…hold me, neighbour, in this storm…

for string quartet, gusle, two-sided drum (tapan) and tape

Aleksandra Vrebalov

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for string quartet, gusle, two-sided drum (tapan) and tape

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Composer Aleksandra Vrebalov
Year of Composition 2007
Duration -
Categories (all composers) , ,
Catalogue ID ce-av1hmn1


The Balkans, with its multitude of cultural and religious identities, has had a troubled history of ethnic intolerance. For my generation of Tito’s pioneers and children of communists, growing up in the former Yugoslavia meant learning about and carrying in our minds the battles and numberless ethnic and religious conflicts dating back half a millennium, and honoring ancestors who died in them. By then, that distant history had merged with the nearer past, so those we remember from World War II are our grandparents. Their stories we heard firsthand. After several devastating ethnic wars in the ’90s we entered a new century, this time each of us knowing in person someone who perished. As I write this in November 2007, on YouTube a new generation of Albanians and Serbs post their war-songs bracing for another conflict, claiming their separate entitlements to the land and history, rather than a different kind of future, together.

Strangely, the cultural and religious differences that led to enmity in everyday life produced – after centuries of turbulently living together – most incredible fusions in music. It is almost as if what we weren’t able to achieve through words and deeds – to fuse, and mix, and become something better and richer together – our music so famously accomplished instead. …hold me, neighbor… is inspired by folk and religious music from the region, whose insistent rhythms and harmonies create a sense of inevitability, a ritual trance with an obsessive, dark energy. Peaceful passages of the work grew out of the delicately curved, elusive, often microtonal melodies of prayers, as well as escapist tavern songs from the region, as my grandmother remembers them.

For me, …hold me, neighbor… is a way to bring together the sounds of the church bells of Serbian orthodox monasteries and the Islamic calls for prayer. It is a way to connect histories and places by unifying one of the most civilized sounds of Western classical music – that of the string quartet – with ethnic Balkan instruments, the gusle and tapan. It is a way to piece together our identities fractured by centuries of intolerance, and to reach out and celebrate the land so rich in its diversity, the land that would be ashen, empty, sallow, if any one of us, all so different, weren’t there.