Monday, 7 October 2013

Beads and Bulgarian singing

I have recently been given a huge box of old beads by my mother-in-law. It seems that rather than chuck stuff away, a couple of generations ago people actually saved things like broken necklaces.

These odds and ends can be reshaped by new fingers into new necklaces. I've been experimenting with including old bits of broken earring I've kept (just in case), bones that are too beautiful to leave whilst out walking and funny bits of tat that I don't recall the origins of (but that I cannot throw away. This problem is genetic...)

Seeing how much I liked the beads, I have now been given a whole treasure chest of unwanted jewellery, tat other people couldn't bring themselves to pass on and random bits and pieces from the past several decades...

A little Dartmoor pixie charm
A ring with hieroglyphics - apparently things like this were all the rage during Tutankhamun's posthumous tour of Britain  

In this chest was a locket from the Victorian era which belonged to my mother-in-laws Grandmother.
It always strikes me as endlessly strange that objects can time travel in this way. That I can hold something which has passed through so many hands - the maker, the seller, the original buyer, all those who have owned it in turn since - and know that in all likelihood it will outlast me. Sometimes this seems not only endlessly strange but unfair - why should stuff have more endurance than flesh? Why should a locket outlast the memories of a whole life?

Recently, I have been invited to join and try singing in a Bulgarian women's Choir - right here on the moor. I know...who'd have thought it? The choir is made up of not a single Bulgarian, but local women from various backgrounds.

Mokosh performing at the opening of Bellacouche's new home

We are taught by the wonderful Emma, who has classical training including that most mysterious ability - she can read sheet music. Through obtaining the music and listening to recordings, this group have worked out the parts and can now beautifully sing these songs. I'm not sure which are old and traditional, and which might be newer compositions, but the translations of some sound traditional to me. 

I love the idea that we are learning songs which might have been passed down through generations of people. Even though we are far from Bulgaria, it is moving that something in this music touches and inspires us - enough to spend all the time required to (try) and sing the complex harmonies and words. 

It seems somehow fairer to me that music should survive in this way, passing through time, from person to person. Not static and mysterious like an object, but alive and transformed with each new voice it encounters.  


  1. Enjoy the singing, Nomi, there's a magic in losing yourself in a song that you don't understand the words of...the emotional impact is somehow more visceral, more powerful. I used to sing with a Scottish Gaelic ensemble here, not a native speaker among us (though a couple of serious learners), and the combination of knowing it was the language my great-great-grandmother spoke yet not being able to speak it myself, made it hugely emotional and close to my heart, and yet magical in its mystery.

  2. I do love a bit of tat. Your necklaces are worryingly enticing if I ma to stand at the stall next to you and have to resist them all day... perhaps I shall not even bother resisting.
    Oh, and my screen tells me that 'related searches' to your blog includes Rembrandt.