Post Balkan Camp Disorder (PBCD)

Symptoms include dry mouth caused by strained vocal chords and slivo shots, increased appetite for garlic-infused anything, and palpitations in ⅞ time. If left untreated, withdrawal symptoms may only last 3-5 days. While not life-threatening, treatment is recommended. Availability of natural remedies may vary depending on your location. The following is how one patient is currently living a fulfilling life with PBCD.

In August of 2013, I spent a week completely focused on intense learning and non-digital socializing, almost completely disconnected from outside work and family responsibilities. I didn’t even know what was going on in the daily news. It was refreshing but also jarring. That week at camp I played violin (which I already played before, but hadn’t touched in a couple of years), had a crash course at playing the santouri, and on my last day at camp fell in love with the tapan. I danced Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian, and some form of free-movement bird-like improvisation in the wee hours of the night at the Kafana. The Monday after camp I was back at my desk job, slouching over my computer on an ergonomic chair. Friends asked where I was for a week, and I found it difficult to describe. They seemed genuinely excited and envious of my courage to try something new and step out of my comfort zone. They said they would have loved to do something like that if only they didn’t have to worry about blah, blah, blah. The conversation would veer back to complaints about not ever having enough time to do everything, dreaming of exotic places to travel to, and which bar or restaurant to try out next week. That’s when the symptoms started to sink in.

Step 1: Ask for help. If camp-life is a drug, Emily Cohen is my doctor and my dealer. She encouraged me to attend my first camp, so it was only natural to ask her how else I could stay involved. She had a wealth of knowledge about existing folk dance groups (like Folk Dance Fridays or Central Park dancers), other camps (like World Camp), and community resources. She even let me borrow a great book, Balkan Fascination, which I admit I still have not returned. I also asked my friends at the Greek American Folklore Society for help connecting to local musicians, opportunities to catch more music and dance, and began attending dance sessions more often. I had almost forgotten how important it was for me to have music and dance be a consistent part of my life. Anastasia Tsantes and Vaia Allagianis continue to be my Greek dance mentors and always help me stay involved with the Greek community. You are reading this blog right now because someone introduced you to this community. Who are they and how can they help you stay involved?

Step 2: Choose one treatment at a time. After meeting with my camp doctor, I found that with too many options I was more likely not to do anything. I had to pick one thing to focus. At camp, I had already made a plan to continue taking skype lessons with Beth Bahia Cohen, so I continued with that. While I really enjoyed playing the violin again, I missed the tapan. I decided to make that my focus began attending tapan classes with the Young Bulgarian Voices of New York’s 101 Kaba Gaidi i Tupani. During my first year, my lessons with Ivailo Kuchev inspired me to even buy a drum that he made. It was an investment, but one that solidified my commitment to this new instrument. Even though I do not speak Bulgarian, I found the community very welcoming, and that communication in art transcends words. The drum classes are now taught by the infamous Mersid “Semka” Mustafov and our drum circle feels like a second home. Which instrument, art medium, or community ignited a fire you didn’t know existed? Even if it’s a completely new style, try focusing on that one first.

Step 3: Hair of the dog. I’m so glad that I live in New York City, so that I can easily attend GoldenFest each January. I was able to volunteer in the kitchen my first year in order to offset the cost of the ticket. In following years, I performed with YBVNY and use my guest ticket to introduce my friends and family to this crazy Balkan scene. I recommend you select your signature event at approximately the 6-month mark to tide you over from one camp to the next. If you’re on the west coast, you might want to join Edessa and friends at Ashkenaz for New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, save up for the next Balkan Camp.  Strategies include stuffing money in a jar every month (I use an old Tsipouro canister), using apps like Digit that stealthily squirrel away money without your noticing, or ask family and friends to “donate” to your camp fund in lieu of physical gifts at holidays and birthdays. How will you get your mid-year fix?

Need an emergency dose of fun? Join me at one of these events.

I hope my writing has not offended those dealing with illness. My involvement in the Balkan community has improved my own wellness, both mentally and physically. This article is light-hearted, but I hope it has touched your heart in some way.


Written by Michelle Tsigaridas Weller 

Photo by Alevrontas

Running Sound at Balkan Camp: Tips and Tricks

It’s evening time at Balkan Camp. I’ve spent all day learning mind-bending new folk melodies and rhythms, socializing and meeting new people, and eating way too many olives and stuffed grape leaves. To top it off, I’ve spent the last 2 hours trying to follow the steps of experienced dancers during the evening’s dance party. The clock is starting to edge toward 11:15. It’s getting late! If it were any other time of the year, I would have long since snuck out to rest and recover in the hopes of having enough energy for the next day. But it’s Balkan Camp, and at 11:30 I have to go set up sound for Kafana!

If you haven’t been to Kafana, Kafana is a place where you can watch music in an intimate setting, drink a little, enjoy ajvar along with other grilled goodies, continue dancing, and watch musicians really cut loose and maybe get a little silly and wild. Before I ran sound at Kafana, it was a place I would (sometimes) go to enjoy myself if I was feeling adventurous. This past summer, though, being at Kafana was my job almost every night. Why? I was the sound engineer.

