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  • Peggy Simonsen

Music around the world- from A to Z (Argentina to Zagreb)

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

“I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”

Robert Harling

I didn’t write much about music in Wandering the World but as I recognized the omission, I decided I need to add a post to my blob about it. I love the opportunities to hear local music on my travels, and I especially like the dances that represent the culture of the many of the countries I have visited. I love the exuberant music and dances such as Flamenco we attended in Spain, the Mariachi strolling band in a little cantina in Palomas, Mexico just south of the US border, and The Folkloric productions I saw in Mexico City, with music, dances, and colorful costumes. We saw Tango dancers in Buenos Aires, both on the street and in a dinner production on stage. Tango is a flirty, sensuous dance, opposite the Step Dancing in Ireland. The story about Step Dancing is that in the past, dancing was considered immoral by the church in Ireland, so when young people wanted to dance, they didn’t move their upper body or arms but held them straight by their sides and only moved their feet so they couldn’t be seen dancing through the window. The result is amazing footwork to fast music. Also in Ireland, we attended a medieval Madrigal performance at the Kilkenny Castle, accompanied by a harp and violin. We also enjoyed the folk music sung enthusiastically in Irish pubs in Dublin.

Some of the strangest music I have heard is the throat singing in Mongolia, where the sound is made by the vocal cords, with the lips not involved. Also unusual is the sound from a Didgeridoo played by aborigines in Australia. It is a deep, resonant sound on a several foot-long over-sized bassoon, that looks like it takes a lot of skill to play.

Of course I love symphonies, and none better than hearing Strauss waltzes being played by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. We also heard Beethoven and Tchaikovsky by the Zagreb, Croatia Symphony Orchestra. And at home, I enjoy the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My husband, not a fan of contemporary classical music, used to say he preferred “dead” composers. When I was living in Paris, we frequently attended chamber music performances and an amazing piano recital. But then Paris also has Le Moulin Rouge, the notorious topless, bawdy music and dance show. It’s the ultimate tourist attraction, but fun with dinner and amazingly athletic dancers. It doesn’t have the shock value today that it caused in the early 20th century when the dress and mores were much more reserved.

The Caribbean has reggae- especially pertinent heard played by a steel band made from old oil barrels at an island beach bar. Bill and I also loved Jimmy Buffet’s sailing songs, and delighted in eating at the restaurant in St Barts which inspired “Cheeseburger in Paradise!” Other islands that have their own music and dance are of course the hula at a luau in Hawaii, or a Tongan feast accompanied by a music and dance show. The men and women danced separately- the men a war dance and the women to softer music like the hula. Then of course our sailboat crew were invited to join in the dancing.

It’s great to hear the national music, and instruments, of various countries. We loved the oompah band and music at the Hofbrau Haus in Munich, and the surprise parade of bagpipers marching down the hill from Edinburgh Castle, and the young women singing and playing zithers and lutes in the hotel lobby in Cambodia. More unique were the Guaoua musicians in a desert town in Morocco and the dance position wagging rear-ends in Nigeria. And finally, a great sound and light show at the ruins of the Abu Simbel temple in the Egyptian desert on the shore of Lake Nassar.

I do have a CD of the Drakensberg Boys Choir we heard in South Africa, and an ocarina (little flute made out of terra cotta clay) from Belize (see photos on the Pots post under Architecture, Archeology and Artifacts) and of course CDs of Jimmy Buffet, as reminders of music I have enjoyed around the world.

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