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A synoptic ethnographical presentation of the Greek folk music from the South to the North (from the island of Crete to Macedonia) and from the East to the West (from the Ionian islands to the north Aegean islands) proves that the Greek folk/ traditional music has a variety of rhythms, melodies, dancing forms/ formulas, musical instruments, poetic lyrics, metric, morphological types and structures, strophic schemes etc.

A typical characteristic of the Greek traditional music is its three-part cultural identity: it is consisted of music, lyrics and dance, elements which -since the very Antiquity- were a solid and inseparable unity






Scientific Committee:

Raisa Ivanovna Pshenichnikova: Prof. and Rector of East Siberian State Academy of Arts and Culture (ESSACA)

Viktor Kitov: Prof. Cultural Anthropology, ESSACA

Vladimir Kourgouzov: Prof. Ethnology, ESSACA

Risa Moria: Assistant Prof. Anthropology, Moscow University

Mihail Iosifovich Imhanitsky: Soloist of Bayan, Prof. Moscow Conservatory


               A synoptic ethnographical presentation of the Greek folk music from the South to the North (from the island of Crete to Macedonia) and from the East to the West (from the Ionian islands to the north Aegean islands) proves that the Greek folk/ traditional music has a variety of rhythms, melodies, dancing forms/ formulas, musical instruments, poetic lyrics, metric,[1] morphological types and structures,[2] strophic schemes etc.

A typical characteristic of the Greek traditional music is its three-part cultural identity: it is consisted of music, lyrics and dance, elements which -since the very Antiquity- were a solid and inseparable unity.[3]

This brief report is going to concentrate on a characteristic dance of the Greek folk music, trying to present and analyze the change of its style, aesthetic and function, as well as the splitting and therefore independency of these three components of the Greek folk music, facts caused during the transition of the dancing rhythms from the rural into the urban environment. In other words, I tend to speak about the Greek tradition of yesterday to the present.


One of the most typical and pan-Hellenic traditional dances is “tsamikos” (meter 6/4), which is found mainly in the regions of Peloponnesus, Sterea Ellada, Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly.[4] It is also known as “dance of the head-dancer” or “dance on the spot”, describing thus the way it is danced: it is a slow cyclic group dance, where the head-dancer (according to the old custom and habit -always a man)[5] has the leading dancing role, making improvisations “on the spot”,[6] showing off his bravery and his dancing capacities.[7] The performance of tsamikos, as well as of all the traditional dances, took place either in the central square of the village, in front of the church, or at the yard of a traditional café (“kafenio”) or even a house.[8]

The thematical content of those dancing songs could vary from heroic stories to historical events and local legends.[9]


As far as the kind of the Greek folk music is concerned, it is classified as monophonic and modal music,[10] usually with a monophonical accompaniment (not the chords used in the western music)[11] and the doubling of the basic melody (by the melodic instrument which follows the melody of the voice). This doubling causes a kind ofheterophony” (varation of monophony).[12]


The instruments which usually accompany these dancing songs vary from region to region. As a fact, the most typical accompanying pair in the Greek islands was the bagpipe[13] (for the melody) and thetoumbiordaouli” (both kind of drums-for the rhythm),[14] while a typical folk orchestra –called “compania”- was consisted ofsantouri” (zither),[15] violin,[16] or lyre,[17] lute[18] or/ and mandolin[19] and guitar.[20]

In the mainland of Greece we usually find the pair ofzournas” (kind of pipe)[21] and daouli,[22] different types of flute (short or long ones)[23] and the traditional folk orchestra (compania) including the “clarino” (clarinet, which is pan-hellenically used for and identified with the greek folk music),[24] the lute, the violin, the guitar, the “defi” (small drum with bells on it) and the tarambuke.[25]


Now we are going to listen to one of the most well-known Greek songs in the dancing rhythm of tsamikos (6/4), with the title “an eagle” [“aetos”], orchestrated with clarino (which plays the melody), accompanied by the violin (which doubles the basic melody), with lute and “dahare” (big “defi”). Its subject is about an eagle, a bird-symbol of freedom, power, intelligence and bravery; characteristics that suit to men. The poetical strophe is consisted of four iambic 8-syllable-verses with rhyme.[26]

After the strophe has been completed, the clarino makes some improvisations (like the “cadenzas” in the western art music), playing melodic passages around the 5th note (dominant - mi) of the scale (la) and ending to the tonic/ base of the 5-note-ambitus, on which the tune is played (la-si-do-re-mi). The improvisation is a very frequent phenomenon in the traditional music.[27]


Stave 1: «ένας αητός»[28]


Traditional                                                                                                     Transcription: Renata Dalianoudi


From the ’50s and henceforth a new tendency was to be noticed: some structural (such as rhythms, melodies, motifs) and aesthetical elements of the folk music (such as instruments, imitation of special technique, style, performers) were used by non-traditional composers. This new tendency rose these questions: “Is it possible for pure dancing rhythms of the Greek folk music (e.g. tsamikos, kalamatianos, karsilamas), fixed in our DNA and memory as a long-life cultural expression, to be recognized as dances but not to be danced?” “If, yes, how can this be achieved?”

