Musicians PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 11 October 2006 22:13

The word musician as used in this context corresponds to the Greek word organopaíktes (literally, instrument players) which is the noun used of traditional musicians, as opposed to mousikoí (musicians), which is used for those who play Western music, be it light, jazz, "pop" or classical. The difference between the two types of musicians is as great as the difference between the two types of music. In this chapter the main traits of a traditional musician will be outlined, precisely those traits which distinguish him from his modern counterpart.

Strangely enough the word organopaíktes is very rarely heard in the villages, instead collective expressions such as ta órgana (the instruments) or ta daoùlia (the drums), ta violiá (the violins), oi gyftoi (the gypsies), ta paichnídia (the playthings) and ta tsalgiá (Turkish for instruments) are used. And when speaking about a certain musician the name of the particular instrument he plays is specified, instead of using a generic term: "the violinist", "he who plays the laoùto", "he who blows on the floyéra". This is perhaps to avoid according the musician that same recognition as full-time occupations, such as blacksmith or saddler.

It is considered natural that a good musician should come from a line of musicians, just as good singers and dancers generally enjoy a family precedent. There are, of course, exceptions, those whose God-given gift is to play, dance or sing extremely well, though even in these instances a similarly gifted forebear is sought. Nurture not nature is responsible for this familial bent. It is not a question of heredity but of environment: a child brought up in a family which sings or plays instruments will almost certainly learn to do the same, without any special effort. Nowadays, in our atomistic society, an inclination towards music is attributed to a purely personal attribute, talent.

Parents often actively dissuade or even violently prevent their son from learning an instrument, even when there are other musicians in the family. To play an instrument for one's own amusement is a waste of time, to play for money at feasts and ceremonies is considered the work of inferiors. In Mainland Greece where it was the gypsies with their zournádes who played exclusively on such occasions, staid family men learnt quieter, usually string instruments which they played in the evening, at home or in the taverna.

It is not difficult for the child in the village to fashion a small instrument himself or get someone else to make one. On this he practises, trying to play whatever he hears and if his father or uncle is a musician it is only a matter of time before he learns tunes from them, by ear. If he has no relatives who play he will seek out a teacher or master when he gets older. But for this he needs his father's consent, for he will have to buy a better instrument and pay for his instruction. The relationship between a master and his apprentice is fundamental to the transmission of professional knowledge within the context of traditional society and is a relationship quite different from that between teacher and pupil in modern society.

The apprentice goes to live in the master's village, staying in the house of a relative or even in that of the master, paying by the month. There are no set lessons, no set hours, no books. The master carries on with his everyday affairs and tasks, playing only when the fancy takes him and it is then that the young lad listens carefully, making a mental note of what he hears and sees, in order to repeat it later. When the master listens to his apprentice he may correct him, not by showing him where he went wrong, but by playing the entire tune in his own way. So the time passes until the boy deems himself capable of playing whatever he hears, at which point he returns to his village, full of complaints about his master for not showing him his art.

It is true that a master is more willing to reveal his art to an apprentice when the instrument is not a particularly popular one and, therefore, does not earn as much money, or when he is of advanced years himself and is anxious that his art shall not die with him. Otherwise an apprentice is viewed as a potential rival, for in the future they will both be on the same circuit of feasts and gatherings in the area, so he is reluctant to pass on his craft. On the other hand, his reputation is enhanced if others acknowledge him as a master, and, needless to say, he is paid for his pains. The master usually goes to celebrations without his apprentice, for it is at these that he displays his art to the full and plays his entire repertoire. If the boy is from a distant village, or not so sharp, he may be allowed to play the íson, fill in the gaps in the melody, but without sharing the takings.

With regard to the simpler instruments, things are much easier since there is no need of a master. Shepherds fashion their own pipes (floyéres), teach themselves to play and perfect their art later by copying others. This is also true of the bagpipe-players, lyra-players and daoùli-players. The player learns to make the instrument and learns to play it, by trial and error, improving constantly as time goes by, though he must have the ability to imitate the technique of those more skilled, on the few occasions when he hears them play.

Now and again his friends will ask him to play them a tune, but recognition only comes when an established musician asks him to join his group booked to play at a wedding or feast day. Such a gesture acknowledges him as an equal, for the musicians playing together are considered equals and the takings are shared likewise, not in proportion to the popularity of the instrument, as is the case today. If the player proves his worth and gains a reputation, he will be sought after from villages further afield, eventually making a name for himself throughout the region.

Above all else a musician must have stamina. He often travels many hours from his own village, on foot or on mule-back, in order to reach that to which he has been invited. There he will play for as long as the feast lasts, three days at least, snatching a few hours sleep wherever a bed has been prepared and playing for hours on end, "from bell toll to bell toll" (that is, resting only during mass). People comment on the depth of the hole he makes in the ground as he taps out the rhythm and he has only time to gulp down a few bites of food, take a few sips of wine and a puff on his cigarette between songs.

