Greek music is intrinsic to our Greek identity, but this history is getting lost. Greek Cultural Resources is working to save our musical legacy. Read on.
Greek Cultural Resources
A New Hampshire-based non-profit called Greek Cultural Resources is working hard to save our Greek music – and essentially our cultural heritage.
When we were growing up, we listened to and experienced music in a whole different way. Think about this for a moment. We may have had one radio, one stereo in the house. Now, in terms of Greek music, we experienced this music on multiple levels – at home, at family gatherings, and cultural events. Not to mention through Byzantine hymns chanted in church, using the ancient “odd” meter structure which is inherent in our folk music. The music is part of our ethnic character and connects us to our roots. Talk about the soundtrack of our lives!
Meletios Pouliopoulos, founder of Greek Cultural Resources noted that we are doing great work preserving our Ancient Greek history, but not much on our more contemporary history – specifically our musical history, and it’s getting lost. This is particularly alarming knowing that we are getting further from the immigrant, meaning each subsequent generation is moving further away from their roots. Keep reading to learn how this movement got started, current preservation efforts, and how we can help.
“They didn’t know what they had”
Now, think back to when CDs first came out. Much traditional Greek music was not re-released on CD. So as people sent cassette players and phonographs to the trash, what happened to the music? This didn’t sit well with Meleti, who is a music historian and archivist. So, in the early 1980s, he began his quest to preserve our Greek music.
“I wrote letters to record companies. Then in 1984, people in Greece and the U.S. released LPs of old music, and then CDs. The problem was, they were putting the wrong information on them. I became concerned.”
Not only was he alarmed by the misinformation out there, but he was shocked to learn that items given to organizations with the intent to preserve them, were not, in fact, fulfilling that mission. Through his research, Meleti discovered that major libraries and institutions held many materials important to our musical heritage – records, field recordings, newspapers, and more – but in many cases, they were not cataloged and archived properly. Read: they didn’t know what they had – and sometimes didn’t know where the items were stored.
“I was stunned to learn the music wasn’t cared for, and for that matter, that no Greek items in these archives were maintained or archived properly. I realized that these institutions really didn’t know how to properly collect and catalog ethnic items. For example, instead of cataloging music by artist, year, genre, etc., they were simply stored as, say, ‘Collection of John Poulos’”.
Doing something about it
Compelled to save our Greek musical heritage, in 2006, Meleti began the process to create a non-profit to preserve and document Greek music in the U.S.
“I’m talking about true preservation of our Greek musical heritage. Nothing had been done in this area. And not just putting things in a library. We need to process them, study them, and make them available. This is about documenting the greater story around Greek music – photographs, newspaper articles, interviews, field recordings, etc. This is how we get an accurate picture, and how we truly preserve the music and its history, its heritage.”
He also hopes to be able to help people get access to sheet music, which is difficult.
Meleti has worked mostly on his own, turning his home into a processing and storage center. The work of Greek Cultural Resources has been self-funded, and to date, it’s been primarily a solo effort. He’s struggled to find help, as it’s hard to find people who are bilingual and are familiar enough with the music to be able to catalog it. Several large collections are already in his care, including thousands of 78 and 45 records.
“You’d be surprised how long it takes to clean, sort, catalog, and file the information.”
Meleti is traveling across the country to drum up support for this effort. Digitizing and properly archiving the materials are expensive, and the costs are increasing.
“When I do talks at universities, I tell people about what’s been lost already. Adding to that list descriptions of newspapers and other materials we’ve lost. Then people start to perk up their ears. People don’t think about it.”
An example of the ephemera collected and archived by Greek Cultural Resources. IMAGE: GREEKCULTURALRESOURCES.ORG
What you can do
In preserving our Greek musical legacy, time is working against us.
“The older generations are dying off. We must do this now or it’s not going to happen. We have too much to lose to not do this, and we must do it right, or these efforts are in vain.”
Many institutions like the Library of Congress and Harvard University are not set up to host digital libraries. Meleti wants to populate a digital library and make it accessible. Plus, the goal is to have a building to maintain and store the collections – in essence, a cultural research and resource center.
You can help by spreading the word and donate to this important organization. Discuss this in the organizations in which you belong. Look through your personal collections. You may not realize that the contents are important to the preservation of our musical legacy. Contact Greek Cultural Resources for more information on how you can help. The time to save our musical heritage is now. Without our Greek music – and its related history and culture – we lose a huge piece of our Greek cultural identity. It’s time to preserve it for the world to know it, and to help future generations of Hellenes know and proliferate their musical heritage.