Iroquois Springs 2015: Meghan Quinn

Meghan Quinn

Meghan Quinn

Location: Saugerties, N.Y.

Occupation: High school English teacher.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: Before I moved to the Hudson Valley this summer, I played in Ahavaraba, a Buffalo-based klezmer band. We added some Balkan tunes to our repertoire, but I knew that I was just scraping the tip of the iceberg. I had heard about EEFC’s Iroquois Springs Balkan camp, and it seemed like an ideal way to immerse myself in learning about the many styles of Balkan music. Since I also found out I’d actually be moving to the Hudson Valley, camp seemed like the perfect place to make some new musical connections. I met so many great people through camp, including some folks in my area that I have started to play with weekly as part of a Balkan music club based at Bard College. I plan to keep playing and learning about Balkan music, and I hope to be in a band someday soon.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time at camp, and it most certainly will not be my last!

Studied at camp: I took four different classes each day at camp: accordion lessons and Albanian ensemble with Raif Hyseni, and accordion lessons and ornamentation class with Kalin Kirilov. I also participated in Mavrothi Kontanis’s Greek singing class a few times! It was immediately apparent that at Balkan camp, you are learning from the best of the best—people who truly live and breathe the type of music they are teaching. I found all the teachers to be very generous with their time and talents. What I learned from them, and from my fellow students, made me not only a better Balkan musician, but a better musician in general.

Memorable moment at camp: I especially loved the opportunity to perform and share what we had been learning in classes with everyone. Kalin’s accordion class did a surprise performance one night, playing in the dance hall as folks spun in a circle around us. Raif’s Albanian ensemble performance was incredibly fun, since almost the entire camp was participating too. I got chills the first time Merita [Halili]’s beautiful Albanian singing class added their voices to this ensemble.

Balkan camp is a total immersion into music that goes far beyond what I learned in classes. Walking on the winding paths, I would hear the sounds of gajdas and zurlas off in the woods somewhere, tapans echoing from an outdoor classroom, teenagers playing ukuleles on a porch, and people practicing their instruments all over the place. The dance hall is the center of camp life after dinner, and it is filled with lively bands, singing and dancing every night. Then the fun continues at kafana until the wee hours of the morning.

Beyond the learning opportunities and musical experiences, I quickly discovered that the people at camp are fantastic. Whether newcomers or longtime participants, people were open-minded, curious, kind and passionate. I was instantly welcomed as part of the community by cabin-mates, classmates, dancers and teachers. I can’t wait to come back to camp next year to be part of it again.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Jeremy McClain

Jeremy McClain

Jeremy McClain

Location: Lawrence, Kansas

Occupation: Have worked as a field botanist but am currently disabled and three years into my battle with Lyme disease. I have been bedridden much of the time for the past two years. I applied for a scholarship when going through a good period. Once about every 10 months I get about two good weeks; fortunately for most of the week of camp I was pain free and able to engage.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I have set up monthly lessons on piano accordion.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time.

Studied at camp: All accordion: Kalin [Kirilov]’s Bulgarian ornamentation class, Raif [Hyseni]’s accordion class and Albanian ensemble.

Memorable moment at camp: I was trying to a little dancing and had never done any before. But one of the really powerful dances that’s doable for beginners, I was able to get into that muscle memory. Dancing the odd meters, feeling it corporally in your body, really helps you as a musician. Another enjoyable thing was seeing Kalin just playing outside his cabin on the porch in the early evening; he was playing with some guy playing gajda from Northern California. There was another guy playing some sort of percussion. It was very memorable.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Bonnie Silver

Bonnie Silver in center, playing tapan (April Renae)

Bonnie Silver in center, playing tapan (April Renae)

Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Occupation: I am a psychotherapist in private practice.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am so lucky to be living in a city where there is so much (although sometimes still feels like not enough) music and so many opportunities to dance. There is a folk dance group that meets bimonthly in a Chelsea studio which we try to keep alive, and an impromptu gathering in our local park which someone else from camp has organized for dancers and musicians, which I hope we can keep going as long as the weather permits. I continue to study the tapan privately and have participated when I can in classes (last year with the Bulgarians) and jams.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my fourth year at camp: I began by only attending a dance party. After the bed and breakfast option became available my whole experience changed: I remember how I felt leaving camp in the morning while the ensembles were gathered and people were playing music: I knew then that I needed to be a part of this environment and would be a camper. I began with 1/2 a week, then a full week, then only 1/2 (due to financial constraints), and finally this year I was able to have a full week at camp as a scholarship recipient.

Studied at camp: My classes concentrated on tapan—both instruction and ensemble playing; and of course, at least one dance class. This year Joe [Graziosi]’s Greek class captured me!

