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Teaching Slavic vocal technique - who has tips/resources?

Hi all,
My women's chorus is really attracted to the sound of Bulgarian women's choruses and I'm interested in teaching techniques and resources. Currently, they're working on Pilentse Pee by Krassimir Kiurkchiiski. 
Any advice is appreciated!
Danielle Steele
Assistant Director of Choral Activities
Earlham College
Richmond, IN
Replies (4): Threaded | Chronological
on March 11, 2014 7:51am
We have worked with several teachers who work in "Balkan" style. We tend to be a bit sloppy and use the same sound regardless of whether the song is from Croatia or Russia, but it's pretty specifically a Bulgarian sound.
The key thing is to pitch the voice at the point in your mouth where soft and hard palettes meet. When pitched correctly, you get a ton of overtones. Use "ee" as a starting vowel and move your jaw slowly up and down to practice moving the placement of the voice from the front of the mouth to the middle.
Many people think the Bulgarian sound is created nasally. This is not the case. A good check is to create the sound and then pinch your nose. If the sound gets cut off, you're pitching the voice in the wrong place.
If you watch the Bulgarian Women's Choir, you can see that they don't flap their jaws around like we do in classical Western music. :-) The jaw is relaxed but the mouth stays relatively closed. It helps maintain the resonance.
We have found that the passaggio changes when singing Balkan. I can go higher in Balkan before hitting my passaggio than I can when singing Western.
Balkan singing is also very efficient in its use of breath. We can hold notes out three times as long in Balkan as we can in Western.
I've seen several Balkan women's ensembles who sing with their arms around each other or linked. We've tried this in rehearsal and it really makes a difference. Balkan singing, with its close harmonies, should be "knit together." Being physically close helps everyone breathe at the same time and move in and out of the overall bed of sound. In traditional communities, women start singing together from a very young age and stay singing together throughout their lives. So once you have your piece voiced the way you want it, keep those voicings so the singers become intimately familiar with their sisters' sounds.
Check out this clip: It's from the Johnny Carson show in 1990. Watch all the way through to the end -- the last song is "Oh, Susannah." You can see how their mouths get more open as they try to sing more Western.
And! I should mention our two main vocal coaches, Moira Smiley of VOCO and Sue from Libana. You can find them easily on the web.
There's lots more but I could more easily demonstrate it in person than write about it! Hopefully this will get you started.
Sing on!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 12, 2014 7:18am
Hi again -- I thought I posted this addendum yesterday but it's not showing up: we have worked with several people on Balkan styles over the years, but our main sources were Sue and Marytha from Libana ( and Moira Smiley of VOCO (
Sing on!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 12, 2014 1:48pm
Lovely detailed response Cairril.     We have a vibrant Bulgarian community living in Sydney, Australia, and about 8 years ago they started doing some research on how that sound is produced.   They even put cameras down their throats to see what happens when Bulgarian women sing in comparison to the western sound.    Number 7 from The Pure Drop: Bulgarian Singing describes what they found.  Silvia Entcheva, the singer talking in the video, is a former member of Le Mystere Dez Voix Bulgares.
on March 12, 2014 9:14pm
Sorry - it's the short video number 6, not 7. 
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