Music to Play: Exotic Balkan Sounds and Rhythms from Tanja Miric
After studying classical guitar in elementary music school and high school in her native Bosnia, Tanja Miric moved to the U.S. and continued her music education at Mississippi College, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Minnesota. Currently, she is an adjunct guitar instructor at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, and also plays with her twin sister, Darka, in Duo Miric. She writes the following about our featured piece, Snijeg pade na behar, na voće (“Snow Has Fallen on Blooming Trees”):
With the rise of interest in world music, I wanted to have a piece in my repertoire that would clearly represent the music so commonly heard in my native country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in neighboring countries that were part of the former Yugoslavia. I challenged myself to arrange a piece that would capture the essence of Bosnian music and be relatively easy to play. Growing up in Bosnia, I would often hear the traditional love folk song “Sevdalinka” being sung on radio or television. Some “Sevdalinka” songs date back to the 15th century, when Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire, in the days of sultans, viziers, and pashas. Snijeg pade na behar, na voce is one of the well-known songs performed by popular Sevdalinka singers.
I chose to arrange this particular song because of its faster tempo and irregular 7/8 meter featuring 3+2+2 grouping. As guitarists, we are often less exposed to irregular meter, a characteristic of music from the Balkans. In addition to irregular meter, the arrangement incorporates scordatura: string 6 tuned to D, 5 to G, and 1 to Eb. Such tuning makes the piece sound darker, contributes to its melancholic mood, and also makes it easier to play, especially in the places where shifting is required. The piece is based on the G Phrygian dominant mode (G-Ab-B-C-D-Eb-F-G), being the fifth mode of the C harmonic minor scale.
The challenging aspect of this piece is getting accustomed to the tuning, especially remembering that the first string is no longer E but Eb. The incorporated fingerings are meant to facilitate an easier sight-reading experience. While the piece is predominantly in 7/8, beginning from measure 58, the time signature changes frequently. These changes, coupled with shifting barre chords, contribute to the harmonic tension and instability of the piece. If playing barres and shifting them up the neck is somewhat of a challenge, the composition still sounds complete by omitting measures 56–62.
I hope playing this arrangement will provide positive exposure to music from Bosnia and that retuning your instrument and playing in 7/8 will give you a new and enjoyable musical experience.