Program Notes

Not only was I expected to sing some American songs, but I needed to give the some cultural context for the audience. Some highlights from the concert program notes:

“Heartbreak Hotel,” by Elvis Presley – aka “The King.” This is a classic blues song about loneliness. A man sings that his woman left him: “Since my baby left me…” and now he lives in a metaphorical place called “Heartbreak Hotel.” Everyone who lives in this place has the “blues.” Elvis “feels so lonely, so lonely I could die.”

“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” by Duke Ellington. One of the most famous songs in jazz music. This a jazz song about jazz rhythm. Having a “swing” rhythm is the most important thing in Jazz. The “doo wah doo wah” line is an example of the jazz singing tradition of “scatting” where the singer makes up meaningless sounds to make the voice sound like a musical instrument.

“Free bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, America’s greatest band of “southern rock”—a fusion of country music and rock and roll. “Free Bird” is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most famous work—a classic American composition about freedom. In the song, the singer explains to his woman that he must leave her and travel the world. The song is a simple metaphor about being like a bird who flies all over the place – the bird has no reason to fly or any place in particular it needs to go, rather it is simply in the bird’s nature to fly and nothing will ever change the bird.


On the news in Uzbekistan!

Check out this Russian language broadcast from the concert. This clip has been playing three times a day across Uzbekistan on the main news channel. They’ve also been playing clips in Uzbek and Tajik language. The best part is the musicologist talking about all the different influences of the music while I’m singing Heartbreak Hotel in the background.

The Jewish Cemetery

Before I write about the concert — let’s break away to the present
moment where I’ve left Samarkand and arrived in Bukhara.

I’ve arrived amidst a frenzy of restoration. So, imagine an ancient,
magical, fairy-tale city – with a lot of bricklayers, scaffolding and
backhoes. Everything is supposed to be done in two weeks for a big
festival, so if you’re thinking about traveling here, hold off until

For the first time on my trip, I now have ample time to engage in one
of my favorite pastimes: getting completely lost. Woe to those
burdened heavily with functional senses of directions. Only a few
minutes in a place like this and I have no idea where I am or even
what direction I came from. It’s a lovely feeling. Best of all, I
never get very far because I have a tendency to turn myself around –
and I get to have an amusing surprise every time I find myself back in
the same place! Usually it’s some old person sitting out side, who
waves at me each time I pass, wondering, I’m sure, what the heck I’m
doing wandering around in their neighborhood.

No traveling companion will ever stand for this sort of behavior, so
it only works when I’m by my lonesome  – so I best take advantage of
the situation.

In this manner, I walk, whistling, through brick arches and past
mosques and markets. Sandstone brick and mud, curvy narrow streets,
eventually out of the old city area and then keeping on for a while
until I decide its time to eat. Turn around
and head back. But with these narrow streets curving everywhere and
high walls – you can’t see anything in the distance as a reference
point – three times I’m back at the same dead end – facing a decrepit
gate with some Hebrew written next to it.
The first time, I stop and peer in and I see a bunch of
garbage and puddles inside. The third time around, I decide what the
heck and walk in, find a path past the garbage and the puddles, and
I’m in the jewish cemetery.

The cemetery covers several acres and is surrounded by a wall. At the
periphery there are some newer graves from the 1980s-1990s featuring
the popular of marble headstone engraved with creepy portrait of the
deceased. This they
borrowed from the Russians I think. Most of the area is strewn with
old markers from which the names have eroded right off the stone.
The ground is loamy (is that right the word?) – so that each step the
earth sinks an inch with a crunch, like
maybe my leg might crash down through a rotting coffin.

Bones are strewn everywhere – animal bones, presumably. A patina of
white salt covers everything. I leave footprints as if walking in
fresh snow. There are no other footprints. The cemetery surrounds me
as far as the eye can see. I’m all alone here – just me and the bones.

Eventually I arrive at a dome. A dome so much like our Charming
Hostess Bowls Project dome. Same manner of unreinforced tile vaulting.
I totally know how to build one of these! There are some stairs
leading to a mysterious opening. It is too dark to see inside.

I descend down the steps, peering in. My eyes adjust to the faint
light from the oculus. There’s a pool of fetid water in the
middle. Inside the dome, I’m standing at the edge trying to see into
the water. I stare and squint for a long time but I can only make
faint outlines of…? I walk slowly, circling the pool. I think maybe
this is the ritual bath where they wash dead people before burial…

Look closely at the picture here — in front of the door, those are
the steps down to the pool.


Surnay Lesson

New Friends, Pilaf, & Architecture

Registan Square


Concert Venue