First off, we want to apologize for the total lack of posts; this kind of thing is much easier for us when we are at home. We’ve been living in Tbilisi, Georgia and teaching in public schools for the past 3 months. I’ve started a short program through the Tbilisi State Conservatory . I am taking classes in Georgian music theory, music history, Georgian Language, and instrument lessons for now. Other components will start next year: folk transcription, field work , and a thesis. The program was created by the International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony of Tbilisi State Conservatory.
I wanted to post a few performances and a transcription of some Chonguri music that I have been studying. Georgian music is most famous for its polyphonic choral tradition. Georgian folk instruments like Panduri or Doli are used to accompany songs and are not associated with virtuosic instrumental music. The Chonguri, most popular in western Georgia, can be played in a energetic, polyrhythmic, multi-voiced style. It has 3 strings, usually tuned do, mi, so (although there are other alternate tuning) and a 4th drone string tuned an octave above the first. The instrument is played by plucking with the thumb and first and second fingers and by strumming with all four fingers on the right hand. Hammers-ons and pull offs (guitar terms; Georgians don’t have a traditional name for these techniques) are used in every song I have heard so far. One song uses left hand plucking, something I have only really seen done on violins.
Unfortunately, recordings of performances are extremely hard to find. The instrument is apparently less popular because it is difficult to play. Panduri seems to be the preferred string instrument. There is also a lack of chonguri makers left in Georgia. I still haven’t been able to purchase one (I’m borrowing my teacher’s), because the one chonguri maker left (that the people at the conservatory know of) lives in a town across the country that is not accessible by bus (I don’t have a car). The recordings that I have found I’ve become completely obsessed with and have been working on a transcribing one of them:
First Half in Finale
The transcription is of performance by Iosef Verulidze, a performer who I can’t find any information about. If any Georgians are reading this and you have ever heard of him, or know someone who has possibly heard of him, please let me know. Pay special attention to the video at 58” – I am having an incredibly hard time transcribing it, maybe you can help me. Here is the performance:
The next recording is a performance by Aleko Khizanishvili who is, according to my chonguri teacher, one of two or three people left in the entire country who can play this well. Luckily for me, he lives in Tbilisi so I will be able to take some lessons with him if I practice enough. The piece, Khorumi, is a dance in 5/4 with accents on 1, 3, and 4. At 1′ 28”, he accentuates these beats by hitting the body of the instrument.
Here’s a 3-piece performing the same tune, next to the mosque and sulfur baths in Tbilisi’s old city:
Here are a couple of photos of Chonguri that I took in the State Museum of Georgian Folk Songs and Musical Instruments. They also have a great website with information about the Chonguri Here.
Last thing is a video of me playing one of the first compositions I learned.
UPDATE: I wrote this post in May of last year and since then I’ve performed some solo Chonguri pieces on Georgian Televsion: