NARRAGANSETT- When the infant god Hermes discovered the tortoise outside of his dwelling, he shouted, “I will do you no disgrace, though first of all you must profit me.” Hermes was the god of travelers and trickery, language and hospitality. Yet his first act was to transform the tortoise into the lyre, an instrument which sang of all the qualities that Hermes protected. The Romani have indeed profited from their music and nomadic experiences throughout Europe, and the Bohemian Quartet hopes that audiences can relive their tales.
The Bohemian Quartet, a four-piece string band founded by violinist Stan Renard in 2005, will bring traditional Romani music to the ears of local residents once more, playing this Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Towers. The Quartet borrows its name from the original band which formed in 1891 in Budapest and disbanded in 1934, a time in which Romani music was sweeping through the cafes and restaurants of major European centers such as Paris and Vienna.
“Most people know about the Romani culture and their wanderings,” said Christine Harrington, cellist of the Bohemian Quartet. “We always make a point that the music was used for all events in their lives.”
The group is comprised of Renard, violist Nancy Richardson, Harrington, and bassist John DeBossu. Renard, a classically trained musician, became heavily influenced by Romani music during his youth. He studied and recorded the traditional, eastern European melodies and has played with Romani musicians, using these experiences as the foundation for his arrangements.
The music itself plays like a nocturnal journey through some primordial forest. The twists and turns are unpredictable, the strings of the violin often race frenetically to an end it cannot see. The cello and bass then bring the tired listener almost to a standstill as they gather their breath, slowing down the pace of the Romani song. Yet The Bohemian Quartet evokes a familiarity in their music which acts as a guiding hand. The musicians’ passion for their traditional songs shines through in their live performances.
“People have told me that they thought they would not like our music, but then you can’t sit there and not be affected by the excitement of the music,” said Harrington.
“I know our excitement comes across to the crowd, and we get energy from the audience,” she added.
The Romani people, also referred to derogatorily as ‘Gypsies,’ wandered throughout Europe playing their music and suffered much persecution, particularly as lesser known victims of the Holocaust during World War II. They sometimes settled, but often relied upon their musical prowess in order to impress enough of a city’s residents for monetary donations. The modern day Bohemian Quartet would not have been so successful without similar aid.
“We have been so fortunate to be supported by grant money from the RI State Council for the Arts, especially at a time when they are receiving cuts,” said Harrington.
As the infant Hermes finished making the tortoise into the beautiful lyre, he rejoiced, yet he desired more. The Bohemian Quartet also strives to bring many more listeners, new and old, to seek the full and energetic stringed atmosphere of the traditional Romani music they so passionately love.
If you go
The Bohemian Quartet will be performing at the Towers in Narragansett on April 17 at 2 p.m. Admission to the event is free and is sponsored in part by RISCA. Visit www.thetowersri.com  for more information about the show, and www.bohemianquartet.com  to learn more about the musical group.