“How to describe that music?”


I’ve returned the final (I hope!) proofs of my forthcoming novella, Patrin (Mother Tongue Publishing). Have proofed its beautiful cover, accepted a number of invitations to read from it this fall (will update my News and Events page shortly), and now can anticipate its arrival at the end of summer. This morning I thought about the music that serves as part of its soundtrack. Zurna and dauli, the wonderful double-reeded horn (often made of apricot wood) and double-headed drum at the heart of Balkan Romani music. (For more on this, here’s a link to a review I wrote of Bright Balkan Morning.) I listened to a lot of this music while writing Patrin and this morning I can hear it as I postpone heading outdoors to begin the watering…

How to describe that music? Some of it made me want to dance,
and certainly people danced; mostly men, as dancing was a particularly
male activity on Crete. The door stood open, and they moved
inside and out as though the two were the same place. Two zurnas
and a dauli, out under the vine. The sound filled the darkness
right down to the harbour where the water answered back. Some
songs I knew must be rebel songs for their ferocity, the way the
older men at the bar raised their fists and loudly sang the refrains.
But other songs, plangent and achingly lovely, entered my body
and made me feel intense sorrow—though I didn’t know what
to attach the sorrow to. Yiannis, beside me, told me that Nestor
brought the gypsy soul to Cretan music, played the zurna with a
gypsy inflection. The long quavering notes, rich with vibrato—the
other musicians stopped playing to listen. I was unused to wine,
and my glass kept being refilled. Piney, and sharp, it was a perfect
accompaniment to the salty cheese and the plates of small
fried fish, tomatoes coated with golden oil, dishes of olives, green
and black, some of them bitter and others as large and meaty as
chicken. Loaves of bread, heavy, dusty with flour. When we finally
found our way back to the flat, trailed by a few young men who
wanted to know, How do you make the reeds? How do you know
what to give to the drone player? Nestor told them, Tomorrow, ask
me tomorrow. I must take this young lady to her bed.

from Patrin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s