The answer can be found in Manos Hadjidakiscase, an Oscar awarded Greek composer,[29] whose 55 works (from 200 in total) were analyzed in my PhD thesis (which dealt with Manos Hadjidakisrelation to the Greek traditional, popular music, rebetiko song andartpopular music). In this dissertation it was found that the folk dancing rhythms played an important role in Hadjidakis’ musical style and musical idiom, ending up- or at least contributing- to new musical aesthetics from the 50’s and henceforth: the  “not artistically” called, nowadays, “art popular music”.[30]


We are going to listen to the song with the title “Athanasia” (“Immortality”) from the homonymous cycle of songs (1975), written by Manos Hajidakis, on the rhythm of 6/4 “tsamikos” As we can observe, it is a rhythmic ballad, which leads the listener towards a “static” perception of the song, where the listener’s aesthetical enjoyment is restricted to the whispering of the lyrics and not to dancing. It is noteworthy that the listener feels familiar to the song and recognizes the rhythmic pattern of the dance, but at the same time, this kind of song is non-danceable. The absence of an orchestration with traditional/ folk instruments, such as clarino, violin, lute, defi (instruments identified with the Greek folk music and contributors to the dance performance), contributes to this “sitting”/ static atmosphere. Instead, this song is orchestrated with piano (instrument-symbol of the western art music) and a non folk singer.


 A comparison between the two different scores will reveal that the melody of the song “Athanasia” (see stave 2), consisted of two 4-measure-phrases (where A= couplet and B= refrain), and not 5-measure-phrases as in “aetos”, is simpler in its melodic line as far as the “flourish” of the voice and the instrumental passages are concerned than the melody of the song “aetos”. In fact, this can prove not only a different aesthetical perception but a different musical elaboration. The only common thing between these two melodies is the rhythmical pattern of choriamvos .[31]

stave 2: «Αθανασία», 1975

Music by Manos Hadjidakis                                                   Transcription by Renata Dalianoudi                           



In the next musical example we can hear the vivid rhythm of tsamikos but this time in a score only for orchestra, written by Manos Hadjidakis for Bernard Shaw’s theatrical play Caesar and Cleopatra (1962). (see stave 3 “Symposium”)



Stave 3: “Symposium”, Caesar and Cleopatra, 1962

Music by Manos Hadjidakis                                                   Transcription by Renata Dalianoudi                           



As we can see in stave 3, it is a 4-measure-phrase (also constructed on the pattern of choriamvos), orchestrated with instruments of the western orchestra, where the main melody is played by the violin, accompanied by a group of strings (violins, violas, cellos, contrabasses), brass instruments (trumpets, horns) and percussions (glockenspiel, xylophone, bells and drums). Because of the fact that this orchestration is rather unusual for folk songs and because of its fast performance, it sounds rather funny and mocking. (Probably this was the composer’s objective.)


In this score, also, the final cultural “product” –despite the recognizable dancing rhythm in it -leads the listener to a “passive” attitude/ behavior (characteristic of the western art music and of the “art” popular music), reducing thus the willingness of dance performing (characteristic of the folk music[32]). So, we notice the complete disconnection of this traditional dancing rhythm from its natural environment and as a consequence from its perception as dancing identity.


As a conclusion, the use of rhythms from the rural musical heritage, by an erudite and not by a practically experienced composer, leads to four consequences:

a) it means the disconnection of the dance from the three-art-cultural identity and the independence of each art (music, dance, poetry)

b) it leads to a passive listening/ to a static attitude

c) it discharges the listener from the need of the visual performance, since the cultural “product” does not function as a “signal” for dancing expression (as it happens in the frame of a local/ ethnic group, which makes music in order to express their spiritual, psychological and material life).[33]

d) it functions as the connecting link between the old and the new music aesthetics, through the recognizability of the rhythmical patterns/ structures of the folk music.


The term “old music aesthetics” refers to the aesthetics of folk/ traditional music, where rhythms are the “architectural” structure, on which melody and lyrics (as inseparable unity) are invested, and where rhythms have an unquestionable dance performing identity, either viewed as a cultural “product” of a pre-urban society (vertical analytical [folkloric] approach) or as cultural process of performance (horizontal phenomenological/ anthropological approach).[34]

To the contrary, the term “new music aesthetics” describes:

 - the transition from the pure traditional song into the “art popular” urban song[35] (where the independent arts; music, dance, poetry can be reunited in pairs or all together but this time as a “re-composition” and not as a solid unity),[36]

-  the static behavior of the auditor

- the absence of performing and its substitution by the audition (sometimes combined with intellectualism/ meditation).[37]


After all, in my opinion, it can be generally accepted that the components of folk music of yesterday (here the dancing rhythms) were and still are not only the tools but the material itself, which functions as an ideal model, for a voluntary transition from the old acoustic – visual and aesthetical practice into a new musical language, of which the identity is marked out through the antithetic poles: disconnection- unity, immobility-mobility, composer’s “signature”-anonymity, subjective aesthetical enjoyment - functionality and introversion-extroversion.


