The magic of Greek music – Greek choir in Stockholm, Orfeas

Greek Swedish Choir

An Omilo student from Sweden, Gail Ricksecker, writes about her passion, Greek music and learning Greek.

I consider myself very lucky today to sing in a Greek choir in Stockholm, Sweden. Orfeas is an amateur choir consisting of about 40 first and second generation Greeks, Swedish lovers of Greece (like me) and a few non-Greek speaking singers who love music. See our website where you’ll find information in Greek, Swedish and English: http://grekiskakorenorfeas.hemsida24.se/

My first trip to Greece was to Crete in 1982. My knowledge of Greek music then was pretty much limited to ”Zorba the Greek” and ”Never on a Sunday”. Little did I know then that my love affair with Greek music was just beginning.

On Crete I then purchased an LP with Mikis Theodorakis. It was an instrumental recording called ”Fun in Greece with the music of … Theodorakis” (Γλεντήστε στην Ελλάδα με … θεοδωράκη) and I played it over and over again after returning home to Sweden. I can’t explain the magic of the bouzouki sounds, but I was spellbound by the haunting melodies. Perhaps I just wanted to savor the sweet summer memories of Crete at the time. But today I know there was much more than Zorba for me to discover in the way of Greek music.

Greek language barriers in music have been broken in Sweden by excellent interpretations of the texts of Greek Nobel Literature Prize laureates Giorgos Seferis (prize 1963) and Odysseas Elytis (prize 1979), whose lyrics have been put into music by Mikis Theodorakis. Therefore many people in Sweden have enjoyed Greek music without always knowing it was Greek. Perhaps the most popular is “O Kaimos” sung by among others Swedish-Finnish singer Arja Saajonmaa. She sang it at the 1986 funeral of Sweden’s prime minister Olof Palme, and children learn to sing it in Swedish schools.

It is of course good that these famous poets can be appreciated in other languages, but by learning some Greek a new world of music and understanding of the culture opens up. Omilo provides a wonderful opportunity to learn the Greek language and culture through its intensive courses and to have fun at the same time. Every summer the Omilo teachers present a brilliant introduction to Greek music, and put together a super CD with a variety of songs and lyrics in Greek and even translated into English for those of us who are not so advanced yet. I have studied at Omilo for five summers now, and I am always amazed that I have hardly ever heard any of the Omilo songs before. There is such a wealth of Greek music!

After singing in Greek with the Orfeas Choir for over two year now I’ve learned so many songs from different parts of Greece as well as Cyprus, sometimes folk songs in dialects that even Greek choir members find hard to understand. One such example is “Seranda mila kokkina” (“Forty red apples”) in the Pontian Greek dialect. It’s always exciting for me to see the many Greek words and verb constructions that I’m familiar with pop up in the songs over and over again. Our repertoire is close to 60 songs now, all in Greek.

Performing in front of an audience is rather daunting at first, but easier in a choir when so many others can back you up. Nevertheless we must all work hard and do our best. That means learning our parts (we sing in four-part harmony) as well as learning the lyrics. For those who don’t read Greek, the lyrics are written in the Latin alphabet in phonetic Swedish. I think it’s much easier if you can read Greek and understand at least some of the lyrics. Meanwhile we have the excellent leadership of Rolando Pomo from Argentina who does not speak Greek but is a professional choral director. He’s strict with us, but is also sensitive to the Greek mentality (which I would say is similar to the lively Latin one!).

Orfeas performed in September 2014 on the island of Naxos. It was a big success. Read here the Greek article in the Greek Newspaper of Naxos Island. They also performed informally at a popular restaurant. Have a look!