Running sound is no easy task. You have to plug a dizzying array of microphones, cables, mixers and speakers together without mixing up what goes where. You have to make sure that musicians can hear themselves so that they can play confidently, and you have to make sure that the audience can hear the musicians well. You don’t want to blow people out of the water with sound that is too loud and harsh, or irritate them with sound that is muddy and indistinct. Of course, running sound after you have spent a very full day at camp poses an extra challenge, and at first, I was pretty nervous to take the job, but as the days progressed, I figured out a way to make it work and received such nice feedback (pun not intended) from performers and audiences alike that I was inspired to share my experiences with other adventurous Kafana sound engineers.

The below tips do assume that you have experience with sound gear, but do not assume that you know what the various Balkan instruments are.

  1. Running sound at Kafana is all about speed and efficiency. People will be tired and may be not thinking straight, or they may be in a relaxed partying mood, so it is doubly important to come up with a plan to get performers onto and off the stage quickly and efficiently. Plan with your stage manager (if you have one) for how best to do this. You will also need to figure out ways to support yourself so that you can do your job under quite taxing circumstances.
  2. Every day, test your PA system and all mics before you start running sound. Make sure every mic can be heard in the mains and in the monitors. You never know if someone borrowed a mic stand, mic, or a cable during the day.
  3. Label what mic goes to what channel on your mixer.
  4. Personally talk to the band before they start and figure out what they need. Write it down. Write down what instrument goes to what channel. Consult this chart before you make any sound adjustments since you will be tired, and it will be easy to make mistakes.
  5. Ask the musicians where they’d like their microphones positioned.
  6. Make sure everyone can hear themselves in the monitor before they start. Make sure you can hear every instrument in the mains before they start.
  7. Check in with the band after the first song to make sure they can hear themselves in the monitor. Be paying attention to the band for cues that they need more or less of a specific instrument in their monitor.
  8. Super important: Use as little equalization as possible! But do cut some bass from every channel (except perhaps direct-injected bass guitar or double bass). This creates a natural sound that better approaches unamplified acoustic sound. Use the per-channel level to mix. Avoid the temptation to aggressively boost or cut equalization in the main mix. Again, this creates an unnatural sound. Rely as much as possible on volume controls.
  9. Cut more low end and maybe some mids from instruments with sympathetically resonating strings and/or a skin head such as gadulkas or the yaylı tambur.
  10. Mic the finger holes of clarinets, kavals, or other wind instruments that have finger holes.
  11. Always mic frame drums. Cut some extra low end and mids from frame drums since the microphone proximity effect is especially pronounced with these drums. Try to mic doumbeks if possible. If you don’t mic them then their accent sounds may not be heard in the room. You may not need to send any drum sounds through the monitors.
  12. In a small room you will likely not need to amplify the tapan / davul / daouli. If you do have to amplify it, think of it as a bass drum and snare together in one instrument. Mic both sides of the drum. You may need to cut quite a bit of the low end out of the bass drum side since it is often tuned at a higher pitch than most rock drum bass drums and may sound boomy.
  13. Be listening and available as much as possible. Walk around the room. If folks in the back can’t hear, you may need to boost the overall volume.
  14. Cutting highs should not be necessary except perhaps with violin or kaval. Boosting highs may only be necessary to increase articulation of vocals. These cuts / boosts should be minimal. Again, use the volume controls first.
  15. Lead instruments should sit on top of rhythm instruments in terms of volume level. Lead vocals should sit on top of everything else since lead instruments will frequently harmonize / play unison with lead vocals. If someone is playing primarily a drone or rhythm part, this should sit low in the mix but still be audible.
  16. If you are working with a brass band in a small space you won’t need much sound reinforcement. Do, however, have two wireless mics on hand for a vocalist or for solos.
  17. The zurla is extremely loud and typically doesn’t need any amplification.
  18. Drink a lot of water! Try to get enough sleep (good luck with that!).
  19. Know your alcohol tolerance. I am a lightweight so I don’t drink at all while I run sound. The combination of alcohol with not enough sleep would increase my likelihood of making mistakes.
  20. Wear ear plugs whenever you are not actively listening. Keeping your ears fresh means that you will make better mixing decisions. Once I have a band dialed in, I typically leave my ear plugs in the rest of the time.
  21. Thank musicians after they play. Show musicians your sincere attention while they play. Remember that per
    forming music is an act of emotional vulnerability and that even musicians with decades of experiences get the jitters. Being professional, courteous, and sensitive goes a long way!
  22. Break down all of your gear and wrap all of your cables every night. Safely stow everything. Try to enlist a few unlucky stragglers to help you pack everything up so that you can get to bed as soon as you can!

Running sound at Kafana and being part of the Kafana crew was a great way for me to feel like a valuable part of theBalkan Camp team. It gave me a chance to connect with many of the great musicians and teachers at camp. I left, exhausted and happy, excited to try my hand at running sound again in the future.

Hopefully these tips will make your Kafana sound experience go smoothly! If you have any questions or comments or any tips for me send me an email at


Written by John David Eriksen