Records of traditional music

Every folk dance troupe, as, indeed, anyone involved with dance, must have a record library of appropriate music. In order to obviate wear and tear on the records, these should be taped onto cassettes for use at lessons and rehearsals. In addition to records, a library of tapes or cassettes, recorded live in the field, or featuring different players, should be compiled on behalf of the troupe.

It is best to make a cassette for each dance, featuring different tunes and different versions of each tune, all from the same region. The teacher should make sure that the pieces are in a desirable order from the teaching point of view, beginning with the easiest, which have a slow, strong beat and gradually progress­ing to the more difficult, for the more confident dancers. It is a good idea to have an introduction solely with percussion instruments - daoúli or toumbeléki - so that the rhythmic structure is absolutely clear, before being enriched by the melody.

Most of the records available include very few pieces expressly for dance, either because they are mainly intended to project the vocal attributes of the singer, or the virtuosity of the soloist, or because the musicians play quite differently in the studio as compared with their performance at a village feast or celebration, where they are able to communicate with the dancers. Some of the commercial records are so bad they may have an adverse effect on the musical taste of the dancers.

From time to time certain societies and institutions have produced records of songs and dance music from various parts of Greece. These are rarely available in the shops but can be obtained from the headquarters of these bodies. In the shops one can usually only buy records recently circulated by the recording companies, but these also have lists of companies from where earlier recordings can be ordered, as well as those made by singers or groups of players to be circulated among their compatriots, clients and customers in the dance tavernas where they perform or shops in their particular region.

Very few of the records made by recording companies are of good quality. There is no check on the authenticity of the pieces played, the songs have modern lyrics, the tunes have been rearranged, the comments on the sleeve are arbitrary, etc. The first thing one should check when buying a record is the name of the producer, in order to see who is ultimately responsible for the choice of songs, musicians and instruments featured. Thus one gets some idea of the authenticity of execution and overall seriousness of the production. Unfortunately, however, those records heard on radio and television invariably pay little attention to such considerations.

At this point it would be remiss not to mention the unforgivable negligence of the Academy of Athens in this respect. It has in its archives an incalculable wealth of traditional Greek music, some twenty thousand songs painstakingly recorded several decades ago, in the days when the ear of the singers and players had not been defiled by constant bombardment with European music. A priceless heirloom of the musical culture of the nation, which is being lost forever as the tapes become demagnetised with the years, incarcerated in a storeroom, at the same moment as our ears are subjected to all manner of rubbishy music.

Since the Academy does not have the technical means to process this material, it could be made available to recording companies, even if they only selected those pieces for which they see a market. At least they would then be circulated and heard by Greeks and foreigners. Of late there has been a definite upsurge in the demand for traditional music, by the public, students and collectors alike, both in Greece and abroad. There is a ready market in the Greek communities of America and Australia. This would also help solve the problem of copyright, for no-one will be able to claim as his own composition the songs of our grandfathers, which rightfully belong to us all.

Of course, records are no substitute for live music, so essential to traditional dance; perhaps more so than to any other kind. For the dancer to hear the player and the player to see the dancer is a basic element of traditional dance, just as is personal acquaintance, living together before and after the feast, the common quest for authenticity. The good dancer is able to distinguish good music, that to which his ear and body are attuned, and which carries him and his onlookers away. The good traditional musician knows how to encourage the dancer, sometimes holding him in check, sometimes inciting him to ecstasy.

Recorded music is undoubtedly useful, it can be played frequently and so give aural stimulation. In the old days the dancer heard this music, and only this, all his life and thus became attuned to it. Today's dancer does not have this acquired familiarity and so must listen to this music for hours on end, until he too becomes attuned to it, thus bridging the gap in his cultural education. For in the old days time was not so precious as it is today and songs could last for hours, not the standard three minutes of a record track. The same melodic phrase was repeated over and over again, each time with barely perceptible variations and embellishments. This is why it is not enough to hear a traditional tune a couple of times in order to understand it, as is the case with other kinds of music.