Petroloukas Chalkias – the Living Legend of Klarino

He came to me and said. "You don't need me to show you anymore, you'll come and play next to me."

Petroloukas Chalkias belongs to the pantheon of the greatest personalities in the field of the Epirotic clarinet. With a huge work and contribution to the preservation and dissemination of Greek folk music and with more than a thousand songs to his credit as a composer (including arrangements of folk songs and melodies) or lyricist.

He was born in 1934 in Delvinaki, a mountain village in Epirus, with a tradition of stone architecture and polyphonic singing.

His family had its own tradition in another art, that of the clarinet, which was passed on to him and through his own very strong desire, despite the urging of his father, Pericles who was a clarinet virtuoso himself, to do something else for a living. Everything was predestined by fate, since apart from the musical heritage of his family, two of his relatives are considered among the pioneers of clarinet and folk music in general. Petroloukas Chalkias’ only teacher was the great clarinet musician Philippos Rountas, who had a famous clarinet ensemble in Zagoria. 

Philippos Rountas’ teacher and legend one of the greatest figures in the Epirotic clarinet, according to many, was Kitsos Harisiadis, who was also related to Petroloukas as a first cousin of his grandfather on his mother’s side. At the age of 11, Petroloukas Chalkias made his first improvised clarinet from “buzia” (wood that has no “heart”). But everything had taken its course, to come out of the heart of little Petros who quickly became a musical holy grail on the keys of the clarinet.

He became notoriously known as Petroloukas because of a typo… When he first came to Athens he collaborated with Alekos Kitsakis in Tasos Chalkias’ band, and one night a patron gave them a song that was to skyrocket their fame. It was “White Rose I Hold”. But in the print of the cover of the record instead of “P” as the initial of his name “T” is printed and everyone thinks it is Tasos Chalkias. At the urge of Spyros Peristeris and so that people could distinguish him, Chalkias “sticks” next to his name and that of his grandfather, Loukas, and Petroloukas was born! 

“As soon as my grandfather heard me, he sent me to Philippos Rountas. He had nine children and… ten with me. My grandmother and Philippos’ mother were sisters. The teacher says to us “Sit down, I can’t show each of you in an hour. I will show just to the  one who can understand the tunes quickly and the rest of you will play whatever he plays.”  He shows me and I immediately played it. “Oh, you figured it out because you’ve heard it many times. I’ll give you one more” Again the same thing happened. “Okay,” says the teacher, “I’ll show Peter and he’ll show you. Whatever Peter plays, you will play too.” Now see how my luck was to get me where I was meant to be.

At a wedding, Rountas got drunk and couldn’t play. “What shall we do now, Philippos?” they asked him. “Call Petros,” he said to them. They come to the house at half past two in the morning and wake me up! “Your teacher wants you,” they told me. I didn’t even know why they wanted me. I got up and got dressed and they said, “Take the clarinet and play what he showed you.” What could I do? I started playing, really loud. It was crazy! Applause, money. Around 6 o’clock, they made Phillippos a cup of coffee. He got up, he heard me, and said “Who’s playing?” And that was it. He came to me and said. “You don’t need me to show you anymore, you’ll come and play next to me.”

For the Miroloi (dirge)

“A celebration in Epirus always starts with a Miroloi, which many people think is only connected with death. They are wrong. We in Epirus give wishes. In the wedding Miroloi, we say “In this house, we came to, may no stone be cracked and the landlord of the house live a thousand years. It’s sung in a Miroloi. When the wedding feast is over, in the morning and the girl is separated from her family, leaves the house and goes with her husband then we play the bride’s dirge separating from the mother. But we also have the Miroloi of those who are away, in other countries. There is a Miroloi for many circumstances in life…“.  

Epirus music

There are three genres of music. The Pentatonic, which is from the time of the Ancient Greeks, the Byzantine, and the Gregorian chant after the Schism of the Church became European. You can’t read Byzantine if you only know European music. But Byzantine and Pentatonic are related because all of Greece has Byzantine. But only in four regions of Epirus, there is pentatonic. The music of Arta, Preveza, and Zagoria is close to Byzantine. In Pogoni, Dodoni, Thesprotia, and Konitsa they have the pentatonic. These four places kept pentatonic tunes and bequeathed them. Before I released the album “Miroloi and Gyrismata”, journalists urged me to record solo songs. I didn’t want to and I was cautious. I thought that if I played for the people, the musicians would say Petros lost it. If I played for the musicians, people would say, “How did Petros become like that?” The solution was given to me by Lambros Liavas, who suggested that I make “one record for the people and one for the musicians”. And so it happened. There I wrote the Moiroloi for Tasos Chalkias. From my soul. Epirus’s melody and music are something that no one has yet been able to analyze. It is the touch of the soul. Epirus music is what touches your heart.

The text is an excerpt from an interview given to Sotiris Bekas, for the magazine “Oasis”, edited by Marianna Papaki.

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