Memorable moment at camp: This year’s camp has put me deeply in touch with the cultural roots of the music I have loved since I was a teenager. In my tapan class, Matt [Moran] collaborated with Alex [Marković] on a group of dances and rhythms which Alex has only seen in a small Serbian village. The set of rhythm changes was complicated and remained a “work in progress” even as we performed it at the end of the week. This to me was the essence of the real musical work we do at camp—the importance for me is in the effort and the learning, not as much in creating a polished finished product. Being part of an ensemble with professional musicians and scholars is an opportunity I cherish. Particularly moving was when Alex told us we were the first non-Roma people ever to play this sequence.

There is another visual image that stays with me—it is the expression on my friend’s face on the last morning of camp. We are saying goodbye and I have asked her what it is like for her, as a person from the Balkans living in the U.S., to spend a week with so many people immersed in her own cultural heritage. She is moved to a great smile and to tears.

This year’s camp has deepened my understanding and appreciation in ways new and surprising for me. I cherish what I have learned; I look forward to what lies ahead.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Jennifer Shearer

Jennifer Shearer

Jennifer Shearer

Location: Arlington, Va.

Occupation: Belly dance teacher and performer.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: Balkan music has been “trendy” in the belly dance community for a number of years. Watching Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes perform a kafana-worthy shot-glass-balancing choreography to Boban i Marko Marković was one of the primary experiences that drew me in five years ago. However, it quickly became apparent that most belly dancers have no idea that the Balkan region possesses a rich movement history and repertoire of its own. It was just that place with “Gypsies” and great catchy music. It’s become my personal mission to offer an alternative vision for “Balkan fusion” within the belly dance community, one that is rooted in the actual folk movements, region-specific stylizations and cultural markers of the various communities and nations within the Balkans. To that end, I offer workshops on Balkan folk dance and my brand of Balkan fusion within the belly dance community and work with my dance company, The Slivovica Sizzlers, to produce choreographic suites that entertain and educate by physicalizing the spectrum from pure folk dance to pure belly dance while highlighting the movement commonalities between them as the most fruitful grounds for thoughtful fusion. Check us out on YouTube to see what I mean!

Number of times at Balkan camp: I’m a “camp kid” so I’ve attended almost every year of my life, which is 20+ years!

Studied at camp: I always take as many dance classes as my legs can stand, but Alex [Marković]’s Serbian dance classes are always my favorite. This year, I tried two new instruments: santouri with Yianni [Roussos] (during first slot nonetheless!) and zurla with Jessica [Ruiz] and Milo [Destanovski].

Memorable moment at camp: Growing up, I watched Luka and Eva Primak sing their hearts out to perfection, Jesse Kotansky play up a storm on his violin, and many other camp kids pick up melodies and instruments with an ease that I could barely fathom. After a botched attempt at joining the brass ensemble on trumpet (there was no Čoček Nation to ease the transition from Marlis [Kraft]’s kids class back then), I decided to give up on anything beyond drumming and dancing at age 14. My inner perfectionist decided that those two things were my only talents, and everything else was an embarrassing waste of time.

This year (a decade since my fateful decision), I went to camp ready to get back into the game with santouri. It’s about as close to a drum as a melody instrument can come. All you have to do is hit it in the right place at the right time with sticks. Perfect. But zurla came as a complete surprise. I heard that Jessica’s sole beginner zurla student would be leaving midweek, and as a staunch supporter of all things zurla/tapan, I rounded up some of the young ladies at camp, and we trooped up to the kafana after lunch. Unsurprisingly, my fellow students were naturals, and once again, I felt like the village idiot. Jessica would sing or call out fingerings, and the class would reply back almost perfectly, except for me. I sat there sweaty, pink, and too anxious to put enough air into the instrument to make some of the loudest mistakes of my life. I could feel Milo and Jessica slowly getting exasperated with my unwillingness to play (although in retrospect their level of patience was saintly) and I knew that the only way I’d ever get better was to do just that.

Finally, Jessica told us to spread out and play far enough away that our ears might stop ringing. I found a spot in the woods, and as the mosquitoes bit through my jeans, I still couldn’t get myself to play. This internal battle was exactly what pushed me out of Brass ensemble right there at kafana 10 years before. Back then, I was too afraid to sound anything less than perfect in front of a community saturated with talent. I couldn’t handle the expectations that came with being a “camp kid.” I had been told stories of Zlatne Uste sounding like “noise and drum” when they first started, but that felt impossible. That was obviously a myth used to comfort unpromising beginners like me, and so I had given up.

