Tag Archive | Zedashe

Dancing with Zedashe

I talk a lot about my Georgian chorus at UCLA, but the first time I ever sang Georgian music was in 2013, when Zedashe, a vocal and dance ensemble from Georgia, came to Minneapolis. Their many events on their tour stop were organized by a couple I knew through folk dancing and shape note singing in the Twin Cities. I attended the choral workshop. On that occasion, we learned the song Shavlego and the chant Saidumlo Utskho Da Didebuli Vikhilet. I still have the sheet music for both tucked into my Sacred Harp.

Anyway, Zedashe is back in the U.S. for the release of their latest album, Our Earth and Water, and they kicked off their tour with a slew of events in Minneapolis. On Saturday morning, I went to the choral workshop in the gymnasium of the parish house of St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral. This time, I was armed with a year and a half of Georgian singing experience.

The first song we learned was Amiranis Perkhuli, or Amiran’s Round Dance. Amiran was a great hunter, apparently. Unlike most Georgian folk songs, which are in three-part harmony, Amiranis Perkhuli only has two parts, which shows how ancient it is. It also has two choirs, which trade off singing the top part over the bass. One choir sings the same (I think nonsense) words over and over while the other choir sings the verses telling of Amiran’s exploits. And on top of that it has a circle dance which you do as you sing. We learned the steps and everything. You can hear the whole song and see some of the dance in this (at times weirdly staged) video:

After that, we learned the chant Ghirs Ars, which talks about Mary and cherubim and seraphim.

That same evening, I went to one of Zedashe’s three concerts. I’d never seen them perform before, just participated in their workshops, and it was impressive. There was more dancing of a very different kind, flashier, often flirtatious, with almost no touching. The nine members of the ensemble wore traditional clothing (minus the bandoliers of bullets for the men, which was kind of reassuring). And there were instruments! Drum and accordion, but also panduri, a Georgian three-stringed lute, and chiboni, a Georgian bagpipe with a huge bag that’s actually as big as a headless, legless goat.

Zedashe performed a version of Gaul Gaukhe, a war song I’ve sung with Datvebis Gundi, and a song called Parine. The funny thing about Parine is that I could hear it was essentially the same song as one Datvebis Gundi learned, except we called it Parina. And while we were told Parina was about some festival when one gives alms to the poor, Zedashe’s English title for Parine was A Handsome Boy’s Name! Somewhere, something got lost in translation…

Singing and More Singing

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of singing, which makes me happy. The All-California Sacred Harp Convention was January 18-19. I keep mentioning Sacred Harp and shape note without explaining what they are for those who might not know, so…shape note singing is a tradition of communal a cappella hymn singing in four-part harmony. Singers sit in a hollow square and take turns leading songs, beating time from the center of the square. The term “shape note” refers to the musical notation, in which noteheads have one of four shapes (there are also seven shape systems). The tradition has its roots in New England, later flourished in the American South, and is now active throughout the United States as well as abroad. The Sacred Harp is a particular book of shape note tunes.

Anyway, this year’s All-California was my fourth Sacred Harp convention; in 2012, I went to the Keystone Convention in Bethlehem, PA, the Young People’s Singing in Minneapolis, and the Minnesota Convention, also in Minneapolis. I know a lot of Pennsylvania/East Coast singers and Minnesota singers, and this was an opportunity to meet more LA/California/West Coast singers. The convention was held at a former military site turned cultural center on a hill overlooking the Pacific. We sang in a building that used to serve as officers’ quarters or something like that, but with its lovely porch it actually reminded me more of a Quaker meetinghouse. During the breaks between singing sessions, I would go out and bask in the sunshine or stand in the shade of a eucalyptus taking in the view of the ocean and the luminous Catalina Island. It was really idyllic. It was too beautiful not to have lunch outside, and since there wasn’t a lot of picnic table seating, my friends and I ate the traditional potluck “dinner on the grounds” literally on the ground. There was also this group of young men from Santa Cruz who came to the singing and who, during the midday breaks, brought out fiddles and banjo and string bass and played old-time music on the hilltop. It was unexpected but delightful.

And the singing itself was great. At conventions, you have to try to pace yourself. Shape note singing is traditionally loud, robust, and full-voiced, and after a certain number of hours singing in this manner, your voice starts to go. I try to drink a lot of water and maybe sing more gently on songs I like less, but it’s hard not to sing with all your might when so many good tunes are being led and the sound around you is so big.

