Greetings from Athens, Greece, where 10 incredibly talented Berklee students are studying this semester at Philippos Nakas Conservatory–immersing themselves in Greek music, culture, and souvlaki.
The students are finding their groove, whether it’s getting around on the city’s train system, learning the language, or a classical Greek instrument. This experience is giving them a completely new perspective on their music education as well a taste for a European lifestyle, i.e. late dinners, real feta cheese, and frappes. (Can you tell I’m enjoying the food?)
I got my initiation to the conservatory–a founding member of the Berklee International Network–when I sat in on a Mediterranean Percussion Lab. It’s taught by Petros Kourtis, who is no small deal here. Flash back to the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic Games. Do you recall the sole drummer (he’s featured about three minutes and 50 seconds into this clip) who played from ancient Olympia as part of a call-and-response sequence with a drummer in the main stadium in Athens? That’s Kourtis.
In the percussion lab, Berklee students Ricky Reilly, Jazz Robertson, and Josh Watkinson took turns on the bendir (frame drum), daouli (a larger drum), riq (tambourine), and tabla, interchanging laying the bass line and soloing.
“I’m trying to shed some light on this tradition,” said Kourtis, who has been a visiting artist at the Berklee Percussion Festival summer program. “For me, it will be fantastic for you to have something in your mind from Arabian flavors.”
In between instructing the students on the different instruments, Kourtis treated the students to some examples of Mediterranean sounds, including a sample of one of his own compositions, Serbian and Armenian music, and a Romanian brass band.
The hope, Kourtis said, is that whether it be now or a few years from now, students may come back to these rhythms and incorporate into their own music.