Music of the Home and Homeland: Context and Background
"There is something about the Greek people; everyone likes to dance," says Dean Bellos. This enthusiasm for dancing is
maintained by both the elder Greek-born and the younger generations of Greek Americans who have never experienced
Greek dancing outside of St. Louis. Such an ardor for dancing could be ascribed to any ethnic community where dancing
extends cultural memories from the country of origin to the new, acculturated, American community life. Spokespersons
for the dance groups describe a perspective that honors the homeland, maintains ties there, at the same time as
celebrating the gifts of the new national identity.
Dancing in the ancestral homeplace was more likely to have been activity integrated into sacred and secular systems, an
accepted, expected, understood part of everyday routine, festivity, and religious custom. Here, the community base for
ethnic dance groups is quite often church. In gathering to socialize, a revitalization of cultural knowledge occurs. People
exchange information, speak a common language, practice songs and dances, and partake in familiar foods and customs
of the shared heritage. In the multicultural community they build a framework for the adaptations of older cultural
expressions. Language is maintained, but changed. New songs are learned from elders or those who have recently visited
the country of origin, but they are sung in new contexts. Traditional clothing styles are copied, but adapted to available
materials in the new home community. And old forms of dances are learned and re-enter the repertoire.
As with the older ballad traditions of many folk groups, lyrics tell us of what the homeland looks like, why the narrator left
(or was forced to leave), and the mixed feelings and hardships that go along with resettlement. Typically, love songs are
part of the repertoire, as well as historical events and humorous songs. Groups perform on instruments either brought
from the homeland or built or restored in an ever-enlarging network of folk instrument makers in this country. In the new
performance context, facets of dance, such as stories told through stylized movement, traditional dress and symbolic
body ornament, and instruments with familiar acoustics but unusual appearance, need interpretation in order to
communicate the significance of these elements.
St. Louis and Kansas City yield an abundant resource of cultural societies and neighborhood ethnic organizations. They
address current social issues and occupational challenges, but music and dance traditions remain the focal point of
weddings, birthdays, weekly gatherings after church, holidays, neighborhood get togethers, or all-city festivals. In St.
Louis, for example, the Polka Society has over 700 members; the Irish Arts School opens classes to anyone interested in
learning the music and intricate dance steps for dances, and hosts nationwide dance and music competitions. Cèilìs occur
once a month under the auspices of the Irish Arts School offering visitors a joyful opportunity to eat, talk, view the
colorful costumes, and experience Irish dance and music. The success of these gatherings has generated a "mixed cèilì’,"
when several times a year the pipers and dancers of the Scottish St. Andrews Society dancers and musicians join the
PERFORMING WITH LIVE BANDS
Huayra presents the instruments and music of Bolivia and the Andes. The band includes the panpipe-like simponia with
its haunting, airy sound, strummed charangos, and driving rhythms of the bomba, bass drum. Dances and songs include
traditional rural dances and festival dances that are extravagantly costumed or danced by masked characters. Dances
might reveal a fusion of beliefs, such as the Bolivian dance which melds Catholic religious ideas and regional folk belief
with the realities of working in the local mines, all expressed through pantomime and masks in this dance. Songs are sung
in Spanish and the Andean language Quechua. Colombia Folklòrico's instrumentalists and dancers present an array of colorful costumes typical of the different
mountainous and coastal regions of Colombia. Costumes are constructed by one of the lead dancers and changed for
each number. Stringed instruments, congas, accordion, and vocals are included in the band. Programs can include at least
one dance in which the audience is invited to join.
Mariachi Mèxico moves from place to place during its performances with an ensemble of violins, trumpets, guitars, and
the large bellied guitarròn. The group sings the spirited Mexican songs in three part harmony. The repertoire focuses
primarily on the son jaliciense or the song form from Jalisco, but also includes romantic boleros, dramatic pasadobles,
and swift huapangos.
Tamburitza orchestras demonstrate a family of instruments. The stringed tamburitzim of different sizes and ranges are
called prim, brac, bugarija, from the very small held high against the chest, to the large bellied guitar-like instruments.
Presenting artists Veseli Becari and Zivili Hrvati intersperse the flowing, moving, dramatic music of the Serbian,
Bulgarian, Croatian, and gypsy people with engaging renderings of the stories in English. Dancers wearing hand
embroidered dresses, long white cotton stockings, and slit leather shoes accompany Veseli Bècari.
German American traditions are presented by the immediate family and cousins of Leonard Nadler. Settling in New
Melle near the Missouri River from, the Nadler family music making has carried on the evolution of German and
American folk traditions since 1843. Playing on guitar, accordion, autoharp, and cello, traditional as bass, they sing and
present typical dances passed down from generation to generation. Dancing, ever important in this tradition, is
encouraged. Presenting artists: The Leonard Nadler Family Band.
Art Treppler and his buttonbox band show off colorful and ornate accordions and one- two- and three-row buttonboxes.
Accompanied by dancers from the St. Louis Polka society, they demonstrate traditional dances and costumes from
Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovenia. The audience is invited to join the dancing.
The Gannon Family presents the intricate footwork of Irish step dancing wearing soft leather gillies and the hard soled
shoes developed to resound, but not wear out, on rough cobblestone streets. Students of the St. Louis Irish Arts School
join the Gannons in presenting the dance, music, and traditional dance dress of Ireland. Applique in bright colors based
on ancient Celtic designs adorns the kelly green dresses. Personal experience narratives of the Gannon's first days
America in St. Louis in the early 1960s are combined with recitations, sean-nòs, and some Irish storytelling. Music is
played on pennywhistles, fiddles, accordion, and Celtic harp.
Sean-nòs, loosely translated from Irish Gaelic, means old style, referring to acappela or unaccompanied singing.
Sean-nòs repertoire of Patrick Gannon and friends includes long ballads, in the tradition of Ireland's pre-literate, sung
narratives, and more modern slow airs, lively songs, and short anecdotes. They are presented in the tradition of a session,
or in Gaelic, sessìun ceoil, a semi-public gathering where music and fellowship are shared as family and friends sit in a
circle, each taking turns introducing and performing a piece of music, song or story.
PERFORMING WITH RECORDED REGIONAL MUSIC
The men and women of the ten-member ensemble The Hellenic Dancers of St. Louis dance in traditional dresses, aprons,
and gold jewelry worn by the women and knee-high leather boots and white blousey shirts by the men. Dances represent
older folk dances from regions in Greece, Turkey, and the Greek Islands. Using recorded music, the group illustrates the
distinctive instrumentation of regional bands. Although some Greek dances require a large amount of athleticism, the
group strives to present older, traditional dances rather than their showy, modern offshoots. Audience may join in a final
Dances of India presents a contrast of folk and stylized classic dances in colorful garments made of cloth from India. The
folk dances tell stories and make humorous use of masks. Facial expressions, an important component of Indian dance,
are explained by Asha Prem, dancer and director of the group who also gives interpretations of the symbolic characters
in the stories. In this way she links dance with basic characters and functions of folk stories.
Kansas City based El Grupo Atotonilco emphasizes participation by students and young adults. They stress education
and strive for members to excel at school as well as on the dance stage. Director Maria Chaurand teaches dances she
learned in Mexico and yearly brings teachers in from Mexico. Energetic, skillfully executed dances show various regional
dance styles of Mexico. The dance group performs for local festivals such as the "Cinco de Mayo" celebration in Kansas