Bulgarian women's folk song
Bulgaria has an ancient and diverse history of women’s ensemble singing. Each region of this small but culturally rich country has a unique singing tradition characterized by distinct vocal timbres and styles of harmonization and ornamentation. Bulgarian women’s choirs are known for their bright, natural, “open-throated” sound, a sound which can be traced partially to centuries-old traditions of women singing to accompany agricultural work and outdoor seasonal rituals. In the 20th century, a new form of Bulgarian folk ensemble singing evolved. Composers and musicologists gathered the finest village singers to form state-sponsored professional regional ensembles representing the sounds of each of Bulgaria’s folklore regions. National folklore ensembles were also formed to represent the diversity of Bulgarian musical culture to the world. Bulgarian folk song-collector/composers created artful folk song arrangements and compositions that showcased Bulgarian folk song in a manner suited to concert stages.
When she was nine years old, Tzvetanka Varimezova began singing and playing tambura, accordian, and piano in the children’s ensemble of her hometown of Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. The director of this ensemble, Alexander Nachev, was her first teacher and urged her to continue studying music. She was also mentored by the legendary folk singer form Pazardzhik, Nadka Karajdova. Tzvetanka sang, danced, and played in the Pazardzhik children’s ensemble for six years, then continued her studies at Kotel High School for Folk Music. She received university degrees in choral conducting and folk instrument pedagogy from the Bulgarian Academy of Music and Dance in Plovdiv. In the 1980’s, Tzvetanka directed the Bulgarian state-sponsored choir in Pazardzhik. In the 1990’s, she was a soloist and choral director with a number of professional women’s folk choirs in Sofia, including the Bulgarian National Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance, Ensemble Trakiya, Cosmic Voices from Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian Radio Choir. In 1993, she began coaching two Bulgarian folk choirs in Denmark: Usmifka and Sedjanka. Since 2001, Tzvetanka has been an artist-in-residence at UCLA’s ethnomusicology department, where she directs the Bulgarian folk choir Devojche. Additionally, she has coached the American Bulgarian choirs Kitka and Nevanka, and has worked with other Bulgarian-style folk choirs in Japan, France, England, and Greece.
Tzvetanka was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2012, with apprentice Elizabeth Setzer. The goals of the apprenticeship included deepening Elizabeth’s understanding and practice of regional Bulgarian folk singing techniques and refining Elizabeth’s performances of traditional polyphonic songs and classic Bulgarian arrangements and compositions for a folk choir, thereby increasing her skill as a director, singer, and conductor.