So that was All-California. The other singing I’ve been doing is Georgian (as in the Caucasus) singing. I’ve had some exposure to Georgian vocal music before. My first encounter might’ve been when this group called Trio Kavkasia performed at Swarthmore my first year there. I also know (independently) several people who’ve gone to Georgia on singing trips (it’s a thing), and last spring I went to a workshop taught by the Georgian ensemble Zedashe when they came through Minneapolis. (Actually, the day after the workshop there was an informal social singing with the Georgians and a bunch of local Twin Cities Sacred Harp singers—shape note singing with Georgians!)

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a blue flyer taped to the door of the Phonetics Lab announcing the first meeting of the Kartvelian Chorus. “Want to sing in Georgian?” it asked. “How about in Svan?” The first rehearsal was to be held in the linguistics conference room. Come Friday, I went. The teacher turns out to be a lecturer in the department, an Indian-American woman who’s studied with song masters in Georgia. The UCLA linguistics department has a definite musical streak, and the people who came were more or less those whom I’d expected. The teacher handed out lyrics sheets and started teaching us songs by ear. We’ve now had two rehearsals, and I love it.

It’s fun learning songs in a different language with linguists because we’ll stop now and then to ask if such and such sound is velar or uvular. Georgian is notorious for its difficult (for English speakers) consonant clusters, like the one at the beginning of the word mk’vdretit. Also, Georgian has ejectives, a particular kind of sound that can be hard for native English speakers to produce and which I find especially hard to produce while singing. I think this means Kartvelian Chorus counts as practice for my upcoming practical phonetics exam.

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for a fantastic and fulfilling 2014!

Here is a highly selective overview of what I did in 2013 (pie is heavily featured):

In January, I baked a galette des rois for Epiphany, visited UC Santa Barbara, and went to the St. Paul Winter Carnival, where my hopes of seeing an ice palace were dashed.

No ice palace, alas, so this ice sculpture of the St. Paul Cathedral had to do.

No ice palace, alas, so this ice sculpture of the St. Paul Cathedral had to do.

In February, I spent a week in Istanbul with my family. Later in the month, my organization held its annual Day on the Hill at the Minnesota State Capitol, from whence I went straight to the airport to catch a flight to Tucson and the University of Arizona. Also: crêpes for Mardi Gras.

The Yeni Cami (New Mosque) at sunset

The Yeni Cami (New Mosque) at sunset

In March, I returned from a visit to UC San Diego just in time to attend my first Playford Ball.  I also went to open houses at Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, and UCLA. So much flying. Oh, and I baked a pie for Pi Day.


In April, I went to a singing workshop given by the Georgian ensemble Zedashe and attended a Tim Eriksen concert. I decided on UCLA for grad school and traveled up to the Iron Range for the first time on a work-related trip. It snowed endlessly in Minnesota. Sparkers went on submission on April 30th.

On my way to the bus stop, one fine April morning

On my way to the bus stop, one fine April morning

I spent most of May on submission. I celebrated May Day in Powderhorn Park. On May 14th, I watched Gov. Dayton sign Minnesota’s marriage equality bill into law on the Capitol steps and then went out for ice cream with my housemates at Izzy’s, where we encountered Morris dancers! And then Sparkers sold at the end of the month! May was pretty great.

Minnesota State Capitol, May 14th, 2013

Minnesota State Capitol, May 14th, 2013

In June, I went to the all-night arts festival Northern Spark at the St. Paul Union Depot, where I watched a replica house burn down at 2 a.m.

Gives a new meaning to my title...

Gives a new meaning to my title…

In July, my volunteer year came to an end. I also recorded a short cello part for a friend, who hopes to produce pop-rock songs for a Mainland Chinese audience. Who knows, maybe he’ll become famous in China, and then I’ll be able to say I played the 18-bar cello line in that one song…

I made this rhubarb pie in July

I made this rhubarb pie in July

In August, I brushed up on my phonology and syntax and road tripped to California with my family, stopping at Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon on the way.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

In September, I moved into my new apartment in Los Angeles and promptly became a hermit while I worked on Sparkers line edits. I finished just in time to start grad school at UCLA.

Hello Kitty

I do not actually own this creature…

In October, I made a pumpkin pie for the Linguistics Department’s Halloween party. And I listened to the livestream of Osmo Vänskä’s last concert as the conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra


In November, I started this blog and had a joint birthday party with two other first-years in my program. The day after Thanksgiving, I attended my first high school reunion in Minneapolis.

Joint birthday cake

Joint birthday cake

In December, I finished knitting my second pair of socks ever and baked a chocolate tart for Christmas Eve dinner. And I read a lot of books! What could be better?


I have high hopes for 2014. Sparkers will come out in the fall. I can’t even really imagine what that’s going to be like, so I’m not going to try. Happy New Year!