Voorheesville native brings Eastern European music to Capital District

— Photo by Sarah Danziger
Mahala is a Balkan word meaning “neighborhood,” used by these three musicians as the name of their band which specializes in Eastern European folk music. The trio, from left, consists of Matthew Schreiber, Boyanna Trayanova, and Georgi Petrov. Schreiber is a native of Voorheesville, while Trayanova and Petrov are from Bulgaria.



VOORHEESVILLE — Matthew Schreiber’s first public performance was singing “You Are My Sunshine” at Voorheesville Elementary School in the first grade. This Friday, he, and two other musicians, will be performing at the YWCA in Schenectady for a more nuanced performance — of their own versions of Eastern European folk music.
Schreiber said his interest in music, “just kind of happened as a result of my family environment.” His father plays the traditional Irish flute and his mother has tried out many instruments over the years, including the mountain dulcimer, piano, and violin.

Schreiber’s interest in Eastern European folk music came from his grandfather, who was born in the Ukraine. His grandfather often listened to klezmer, a genre of music popular with East European Jews. 

Schreiber describes klezmer as “function music,” often played at social gatherings such as weddings and bar mitzvahs.

As he was listening to klezmer, Schreiber was also interested in a musical talent more popular in the United States — Weird Al Yankovic.

Yankovic specializes in parodies and polka medleys of contemporary popular music as well as original songs.

Both the old-time genre and the pop-culture jokester share an important instrument — the accordion. 

Schreiber’s first accordion was bought for him when he was 10 by his father at the Old Songs Festival held annually in Altamont. 

“The year before that he had bought me something called a Maui Xaphoon which is like a cross between a bamboo flute and a saxophone,” Schreiber said.

“It was kind of a boring instrument so I didn't touch it much and he probably thought I wasn't going to play the accordion either,” he continued.

“My mom took my brother and I to see Weird Al in my late teens and he played the accordion with one leg behind his head,” Schreiber said.

“I liked Weird Al before, but I think that show solidified how cool he and the accordion were to me.”

Schreiber saw from these two very different kinds of music that the accordion is an “underrepresented” instrument, and he took to it.

“I was fascinated by the accordion but never got my head around it until I came back to it in my 20s,” he said.

He looked for genres of music that allowed the accordion to flourish, and wrote some music for the instrument himself.

In the music of his grandfather, Schreiber “found a really rich tradition for the accordion.” About a year and a half ago, he was asked to audition for the Panorama Jazz Band in New Orleans; he got the spot, and has lived there with his wife since then.

The Panorama Jazz Band performs jazz, Caribbean, and Eastern European music, and, when Schreiber isn’t playing with that band, he is performing with Mahala, the trio of musicians coming to Schenectady this week.

“It’s really a project focused on folk music,” he said of the group.

“New Orleans is one of the few spots in the states where you can perform in front of a different audience every night,” Schreiber said.

Music tourism is popular in New Orleans, he continued, and music is tied to the service industry in the sense that the service it provides is “making people happy,” he said.

“Instead of going on tour to play to new people, people travel through to see us.”


The show on Friday evening in Schenectady will be held at the Young Womens’ Christian Association at 44 Washington Ave. from 7:30 to 10 p.m. The entrance fee is $15.





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