Yannis Pantazis’s Passion recreates Classical Greek Music and Mythology in the present
As you stroll through the traditional Greek village of Megalochori, on Santorini Island, you’ll hear the ethereal wail of a bagpipe or the reedy melody of a panpipe echoing through the streets. The sounds draw you into the Courtyard of Symposion by La Ponta, Yannis Pantazis’s Greek Bagpipe Exhibition and Workshop. These enchanting melodies are created with traditional Greek instruments handmade by Yannis himself.
What is a Tsabouna?
Fascinated by the Greek bagpipes – called a “Tsabouna” – that used to be common on the islands as recently as a couple of generations ago, Yannis travelled to the Cycladic island of Naxos to learn their history, their music, and how to make them. While at Naxos he learned how to play the Tsabouna, taught by a local shepherd.
Yannis brought his knowledge back to Santorini where he played the Tsabouna at traditional village festivals. Interest in this music spread rapidly. Yannis’s fascination with Greek music and mythology has motivated him to handcraft ancient Greek musical instruments and teach people about their heritage.
Creating a Cultural Centre
In 2011, Yannis and his wife, Argy, embarked on a personal odyssey to restore an ancient Venetian castle tower. They created a cultural centre called La Ponta for exploring the connection between music, mythology, and Greek history. This led to them building a workshop to make Tsabounas and other time-honoured Greek pipe and string instruments.
During June 2018, they moved their cultural centre to a new location in the traditional Greek village of Megalochori, on Santorini Island. In this idyllic setting, they purchased a turn-of-the-century winery and have transformed the space into their new centre, Symposion by La Ponta. Here Yannis interweaves his storytelling and music to describe the Hellenic myths, how his traditional instruments are made, and how music is part of Greek daily life.
Getting to Symposion
Intrigued by Yannis’ vision, my husband and I were excited to seek him out and to experience Symposion. And so it was we found ourselves navigating by GPS through the twisting narrow roads to Megalochori. We turned onto a small road that abruptly ended and saw several footpaths but no signs to find Symposion’s location. I asked for directions at a nearby winery and was told to walk up the pathway to the right.
As we strolled towards the picturesque village, we saw an inviting entryway and a sign for Symposion. We entered a beautiful outdoor courtyard where Yannis and Argy have created a mythological botanical garden. They’ve also opened a Homeric Wine Café so visitors can sit and enjoy the gardens while sipping wine and listening to music.
Inside the winery is an open, airy and dreamlike performance space. The soft light filtering down from the high windows gives the room a spiritual atmosphere – a perfect setting for storytelling and music.
That day, we were two of five people who had come to experience the Historical Tour and Musical Presentation at Symposion. This made the entire experience relaxed and intimate. Argy welcomed us and brought us to the back rooms, where she told us the history of the building. We saw many examples of ancient Greek instruments.
Then Argy showed us the artisan’s workshop where Yannis teaches visitors how to construct traditional panpipe instruments while they learn the historical significance of the pipe. Local cane, tools, partially assembled and completed instruments lay all around the workspace, and even though we hadn’t signed up for a Greek pipe making class, my fingers itched to begin creating one.
Yannis invited us into the performance space where ten wind and stringed instruments were displayed; he played these as he told stories of Greek mythology and culture. He started with a Greek flute that he believes is over seven thousand years old and was made of bone. Its haunting sound echoed off the walls and ceiling, giving me chills.
Yannis comes from a musical family: his father and grandfather were percussionists playing instruments unique to Western Macedonia. Yannis himself studied music theory at the Conservatoire Delidemos Lazaros in Thessaloniki and the Conservatoire Christos Papoulakos in Larissa. An accomplished storyteller, Yannis intertwines Greek history and culture with enchanting mythological stories about jealous gods warring for supremacy.