I shall end this report by quoting Hadjidakis’ point of view about tradition: “[…]” Nobody can achieve a different kind of experiencing a tradition but for choosing only what is really alive in them”.[38]  I complete his statement by saying that as long as the tradition of yesterday “lends” its precious elements to new tendencies, it remains alive!


Renata Dalianoudi

Dr. Ethnomusicology, Athens Univesrity

Professor-Adviser, Hellenic Open University




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[1] Themetric” is the rhythm made by the position of the words in a verse and depends on the combination and succession of the accented and not accented syllables of the greek language. Σηφάκης 1988:77` Αμαργιανάκης,1994:3-5` Τυροβολά, 1998:43` Μιχαηλίδης,1979:256, 267, 276.

[2]  Αμαργιανάκης 1994: 31-35

[3] Παχτίκος, 1905: ξθ΄ `Λέκκας, 2003Α:219-221` Ζωγράφου 2003Α:227` Μερακλής, 1985:42-43`       Αμαργιανάκης 1999:36` Τυροβολά 1998:74

[4] Τυροβολά, 200 3Ε:6,7, 68, 69,70,71,75,77.

[5] Idem: 85-87.

[6] Τυροβολά 2003E: 67.

[7] Idem

[8] Idem

[9] idem.                                      

[10] Ανωγειανάκης,2 1991:26, Αμαργιανάκης, 1999:34-37` Λέκκας, 2003Γ:55, 59-64.

[11] Δραγούμης-Λέκκας 2003Γ: 154.

[12]Αμαργιανάκης, 1999:34-37.

[13] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:181-182 ` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:125, 175.

[14] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991: 117,119,129-131,132.

[15] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:293-294 ` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:116-117, 175.

[16] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991: 275-276, 293` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:114.

[17] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:259-260,270-271` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:108-110.

[18] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991: 235` Σαρρής, 2003Γ: 101

[19] Σαρρής, 2003Γ:106` Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:255-256.

[20] Σαρρής, 2003Γ: 107` Ανωγειανάκης, 1991: 255-256.

[21] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:162,164-166` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:128, 175.

[22] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:134-135 ` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:131-132

[23] Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:147-151,162,161,162` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:120-122, 175.

[24] Μαζαράκη, 1959: 24-26, 45-50`Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:199` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:126-127.

[25] Δραγούμης 2003Γ: 193,194,196,197,198. Ανωγειανάκης, 1991:134-135` Σαρρής, 2003Γ:134.

27 The 8-syllable verse is one of the most characteristic verses used in the folk poetry. Κυριακίδης, 1978: 111` Αμαργιανάκης, 1994:7` Δραγούμης, 2003Γ:182.

[27] Σηφάκης, 1988:191` Αμαργιανάκης, 1999:25-32.

[28] Song performance by Elias Bablekos, CD: BMG, GR CD 1995.

[29] He was awarded for his song “ta pedia tou Pirea” [“guys from Pireus”], written for the film Never on Sunday (film directed by Jules Dassin) and sung by the famous Greek actor Melina Merkouri, at the International Festival in Cannes . (1960)

[30] The use of wordartisticimplies the elaboration made by a composer with special education, in comparison to the spontaneous elaboration of the oral folk music made by an ethnic group. In my opinion the use of wordartistic” is not fair. Σηφάκης, 1988:137`Αμαργιανάκης,1999:14-17, 20-24` Ανωγειανάκης, 1964:343-344` The Garland Encyclopaedia of World Music, τ. 2, 1998: 112.

[31] The other rhythmical pattern, which can be found in tsamikos, is the “antispastos 

[32] Τυροβολά, 1998:74-82` Αμαργιανάκης, 1999:36.

[33] Αμαργιανάκης, 1999: 20-24, 38` Βουρνάς, 1961: 278` Τυροβολά,  idem.

[34] Τυροβολά, 1998:20, 21.

[35] Some other characteristics of theartistic popular musicare: the personal creativity, the change in the content, the modern lyrics, the musicalization of poems, the instrumentation with folk instruments and the combination of greek folk with symphonic instruments. Δαλιανούδη, 2009α: 16-18, 150, 187.

[36] Λέκκας, 2003Α:221` Ζωγράφου, 2003Α:228.

[37] The termintellectualismis used here to describe the case of a composition on a poem written by an author (and not created by anonymous people), of which audition consists a mental/ spiritual renaissance. Δαλιανούδη 2004 Ι: 267, 271` Δαλιανούδη 2009α: 225.

[38] From Hadjidakis’ speech at the Academy of Orthodox Church in Crete, during a conference dedicated to tradition in 1979. Compare Δαλιανούδη, 2004ΙΙ:14.