Indeed, music and fatigue seem inseparable, not exactly fatigue but that strange state when he feels he can take no more and which is only overcome by supreme effort. Then this utter exhaustion is transformed into a kind of ecstatic trance - this happens also with the dancers - the quality of the music changes, as if coming from another world; this is true playing.

The musician makes excuses for his rather stiff playing at the beginning by saying his instrument "has not warmed up", but really implying that he himself, not to mention the ambience, has not yet warmed up. Nevertheless, his instrument literally gets warmer as it is played - this is quite obvious with the daoùli- and some musicians actually warm their instruments by holding them close to the fire before they strike up. Others wet them with wine - a kind of libation. Once the playing starts there are few opportunities for stopping, unless a quarrel breaks out, in which case the player has the presence of mind to move out of the way, lest he be beaten too or his instrument be snatched from him or broken.

A musician should also be able to play loudly and forcefully for the dances are held in the open, with the wind blowing. He must make himself heard above the noise of the throng and the stentorian voices of the villagers, urging them to come and dance. The klaríno has replaced the floyéra and the violin the lyra also because they are louder. Furthermore, a village takes pride in its revels and merrymaking being heard far away: this signifies a good harvest, nuptial celebrations, affluence and well-being in general. The daoùli should echo through the ravines to the neighbouring village. Nowadays this has reached extremes, the young musicians deafening those assembled with their loud-speakers and amplifiers, usually to mask their poor playing.

A traditional musician is esteemed and applauded if he "knows a lot of songs", "never stops playing", "plays loudly", "plays to wake the dead", "gives wings to the dancers' feet". Such are the phrases used by the villagers to express their admiration. Unlike a modern musician, a traditional player is not deemed a virtuoso on the quality of his performance, but rather on the quantity and its effect on the audience. The traditional player is a craftsman, while the modern musician is an artist.

This fundamental difference manifests itself in many ways. For instance, the traditional musician is frequently paid by the piece, an inconceivable situation for his modern counterpart. The dancer takes to the floor, orders his favourite song and pays for it in just the same way as he goes to the blacksmith and orders a horseshoe (the blacksmith is often also a musician anyway). His interest in the song is that it enables him "to get on with his job"(for example, to dance his daughter who is now of marriageable age), not that it is something which is a source of direct personal enjoyment (as is the case with someone attending a concert or recital today).

Traditional music is overtly and distinctly functional. The musician plays in order to achieve a particular result and is paid according to the degree of his success. His music is as good as the singing or dancing it encourages, it has no intrinsic meaning, which is why traditional music on record is but a pale reflection of that played in its natural environment. It is inevitable that the traditional musician in a recording studio, without the dancers in front of him, without having played already for hours on end, without the food and drink, the babble of the crowd, the smells, the gestures, the setting and the people to whom this music exclusively belongs, will produce at best a poor substitute.

The functionality of this music can only be preserved in the special conditions of the village or neighbourhood, the conditions of traditional society where know­ledge is transmitted orally and skills learnt by imitation. In such a society change is not desired for its own sake but only comes when it is unavoidable and then it is effected gradually, through continuous and unending repetition, until it has been adapted to fit in perfectly with what went before. Survival is the keynote of such societies and human relations the primeval duty.

Thus a traditional musician is not taught how to read music by a professional teacher, but learns by copying the playing of an older musician, as well as his habits and conduct in general; in other words, he absorbs an entire way of life. Between himself and his audience there is not a one-way relationship confined to the moment he performs for their entertainment, they have multi-faceted, everyday exchanges of all kinds. His music accompanies his fellow villagers throughout their life, at every critical stage, and they accompany him at every social event of his own life. And so every song he plays is drawn from the entire social group and is directed at the individual who ordered it, or who is honoured at that particular moment.

The unity of song, music and dance as a means of social expression is axiomatic, thanks to the close personal relationship between singer, musician and dancer. They have grown up together in the same village or neighbourhood and are linked by a whole network of relationships, only one of which is cooperation on feast days. They are protagonists in countless performances of the same social ritual. The musician knows beforehand which song each of his fellow villagers will order, what motivates him to dance at a particular moment, how he wants the song played so that he can give fully of himself and so be liberated. The musician does not play to an anonymous, changing audience, he plays for his own companions and he plays to make them dance. Just as his father played for their fathers, so his son will play for their sons.

It is this interpersonal link between musician and dancer which gives rise, especially in the taverna, to conspicuous paying. The dancer orders a song, pays the musician his due and dances. As the night goes by and his euphoria mounts he continues to order the musician to play, but pays according to his pleasure. The knack of the musician is not to play "beautifully" but to identify with the dancer's mood, to coax him and bring him out of himself, to foster his ego and his virility to such an extent that he loses control and in his ecstatic happiness will pay his last cent. The instrument is a tool, it is a hook baited to draw banknotes from the pocket of the dancer.
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