It seems that even the weather is wrong nowadays in Greece. May usually was a smooth step into summer with waters just about warm enough to take a swim and the weather hot enough to want to do so.
Well, not this May… The Traditional Folk Instruments Museum located between two popular Athens boroughs – Plaka and Monstiraki – had planned to hold “Esyra to Milo” two weeks ago in the garden of the beautifully renovated 164-year-old mansion. It was postponed (for this Wednesday) due to rain. Last night, Wednesday, it rained yet again… instead the organisers held the event dedicated to traditional Greek songs of love, inside… the music and talent made up for the poor weather.
The Traditional Greek Folk Instruments Museum was founded in 1991 after Crete-born musicologist and violinist Foivos Anogeianakis donated his collection of 1,200 traditional instruments to the state. Only half of these are on display with the remaining instruments at the disposal of researchers studying Greek traditional music. The three-story building features collections of wind, string, percussion and brass instruments. You will find all sorts of instruments used in Greek folk music (demotika), the lyra, laouto, bouzouki, as well as many percussion instruments including the impressive daouli drum and the wind zourna or the tsabouna – a Greek bagpipe of sorts.
Greek Musical Instruments Up Close
Despite functioning under the patronage of the Greek culture ministry, which most often means abandonment and disorder, the Folk Instruments Museum is a prime example of what the state could achieve if it wishes to. Besides offering school children and their teachers a chance to see, learn and listen, it is also a breeding ground for new instrumentalists, young people of this day and age who wish to play and dedicate hours learning a traditional Greek musical instrument. The museum also holds lessons, organizes concerts, seminars and events dedicated to preserving Greek folk music.
Last night, we got a taste of the hard work that’s gone into the museum but also the love for the craft. A handful of young university students proudly took out their instruments – just like the ones we see depicted in the many centuries-old photographs on display in the museum – and began to play and sing songs of another era with so much zest that I was moved… moved because in a country that can only offer so little in terms of infrastructure, the heart goes the rest of the way… Let’s not forget, while the rest of Europe was benefitting from the Enlightenment in the 14th to 16th centuries – a time of rebirth, inspiration and creation (for the future) – Greece was enslaved by the Ottoman Turks for 400 years.
And yet, with meager means, the museum has managed to do so much towards preserving traditional Greek music, which is enormous if one realizes the uninterrupted connection it has with Byzantine music, which was influenced by Ancient Greek music.
In the meantime, when you visit Greece, don’t forget to stop by the museum. Let it be your brief introduction to the wonderful world of Greek music before you head for the islands and villages of the mainland, where you’ll get a chance to participate in the traditional “panegyria” and “glentia” (music- and dance-filled gatherings). There is so much of our history that emerges from the song of these instruments, that ties us to the very same instruments we still hear today in the music that we love, that it is vital to find ways to preserve and pass this legacy on to the next generations. It is our inheritance.