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Harmony in Motion: Exploring the Cultural Tapestry with Helen Curtis of Zarebi

I am delighted to introduce Helen Curtis, the visionary behind the Folklore Collective of  Zarebi With a passion for preserving and celebrating diverse cultural traditions through dance, Helen Curtis has played a pivotal role in fostering a community where artistry and tradition converge. Join us as we explore the rhythmic tapestry of the Folklore Collective, delving into its cultural significance and the enchanting stories told through movement

  1. Can you tell us a bit about the history and formation of “Zarebi”?  

Zarebi were formed in September 2015. After I (Helen Curtis the director) moved to live in  the local area of Hebden Bridge UK.  

  1. What inspired the creation of your Folklore Collective? 

I had sung Georgian music for ten years previously and wanted to continue singing and to  pass on my knowledge in my new home town.  

  1. How would you describe the style and themes of your performances? 

We sing songs from Georgia.  

  1. Are there specific cultural or regional influences that are reflected in your work? 

We sing folk songs and church chants from different regions within Georgia. The styles  and modes within each region are unique. As a choir we do our best to be informed about  the cultural background of a song. 

  1. Can you share some details about your favorite performances or pieces that hold  special significance to the group? 

Each person within the choir will have their favorite songs, and songs that will have  special meaning to them. I think one of my most memorable performances was on a hot  summer’s day, having organized an outdoor performance and picnic in a large beautiful  garden. People sat on picnic blankets, and listened to us singing. Afterwards a Georgian  lady approached us in tears saying she hadn’t heard some of these songs since being a  child in Georgia (she lives in the UK) and couldn’t believe it when she heard there was  going to be a Georgian choir giving a performance locally.  

 

6. How do you go about selecting the songs, dances, or stories for your repertoire? I select songs that I feel will somehow resonate well with the choir members- and also  ‘from the horses mouth’ ie- direct from the source. This means choosing a song  appropriate to the level of community singers- but also vitally important is a song that my  singers will be able to feel when they sing. So be it the story behind the song and the  sound of the song. 

 

 

  1. How do you collaborate and coordinate as a group during rehearsals and  performances? 

Our group has a very good natural balance in fact. I direct the music during rehearsals,  but I am very keen on the group being in tune together emotionally- this we do by drawing  as much attention as possible to active listening and active feeling. During a performance I  stand within the choir (which is not common for a UK choir- usually the choir director leads  from the front) This gives the singers more opportunity to listen and feel with each other,  instead of watching me- which I feel can take the focus away from being together.  If we are the ones organizing a concert, then everyone in the choir takes part in some of  the organization. Setting up the hall, baking cakes, being in charge of money etc.  Everyone pitches in which makes a smooth flowing event. We are lucky in the choir that  we have a group of very intuitive, organized and creative women !

 

 

  1. What challenges and rewards come with being part of a Folklore Collective? Zarebi have developed close friendships together. We have built a community that trusts  and respects each other. We meet outside rehearsals for social events. We have also  strengthened connections with other Georgian choirs based in the UK, and connections  with Georgian base choirs and their directors in Georgia. 

I think the hardest aspect is bridging the gap of our Western concept of singing together  and the Georgian concept of singing together. I am always looking for ways to develop  this.  

  1. In what ways does “Zarebi” contribute to the preservation and promotion of folklore and  traditional culture? 

This is a difficult question- as we are non Georgians singing Georgian music outside of  Georgia. However, the growing interest in recent years of Georgian music, has done much  to increase the profile of the country. The Soviet regime did much to eradicate the culture  and music of Georgia, and there have been incredible initiatives by groups and individuals  since Georgia’s independence to restore, recover and preserve its music. We shoulder a  responsibility to learn these songs well and with awareness of their fragile past. We do not  take for granted any of this.  

There are organized singing trips to Georgia and Georgian choirs come to the UK to do  tours. This provides some financial stability to these Georgian song masters who can then  focus on the continuation of Georgian folklore.  

  1. Are there specific initiatives or projects aimed at passing down cultural heritage to  future generations? 

In Georgia there are initiatives to find talented children in villages and relocate them and their families to cities where the child can grow up singing/dancing/playing traditional  instruments under tutelage of Georgian masters. This has been extremely successful.  

  1. How does “Zarebi” engage with the local community or broader audience? We host workshops and give concerts. We also host Georgian choirs, and Georgian song  masters when they are touring.  
  2. Do you participate in festivals, events, or educational programs to share your art? As a choir we perform perhaps three or four times a year. Over the years we have taken  part in performances that include all our local choirs- last year we performed as part of a  fund-raising event for Ukraine. As a choir leader, I lead workshops.  
  3. How do you balance preserving traditional elements with incorporating new and  innovative aspects into your performances? 

We sing Georgian music in the way that my Georgian teachers have taught me, and how I  hear the songs to be. I try to be honest and for me that is enough.  

  1. Are there any modern influences or technologies that you integrate into your  presentations? 

Not really- we are quite old fashioned!  

  1. What kind of training do members of “Zarebi” undergo, and how do you ensure the  continuity of skills and knowledge? 

Our sessions are very focused. We always warm up and do some technique work. We  also have a drop box where all the song parts are stored and where members can practice  the parts. We spend a lot of time initially going over pronunciation of words, notes and  rhythms. We don’t have a huge repertoire and this means quality over quantity! It also  means we can revisit older songs and keep the standards good.  

  1. Are there any specific qualifications or prerequisites for joining the group?

There are two important aspects- the first is that the personality of a person joining will fit  with the ethos of the existing group. The second is that they should be able to hold a tune  and fit vocally within the group.  

  1. Can you share some memorable experiences or performances that have left a lasting  impact on the group or individual members? 

Some of our Zarebi members have visited Georgia on singing tours. This has left huge  impressions on the consciousness of the singers. For me- my husband proposed in  Georgia in the presence of Georgian master singers. As soon as I said the magic words ‘YES’  they immediately burst into singing an amazing wedding song! This while we were on a  beautiful balcony having a feast and overlooking mountains and forested valleys. It will  stay with me forever.  

Every Summer and Winter we have a feast- we all make food, and sit and eat together, we  sing around the table and have toasts in the manner of the Georgian supra. This feels  completely natural to us now. One year one of our members, who is a poet, wrote a  beautiful poem about singing together- it makes me cry every time I hear it.  

  1. What are the future goals and aspirations for “Zarebi”? 

I would like Zarebi to become a more diverse group. I would like Zarebi to continue  developing its connections with the wider Georgian community in the UK as well as in  Georgia.  

  1. Are there any upcoming projects, collaborations, or events that your audience can look  forward to? 

In May there is a Georgian choir Amer Imeri on tour from Georgia. We are excited to be  hosting the choir in our local town of Hebden Bridge. Zarebi will also take part in a UK wide  Georgian singing weekend- where all the UK Georgian choirs and special guests Amer  Imeri will come together for a weekend of workshops and singing.  

In September we will be welcoming Pletenitza to our home town of Hebden Bridge! This is  the second half of our choir exchange – where we came to Veliko Tarnovo in October 2023.  As part of this we will be performing a series of concerts and possibly workshops as a way  of fund-raising towards this. 

Reporter : Aneghmer Zohra

Editor: Izci Melih

 

Experience the magic of Folklore Collective’s captivating performances on https://www.youtube.com/watch and immerse yourself in a world where tradition and dance harmoniously come to life

 

 

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