I began regretting that decision the day I made it, and so I used that pent-up frustration to fuel my next move. With at least half of camp as my captive audience, I threw my entire lung capacity at that little reed and began to play. I hit wrong notes, my pitch was questionable, and as my mouth grew tired, squeaking became a frequent phenomenon. But then something magical happened, I dropped into “the zone” just like I do with dance, and I lost track of time as I repeated mistakes and struggled to recall the melody. I noodled and bumbled and fumbled, until all of a sudden, class was over. Čoček Nation was marching up the hill, and Jessica was calling for us to return our instruments. I was beaming as I walked back to my cabin that day. I had done what used to be impossible for me and discovered that being the loudest and most unaccomplished beginner in my class was actually the biggest accomplishment of all.

Mendocino 2015: Jonathan Mei

Jonathan Mei

Jonathan Mei

Location: Tacoma, Wash.

Occupation: I am a student at the University of Puget Sound.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I sometimes take violin lessons in Balkan music and incorporate elements of the style into my compositions. Occasionally I get the opportunity to feature Balkan music and give a presentation about it during cultural awareness events at my school.

Number of times at Balkan camp: I came to camp for the first time when I was 7 years old, about 15 years ago.

Studied at camp: This year I took the theory and ornamentation class, beginning Balkan singing with Carol [Silverman], beginning dancing with Michael [Ginsburg] and Romanian violin with Miamon [Miller].

Memorable moment at camp: One experience that really left an impression on me this year was taking the Bulgarian theory and ornamentation class [with Kalin Kirilov]. It was fascinating to learn about the Balkan styles from a theoretical perspective, especially because my Western classical training has been largely based in this framework. It was mind-boggling to try to comprehend the complex asymmetric meters that Balkan musicians often use, and to examine the traditional patterns and motifs that guide improvisation. Our teacher made an observation that stuck with me, and it was that Balkan music is largely “modal” the same way that American jazz is. It is fascinating to see intersections of musical phenomena among cultures that are so far apart from each other. This is a big part of why I love music, especially Balkan music!

Mendocino 2015: Andreas Musselman

Andreas Musselman

Andreas Musselman

Location: Kent, Ohio

Occupation: I do odd jobs: natural building work and work trade stuff. I also help rehab conventional houses.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am really trying to learn the music. I got introduced to it last summer when I was hitchhiking in California and throughout the year since then I’ve been trying to fill my head with every bit I can get. There’s not much of a Balkan scene in Ohio that I’m aware of yet, but I’m actively playing and trying to learn as much as I can. I’m new to the music and to fiddle in general, but I played in a school band when I was young—saxophone, then percussion—and then later played a lot of hard-core really intense metal music. After high school I started traveling and explored different instruments, then learned about Middle Eastern scales, then started diving into Romanian music. I’m planning a trip to Moldova or Romania for this fall.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time.

Studied at camp: Greek violin with Beth Cohen, maqam theory with Beth, Miamon Miller’s violin class. I did a few sessions each with the Greek ensemble and Trans-Carpathian ensemble.

Memorable moment at camp: I was impressed by the bands that were assembling with people that maybe knew each other outside of camp or for previous camps but also people who were there for the first time, putting these little groups together to perform in the kafana. These musicians are so, SO talented and really know the styles. Coming together, they might read a little sheet music or not, but can make great sound. It was wonderful to be part of such a great community. The scenes with the bands in the kafana were definitely spectacular. I remember one great little klezmer ensemble that combined experienced campers and first-time attendees—super lively, great spirit.

Mendocino 2015: Emily Laliotis (Balkan Night Northwest Scholarship)

Emily Laliotis

Emily Laliotis

Location: Tacoma, Wash.

Occupation: I am currently a student at the University of Puget Sound, double majoring in music and religion.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: My interest in Balkan music stemmed from my involvement with the Greek folk dance community, namely the Folk Dance Festival. However, as a musician, my interest in Balkan music went far deeper than only dance. In my regular life, I’m a singer-songwriter of American folk music. This style is my primary focus, but I also study Byzantine chant and am studying classical voice in college. I also participate in classical anda cappella choirs. I stay busy in lots of areas of music.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first year at camp.

Studied at camp: I studied singing at camp, both Turkish and Greek.

Memorable moment at camp: The whole experience felt like a dream—some utopia where good people come together and make good music all day, every day. Each night, I was amazed at the endless energy and support, from the dance hall to the kafana and everywhere in between. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face for the whole week, and even now am amazed at the experience that I had the great fortune of being a part of.

