Planina is a group of singers and instrumentalists from the Denver-Boulder area who perform the haunting and beautiful songs of eastern Europe, including music from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Jewish and Rom (Gypsy) traditions from some of those areas.
The group was established in 1988 as Planina Balkan Women’s Choir. Though mostly not eastern European by heritage, the members share a fascination with the penetrating harmonies, asymmetric rhythms and challenging vocal techniques of this region, and they love to share their delight in this music with their audiences.
In addition to singing a cappella, we accompany ourselves with traditional instruments (balalaika, doumbek, panduri, riqq, tambura, tupan) and modern ones (accordion, flute, guitar, mandolin, trumpet, viola, violin).
For centuries, singing was part of daily life. In the Balkans, for example, women sang while they planted or harvested, one group calling across the field to another in a strong “village voice” unlike our usual Western singing voice. They sang together as they stitched their fine embroidery, gossiped, dreamed about sweethearts, rocked their babies and, of course, as they danced. The men sang and played instruments as they tended their flocks, or sat at the table and sang together after a good meal. And no celebration was complete without singing and dancing! This music is steeped in the daily rhythms of centuries of agrarian life: a life that is gone or on the verge of extinction in many parts of eastern Europe. The songs reflect a wide range of moods, from the grief of people chafing under poverty and oppression to songs of romance, playfulness or pure joy.
Planina (the word means “mountain” in the southern Slavic languages) evolved from a series of “house-sings” in Denver and Boulder in the late 1980s and began performing in 1988 as Planina Balkan Women’s Choir under the direction of Gordon McDaniel, Ph.D. of Slavic Languages. The group became a mixed chorus in 1999.
Planina’s material is gathered from ethnographic field recordings, professional recordings made by eastern European folk artists and ensembles, and material presented at workshops and Balkan music camps in the United States. Many Planina members have traveled to eastern Europe, including group tours to Bulgaria in 1998 and 2005, when members studied with native singers in various villages. In addition, the group has brought teachers from eastern Europe to Colorado for workshops and performances. Much of Planina’s music is sung a cappella, ranging from village-style, sometimes dissonant diaphonic duets and call-and-response pieces, to elaborate choral arrangements by modern composers. Other pieces are augmented by the accompaniment of musicians playing traditional instruments.
Wearing authentic costumes, singing in the original languages with regional vocal styling, and providing explanations for the songs as they go along, Planina provides a richly varied musical presentation that is both educational and entertaining. And, in this era of turmoil in eastern Europe, Planina aspires to offer its American audiences a small bridge of understanding, through the universal language of music.