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Eric Charry






This thesis explores a genre of Georgian traditional vocal music, the Gurian trio song, through a combination of ethnographic description, musical analysis of improvisational formulas, and close listening to early-twentieth-century recordings and their return to circulation in the embodied practice of present-day folk ensembles. Two prominent Gurian singers, Tristan Sikharulidze and Anzor Erkomaishvili, serve as touchstones for these strands of analysis, each representing approaches to transmitting the memory of their tradition that intertwine the oral and technologically mediated. After an introduction to Guria, a region of Georgia on the Black Sea coast, the first chapter reviews scholarly writing on Gurian music since the early twentieth century, and interrogates concepts of “polyphony” which influence research on Georgian music to this day. The second chapter draws on interviews with Tristan Sikharulidze and other Gurian singers to develop the idea of trio singing as a social activity with a moral dimension and complex processes of musical reference and intertextuality. Chapters Three and Four take a single Gurian trio song, “Me Rustveli,” and, based on comparative study of several recordings, propose a formulaic system of improvisation, while placing this practice within the context of Soviet-era attitudes toward improvisation. The final chapter explores the role of early-twentiethcentury recordings of Gurian music, and the way that idiosyncracies and accidents in the original recordings may have tangible effects on the way these songs are performed today. The outsize influence of Anzor Erkomaishvili as a performer, publisher, and all-around keeper of the archive, is augmented and colored by his familial connections to singers on the hundred-year-old records. A brief conclusion proposes areas for further research, particularly how to place musical, improvisatory practice within various models of cultural memory, including those built from the perspectives of textual, anthropological, or performance studies.



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