Vernacular Ensembles in the Academy: TTU Balkan Ensemble

Roger Landes


Vernacular music ensembles hosted in academic settings, i.e., “conservatories of music,” afford numerous opportunities unique to vernacular musics that prove to be of great value in the academic music setting. Vernacular idioms each have their own appeal and present specific and general challenges to students that they are not likely to encounter in classical or jazz ensembles. In the case of Balkan music, this appeal is often a case of its unusual meters, rhythms, and modes. Students are often challenged by the improvisation required. The fact that harmony is not prioritized, that its rhythms are usually dance-oriented, that it requires memorization in addition to improvisation, results in an unfamiliar musical territory. Their initial impression that the music is “simple” evaporates and with it comes the realization that there are other kinds of complexities—in contrast to the structural, developmental, orchestrational, or harmonic complexity of the Euro-American concert tradition—that are usually not obvious on first hearing. 

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