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When I went to Thrace in 1989 with my wife and 10-week-old daughter I employed my trusty technique for unearthing the local folk culture, which is to walk into the nearest likely place and ask. He played in the Greek manner, with the drone balanced on the crook of his elbow and the chanter held forward.
The following year my wife found out about an island in the Cyclades that a girl friend of hers was a regular visitor to, and where there were two traditional tsabounaides a€“ players of the island bagpipe. The whole holiday was, in fact, a catalogue of near-disasters (most of which I will not mention) but I relished each one because of the effort it required to renew my faith in providence and the Greek people, and the rewards I gained. The islands of the Cyclades each have two main villages, one on the sea edge and one on the top. Three more days passed while we explored the island, absorbing the warm spring sunshine and breathing the herb-scented air. With only one day to go before we had to leave for Piraeus I discovered that the ferry schedule we had been given was wrong; there was no ferry the next day. When I speak highly of Greek music I need hardly say I'm not referring to modern bouzouki music, which is a rather empty style of playing derived from a more interesting but now largely defunct style of bar-room music called rembetika. Hosted by assigned participant players, the Acoustic Live Friday afternoon booth showcases slogged through a constant downpour. I followed them part way, staying inside, next to Jim, the harp player, and Sarah, the fiddler, soaking in their swooping melody lines that helped the song fly. This was my first close-up taste of this phenomenon; an organically formed band whose disparate pieces meshed as if grown together out of the same soil. The story, however, begins with husband and wife Mark Miller and Beth Jamie Kaufman, who form the main stem from which the banda€™s other tendrils sprouted.
After graduation, Mark went back to Boston, where his degree did not prove to be a job magnet. In spite of an obvious talent in the digital realm, Mark decided to move to San Francisco to become a chiropractor.
At that point, as he said, a€?deep in the purgatory of the transition from the mature and peaceful art of analog tape editing to the nuclear fallout caused by the insertion of the first generation of PCs into the recording studio, I got a random phone call asking if I could write music for a video game. Mark spent the next 10 years building the largest independent studio for video game music and produced soundtracks for more than 100 titles. Early in this period, Mark and Beth played together in a a€?dismal blues band.a€? She said, a€?It was us and a bunch of musician guys that all worked with Mark in the video game scene out in San Francisco.
A job offer from Harmonix brought Mark and Beth back to the East Coast and Mark worked for them leading a€?up to but not including the development and launch of Guitar Hero.a€? Needing out of the game business, he went back for his MBA at Northeastern University.
Beth, being very resourceful, managed to find out what the instrument was (a bouzouki a€” leave it to David Lindley), and got Mark one for his next birthday. In conversation with three of the other band members during our dinner together, I got to see firsthand why these intelligent, articulate, funny people have so much fun making music together and enjoy each othera€™s company off stage as well. Tom Socol is a good guitarist who had played in a lot of bands but hadna€™t played out for a long time.
A good friend of theirs, Steve, a professional bassist, a much more serious musician, joined the group for gigs. One of the places that the band began to play on a steady basis was the Hastings Farmera€™s Market.
Another piece fell into place when, similar to what happened with Tom and Ellen, Lou Gesera€™s wife mentioned to Mark that Lou, needing an outlet, played drums.
John Neidhart, the bassist, had started off in folk and blues and had gone through a long rock a€™na€™ roll period. When Tom couldna€™t attend all of the 2010 NERFA Conference, John suggested that Rik fill in at the remaining showcases and jams. John Neidhart, theA  bassist, had started off in folk and blues and had gone through a longA  rock a€™na€™ roll period. From there you will be directed to someone who will know someone who will know someone, and with uncanny serendipity you are soon in the midst of a very satisfying experience. With this posture he could release the chanter altogether during improvisations and bounce it rapidly on his thumb, executing a back-note trill which drew gasps of appreciation from the now-assembled audience. Amazingly, both Mehmet's instrument and mine were exactly in tune a€“ B flat a€“ and as I knew some Thracian tunes we were able to play together, though his louder conical bore chanter swamped mine. Not least was the experience of sailing through the Cyclades, with islands appearing to left and right, gracefully recumbent, dozing in their translucent shroud of magic like jewels in the lustrous sea. That was all she could tell me, as she herself never went 'up' any more; she had a grievance against the 'up' villagers involving a stolen purse (the detailed story need not concern us here) and would not speak to them. I had been warned not to expect too much; it would be difficult to get him to play, the weather had to be right, he had to feel right, it had to be a special occasion.
