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Kaval Park – a declaration of love for Bulgaria all the way from the US

| updated on 5/16/23 5:54 PM
Bogdan Darev (L) with Kalin Kroumov

Few people have probably heard of Alexander Eppler – an American of Russian descent who is in love with Bulgaria and the Bulgarian kaval. As a teenager he was fascinated by the magic of Bulgarian folklore when he went to a concert by a Bulgarian ensemble overseas. And so he made a life decision – to come to this country and learn to play the kaval. He reached the pinnacle of performing art, and turned into one of America’s top kaval makers.

The film Kaval Park is to be presented in Sofia on 18 May, a musical documentary tracing the story of the American Alexander Eppler. The film’s author is a Bulgarian from Seattle, Bogdan Darev, who first met Eppler more than a decade ago:

“In 2011 in Seattle, we wanted to organize a concert for the children from the big Bulgarian community there. We really wanted someone to play live so they can hear what the kaval, the bagpipe sound like. I asked around, asked Americans who are fond of Bulgarian folklore and who dance Bulgarian folk dances and they said to me: There’s this weird guy, a crank, he’s going to want a lot of money, don’t go looking for him. So, I did the exact opposite. He was overjoyed at the invitation, and since then we have reintegrated him into the Bulgarian community. That is how this journey towards the film, and our friendship began.”

Bogdan Darev
"Bulgaria has given me a lot, and if I can, to the best of my ability, I want to give Bulgarians back,” Alexander Eppler says.  

That was how Kaval Park was born, an extraordinary love story. Love of Bulgaria and of the Bulgarian wind instrument called kaval. But where is that magical place Kaval Park?

“Kaval Park is where roads intersect, where musicians meet. Kaval Park is in Seattle, I haven’t been there,” Bogdan Darev says. And Kaval Park really does bring together the hearts of all people watching this incredible story. They are transported to Eppler’s lush American garden where there is a Bulgarian dogwood tree growing, then to the ocean shore enveloped by the sounds of the kaval, made by this American who will go down in history as the first kaval student at the university in Plovdiv.

“What he gave me was the soul of the kaval, not so much the technique as the reverence, the respect for the instrument,” says Bogdan Darev, who learnt to play the kaval. “The idea at the beginning of the film was for him to craft an instrument while we film the process which we can then keep for the archives – how to make a kaval. I’ve watched him at work – when he gets hold of the kaval it is like he is entering another universe, and I can only stand there with my camera and see the magic happen.”

The film ends with a message – Alexander Eppler handing the kaval over to Bogdan Darev, after which we see it in the hands of the children. But more than an interest in music, what Kaval Park and Alexander Eppler conveys is a love of Bulgaria.

Bogdan Darev with Vice President Iliana Iotova
Kaval Park has subtitles in English and its screening at Cinema House in Sofia will give the start to a series of events marking the 120th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the USA, organized by the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and its State Institute for Culture and the Executive Agency for Bulgarians Abroad.

Photos courtesy of Bogdan Darev

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