a brief performance in the evening, joined by the Experimental Course ("ExCo") which Avery co-directs with Stefan Amidon. It was a fun time for all. Afterwards, we were invited by Amanda Blasko from the Russian Dept. (who helped sponsor the event) for some khachapuri - Georgian cheese bread, along with more great singing and fellowship. The most interesting thing I discovered from Amanda was that the late Dmitri Pokrovsky and his ensemble actually taught a Georgian folk song at a workshop she had attended. She even lent me the cassette and let me listen to the Pokrovsky Ensemble singing Okro Mchedelo, a song from Georgia's province of Meskheti. I was proud to know that Pokrovsky sang Georgian music - since all the Georgians make such a major deal about the fact that "no Russians have EVER sung our songs..." Bravo, Dmitri.