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2 Lessons

Who We Are

Maria: Singing literally saved my life. I was a very sad, timid, introverted, placid, plump child, raised in a large, loud family of four children, two hard-working parents and a Cretan grandmother.

Both my parents emerged from a tough working-class background, determined to give us the best of what their aspiring middle class could give. Music was a must: I started playing the piano when I was 8, and all four children had to take music lessons. While my siblings were tormented by their hard-working piano and guitar teachers, dreaming of escape routes to play outdoors, I was tormented by Hamlet’s dilemma on the meaning of life, which was gratefully soothed by my piano lessons.

Our childhood was also accompanied by loud and constant radio music so I got to learn just about all the Greek songs there were - depending on what was allowed on the radio (during the dictatorship) or what was popular (at later times). My parents opted for more cultured Greek genres when choosing radio stations.

Demetra: Meanwhile in Missoula Montana, I was growing up in my Greek-American clan, absorbing the sound of the Greek language via traditional Greek songs at the knees of my Yiayia and Papou.

My two sisters, my three cousins, and I were bundled off to our weekly music lessons. I played the piano. I played the violin. I sang in the church choir. I was 6 years old and I adored it all. 

I was captivated by the world of music. I was extremely fortunate to have wonderful teachers who didn’t just teach me how to play; it was thanks to them that I developed alove of music that has only grown deeper over time.

Maria: My mother would make sure to take the bus to Athens center as often as she could, to visit ‘Nakas’ and buy me everything they could afford, from classical music books to sheet music of known Greek songs from various eras. I was soon the heart of their adult parties: my parents had an interesting variety of friends: two who played the guitar, one who was a housewife dreaming to be a soprano, an advertiser who was also a baritone - all of them excellent cooks by the way! - so I was accompanying these local concerts with my piano and voice, going through all the known Greek songs of the time. During these gatherings I learnt to improvise and excuse the cacophonies that my classical music training would not allow.

Demetra: As time went on, I got involved in community theater, and ended up accompanying rehearsals. I had always loved being around music of any kind, but found a new joy in being a part of a collective musical experience like musical theater. Witnessing the energy explode onstage with a chorus filled my soul on a new level. 

I loved being around singers. I also loved being around dancers. 

I spent years taking ballet classes -years and years of pirouettes and plies and turns and grand battements. Those classes were very difficult for me so I always wanted to quit but I loved being around the dancers (!) and the music itself (!), so I stuck it out until one fine day when I was 14, the school hired me to be the play the piano for those classes. I wasecstatic. Finally! I could be around the dancers without needing to dance. To enjoy their grace and energy, and to create the music that carried them around the room.

Maria: Besides music, dancing was the another important middle class education we all had to receive. Again, I was the only one who delighted in it, while my siblings devised various ways to get out of it.

Being an overweight and shy child, I was not any ballet teacher’s dream student, but I counteracted my appearance shortcomings by being very disciplined, determined and musical. At some point I offered to play the piano when we only had taped music for the classes and soon I started to officially accompany ballet classes, which was one of my first jobs for some years. Having had the ballet training, I could work with the teacher and the students, anticipate, facilitate, cover mistakes. I loved it and it flowed easily and breezily.

Demetra:  As a teenager I had the privilege of working with a most extraordinary piano teacher. While my girlfriends were giggling and flirting with the cutest boys in class, I was falling more deeply in love with piano. For me, the world of music was everything. 

Although piano was my first love, the violin was a strong second. And playing allowed me to play in an orchestra. This gave me the wonderful experience of creating music in a group. I learned how to play with others, to collaborate, the joy of being a part of sounds woven together… 

By the time I finished high school I was a serious music student and headed off to university where I immersed myself in studying and learning music…earning first my undergrad, then my masters in music performance and finally my doctorate in performance practice (the study of how music was performed when it was written).

Maria: The third component of a well-brought up middle class child was languages (in Greece French was a must at the time). Again, my parents wanted to make sure that we all got the best education to equip us as world citizens and I was learning three fogeign languages from the age of 8. I soon discovered that I learnt languages easily, if I focused on their rhythm rather then grammatical rules. If singing was involved, all the better! 

When I started traveling as a young adult, I sought people to teach me songs in their language and thus felt comfortable communicating with the natives anywhere I traveled. 

Demetra: I, on the other hand, dabbled in French and Latin, and started to get a sense of a unexplored world that was calling me. 

When I was 18 my parents took our family to Europe - three weeks in Greece and three weeks in other countries in Europe. I was utterly captivated by the new sounds I was exposed to, and specifically the songs in these languages, and especially Greek! I yearned to learn them. 

The seed was planted. Decades later while living in Greece and first attempting to learn the language, I tried all the traditional ways of learning a new language. 

Of all the things I tried while learning Greek, learning while listening to Greek songs was the most enjoyable part of that learning experience. And it continues to be. 

Maria: In one of my long travels away from home, looking for creative ways to make a living, I approached the Greek Cultural Center of the country I was living in and bravely offered myself as a Greek language teacher for foreigners. I had the most loving and lovable group of students for more than a year, mostly retired and lovers of traveling, who were relieved to learn Greek in unconventional ways, including lots of singing and cooking traditional Greek recipes.

Demetra & Maria: Friends since 2002

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