Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Choir that Turned England a Bit Bulgarian   
One of the few constant sources of pride for Bulgarians is traditional folk music, and especially singing. But not the Oriental-beats-modified kind that often booms in nightclubs, giving their clientele the urge to jump atop tables and chairs and sway their hips around; rather the kind that, when heard, mesmerises you and gives you goose bumps, the kind that is haunting with its out-of-this universe quality, mostly figuratively but sometimes literally as well.

And instead of sending it off into obscurity, the idiosyncratic style of traditional Bulgarian singing sometimes causes it to end up in the most unlikely of places. One example is the inclusion of the song “Izel e Delyo Haydutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska, which was included in the Voyager Golden Record, a selection of sounds and images sent in the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The selection was aimed at portraying the diversity of life and culture on Earth in the off-chance it reached any extraterrestrial life form.

Another, more recent but also unlikely appearance of traditional Bulgarian singing is on the soundtrack of the BBC mini-series The Virgin Queen, a drama based on the life of Queen Elizabeth I. Surprisingly, in addition to the pieces performed by the Mediæval Bæbes, the album also features four songs performed by the London Bulgarian Choir.

The amateur choir, led by Dessislava Stefanova, who is a former member of the one of the most iconic and influential Bulgarian folk ensembles - Philip Koutev, is based in London.

Although the 35-member formation, with singers not just from Bulgaria, but from around the world, has only one recorded album, Alyana Galyana, it has a wide array of live and recorded performances both in the UK and internationally.

Awarded BBC Radio 3's Choir of the Year in 2006, the musical group has taken part in London-based events such as the Exhibition Road Music Day, the Streatham Festival, and the London Jazz Festival. Composer and animateur Orlando Gough has used the choir in central roles for the performances Singing River at the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall and Shouting Gallery in the National Portrait Gallery. Outside of London, the choir has taken part in the Rye Arts Festival, the Swaledale Festival, and the Nadder Music Café.

According to the its official website, which also has audio samples, membership of the choir is open to anyone who enjoys this unique kind of music and style of singing. Rehearsals take place once a week at the Bulgarian Embassy in South Kensington and Stefanova teaches new people the repertoire on another day of the week.




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