Alexandra Sapan: Three Greek Songs

Poem Translations (and time stamps)

Poem by Nicolas Calas

Gone are the long summer nights, the dappled shadows of fall now blaze on other beauties and joys, dulled from the flood of memory’s downpours, now stifle recollection with their waters.  

They’ve passed, the flames, the desires that reared them, even the waves that fondled such joys have dried up; conches and pebbles have stopped their wordy game on the strand of expectation.  

The callous shoreline watches the wind hauling the clouds toward the heaven that I loved for the sweet song of its collapse.  

The long nights of summer have passed and the deep-toned shades of autumn cause the sun to blink, dazzling my foreign life, warming it with their mute, impoverished rays; craters without breath, feeble craters. (Translated from Greek by Avi Sharon)

Poem by Thanassis Hatzopoulos

The current that rushes to reach the sea

Deepens its course 

Bares roots and breaks branches

Polishes its message-bearing rocks

Besets its banks with rage

And cleans its bed, the river’s portal

For though there it hears the earth

And robs the source, the earth-shaking

Plashing of its briny end, the sand

That blossoms a calmed desert

Accumulating its innards grain by grain within and

The gold that binds it with the light 

(Translated from Greek by David Connolly)

Poem by Constance Tagopoulos

I want to remember you 

listening to my poem, 

silent and pensive, 

a bit surprised, 

a bit pensive.

I want to remember you

bringing in the candle, 

happily relaxed and free of care

as your transparent hands

divided light from chaos.

I want to remember you

with that hint of love

dancing playfully just a moment 

on the slackened circumflex

of your laughter.

Say nothing!

Do not justify or explain

the revelations of gentle moments.

Allow me to remember you

as a river overflowing its banks, 

a poet wrestling with language

who with the very word itself

redeems his bondage to a word. 

(Translated from Greek by Peter Bien)

Notes on this project:

The inception of my Three Greek Songs Project was born over 25 years ago when I was studying as a Masters Voice Student in Chiari, Italy, at the International Institue of Vocal Arts outside of Milan. My instructor encouraged me to think about singing songs from part of my Greek heritage.

I grew up very close to my Greek Grandmother Phryne Nicolopoulos Sapan, and I remember her teaching me simple Greek words and phrases like “Agapi mou” (my love) and “efharisto” (thank you).  I was always inquiring about what the Greek words and alphabet symbols meant.  We would make Spanakopita together and my favorite Greek Cookies for Christmas and Easter called Kourambiethes and Koulourakia- I can share some great recipes too, if you’re interested! 

My grandmother Phryne was an accomplished artist as a painter, and in other mediums such as woodworking, architectural drawings, charcoal drawings, mosaics, needlepoint, and sewing. She had a scholarship as a student at the Art Institute of New York City.  During WWII, her job was to draw detailed ink drawings of how to assemble airplane machinery for the factories. We would sometimes dance to Greek music from the old records she would play, like the famous “Syrtaki” Greek Dance in her art studio.  I would play my vocal lessons from cassette tape recordings for her to listen to while I was a master’s student at the Manhattan School of Music, and she would carefully critique my singing, offering her artistic ear as to where I could make improvements with my operatic singing. 

Alexandra Sapan and her grandmother, Phryne

I have always had a love for poetry and learning new languages.  I have studied Italian, German, French, Spanish, Czech, Latin, and Russian for learning operatic arias and scores for my singing.  Due to my teaching and performing schedules, as well as parenting my two young sons the past 14 years, it has taken me over 25 years to begin my journey to learning Greek!  I am sincerely grateful to the McKnight Foundation and the ADT Grant at MacPhail Center for Music for this opportunity to present these original Three Greek Songs to you through this music video with my husband, fellow MacPhail Instructor of Piano Dr. Jonathan Tauscheck.

This project was funded by a MacPhail Center for Music ADT Artist Grant made possible by the McKnight Foundation.

Published on Date: Jan 24, 2023
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