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03 May, 2014
There probably isn’t a single person in the world who’d question Georgian age-old musical tradition. Georgian music and singing is an inseparable part of the country’s culture, proudly preserved and carried through all the hardships the country and its people faced. If you ask a foreigner about Georgia, probably the first thing that comes to their mind will be our polyphonic singing.
Unfortunately, the more we recall and describe the long-reaching roots of music in Georgian society, the more appalling
and embarrassing is the fact that trying to make a musical career in modern Georgia is an almost guaranteed dead end. Field of opportunities for a musician, novice or experienced, resembles a barren desert with no sign of an oasis in the distance.
How did we come to this? Nobody knows exactly, but perhaps there’s a historian or two who can tell you more. My own observation names the communist rule, during which Georgia experienced significant cultural decay, as the main culprit. Years of unrest and war that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union exacerbated the already poor state of Georgian culture. When the tides calmed and time for restoration came, musical tradition wasn’t exactly at the top of the list of things that needed to be looked into.
But enough reminiscing about the past, let us take a look at the actual perspectives a musician has in Georgia. Imagine an optimistic, naïve, bright-eyed boy who dreams of standing on stage in front of a cheering audience. He goes to his parents and tells them about his dream. Their initial reaction will almost undoubtedly be an attempt to dissuade him, but let’s say they agree. A musical career usually involves finding a good teacher, and that’s where our future musician hits his first obstacle. A lot of Georgian musical schools closed around ten years ago and those that remained lead a rather pathetic existence due to negligence and lack of funding from the government. Chances of being admitted to a conservatory after finishing such a school are, to put it mildly, slim.
However, let’s say that our young hero just wants a basic musical education and an introduction to the instrument of his choice (let’s make it a guitar, for simplicity’s sake). What awaits him is a long and fruitless search for private tutors via newspapers, internet, friends or tear-off adverts usually found in elevators. Eventually he is going to come across some individual of rather dubious musical ability, and attend a few classes until he realizes this individual doesn’t teach him anything he cannot learn by himself via a textbook and some Youtube videos. Frustrated and disillusioned, the kid sets on a bumpy road of self-education.
There’s also another issue our protagonist has to inevitably deal with: acquisition of a good instrument. Naturally, a newbie doesn’t need a high quality product made by a famous manufacturer, but his starting instrument should at least be decent. Unfortunately, most music instrument shops in Georgia are either ridiculously expensive or nonexistent. Eventually the newbie ends up playing his first chords on a borrowed guitar that had at least ten owners, none of them too careful.
Several years later, our hero emerges possessing passable skills with his instrument of choice and searching for ways to improve himself. This is usually done by joining some local band. Such bands have a lifespan comparable to that of a butterfly, however; there are many factors influencing this, but the main one is lack of available rehearsal rooms. People reading this will probably think “that’s no big deal, they can go to some garage and play there”, but if a band was playing in a garage near their homes, they’d be among the first to come out and start a quarrel.
In case I am not making this clear enough, music is noisy. Someone playing a guitar in his apartment is already enough to annoy all of his neighbors; playing drums anywhere near an inhabited locality is sufficient enough to get the police called on you for disturbing the peace; a whole band playing their instruments can be heard from several kilometers away. In order for musicians to play as much as they like without disturbing anyone they need rehearsal rooms that either boast significant soundproofing or are sufficiently far away from inhabited areas. As you probably guessed, such facilities are very scarce in Georgia. The few that exist aren’t only expensive to rent, but also have their schedules completely packed, since at least twenty local bands use them. Our young guitarist and his band will probably have to come for rehearsals late in the evening or very early in the morning. Needless to say, not all band members can do this, which leads to a lot of rehearsals getting cancelled and the band eventually falling apart.
If a band manages to finally gnaw its way to coherency and regularity despite all the obstacles and disruptions, it still has the biggest challenge ahead: popularity. Even those who actually manage to record albums and perform at local concerts will most likely remain known only to their countrymen and a handful of people who stumble upon their videos on the internet. Finding a sponsor or achieving international fame is something akin to winning a lottery.
An experienced musician in Georgia is a sad sight. Unable to put his skills to good use, he ends up playing at weddings, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. Luckier ones join orchestras playing Georgian traditional music, but this is an exception rather than a rule. Most others end up as private music teachers, go abroad in search of better opportunities or just drop their hobby completely.
Such is the state of Georgia’s musical scene nowadays. Aside from traditional Georgian orchestras and choirs, it is very hard for budding musicians and bands to make it. The entire field is simply ignored by both the state and the private sector, despite everyone knowing about both its poor condition and the amount of potential getting flushed down the drain every year. What does the future hold? Nobody knows.

By Zura Amiranashvili
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