Polyphonic Paradise

             When Christmas season came to Tbilisi, our group thought we should celebrate the season by singing carols in an art cooperative with common mall area. The building had historically been a roadhouse along a once-famous trade route. Stores and workshops encircled a large gathering place with vaulted ceilings. It should be perfect for singing. The group practiced several times, amateur singers all. Some had strong voices, some wavering, but we all banded together to spread joy and cheer.

            On the appointed day, we formed an eager choir, with carols copied and ready. As we broke into song, people noticed and stopped to listen. After a couple of songs, effortlessly but seemingly planned, a number of men stepped forward. All in one breath, their barrel chests filled and out came the most amazing harmonies I have ever heard. Full, loud and rich, the chords flooded the area, bouncing off the tiled floors and rising to the heights of the rafters. Over and over, the resonant sounds evoked the reverence of cathedrals, but the intimacy of an opera scene.

            Countries of the Caucasus abound in this kind of music. Christianity came early to the country of Georgia (337 AD), but vocal polyphony developed before that. Georgia has both eastern and western styles within their small country, with fifteen identified varieties. Eastern Georgian features two embellished melodic lines developing rhythmically freely with the background of the drone. Western Georgian music features a type of local yodel, called a krimanchuli, full of contrapuntal rhythms.

            Georgian polyphony has been classified as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Use this link for a sample of Georgian polyphonic music: 


© Beryl Carpenter 2013 - 2020