Dr. Konstantin Bozhinov
Bozhinov is a classically-trained folk musician, teacher, and researcher. He plays the guitar, lute, accordion, piano, and organ. Originally from Dobrich, Bulgaria, he’s lived in Vancouver, Canada, since 2006. While he was raised with Balkan folk music, the Celtic traditional repertoire has become a major part of what he does.
He studied music in Douglas College, the University of British Columbia, and McGill University. In 2018, he completed a PhD in musicology from the University of Victoria. Individuality and originality through improvisation and composition are at the core of his philosophy and approach to music. In the words of Matsuo Basho: 'Do not look for the footsteps of the ancient masters; seek what they sought.'
As a recording artist, he’s recorded soundtracks for movies and best-selling video games. He also launched Made Up Records, a record label devoted to folk and world music.
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Opera Victoria, Vancouver Bach choir, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Kensington Sinfonia, and Sidney Classical Orchestra.
He’s also a law student at the Peter Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, class of '25.
Q: How did you start playing the accordion?
A: It was exactly twenty years ago. It's a very popular instrument in Eastern Europe and I grew up listening to it. I remember being fascinated by its mechanics and various sounds. The moving bellows was very mesmerizing and beautiful. A father of a classmate had a little 80 bass Weltmeister that he let me borrow. I then learned a few tunes by ear and immediately fell in love with the instrument. Previously, I had played classical guitar for a bit and so could read music.
Soon after, I started taking lessons so I could figure out what on earth you do with the left hand. I started playing folk music by ear at local village fairs and festivals, which taught me so much as a teenager. Altogether, I've formally studied accordion for about a year. The rest has been self-study and continuous exploration.
Q: You have a PHD in Musicology, you are a multi-instrumentalist and you play multiple genres as well as compose new works. What has been your strongest musical influence or inspiration?
A: I was never a musical one-trick pony. I've always been very curious and have explored many musical traditions and instruments. However, I always keep returning to music based on improvisation and an aural tradition. Somehow such repertoire fits our instrument really well.
Eastern European folk music has perhaps contributed the most to my formation as a musician. However, playing figured bass (basso continuo) on the lute for a decade taught me classical harmony really well. This theoretical foundation has helped me tremendously as an improviser and composer. Over the last six years or so, Celtic traditional music has become a major part of what I do. I'd say about half of what I do on stage is Celtic, and the rest is a mix of Bulgarian, French, and jazz.
Q: How do you approach composition? Do you use the accordion to compose?
A: I compose in a very standard, traditional way. It is not what is generally taught at "progressive" and "modern" university music departments, but it is what works for me. Composition is really a strict technical discipline, as there are things that you simply must know, as tools of the trade: counterpoint, harmonic movement, and polyphony, to name a few.
You could say that I'm rather aesthetically conservative: I like clear melody, interesting harmony, and recognizable form. If the audience can't understand what you're trying to do, then forget it. Typically, I start with a small idea. It could be a rhythmic motive, or a short melodic fragment, or a harmonic progression. Classical composers call this "the golden nugget" in the centre. I then take this little idea and put it through as many compositional techniques as I can and see what comes out. I find the creative part to be about 20% of the work. The rest is application of your skills and knowledge of how to do it. No big mystery, really.
I use the accordion throughout the whole process, but especially for the initial, generative, stage. As a small orchestra on my lap, it is great for improvising and searching for new things.
Q: You're originally from Bulgaria. What brought you to Canada?
A: I moved to Vancouver with my mom and dad in 2006. Prior to that, we lived in South Africa for a few years. My parents brought me here, but I stayed for the amazing nature of the Pacific Northwest. I find the peaceful rainforest very inspiring.
Q: You are active on social media, under the name Uncle Kosta. How do you think social media is changing/interacting with music these days?
A: I absolutely love and embrace the possibilities that social media brings. Yes, there are negatives as well, but I choose to focus on the positives. I see two aspects to your question: one relating to music online overall, and the other affecting us as music professionals.
Social media (YouTube in particular) has allowed all sorts of music from all over the world to be immediately accessible on a device in my pocket. As a 90's kid, I remember hunting down cassettes of famous accordion players, or being glued to the radio for that noon hour folk broadcast. Now I can go fishing in the middle of nowhere and, as long as I have reception, I can listen to anything I want.
As a music professional, I see tremendous opportunity in social media. I've had so many wonderful - and sometimes bizarre - opportunities arise from my online content. You can never know what will happen, until you put yourself out there.
Here's an illustrative example:
I made a recording of a Bach Fugue, which I posted on Facebook. A friend saw it and shared it with a local festival organizer. I was then invited to perform at an all Bach concert, which led to a recurring summer tour over several years. At the Bach show I met a cellist, who happened to be a lawyer and a provincial prosecutor. We had lunch and I decided to go to law school (which I'm currently doing!).
It's a bizarre set of events, but it all started with a little YouTube video. I have many similar stories from my career.
I've also gotten lots of students through social media that I would never have otherwise met. For example, I teach accordion to a labour lawyer in San Diego, a Mormon missionary in Louisiana, a single mom in Scotland, and a retired airline pilot on a remote island. All of them reached out to me for lessons after seeing my social media content. Without the internet, I could never have these opportunities.
Mind you, it's a matter of mindset. I actively seek out these opportunities and embrace them. Some of my colleagues do not agree with me, but that's ok.
In short: put yourself and your music out there! Embrace all the wonderful opportunities. You never know what might happen! Life is a playground.
Q: You have a new record out, congratulations! What's your favorite song from the album and why? Where can we hear it?
A: After finishing first year law school I had a whole month off, before heading out on tour for the summer. I realized it has been exactly twenty years since I started playing accordion and I decided to release an album. It took me all of June to produce, but I'm very happy with it. It's called "Folk Tales" and it features music from around the world. There's a bit of everything: Celtic, Bulgarian, classical, jazz, and original music.
My favorite is the last track: Sofia. I was studying music from the great Brazilian accordion tradition and decided to write a piece in that style. I named it after my childhood accordion teacher: Sofia Sevdalova. She really taught me everything I know. It's my favorite track because it is just solo accordion. No other instruments, no bells and whistles. Just me and my best friend (which is what I call my Petosa AM-950). Whenever I'm alone on stage, I always breathe a sigh of relief and think to myself: "Alone, at last."
My album "Folk Tales" is available through my website and Bandcamp page:
Q: Who are your 3 favorite artists?
A: Petar Ralchev - to me, one of the best accordionists ever and my biggest musical influence
Phil Cunningham - my favorite Celtic accordionist!
Frank Marocco - the one and only.