Mendocino 2015: Shireen Nabatian

Shireen Nabatian

Shireen Nabatian

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Occupation: I manage a whole bunch of projects that are generally related to community-building, in the areas of public relations, collective housing and property management. At the moment I’m general contracting a full renovation of a large character house, retaining the 100-year-old heritage of the building while updating all the guts and making it beautiful for a shared living environment for my awesome friends!

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I sing and play the violin. I play in three Balkan music bands ranging from pan-Balkan folk repertoire for folk dancers and discerning Greek restaurant-goers (Grupa Dunbarov), to Serbian ethno-rock (Byzantine Blue) and female vocal ensemble Zlatna Pesna.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my third camp.

Studied at camp: Turkish singing class, maqam.

Memorable moment at camp: My camp experience this year was predictably AMAZING! My biggest learning curve was Beth [Cohen͛]s maqam class. My strongest impression that I did not foresee was Brenna [MacCrimmon͛]s Turkish singing class. I have always meant to take a musical journey back to my Persian roots. The joke is that I have made a very long stop in the Balkans, but I think deep down I have also felt a personal obstacle to embracing this tradition because of my own complicated family history. Brenna’s class inspired me so much to pick up the thread of Persian folk music again. I told her about this epiphany on the last evening and we shared a couple tears brought on by the power of this beautiful music that we are all custodians of. Amazingly, only one day after camp, the universe supported me as my brother dug up his old setar from his basement storage and loaned it to me on the condition that I actually learn to play it lest he take it back.

I have now had a couple setar lessons and I love it so much! The Turkish music and theory that I learned at camp has opened up a new musical world for me. I feel so enriched, and excited about continuing my studies in Balkan music and now by the opportunity to complement it with a deeper understanding of Middle Eastern and Persian music.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Savannah Powell (Stefni Agin Memorial Scholarship)

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Location: I just moved to Eugene, Ore.

Occupation: I will be working as an archivist and a graduate student with the University of Oregon Folklore Department.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I have been singing and performing with Planina: Songs of Eastern Europe.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time attending camp.

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Studied at camp: I attended classes on Greek violin (or in my case, viola), Albanian singing, Macedonian tambura, Bulgarian tambura and santouri.

Memorable moment at camp: I arrived at camp late because I was flying in from the national festival in Koprivštica, Bulgaria, so I had to work hard to catch up with the classes. I decided that I wanted to observe the intermediate Bulgarian tambura class. When I arrived the teacher [Stoyan Kostov] and other students asked if I had any experience playing guitar. When I told them that I knew how to play guitar they scrambled to find me an instrument and explained the similarities in chords of the two instruments. One of the more experienced students met with me outside of class to give me a few pointers. Due to the patience and overall support of the class and our wonderful instructor I learned a great deal and was able to participate in the student concert. It was very encouraging to feel so supported to pick up a new instrument!

Dreaming of Summer and Balkan Camp?


(photo: Ivan Vakulenko)

From the depths of winter this issue brings you a reminder of summer, music, dancing and Balkan camp.

In this issue we’re pleased to profile Lise Liepman, a frequent instructor of santouri or Greek ensemble at the Workshops. Not only is it interesting to learn about her life in music and carousel restoration, but after many years as a member of the Program Committee, she has some valuable insights about Balkan camp and the next generation.

A record number—18 people—attended camp on scholarship this year, and you can read stories from half of them in this issue. The other half will be featured in our spring 2016 issue.

You’ll also find the latest releases from our community, a new Balkan Songs column cooked up by Bill Cope, workshop photos from both camps, and more.

Changing roles

In 2015 the EEFC News email newsletter became more frequent (it’s now monthly) and full of content, thanks to Board Member Elena Erber, General Manager Rachel MacFarlane, and others. If you haven’t been receiving that, you may subscribe here. And these days you can find many interesting and timely articles at the EEFC website. So communications from the Board, for example, are now more likely to appear in one of those venues than in Kef Times.

But we believe there’s still a place for the longer-format reading that a publication like Kef Times offers. I hope you can carve out a little time to settle in and enjoy this issue. Even if you can’t, you can at least skim the headlines, see some wonderful photos and get a good flavor of what happened at the 2015 camps. As always, we invite your contributions for consideration for future issues.

(photo: April Renae)

(photo: April Renae)

Ciao to Dan

Finally, Dan Auvil, who has been Kef Times’ graphic designer since 2007, has stepped down from that role. Dan brought a visual distinction to the publication (and a zaniness to the KT virtual office) that will be missed. On the other hand, the WordPress blog format we now use doesn’t lend itself to as much visual creativity as our previous format did, and Dan has plenty of other irons in the fire. Thank you, Dan, for everything you have done for the EEFC and for Kef Times through your time with the publication.

Julie Lancaster