Divi Zheni is a chorus and orchestra directed by renowned Bulgarian vocalist, instructor, and conductor Tatiana Sarbinska. Our Boston-based group of 20 women performs traditional music from the Balkans, including from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Croatia, and Greece. Ms. Sarbinska, a folk-singing legend in Bulgaria, leads Divi Zheni in learning and performing traditional vocal styles, harmonies and rhythms, as well as the musical customs of the Balkans.
|The Wilds of Translation
With a sense of fun, we named ourselves Divi Zheni, which means “Wild Women” in Bulgarian. As in English, this can mean “Rowdy Women”, “Tempestous Women”, or “Untamed Women”. Or perhaps some combination thereof!
We rehearse at the Brighton-Allston Congregational Church in Brighton, MA, and perform frequently throughout the Greater Boston Area. We enjoy collaborating with many other Balkan-oriented area groups and organizations, including Zornitsa, Pajdashi, Zdravets, The Folk Arts Center of New England, BGFocus, Libana, Mladost, and Ludo Mlado. We also perform at New England venues, and, at times, tour across Bulgaria with Ms. Sarbinska, performing at national folk festivals, performance halls, and university theaters, and studying with Bulgarian folkloric musicians.
Read on for chorus member Paula Rosenstock’s lovely write-up about the history of Divi Zheni:
A Brief History of Divi Zheni
Somehow, the time was right. There had been an established men’s group under Tatiana Sarbinska‘s direction for many years by that time, so why not a women’s group?
Our first rehearsal was held at the home of Mari Young on January 10, 2000. What an exciting first night! Here we were, a motley group of mostly folk dancers sitting before this famous Bulgarian singer who had an infectious spirit and energy — an incredible talent who was telling of her dreams for us: Our women’s group would ideally be at least twenty women; we would sing a cappella songs in 3- and 4-part harmony; we would learn to play instruments like the tambura, dumbek and tupan; we would sing one day in Bulgaria; we would sing in New York; etc. (I smiled, for it seemed a bit too fantastic, but nonetheless exciting — and all of these visions have now become reality!) Amongst our initial group, some of us had had some experience in choral singing, while some of us feared we could not even match pitches. Some of us had attempted to learn “Balkan” singing throughout the years, I for one, with little success.
By April, our numbers had grown to include many members who are still in the group. Our first performance was of a single song, Uvduvjala Lisichkata, which was sandwiched into the Zornitsa men’s group performance slot at NEFFA (the New England Folk Festival). Our three minutes on “stage” were truly exciting! We did it!
Since that time we have grown to over 20 members, and under Tatiana’s direction, we have increased our repertoire considerably, and continue to strive for a true Balkan sound. This has enabled us to perform for folk festivals and folk dances, and also in concert, singing a variety of difficult a cappella, multi-part pieces, village songs, and fuller-textured and more urbanized dance songs. We gave a joint concert with Zornitsa (Tatiana’s men’s group), sponsored by the New York Pinewoods Folk Music Club, in November 2003; and we gave full-length solo concerts in Boston in 2003 and 2004, and in Hingham, MA, to a full and enthusiastic house in January 2006.
Yes, we indeed performed in Bulgaria, in August 2005 — for the Koprivshtitsa Folk Festival (to the cheering response of hundreds of Bulgarian and foreign attendees) and in Blagoevgrad and Plovdiv, along with our sister and brother groups, the Slaveya women’s chorus from Washington, D.C., and Zornitsa, the aforementioned men’s group from Boston. One of the highlights of the trip to Bulgaria was performing for Tatiana’s former mentor, the erstwhile Artistic Director of the Pirin Ensemble, Kiril Stefanov, many of whose choral arrangements we sing. Sadly, Maestro Stefanov died shortly thereafter.
Although we are a diverse group of women of all backgrounds and ages, we are united by our love of this beautiful music, and the challenge of learning to perform it. Little did we know, that first night, how determined Tatiana Sarbinska was and what a great and generous teacher and director she is. Tatiana has given us our collective voice.
– Paula Rosenstock, Divi Zheni member