In the grand scheme of history, the Slavs (with the possible exception of Russia) are better known for being conquered than conquering. However, I would put their choral traditions against that of any other culture in the world. I love acapella choral works and nobody does it as well as the Slavs.
See, for instance:
This is possibly my all time favorite folk song. The voices rise and fall like the waves of the river and like the way the voices of the men pulling the boats would sound as they walked around the bend. Is there another song so simultaneously optimistic and despairing in existence? That’s Russia, baby.
Here’s another Russian a capella song, this by a rock star:
It’s the story of a Kossack riding across the steppes on his stallion, all of which is a very important nationalistic idea in Russia and the Ukraine. As the back-up voices come in around, it is reminiscent of the Kossack’s brothers, all of them riding out to victory for the Motherland. America may have won the Cold War, but we are way behind in coming up with national hymns.
The reason for this wealth of a capella awesomeness is the Orthodox Christian tradition, which doesn’t allow for instruments in choral singing. Plug Russian Orthodox chant into Pandora and you will get a wealth of awesome like the following:
Now, although it is traditional for the choirs to be all male, there are other traditions where women are prominent. If you go into an Orthodox church, you are likely to see a group of people in street clothes, men and women, singing like this. ‘Tis wonderful.
With that in mind, my last video is of Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, a Bulgarian women’s folk choir that obviously draws on these traditions, along with a bit of Moorish music. I recommend that you seek them out, for they rock, in an a capella choral sort of way.
What non-American musical traditions do you particularly appreciate? What choral traditions do it for you? Do you have favorite slavic music to share? Please answer below.