Aristidis kept time resolutely in a monotonous marching rhythm while Yiannoukos played a few notes with inaccurate tempo, stuck on one note for a bit and then played a few more.
We breakfasted on fresh bread from the village bakery; Adrienne and I dined on local fish washed down with retsina.
I could either hire another fishing boat to Ios ( if I could find anyone to take us) or get the next ferry to Santorini and fly to Athens from there. I waited outside the taverna as dusk fell and the last rays of the sun lit up the leaves of the vines growing above over the street.
It was a modern one, with fruit machines and televisions in the comfortable lounge showing a Greek soap opera. There is an enormous variety of good folk music in Greece, some very sophisticated, demanding an acquired taste, and some quite simple. The annual Friday afternoon Emerging Artists Showcase, always eagerly anticipated, ran into rough weather.
The author, having gotten drenched twice while dealing with canopy leaks, disgustedly waited it out inside his car, trying to dry off. Tom, the guitarist, and John, the bassist, remained behind me, helping to drive the song on its merry way. Many months later, I would sit down to dinner with the group and learn how they formed and grew together.
She also got involved in musical theater which led to studying and teaching theater, and later, a career in creative education.
One exchange captures the disconnect between where he was and what the world was offering: a€?I got one call back from a high school teaching position in religion that did not require a mastera€™s. Although he says it was a a€?horrible job,a€? it gave him access to the very first personal computer-based digital audio editing system.
When he got there, he got hired by Digidesign, the developer of Protools, to support their sales team.


Mark needed something steadier with benefits, so he worked in house first at Sega of America and then at Crystal Dynamics. At a concert at The House of Blues, Mark and Beth saw David Lindley playing a€?lap slide reggae on somethinga€¦ it had eight strings.a€? It sounded amazing and they were both mesmerized.
When Mark got home from work and saw it, he thought, a€?God thata€™s wonderful!a€¦ Now I have to learn how to play this thing.a€? He picked up a copy of Rise Up Singing. One frequent visitor to the market was Jim Meigs, editor for Popular Mechanics and a blues harpist. He was playing in a cover band and, as a change of pace, was looking for a country band to play with. That went well, and when the banda€™s second CD New Amsterdam was almost done (the first was an EP called In Spite of the Devil), and something was missing, John suggested that Rik come and add some lap steel.
Beth sums up the banda€™s spirit in her own terms: a€?Filling our home with music and singing alongside my husband has been a beautiful gift, enriching our relationship tenfold.
The annual Friday afternoon Emerging Artists Showcase, always eagerly anticipated, ran into rough weather.A  Torrential downpours almost completely washed the audience off the hill. Although he says it was a a€?horrible job,a€?A  it gave him access to the very first personal computer-based digital audio editing system. Mark had gotten burned out on music during his time in the digital game business and didna€™t go near it for a long time.
In Xanthi, the provincial capital, things started happening when I spotted a small urchin standing on a street corner holding what looked suspiciously like part of a gaida drone. He also had the trick of walking up to a seated listener whom he judged to be sympathetic and playing directly into his ear, more as an acknowledgement of the listener's interest than a direct appeal for money, though I'm not ashamed to say I responded to this gesture fairly liberally. All the boys were careless and funloving, attaching more importance to horseplay than they did to the business of earning a living. We alighted on Ios without knowing whether or not we would be able to get to our destination, Sikinos, which was visible close by, as there was no ferry. I got him to understand that I had come all the way from England to hear him play, and he agreed to oblige me that evening.
His reeds were not well tuned and the two pipes of his double chanter were in audible disagreement.
In the midst of all these negotiations and the constant effort of keeping my family occupied and relatively comfortable, I knew I still had to track down the other piper, the elder brother. The primitive traditional music of Sikinos was already a world away, as insubstantial now as the island itself, just a faint violet smudge on the horizon. Adonis had gone to a nearby hut where he kept his tsabouna.A  He arrived, bringing the bagpipe and a toubi.
It's the weather, the sea, the islands, the food, the extraordinary light, the variety of experiences, the folk culture (especially the music) and most of all the people. Many of these traditions are very ancient indeed, having probably remained unchanged since early Byzantine or even Classical times. Spuyten Duyvil, our first Acoustic Live showcase act of the day, had been one of those acts in Fridaya€™s Emerging Artists Showcase.
