Eleutheria (Song for the Next Fifty Years)

November 4th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

My dad is dying tonight.  

I’m in Ann Arbor, Michigan and he’s in Green Bay, Wisconsin and he’s dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.  I saw him a few weeks ago and made a real good connection.

I love him.  Him.  Joseph Thomas Bilich.  Born in 1933.  Grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.  Great Musician.  Husband.  Father of my two brothers and two sisters and myself.  A good man.

And I don’t want to write your obituary while you’re still with us but pretty soon, this week, next week, you’re going to be dead and it’s going to hit me like an iron fist and it’s going to take me years before I collect myself enough to do you justice in music.

Now, this is odd.  Really odd.  I started writing this piece about my dad because my actual project for tonight was to post a pod to theWheel about a song called The Immigrant, which is about my grandfather – my dad’s dad’s life story.  And it felt odd to be celebrating my grandfather, who I never met, while my dad lies in what is very possibly his death bed in Wisconsin right now.

And then I remembered.  I wrote a piece of music for my dad’s 50th birthday back in 1983.  I guess I turned 26 that year, and I remember I wanted to do something special for my dad’s 50th and I wrote – well, wrote is not really the word, I was not much of a notator – but anyhow, I composed a piece of music that was actually somewhat beyond my capacity to grok in fullness.  It was a piece inspired by the music my father brought into my life, which was in large part the music of the Balkan peninsula.  I had heard this music all my life, but found it more necessary to come to terms with the American music of my immediate experience.

So I didn’t have a great grasp on what I was trying to accomplish.  Just my ears and my heart and an immature composer’s technique.  I just barely hung on.

But it’s beautiful.  And there’s a whole ‘nuther story about this piece of music – two stories actually, but tonight I remember I called it “Eleutheria” – ancient Greek for liberty or freedom – and subtitled it (Song for the Next Fifty Years).  I think I meant, “may you live another fifty years, as majestic as this music.”  And you know, he made it for thirty-four plus more years, which is a pretty damn good ride for a human of our century.

I love you Dad.  Joe.  My father. My friend.

Here it is.

The Dancers Levitate

October 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink


I spent last weekend in Chicago at the 2009 TAA Tamburitza Extravaganza. To seize upon just one musical marvel among many, let me note that I really enjoy Macedonian music, and in particular, the extraordinary grooves that grow as a hybrid collaboration between the dancers and musicians. In fact, there is no need to distinguish between the dancers and musicians, as they are both in these grooves very much together.

How do people dance in 7/8? Here’s how:

In the above video dancers at the 2009 Tamburitza Extravaganza dance in a fast 7/8 meter to the music of Sviraj, of Steeltown, PA.

As far as I can tell, these “odd metered” Macedonian musics are constructed of segments of 2 and 3 beats. For instance, a 7/8 will be felt as (3+2+2) or (2+2+3). An 11/8 might be felt as (2+2+2+2+3) or (3+2+2+2+2) or (2+2+3+2+2) or (2+3+2+2+2) or whatever… A 25/8 might be felt as a conglomeration of smaller units, like ( (2+2+3) + (2+2+3) + (2+2) + (2+2+3) ) – that’s one “bar”.

Of course, if you have to count it, you’re probably not feeling it. Also, these musical events often get going so fast that the 2’s feel like single beats, and the 3’s feel like a single beat followed by a bit of an amorphous pause.  After a while the dancers simply levitate.

I’ve played around with composing to these rhythms. Here’s me on bass, Aron Kaufman on traps, and Sam Clark on guitar kicking around a 14/8 groove (2+2+3+3+2+2) a couple of years ago at Oz’s here in Ann Arbor.

– 14/8 snippet


West Philadelphia Orchestra

June 17th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink


Saw and heard these folks – or eight of them, anyhow – at the Top of the Park in Ann Arbor Monday night.  They were great.  The sousaphone player – a different guy from the one in this video –  was the best I’ve ever heard.  Great bass player on a big big horn…


February 25th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink



Listen to this song, performed in 1966 by the Kolo Quartet, the combo my dad played with through much of the 1960s in Detroit.


My father is playing bugarija (the strummed string instrument you hear) and singing the harmony vocal. The lyric is about Bitola, a city in Macedonia (map).

Why share this particular song? » Read the rest of this entry «

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