STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE
Jennifer Sherrill, Greece - Musicology
Songs in Transit: One Hundred Years Ago and Today
Dromoi is the name given to the musical scales of Greek Rembetiko music. Romantically translated, dromoi means roads or paths and as a musician sets her feet on the beginnings of a song or scale, a new path full of twists and turns is revealed. Rembetiko is the music of the refugee, the underdog, the outcast, the poor and the displaced. This music was born from fire and struggle, it’s birth rising from the ashes of the Greco-Turkish war. In 1922 as Smyrna burned, Greek, Armenian and Jewish refugees fled Turkey and flooded into Greece, bringing with them their food, culture, language and of course, music. They blended the Turkish scales (makamlar) with elements of Byzantine music while mixing in traces of pain, struggle and humor to contribute to the style of music known as Rembetiko.
Much the same as a hundred years ago, the island of Lesvos sits on the forefront of the mass movement of people. Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have landed on the shores, overwhelming a population of not quite ninety-thousand. Despite the obvious tensions that arise from the combining of differing cultures into close proximity, one benefit is that music on Lesvos is absolutely thriving and powerfully representative of multiple traditions.
My proposed project is multifaceted, encompassing elements of research, performance and teaching. With a Fulbright award, I will spend my time researching the rise of Rembetiko while immersing myself in the playing practices. Acting as a participant observer, I will work with Rembetiko musicians and teachers living on Lesvos in order to learn the songs and their connections to them. Each Rembetiko musician will choose one song which I will then research, focusing on the historical origins of the song and what is means to the musician personally.
Along side my work with Greek musicians, I will be teaching adult music classes through Mosaik, a community center working towards the goal of providing safety and warmth, community and dignity to the most vulnerable populations on the island. Using a qualitative approach, I will help Mosaik students pick songs of any genre that have been important to them throughout their present day journey. I will research their songs and work with them to tell the stories of how these songs have been important to them. I will present these songs in a final exhibit on the island and also weekly, in narrative blog form. Each week, I will post the story of one song from a Rembetiko musician beside the story of one song from a present day refugee in order to bridge the parallel cultures that are currently residing on Lesvos. My project will serve to fill a gap in existing research on the similarities of the origins and experiences of Rembetiko with the present day migratory movement of people and music.
My post Fulbright plan will be to present these stories of song in book form to coincide with the timing of the two hundred year anniversary of the start of the Greek war for independence and the one hundred year anniversary of the conclusion of the Greco-Turkish War. I will pursue publishing while targeting an audience of students of world music, geo-musicology and sociology. My subject will also appeal to those attempting to put individual faces to the overwhelming numbers heard in news stories about the economic and refugee crisis. My research and human interest project leads well into the next step of my academic path towards applying for a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology.
Throughout the process of my work on Lesvos, I will affiliate with Prof. Dimitris Papageorgiou, director of the Image and Cultural Representation Lab of The University of the Aegean. I will work with the cooperation of Mariza Vamvoukli, musical director at Mosaik and of Cantalaloun, an adult choir combining singers from Greek populations and vulnerable groups. I will also work with the guidance of Efi Averof, musicologist and president of the board of Athens based Polyphonica. I will look to these three accomplished advisors for access to existing research data, guidance on collection methods and advice on cultural sensitivity and musical accuracy.
There will be multiple languages spoken in the undertaking of this project and often times I will have to rely on recordings and the many talented multilingual members of the community. However, usable Greek will be integral to my success and to that end, I have enrolled in a modern Greek class for Fall 2018 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I will continue the class through the spring semester while working independently with Greek music in order to give a present day purpose to the language before arriving to the island.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach on Lesvos, but in leaving, I felt that I left work undone. In my eight weeks on the island, I discovered that community engagement is not an option, but a given. The community wraps around each newcomer, asking to share a cup of coffee, a song or a conversation. I will happily engage further, by working through Mosaik as a music teacher and TEOFL certified ESL tutor. While I will be teaching the basics of western music theory, chord shapes and structure, I will also incorporate elements of Rembetiko, teaching students the fundamentals for improvising within each dromos, using Rembetiko to help empower and connect refugees to the culture and community around them. I will also lend my voice to Cantalaloun, an intercultural adult choir. I will lend my organizational and cantoral skills to the Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Mytilini in order to help them build their music program. And I will lend my ear and heart as a friend.
When I first heard the music of Rembetiko, I felt an unexpected moment of recognition. There is strength and resilience in the songs of those who passed through Lesvos one hundred years ago. The first time I played a familiar English song only to hear it sung back in a language I didn’t know, I began to understand that that same strength fills the music of those passing through today. A Fulbright award will enable me to give voice to untold stories of struggle, joy and song while allowing me to teach in a community that is so incredibly hungry to learn. I will work to help create and present a common language of music between a small population of residents and refugees in order to find understanding and warmth. Lesvos sits in a unique place between beauty, hope, chaos and fear. There is much work to do and my hands are able