World Choir Games Flanders 2023

Songs of the Republic of Georgia and the origins of polyphony

  • [this is a version of a post which first appeared on my blog From the Front of the Choir]


    I love Georgian songs and singing.



    Not songs from the Georgian era in British history, not songs from the state of Georgia in the US, the Georgia Sea Islands or even South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean.


    I mean songs and singing from the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus region of Eurasia.


    I was lucky enough to be in Cardiff, Wales in about 1990 when Joseph Jordania  and Edisher Garakanidze (now sadly departed founder of the Georgian choir Mtiebi who inspired the book 99 Georgian songs ) came to run a week-long Georgian singing workshop organised by the Centre for Performance Research.


    This was pretty much the first time that Georgian singing had been introduced to the UK in any formal way and we took to it in a big way. Georgian songs now feature in the repertoire of many UK community choirs and there are even several who focus exclusively on Georgian songs.


    The workshop participants were in awe of these two amazing teachers who could not only sing, but could give detailed background to each of the songs. We were desperate to get more of this harmony singing tradition which dates back to before the 12th Century, but Joseph was more interested in learning Beatles songs!


    In the past, Western ethnomusicologists assumed that complex harmony singing originated in Germany in the middle ages. As far as they were concerned, it was therefore impossible for polyphony to date back so far in Georgia. There must be a mistake in the dates, as clearly this music of Germanic origin must have taken some time to have travelled so far East.


    Joseph Jordania is particularly known for his his criticism of the widely accepted theory of the late cultural origins of choral polyphony. He theorises that polyphonic singing dates back many thousands of years. You can find out more about the theory in his book Who Asked the First Question? The Origins of Human Choral Singing, Intelligence, Language and Speech.



    Following on from my recent post Why my choir doesn’t sing songs from India, Joseph has also written a paper entitled Distribution of Vocal Polyphony among the World’s Musical Cultures. A fascinating read which covers many of the issues I raised in my earlier post, but this time from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about! Joseph has also written an interesting piece about Georgian singing.






    Chris Rowbury:



1,942 views - 4 comments - Post Comment
  • Jo-Anne
    Jo-Anne thanks Chris, for promoting the gorgeous, but under-publicised Georgian singing! As a member of a Georgian trio, I'm often asked what it sounds like and can I sing a tune to illustrate it - but of course, as Joseph's article explains, Georgian singing doe...  more
    November 20, 2011
  • Jo-Anne
    Jo-Anne PS: I have a theory which I'd love your opinion on - from a personal perspective, when I first came across Georgian singing I had the immediate sense that these strange harmonies filled a musical hole in my soul that no other music could reach, a hole I n...  more
    November 20, 2011
  • Chris Rowbury
    Chris Rowbury Hi Jo-Anne. I remember doing a concert in a methodist church. There was a bunch of old ladies sipping tea on the front row and when we launched into a Georgian song they all scrunched their faces up as if they were sucking lemons. The harmonies were so un...  more
    November 22, 2011
  • Chris Rowbury
    Chris Rowbury Not sure at all about the "natural harmonics" of Georgian songs. I feel the same way when I sing Corsican songs and lots of stuff from the Balkans. There is something special about Georgian music though. When I'm singing an 'O' drone to a Georgian song I ...  more
    November 22, 2011
Facebook comments