• Українська
  • Русский
  • English
Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Folk songs have become the people in Ukraine

26 May, 2009 - 00:00

Dear Ms. Ivshyna:

Perhaps nothing else serves to uphold a newspaper’s prestige as does its consistent, unswerving editorial policy. This is also true of the all-Ukrainian daily newspaper Den’, considering that it has since its inception gladdened the readers’ hearts with substantial publications dealing with history, our complicated current realities, and destinies of the Ukrainian community at large. I am sure that this is facilitated also by the editors’ special attention to one of the greatest cultural treasures of this nation.

I mean the truly invaluable treasure left by our forefathers, a treasure which is correctly regarded as an outstanding achievement of the Ukrainian community at large and its national culture. There are material treasures that lie buried for ages, and there are live treasures that symbolize the immortality of the Ukrainian nation and are handed down from generation to generation, mesmerizing us with their innermost magic.

Without doubt, Ukrainian folk songs are among these treasures. These songs are essentially an extremely beautiful synthesis of heartfelt poetry and captivating melodies. Without them our cultural life loses all its beauty. Being fond of singing means never feeling lonely, something all of us experience in life; it is very enjoyable, isn’t it?

This reminds me of our famous spa Truskavets. Every evening an amateur choir gathers downtown by the pump room, spontaneously made up of vacationers, people from various resorts who are fond of singing. Choral singing has attracted many vacationers for decades, and it has as good an effect on their health as the famous mineral water Naftusia. Those interested in history know that there was an excellent tradition in pre-revolutionary Kyiv when religious and secular choirs from Mohyla Academy and other institutions of learning sang on its squares.

Such free open-air concerts gathered thousands of Kyivans who loved them and on whom they produced a tremendous spiritual and cultural impact. Why not revive this tradition and spread such modern and historical experience to all Ukrainian cities?

Now I would like to explain why I decided to write this letter and attract the editors’ attention to the subject.

Regrettably, quite a few young Ukrainians do not know folk songs in this stormy 21st century; they do not sing them and are not even aware of how much they miss out on. So much for my preamble to an important suggestion I am about to submit to your judgment, Ms. Ivshyna. I suggest that Den’, with its considerable publishing capacity, become actively involved in a project aimed at preserving and developing Ukrainian folk vocal culture. Do we not have many interesting [folk songs] worthy of being spread and promoted?

I remember I was thrilled to learn about the experience of the gymnasium [high school] in Uman. This experience deserves every praise. I mean that its students learn at least three Ukrainian songs every year. Every year this gymnasium stages a song festival involving parents, teachers, and students. Together they sing Ukrainian songs. This project is the brainchild of the gymnasium’s principal, Merited Teacher of Ukraine M. Yaremenko. He sings himself and encourages the teachers and students to do the same. Of course, such projects take a lot of effort; however, the main thing is to have the desire and organization.

Also, one can only rejoice at the diversified creative experience of a very interesting educational establishment in Kerch—the Boarding Lyceum of Art and its leading performing groups, among them the Liubystok Ukrainian children’s folk ensemble. With its unique repertoire and virtuoso renditions this ensemble actively propagates the best examples of folk vocal culture, ancient traditions, rites, and folk costumes in the Russian-dominated Crimea and wherever else it performs.

A lot of credit is due the Folk Youth Choir Dzherelo that has for more than 25 years enchanted audiences in Kerch, elsewhere in the Crimea, and outside Ukraine. Let us give this rare children’s cultural complex more coverage. Den’ is capable of attracting considerable public interest to this fruitful experience and help perceive its meaning and impact on our current realities.

It is hard to overestimate the practical importance of the innovative educational music therapy (EMT) project PisneZnaiko for Ukraine’s nursery schools, secondary schools, and medical institutions. It is based on an essentially new and extremely effective approach to the educational process, modern techniques aimed at harmonizing the education of preschoolers and school students, and sharing knowledge with children by means of language, songs, and fine arts.

EMT is rooted is rooted in human age-old love for songs, something our people are famous for. This love is the main motivation for children to listen to the PisneZnaiko songs and its helps solve the complex pedagogical problem of getting children interested in education. The use of EMT provides unique conditions for the understanding and memorization of information. According to the EMT exponents, any child can thus master a considerable amount of knowledge easily, even though play, and without any harmful effects on health, while never losing their good mood. The number of PisneZnaiko supporters increases with each passing year in all regions of Ukraine. It would be good if our favorite newspaper took steps to add to their number.

Heine wrote: “Music here in Italy… has become the people.” With regard to Ukraine, I would say that folk songs have become the people here. Ukrainian songs are the genetic code of our nation. To paraphrase the English philosopher Francis Bacon, folk songs are the ships of the bottomless Ukrainian soul that ply the seas of time, carrying their precious cargo from one generation to the next. The themes and genres of Ukrainian folk songs are rather diversified, reflecting almost all aspects of this people’s life, ranging from heroic historical Cossack to most detailed ritual and play songs about love, the woman’s destiny, the beauty of nature, as well jocular and satirical songs. The best folk songs have lived through the ages, acquiring new features depending on the locality, living conditions, and the performer’s character and talent.

