Bulgarian Accordion Tutorial - "Turkish" Graces

In this document I discuss grace notes on the upper auxillary added before a downward step or skip. The following example is from a Chalgia (Turkish-influenced Macedonian) clarinettist:

I use the term "Turkish" graces to describe this ornamentation because there there appears to be no standard term for it and because it's adoption by Bulgarian musicians appears to be, in part, drawn from Turkish idioms. I know of one Macedonian accordionist who consciously purges his playing of this ornamentation because he strives for a "pure Macedonian" style, free from Turkish influence. Since, given prevailing ethnic tensions, the term is potentially provocative, I would be happy to consider an appropriate, concise alternative, should anyone wish to suggest one.

Turkish graces are very common in the Bulgarian "wedding band" style, where ornaments and graces of various sorts appear between nearly every 16th note. Older players are more selective in their use of them. Consider the following from clarinettist Petko Radev (transposed to an accordion-friendly key):

Note that, absent Turkish graces, the above melody would be quite bare of ornamentation. Pralls and mordents have no obvious place to go in this melody before the last measure. The only repeated 16ths fall on weak beat of bar 2, ornamenting them with pralls or mordents would do little to shape the melody. My general preference is to use Turkish graces to "spice up" melodies that feel otherwise bare of ornamentation.

Executing a Turkish grace is similar to executing a prall, only the brush-change of the 2nd 16th ends up landing on a different note. The fragments below differ only in replacing a prall by a Turkish grace:

As with pralls, Turkish graces get extra energy from a slight overlap in the timing of the first note and the upper auxillary (caused by the momentary simultaneous minor second). To emphasize this connection, I slur the grace with the preceding note. Since this is non-standard practice, you will need to be alert in picking out Turkish graces in other people's notation.

Consider now the continuation of the Petko Radev paidusko solo above:

Here a Turkish grace adorns a prall, which gives it an extra flutter that should make your heart do the same.

Here's another (transposed) passage from Petko Radev in which a prall with an added Turkish grace adds a bit more oomph:

Selectively used, Turkish graces add a nice flourish and are well worth including in your playing. In the "Wedding band" style, their use has become virtually mandatory, resulting in extremely dense ornamentatal textures. On the clarinet and saxophone, the players often sound terrific doing this. However, it's my feeling that most accordionists in this style just end up with a complicated but largely shapeless melodic mass. To my ear, the only accordionist who can play with such dense ornamentation and still keep shape in his melodies is Petar Ralchev, who has more technique than God. Being merely mortal, I find the style interesting intellectually but beyond my technical capabilities.

The following is my best understanding of how Petar Ralchev plays a well known wedding band horo. The complexity is truly amazing.

Copyright 2015 Erik Butterworth. All rights reserved.