As the last strains of the blues harp finished the song, Mark swung back into the canopy to change his instrument for the next song. As soon as he saw Digidesigna€™s 24-track recording studio sitting empty all night, he quit his pre-med classes and ended up running their tech support department through the launch of Protools. He became chairman of the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group and helped in the development of standards for a whole lot of digital stuff that, described in a€?Markspeak,a€? is not easily translatable in this publication.
For a while it was just the four of them, on the porch, playing traditional songs and Marka€™s originals.
Mark had gotten to know Lou, and knew that he wouldna€™t join unless he could a€?cut it.a€? Loua€™s ability to soften the sound to fit the banda€™s concept added the perfect touch. Doing overdubs, without previous accompaniment on that instrument, Mark recalled, a€?he tore up this material.a€? Mark recalled saying, with a Cheshire cat grin, a€?This CD just got a whole lot better!a€? Along with Jima€™s Chicago blues harp, it helped to define what the band is about.
Later that evening, the Friday night a€?Most Wanted Song Swapa€? was canceled due to wind-driven sheets of rain.
As Beth explains it: a€?It wasna€™t until years laterA that we began to circle back to music again. Accompanied by an English-speaking student who had befriended us, I approached the young ragamuffin, examined the object and, after ascertaining that it was indeed what I had first thought, was conducted to the town square, where there was a small gang of travelling orphans living on the busking proceeds of their leader, a 14-year-old Turkish gypsy called Mehmet who came from Oresteia near the Turkish border. The bag of Mehmet's instrument was a large goatskin, very dilapidated and plugged with a saucer-sized wooden disk where it had been torn. When anyone got some money it was immediately spent and the purchase shared among the gang without preference. But I had drunk enough retsina by that time to be generously disposed towards the musicians and applauded fulsomely when, after about fifteen minutes, the ragged improvisation came to a halt.
I made one last effort and got directions to the house of Anna Manala, the lady who spoke English. Adonis Kaboulas and his brother Yiannoukos are the last, definitely the last, exponents of an unbroken line of music stretching back into antiquity. I find in them a lively spirituality, a true pride of self, that I only occasionally find elsewhere. The peculiar wailing music of Epirus and southern Albania is an example of one of those untouched traditions. A band known for its boisterous spirit, theya€™d played before the remaining dozen or so diehards standing in the rain. Nevertheless, it was a joy making music with my soon-to-be husband.a€? While still living in California, Mark and Beth got married, with the ceremony taking place back in Brooklyn. However, the industry needed no translation and he received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Game Audio Guild.
I learned how to play it and Beth and I did a lot of singing together.a€? Additionally, Mark found that playing the old traditional music in the book unlocked something in him and he started to write his own music. After Steve left for California, Mark wanted to find another bassist, happened to be perusing the site and saw Johna€™s information and extended an invitation. With one of the smaller boys playing expertly on the toubeleki drum, he proceeded to regale my ears with fine gaida music.
The chanter also was the worse for wear, with a piece of wood replacing a broken section between two of the finger holes.
Mehmet possessed the quality which all people from that part of the world have, of rewarding sincerity with warmer sincerity.
The Rough Guide to Greece says that the word malaka (wanker) is an affectionate term of abuse in Athens.


He chatted and laughed with his young son as we dived into the billows, drenched with every bowspray; an ideal father-son relationship, relaxed and trusting. A middle-class, English-speaking Greek woman who lived on the island told me about the bagpipers.
They have faults too, of course; they can be over-emotional, lazy, arrogant, but underlying it all is a richness of experiencing exemplified by Katsimbalis in Henry Miller's book The Colossus of Maroussi a€“ the attitude that 'life is interesting because I am living it'. Bagpipe music also, because of its inability to adapt to the demands of more recent musical trends, including ensemble playing, has retained a character that clarinet, violin, sandouri (hammered dulcimer) etc. I was fearful that the clouds signaled a trend, but Spuyten Duyvil had some magic up its sleeve. Wea€™ve uploaded a video of the song to YouTube, that shows the band playing for Alternate Root TV. He studied ethno-musicology and comparative religions but spent most of his time in the electronic music studio recording songs with his band, music for films and music for modern dance. He recalled that, a€?I had written hundreds of pieces of incidental music and two or three lame attempts at pop music while I was in college.
These guys are really good!a€? Then, a€?Hey, they could really use harp on that song!a€? Then, a€?Wow! Mehmet spent a good deal of time mucking around with his chanter reed, scorching the tongue with a cigarette lighter and so on, but couldn't get it working to his satisfaction and eventually broke it with a resigned shrug.
