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EUC Lecture Series: Integrative Soundscapes: Building EU Community through Bulgarian Mumming Festivals & Folkloric Practice

Event Type
European Union Center, REEEC
Lucy Ellis Lounge, 1080 Foreign Languages Building
Nov 30, 2012   12:00 pm  
Donna Buchanan, Associate Professor of Musicology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Originating Calendar
European Union Center Events

SPEAKER BIO: A specialist in the musical styles of Bulgaria, the Balkans, and the NIS (especially Russia and the Republic of Georgia), Donna Buchananís scholarly interests include music as symbolic communication, music in aesthetic systems, music and power relations, music and cosmology, and music and social identity. Her additional teaching areas include ethnomusicological methodologies, ethnography, Mediterranean traditional and art musics, the musical cultures of indigenous peoples, and Russian and East European classical music, particularly Bartok, Musorgsky, and Shostakovich. Her articles have appeared in major journals of ethnomusicology, musicology, and East European studies. A faculty affiliate of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center (REEEC) since 1998 and its Director from 2005-08, Professor Buchanan also established ìBalkanalia,î the University of Illinois Balkan Music Ensemble, which performs regularly under the auspices of both REEEC and the School of Music. 

Her first book, an ethnomusicological monograph entitled Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition (University of Chicago Press, 2006, with accompanying CD-Rom), is the result of more than ten years of intensive ethnographic research in Bulgaria, funded by IREX, Fulbright, ACLS-SSRC, Wenner-Gren, and NEH grants. A second, edited volume, Balkan Popular Culture and the Ottoman Ecumene: Music, Image, and Regional Political Discourse (Scarecrow Press, with accompanying VCD), was published in 2007. In 2007 Professor Buchanan began new research concerning Bulgarian music, spirituality, gender, and postsocialism; and music, memory, and the politics of the Armenian genocide among Bulgarian Armenians.

ABSTRACT: This paper explores what folkloric practice can tell us about the nature, impact, successes, and problems of ongoing European and transnational interchange in contemporary Bulgaria. Based on ethnomusicological fieldwork conducted in 2010 and 2011, I argue that newly-created and revitalized folkloric  initiatives, such as the widespread, post-socialist popularization of mumming customs in a diverse hierarchy of adjudicated festivals, are playing an increasingly central role in forging community bonds and emergent senses of belonging throughout the country. Generically called kukeri, Bulgaria’s elaborately masked, mid-winter and early spring mummers once processed annually through their communities wearing fantastical costumes festooned with bells of various sorts, the resulting earsplitting clamor sonically repelling evil and misfortune. While this older prophylactic rite has been retained and is even undergoing a renaissance in some villages, today kukeri also participate in an expanding calendar of town, regional, national, and international competitive, juried, sonic and visual displays that reflect a cosmopolitan engagement with the European Union and transnational issues or endeavors on the one hand, and localized or even personalized assertions of civic pride, individual dignity, ethnic ties, community solidarity, nationbuilding, and touristic enterprise on the other. Because local subjectivities are articulated in part through differentiated bell types, timbral aesthetics, choreographically-related ringing techniques, and musical accompaniment, I suggest that the very soundscape of collaborative mumming activity can be understood as a sonic beacon, if not acoustemological enactment, of social integration and difference.

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