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Pantzaras Christos | Lemnos | Biographical data
• Place of birth

Korno, Lemnos
• Short biography

Christos Pantzaras was born in 1928. He was a professional tailor as well as a musician. He played the mandolin, the santouri, the violin, the accordion, and the clarinet. His father, Giannis Pantzaras, and his uncle, Christos Pantzaras [his father’s brother], were also prominent on the local music scene.

He was taught music theory by his father, Giannis, who was a music teacher in Lemnos, and started playing the mandolin with is uncle, Christos: “My dad taught music. He taught the violin, the santouri, the clarinet. But there were very few students learning the mandolin […]. He had students from all over the island […]. My late dad started teaching me the theory […]. I’d sit with him all day, even when he was teaching. I [would stay] longer, because he [his father] would show them the way, but they didn’t have enough time to take it in and, by helping them, I’d learn, too. In fact, that was when I learned to play the clarinet, because someone [one of his students] was learning the clarinet […]. [On taking up the mandolin, he said:] My father had to go to Mytilini, for an operation […]. Where could he leave me? I was young. There was some Egyptian lady [a Lemnian who’d migrated to Egypt] over there, and she had a mandolin, and they gave it to my grandmother, God rest her soul, so I’d have something to do and not cry, and they left for Mytilini, for my father’s operation. I took the instrument and just dragged the pick over it, not really knowing why, I was only 5 or 6 years old, I just dragged the pick over it, to see what happens. But I came to like it, I came to love it. My late uncle, Christos Pantzaras, could play the mandolin a bit, and when he saw me clutching the mandolin, he placed my fingers on it, and told me the names, to start with, E, A, D, G, the four strings of the mandolin, and showed me a scale, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and an old tune, and I played it. That was the beginning.”

Christos Pantzaras began playing the mandolin on an amateur basis in parties and other events organised by people in his age group. Since then, his knowledge of various instruments meant he began to join local bands, for occasional performances: “I’d go wherever they asked me to, because I played both instruments. If they needed a santouri, I’d go and play the santouri, if they needed a violin, I’d play the violin”. Some of the local musicians he worked with were: his father, Giannis Pantzaras, the Tsandis family band [of which his koumbaros, Periklis Tsandis, Anastasis Tsandis and Charalambos Proskefalas were also members], Tilemachos Katsikas [violin – from Thanos], Dimitris Krassas [guitar] and Iordanis Chatzistavridis [accordion], from Myrina.

Events he performed at regularly were festivals and social gatherings held during the holidays. Even as a young boy, he took part in music bands that sang Christmas and New Year carols, and in spontaneous parties held during Easter week. Some of the areas Christos Pantzaras visited as a performing musician were: “[Moudros:] They wanted to organise some entertainment in Moudros, and they asked the harbour master for music. The harbour master called me, and sent me to play the violin, and we dressed Kalinidis [a musician from Myrina] up as a sailor, and we went to Moudros on the motorboat. We played whatever we knew, whatever we could, cheerful tunes, that sort of thing […].
[On parties in Livadochori:] I’ve played everywhere, but let me tell you, when his uncle [of Periklis Tsandis] was still alive, the late Mitsos Tsandis, everyone used to say, let’s go to Livadochori to have some fun. He was in the business, he made Livadochori what it was. When Mitsos Tsandis died, Livadochori died with him […]. [On the serenades he performed in Myrina and Kornos:] We did serenades in Kornos, too, but that was later, when I came to Myrina and studied to be a tailor […]. So we’d go out at three, and serenade the girls. When they came out on their balconies, to save themselves the trouble of coming downstairs, they’d lower down the ouzo, the bottle, on a piece of string, and we’d say ‘cheers’, but we went to houses we knew. Sometimes we took a boat and went along the coast [from Maitiana], all around, and performed serenades”.

Around the late 50s, the wave of migration from the island meant Christos Pantzaras no longer performed music quite as regularly. The number of locals that moved abroad affected the island’s social life: “Well, music went through a crisis, mass migration began […]. We’d go to a village, to a festival, and eight or ten lads would leave that same day. There were no planes in those days, they travelled by sea, and knowing what a long journey it was to Australia, their siblings, cousins, parents, they’d all go down to the port, to see them off, and it was like a ghost town”.

Christos Pantzaras himself migrated to Australia in 1961, where he formed a band with other Greek and foreign musicians. The instruments they played were the saxophone, the cornet, the accordion, the violin, and the drums. “We played the bolero, the cha-cha, the rumba, the samba, and the Greek dances, kalamatianos, syrtos, chasapikos, anything but zeibekikos. I mean, when someone asked for a zeibekikos, I’d grab the accordion, because the accordionist wasn’t any good at the zeibekikos, and I’d play one or two”. In 1973, he reorganised the band, and included a bouzouki. This change was mainly connected to Greek folk music trends: “[I kept the first band going] until the bouzouki came onto the scene, and it became essential. In 1972-73, a decade, let’s say. Then I changed the composition because you couldn’t have too many instruments anymore, the associations wouldn’t pay, so I took out the wind instruments and added a bouzouki. So I had a bouzouki, a guitar, an accordion or a harmonium, a violin and the drums. There were always five of us […]. The second band was all Greeks, from all over Greece”.

With the performing experience he’d gained in Lemnos and Australia, Christos Pantzaras could discern the different reactions elicited by different audiences: “My father said: ‘Look, I told you, there’s no point in bothering with wind instruments’, because at the time [in Lemnos], wind instruments aren’t [weren’t] like in Australia, where I worked with saxophones and clarinets and we had a schedule, meaning, we’d play for ten minutes and take a break for five because, in between, whether it was an association or whatever, they had someone going round with lottery tickets, they had speeches, they had to serve the appetisers to start with, serve the first course, serve the second course, the coffee, the ice cream and all that, speeches, prize draws – well, we didn’t play all night long. But here, once you took out the clarinet, you couldn’t put it down all night. You couldn’t stop, and it wasn’t easy, blowing into the clarinet for twelve hours straight […]. It wasn’t easy, even with the string instruments you’d be looking for somewhere to rest your arm, many hours, on and on”.