I quickly developed a strong affection for him and his scruffy entourage, and was sorry to leave Xanthi. Outside the airport I used the word on a taxi driver who refused to take me, me wife, our daughter and my three daughters from a previous marriage together in his ample-sized vehicle.
A young man sat down with them and began to sing along, at which point I realised that the apparently random sequences of notes that Yiannoukos was playing were actually tunes a€“ local traditional melodies.
She had heard that by good fortune Adonis was herding his goats in a nearby field and she would take me to see him, if he was still there. But I particularly remember the innocent, untroubled expression on Adonis' face as he sang the simple old songs.
Six of the seven players took shelter in the front end of the 20-foot space created by our two adjoining canopies.
Some part of playing all that old-timey stuff flipped a switch and caused me to start writing stuff that had some meaning.a€? Beth was surprised because she was the one who had gotten into folk music at a young age and never expected Mark to get into the folky stuff. Although both couples were great friends, Tom was apprehensive at first because hea€™d been through some really bad musical matchups and knew there was a potential for a vast difference in their musical tastes and styles.
They could really use harp on ALL their songs!a€? Mark remembered that a€?this guy would show up with his tweed case of harmonicas.a€? Jim would strike up conversations with Mark and casually drop hints about his musical involvement. Although both couples were great friends, Tom was apprehensive at first because hea€™d been through some really bad musical matchupsA  and knew there was a potential for a vast difference in their musical tastes and styles. But yes, at 8.30 he walked into the taverna carrying his tsambouna, accompaied by an old man in his 80s called Aristidis, who was going to play the toubi, a small snare drum.
We struggled up the hillside on foot, over rocks and thorny scrub, and eventually came upon a small hut, ouside which an elderly man stood, raggedly dressed, leaning on a stick. He was a natural musician, playing with sensitivity and a superior technique to that of his brother, and his chanter pipes were in tune. Greeks nowadays love to rattle up and down the scale with great virtuosity, whereas the simple six-note tunes of gaida, tsabouna and tulum offer no such opportunities. She saw a a€?sexy, tortured musician guy who was anything BUT boyfriend material,a€? but was drawn to him nevertheless. As Beth described it, a€?The more inspired he became to play and write, the more inspired I became to sing again.a€? Mark drew upon the history of the area for the banda€™s name and for inspiration in his writing.
However, when he heard gospel-tinged songs and saw no beer being consumed during rehearsal, he became afraid that the band was comprised of Bible-thumping fundamentalists.
I was too cowardly to admit that I had been the cause of this inexplicable event until we were on the ferry and safely on our way. We played together for the rest of the evening while the relaxed group of listeners chatted and joined in the songs. But Greek pipers do play with their own particular brands of skill and panache even if you have to be there to see it.
Several bars into the song, a€?Halfway Free,a€? it became apparent that the skies were benign, under the spell of a benevolent spirit.
It wasna€™t until the band lugged a big batch of a€?crafta€? microbrewed beer (a band staple) to a campsite at Falcon Ridge that he relaxed and told them of his misperception. It wasna€™t until the band lugged a big batch ofA  a€?crafta€? microbrewed beer (a band staple) to a campsite at Falcon Ridge that he relaxed and told them of his misperception. The older brother Adonis was generally acknowledged to be the better piper, but in any case the islanders thought tsabouna music old-fashioned, preferring to listen to modern music on the radio. Anna hailed him cheerfully and launched into a long speech, while I stood smiling and nodding.
Beth remembers, a€?That one time was crazy but so fun!!a€? That would be the last time theya€™d play together for many years.
He also introduced them to the next member, Rik Mercaldi, who he thought would be a good fit with the band. Anna told me that she had persuaded him to play for me that evening up in the village, and that he would meet me later at the port kafeneion.
The bandleader, Mark, and the lead singer, Beth, cautiously walked out into the sunshine, joining their drummer, Lou, who tastefully played a marching band snare with brushes. That would be me [the pet].a€? He was joyfully surprised to discover that he enjoyed what Mark was playing. The three brothers and two sisters were distributed among the families of the island as was the custom.
Mark played a small tenor guitar in a crisply strummed attack and sang and led the group through a sharp uptempo rhythm with tightly executed starts and stops. When the adoptive parents of Adonis died he inherited their land as they had no children of their own, but he did nothing with it, preferring to pasture his small flock of goats around the island, moving from place to place. Beth did what she always does, belting out each stanza with the ferocity and abandon of a gospel rave-up.



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