Skip to main content

Performing Democracy

Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signaled the onset of tumultuous political, economic, and social reforms throughout Eastern Europe. In Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union these changes were linked to the activities and philosophies of political figures such as Václav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Mikhail Gorbachev. In Bulgaria, however, these changes were first heralded and even facilitated by particular musicians and shifting musical styles.

Based on fieldwork conducted between 1988 and 1996 with professional Bulgarian folk musicians, Donna A. Buchanan’s PerformingDemocracy argues that the performances of traditional music groups may be interpreted not only as harbingers but as agents of Bulgaria’s political transition. Many of the musicians in socialist Bulgaria’s state folk ensembles served as official cultural emissaries for several decades. Through their reminiscences and repertoires, Buchanan reveals the evolution of Bulgarian musical life as it responded to and informed the political process. By modifying their art to accommodate changing political ideologies, these musicians literally played out regime change on the world’s stages, performing their country’s democratization musically at home and abroad.

Performing Democracy
and its accompanying CD-ROM, featuring traditional Bulgarian music, lyrics, notation, and photos, will fascinate any reader interested in the many ways art echoes and influences politics.

496 pages | 56 color plates, 18 halftones, 1 map, 15 figures, 1 table, 38 musical examples, | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: European History

Music: Ethnomusicology


“The fall of the Berlin Wall launched a series of cataclysmic changes throughout Eastern Europe that have profoundly affected the region’s musical life. Performing Democracy situates itself on the cusp of those changes. Focusing on Bulgaria, it details both government-sponsored music-making during the final years of the socialist period, and an array of musical activities that developed during the period of transition to capitalism and democracy. Based on intensive fieldwork carried out over a period of several years, it is the most significant study to chronicle musical developments during this important period of Eastern European history.”--Jane C. Sugarman, State University of New York at Stony Brook

Jane C. Sugarman | Jane C. Sugarman

“The title of this excellent book is more than a play on words. Buchanan demonstrates how the professionalization of folk music by the socialist state for nationalist purposes actually validated notions of western modernity, making the democratic transition more attractive and placing professional musicians at an important political location. These observations help clarify
the rather complex and paradoxical political situation in postsocialist Bulgaria. Anyone who doubts the political power of music—or culture more broadly—should read this book.”--Gerald Creed, Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Gerald Creed | Gerald Creed

"The power of the book comes primarily from Buchanan’s ability to address the historical question of post-socialist transition by weaving together rich ethnographic fieldnotes and knowledgeable ethnomusicological, discursive, and historiographical analyses. . . . Although this expansive book is first and foremost an ethnomusicological investigation, its value exceeds narrow disciplinary boundaries. For the particular needs of folklorists . . . Performing Democracy contributes a highly important approach."

Eran Livni | Journal of Folklore Research

"The product of fifteen years of research and writing, this book documents in impressive detail how the seismic twentieth-century shifts from tsarist monarchy to Soviet-style totalitarian state and then parliamentary democracy were negotiated, imagined, and enacted by professional musicians."Carole Pegg, Slavic Review

Carole Pegg | Slavic Review

"[Buchanan] amply contextualizes and chronicles the rise and--if not complete demise, then at least rapid decline--of Bulgaria’s professional folk song and dance ensembles. . . . Through her musicological and ethnological anlyses of the individuals and groups who literally and visibly ’played out’ the sociopolitical changes of their times . . . Buchanan effectively argues against the marginalization of music as aesthetic frill of little relevance by demonstrating its centrality, potential and actual, to social and political life."

Karen A. Peters | The World of Music

"The book offers a fascinating, comprehensive, and informed account of music and nation buildong in the context of the intense sociopolitical changes that took place in Bulgaria. . . . [Buchanan’s] gifts as a brilliant storyteller bring another attractive quality that makes Performing Democracy a welcomed, challenging title in the world of contemporary ethnographic and anthropological scholarship."

Claire Levy | Ethnomusicology

"Based on long-term fieldwork that spans the fall of the Berlin Wall and the period of dramatic change in Eastern Europe it heralded, this book explores the role of music in Bulgaria’s political transition. Through careful ethnography, the author traces a complex and intersecting narrative that locates the reshaping of musical tradition within the transition from socialism to democracy."

Critique of Anthropology

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
Notes on Transliteration and Pronunciation
Part I - Socialist Culture in Transition
1. Transits
2. "Going as Guests": Ethnography and Commensality under Socialism
3. From the Square to the Stage: Musical Life through the 1940s
4. The "Folkloric Philharmonia": Building Professional Ensembles and Orchestras
5. Writing Nationalism, Rewriting Tradition: Politics, Professionalism, and Music Composition
Part II - Nationalist Narratives: Marketing Bulgarian Identities through Folk Ensemble Tableaus
6. "Cutting the National Crystal": The "Koutev Line"
7. A Pirin Spectacle
8. Legendary Rodopa: Cradle of Orpheus
9. Thracian Tales
Part III - Ethnography and Antistructure
10. Balkana and Le mystère des voix bulgares
11. "Tell Me How a Pepper Is Planted": Song as Social History
12. Democracy or "Crazy-ocracy"? Musical Interpretations

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press