As his stories became longer and more elaborate, Yannis moved from simple to more complex instruments, first playing a small clay pipe and a cochlea shell that he called Triton’s Trumpet. After this, he serenaded us on an instrument that looked exactly like a kite that was made from cane and animal gut.
When Yannis played the flute, he told stories of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, handicraft and warfare, the patron and protector of Athens.
Next, he played a double flute and finally, a lyre — similar to a small harp.
The next part of the performance involved audience participation! Yannis passed around traditional drums and flat drums that had skin covering both sides, and tiny volcanic stones inside. As the flat drum is shifted from side to side, it makes a sound similar to rainfall. Without more ado, Yannis picked up his lyre and began playing while joyfully singing.
Every now and again he would gesture to one of us, and we added our instrument’s sound to the melody. Soon, we had a small orchestra playing. I had one of the flat drums, and the swishing sound of the stones moving side to side was hypnotic. Although I possess no musical talent, I definitely wanted to bring one home with me!
Everyone lingered, hesitant to break the mystical mood
Finally, our concert came to an end. We all enthusiastically thanked Yannis for his talent, energy and generosity. Listening to his passion as he brings alive mythology and history is both entertaining and uplifting. Everyone lingered, hesitant to break the mystical mood that the music and stories created. As we reluctantly left, I noticed their small gift shop, where Yannis’ handmade instruments were available for sale as well as CD’s of his original compositions.
In addition to the hour-long afternoon Historical Tour and Musical Presentation we witnessed, Yannis has created three evening performances.
‘Odysseus Returns’ features ten original compositions, each played on a different instrument. Yannis tells the journey of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, as he returns home to reclaim his kingdom and free his people.
‘The Elements’ is Yannis’ musical interpretation of the five elements of nature and their creation of the cosmos.
‘Clio’s Tales,’ which takes place in the Homeric Wine Café, combines lyre playing, poetry, and mythological storytelling.
Learning from Yannis
Yannis teaches music and accepts apprentices in his workshop. He also gives Tsabouna concerts around the world to keep the love of this ancient Greek instrument alive and thriving. His proud claim is that although the Scottish Great Highland bagpipes may be the best known globally, the Tsabouna predates them by at least one thousand years.
As we strolled back to our car, I felt thankful we stumbled on this extraordinary experience. The fabulous performance, Argy and Yannis’s hospitality, and an unforgettable, authentic Greek encounter made a perfect memory of Santorini, far different from the island’s standard tourist attractions.
To Learn More or Visit Symposion – Music and Mythology by La Ponta
10:00-20:00 March – November
(Closed December – February)
+30 22860 85374
Village of Megalochori, Santorini
How to get there from the Main Square: Follow the walking path up from RAKI tavern – take the 2nd left under a beautiful bougainvillea and in seconds you’ll arrive at Symposion’s courtyard entrance)
Admission to Symposion and Clio’s Tales: Free
Historical Tour and Musical Presentation: Adult – €10 | Youth – €7 (Age 6-13)
Odysseus Returns: Adult – €14 | Youth – €11 (Age 10-13)
The Elements: Adult – €14 | Youth – €11 (Age 10-13)
Instrument Workshops: Adult – €20 | Youth – €15 (Age 6-13)
There are so many hotels, traditional houses and luxurious suites to choose from in Santorini.
- Firstly one has to decide which village to base yourself.
- And, is the village accessible by public transport or will you be renting a car?
- At what level on the cliff-face of the caldera to have your accommodation and how much you’re prepared to spend – Santorini is no longer a cheap accommodation destination.
Tips for choosing your Santorini accommodation:
- Some of the villas and luxury suites look really romantic, but beware of the number of steps that you may have to climb to get to the accommodation. Find out from the people how many steps there are to their premises and note that the steps are not all of equal size. It is common to climb one step and then you take a few paces before the next step.
- If you intend going to the restaurants, or doing a bit of shopping or sightseeing, think of whether you are prepared to go climb up and down the steps each day.
Map of Santorini: