In this lecture, I discuss aspects of my research on the traditional music of Skyros. A small Aegean island with approximately 3,000 inhabitants, Skyros is well known for its Carnival masquerading tradition. Less well known outside Skyros are the a cappella “table songs” sung at festivals, which form an integral part of the island’s musical heritage, and which many Skyrians regard as endangered. As traditional music on Skyros reflects local history, memory and identity, its performance comments on the nature of community belonging, with sometimes surprising implications.
To speak of Skyrian music, then, is to speak of the Skyrian past, in a nostalgic mode. Such nostalgia, moreover, carries an erotic charge. The deep sense of belonging Skyrian songs carry is rooted in longing, through lyrics that sing of unrequited love, and through the erotic power of the voice itself—power that Skyrians appeared to carefully manage. In light of the gender ideologies at work in and beyond Skyros, women tended to bear the burden of such “management.”
In the field, my goal was simply to understand this complex entanglement of longing and belonging, and the role of women’s voices in performing it. Back in the United States, I faced the challenge of conveying my understandings to those unfamiliar either with Skyros or with Greece, not only in writing, but also in musical performance. This lecture will include live performance of several Skyrian songs, in order to enter into the sensuous space of singing, listening, and understanding.