Athens Square in Astoria. Image courtesy of Gabrielle Monge

The importance of music in the Greek Community can be seen by looking at how far and wide music permeates through Greek Culture. It stretches back in time and throughout many activities.

Music can first be seen as a form of entertainment in Ancient Greece. The first forms of music from Ancient Greece placed the singer at the forefront of the performance. They would sing the primary melody, set to poetry, while being accompanied by a musical instrument. While the melody was being sung, the instrumentalist would improvise along with them. Much of their work was done like this and not with written notation. Due to this lack of inscriptions, the musicians did a vast amount of their work by memory. This means there aren’t too many written records of this old music. This gives us insight into the talent of these musicians because they were not only performing prewritten work, their improvisation meant they were also composers.1

Although there was a minimal amount of written notation itself, there is still knowledge of the tempo and rhythm of their music through the metrical patterns of Greek verse. In addition, some surviving melodies were found in stone inscriptions or on papyri. We can also see the presence of music in culture through the types of places it can be found.  The “Song of Seikilos” is a preserved composition from Ancient Greece engraved onto a grave pillar found in 1883. This shows music was incorporated into a part of the burial ceremony as well as a means of entertainment.2


St. Catherine’s Church. Image courtesy of Gabrielle Monge

If we fast forward to current day, music can be a string that binds Greeks to their heritage while being a large part of their religious experience. The church is a major component of connecting the Greek American community to their Greek heritage, and music is an integral part of the church service. There is a male chanter or psaltis who helps the priest in the liturgy. Over the years this position has changed to a mixed gender choir with organ accompaniment. Music is not only part of the ceremony but can be a way to become involved in the church. These choir groups are usually made up of American born men and women. It is even often times the main activity of the youth in the church community.3

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Posters for a local performances. Image courtesy of Jared Cox

In Astoria, with a very strong Greek presence, you can find Greek music in far more places than just the many Greek churches scattered around the town. A valuable part of Astoria is Athens Square. This is a public park that features different events or entertainment on different nights. Tuesday nights are Greek Night! Some bands and choirs perform here. To list just a few: Yiannis Papastefanou Band, Fantasia, Mike Stupakis Band, and the Pancyprian Choir. This provides a nice night of entertainment for both Greek residents of Astoria as well as non-Greek residents, offering a place for all people to mix.4

An influential Greek musician, with a presence in Astoria, is Grigoris Maninakis. He has been involved with Greek music for over thirty years.  He has performed in some of the most significant music halls in the United States, Greece, and Europe including Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Recital Hall in New York City, and the Lekabettus and Herodion theaters in Athens just to name a few. He is also the leader of the Mikrokosmos Ensemble. He has produced multiple CDs with rebetika and contemporary Greek songs. 5 Along with his impressive list of performance spots, he also can be seen in smaller settings in Astoria. The beautiful sounds of Greek music could be heard in the Stathakion Cultural Center. Maninakis and his ensemble were paying tribute to the famous Greek poet and lyricist, Nikos Gatsos. It was a night that brought the whole Greek Community together. The free concert for the community was packed with 400 people, among whom were representatives of community organizations. Even though it was free of charge, any money raised would be sent to Vrefokomio Athinon, which is the municipal founding home of Athens, and the Pan Arcadian hospital in Tripolis.  This single event can highlight how Grigoris Maninakis, and music in general, play such a pivotal role in uniting the Greek community of Astoria.6

There are also opportunities to learn about the Greek culture through creative outlets at the Greek Cultural Center in Astoria. Here, productions are offered in music, theater, and folk dance. The students go beyond just dancing and playing music; they also learn about their language and Hellenic identity through these outlets.7


Image courtesy of Gabrielle Monge

Another setting to enjoy Greek music in Astoria is in a restaurant. While dining in
Dionysos Restaurant you can enjoy traditional Greek food while having the chance of hearing traditional Greek music. 8  Some say they feel like they’re back in Cyprus when dining with this music.9

Music has been a part of Greek culture since Ancient Greek times and can still be seen as a prominent aspect of the Greek community in present day Astoria. This span through time shows how central it is to the Greek identity.

The Hellenic Cultural Center, Concert with Grigoris Maninakis & The Mikrokosmos Ensemble

Video Courtesy of greeknewsonline, youtube

Author: Gabrielle Monge