The Circle at the Crossroads

VassilisStavrakakisThe music of Crete is one of Europe's most vibrant traditions and, strangely enough, it is also one of its least known. Crete, due to its singularly central geographical location has absorbed influences from both East and West for literally thousands of years and its music reflects this unique synthesis. Most Cretan music is dance music although other genres are also to be found, most notably a very special repertoire of slow songs of extraordinary beauty and sophistication known as rizitika. The Circle at the Crossroads is the title of a musical production created by Ross Daly (who has himself lived on Crete and studied Cretan music for more than thirty years) which incorporates elements from the distant past as well as contemporary compositions within the genre of Cretan music. It is a reference to a folk tale, well known all over Crete which, on the one hand, describes the mystical process of initiation into playing the lyra*, and on the other, clearly defines the relationship of the musician to the tradition which he serves.

The tale goes like this: A young aspiring musician wishing to learn to play the lyra must go at dusk to a crossroads, etch a circle on the ground, and sit inside it with his instrument waiting for night to fall. As soon as it becomes dark, demons appear who try to entice him to leave his circle. This he must not do under any circumstances as they would devour him as soon as he steps outside of it. When they realize that he cannot be convinced to leave his circle they ask him to give them his lyra so that they might play for him. At this point he gives them the instrument knowing well that they are unparalleled in the art of playing the lyra. One after the other they play the most exquisite and magical melodies all night for him. Everything which the young aspirant hears on this night he must remember because this is a lesson especially for him which will not be repeated. As soon as the first light of dawn appears, the demons give him back the lyra and prepare to leave. Before they disappear however, the young lyra student must place the tip of his little finger outside the circle so that the demons might eat it as their payment for the lesson. Following this they disappear and the young man returns to his village with all that he needs to become an accomplished lyra-player.

For me this story accurately describes the delicate relationship between the individual and personal dimension of any given musician and the trans-personal, trans-temporal dimension of the tradition which he serves. The demons represent this aspect of the tradition which must inevitably be the musician's source, but the musician himself lives within the confines of a single lifetime and individual existence. If he were to step outside the circle of individual existence and all that it entails, he would indeed cease to exist and thus be "devoured" by the "demons". The "payment" for the lesson, in the form of the tip of the little finger to be devoured, is a symbolic act with which the musician acknowledges that he too now belongs to the trans-personal and trans-temporal tradition which has given him everything he knows. This story has great significance for me personally as it clearly stresses the need for a musician to take all that he can from tradition as a source but to work with it in an individual and personal way, from within the circle. Merely copying the past, for example, is almost literally a case of being "devoured" by the "demons". It denies the personal element and indeed the personal obligation which is the only means by which tradition can be renewed, regenerated, and therefore remain alive.

*lyra: A small 3-stringed, pear-shaped, upright knee-fiddle which is the prime instrument of Cretan music.


1. Vassilis Stavrakakis

2. Giorgos Xylouris

3. Spyridoula Toutoudaki

4. Periklis Papapetropoulos

5. Stelios Petrakis

6. Bijan Chemirani

7. Kelly Thoma

8. Ross Daly


The small version of the current project consists of the following musicians:

1. Giorgos Xylouris

2. Bijan Chemirani

3. Kelly Thoma

4. Ross Daly


Ross Daly's News

(02/24/15) “7Fish” new cd by Kelly Thoma

If music is an endless ocean of possibilities, this collection is but 7 one. Eight new compositions by Kelly Thoma rising from the depths of the ocean of music. Influenced by various modal traditions, Kelly and eleven exceptional musi...
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(09/26/14) The Other Side

After a long pause from recording, Ross Daly presents us with his new, self-released album, entitled “The other side” (August 2014). Featuring some of his closest collaborators of the past 10 years, the album is comprised of nine original composi...
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(02/06/10) “Anamkhara” by Kelly Thoma

Kelly Thoma's debut album entitled "Anamkhara" has been recently released. The word Anamkhara derives from the Irish Gaelic language and means "friend of the soul". ...
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(11/03/09) Ross Daly Seminar at Labyrinth

Ross Daly Music Group Seminar at Labyrinth Musical Workshop December 3-8, 2009 register at tel: 00302810741027   ...
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