There is every proof that Ukrainian folk songs have long won international acclaim. Quite a few noted personalities rank them among the best songs of all peoples. There are so many statements concerning Ukrainian songs! Below are just a few.

Aleksei Tolstoy (Russia): “No other great people has manifested itself in songs as vividly as has the Ukrainian people.”

Adam Mickiewicz (Poland): “Ukrainian songs are like a tablet with sacred text inscribed upon them; it is cherished by this people as though it were its tempered sword. Every generation finds the necessary spiritual values in this tablet that have for centuries formed the basis of its morals.”

William le Vasseur de Beauplan (France): “This nation sings while weeping. Ukrainians are the only one on this planet to do so.”

Friedrich Martinus von Bodenstedt: “In no other country has the tree of folk poetry borne such huge fruits as in Ukraine.”

I admit that some may feel annoyed by this, but it is simply impossible to treat Ukrainian songs in any other way, because they form one of the richest branches on the tree of world folk music. Liudmyla Nestruhina, a noted champion of the Ukrainian folk heritage from Cherkasy oblast, estimates that “our people has composed at least 500,000 songs. Their complete collection would take some 200 volumes, each numbering 1,000 pages.” All of this commands admiration even among those who are generally indifferent to our songs.

Nearly all Ukrainian songs are marked by originality, beauty, and integrity; they truly rank with the world’s best cultural achievements. Proof of this is found in the book 232 naipopularnishi ukrainski narodni pisni [232 Most Popular Ukrainian Folk Songs] published by BAO TOV VKF in 2008 (400 pp.) in the seemingly totally non-Ukrainian Donetsk region. The volume was compiled by the music critic Natalia Chamorova. She did everything, from selecting songs to providing the score, and she did a great job producing an authoritative research publication. Too bad our media do not seem to have noticed when this publication appeared on the book market, despite its remarkable cultural and creative importance. If I had the money, I would print enough copies for all school libraries.

I wish to thank the publishing company Yabluko in Ternopil. Without much ado they set about carrying out a new project, the songbook series Zolota sotnia (The Golden Hundred). I think it has a big future. The first three books, Naikrashchi narodni pisni Ukrainy (The Best Folk Songs of Ukraine), Vid Rizdva do Velykodnia (From Christmas to Easter), and Naikrashchi pisni Ukrainy (The Best Songs of Ukraine), all compiled by H. Basiuk, have come out this year. The very fact that these publications exist is evidence that our society needs them. Is this not an example worth being followed by other publishers?

Folk songs are a gem in the crown of Ukrainian culture, and we have every reason to be proud of them. What can be more heartwarming than these songs? All of us have at some point felt enchanted by songs, their rich tunes and magic that strikes the innermost chords in our soul, giving an impetus to our ideas and aspirations. They say that the ability to sing is happiness. This is true. The inevitable conclusion is that songs are the shortest way to the human heart. Another important aspect is that not knowing Ukrainian songs is not a shame, while being unable to recognize them is.

Of course, it would be good to see a sequel to this topic on Den’s pages. Feofan Prokopovych once said, “Good is the only desirable thing.” We badly need newspaper articles with positive examples that will have a positive effect on the reader’s mentality and help cultivate good taste. Another important thing is that there can be no refined sentiments without the appropriate aesthetic culture. I will end my reflections on songs here because I can sense that the editor in chief of this influential periodical has got my message. I wish you all the best!

* * *


On June 27 the 4th Kraina mrii (Dreamland) International Ethnic Festival will take place on Spivoche pole (Singing Field) in Kyiv. This project was started in 2004 by the charismatic rock star Oleh Skrypka. At the time, Den’ was one of its few information partners. We generously offered room on its pages. This year’s Dreamland will be ecologically oriented, but only as an addition to its main ethnic trend. Recently the tidy-up-your-city Zeleni toloky project was held in Kyiv, attended by noted Ukrainian musicians, publishers, and conscientious citizens. Zamkova hora and the area from the Moskovsky to Zaliznychny bridges were cleaned up. Every Zeleni toloky project ends in a number of small street festivals as rehearsals for Dreamland ‘09.

On July 12, the Podilski Sheshory International Ethnic Music and Land Art Festival will be launched in Vorobiivka, a village in Nemyriv raion, Vinnytsia oblast. It will continue for six days, ending on July 18. The idea behind Dreamland has been picked up by many others, as evidenced by the spontaneous formation of amateur folk performing groups that, some say, may match professional groups. We welcome to contributions on such ensembles. You will thus help promote the image of a different, originally creative Ukraine.

Yurii Kylymnyk holds a PhD in Philosophy and resides in Kyiv