TBILISI, Georgia — With her gray hair tucked into a black knit cap and a grin stretched from ear to ear, Lia Salakaia stands with a group of children inside the entrance of a Tbilisi church. As the Georgian Orthodox service finishes, Salakaia raises her hands and the children begin to sing slow, mournful chants, their eyes closely following Salakaia's every direction. The harmonies these children struggle to sing are notable both for their complexity and their rarity.
Georgian sacred chants, with their unusual three-part harmonies and minimal vibrato, date back to the 10th century. But the sounds are relatively new to modern Georgia. Georgian religious traditions like sacred chant were suppressed under Soviet rule. Only since Georgia regained its independence in 1991 have the old songs been resurrected.
Now a movement is underway to reintroduce traditional religious chants to Georgian youth, hungry for a deeper connection to their country's cultural past.