Thursday, December 15, 2011

Old Meets New........An Albanian Folk Music Concert

Last week Glenn and I attended a concert sponsored by the Albanian Ministry of Defense.  I wasn't sure what to expect since the only details on the invitation were those discussing the dress code (which in Albania, is always loosely interpreted and this concert proved to be no exception).  Because the concert was sponsored by the military I think I expected to see a program filled with patriotic, Souza-type music.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that we would be spending our evening listening to "masterpieces of the Albanian spiritual heritage."

Regardless of its cultural origins, I have never been a fan of folk music.  While I can appreciate all genres of music for their artistic and perhaps historical significance, I tend to find folk music to be scratchy and hard on the ears.  Albanian folk music proved to be no exception.

The evening's program consisted of 18 pieces of Albanian folk music- some accompanied by traditional instruments- including the cifteli, sharki, and zumare, others accompanied by traditionally dressed dancers, and several songs sung a capella.  All of the performances were presented on stage in front of impressive, and ever changing visual images of Albania's natural beauty.  (Of course the ubiquitous double-headed black eagle- the national symbol- was present for several of the pieces.)  The musical and dance numbers represented traditions from both the north and south of Albania and were performed by men and of all ages.  I have to say that overall, the concert was impressive in both its scope and professionalism.

The entire production reminded me once again that despite Albania's dark and often painful past, her national pride and spirit remain strong.  While the country is barreling ahead and attempting to modernize at breakneck speed, she continues to celebrate and honor her traditional past.  Much to the delight of the audience, young boys danced the dances of their forefathers with pride. Their performance received just a much applause as did that of the old Albanian man performing solo on the stage.  Just this man's performing in front of a crowd of thousands would have been unimaginable to him when he was a boy.

Out of all of the things I have witnessed about Albania and Albanians over the past six months, it is their enduring love of country and sense of tradition that I find the most endearing.  Yes, new roads, high rise buildings and shopping malls are being built each year. Albania continues to strive towards gaining EU membership and recognition as a western, first-world country.  In looking around Tirana on a daily basis I see how new and modern are the current ideal.  Despite all this, however, Albania continues to honor and hold onto her cultural traditions.  And this, in my opinion, is the most important thing of all.  We may know where we are now and where we want to be tomorrow but all is lost if we forget where we came from.

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