Friday, January 8, 2016

Music: The Soul of Russia


     While cruising the Volga River aboard the ship Rossia from St. Petersburg to Moscow, I was given the opportunity to learn to play the balalaika.  I thought it would be easy. A young woman Victoria recruited a small group of us willing to learn.  The balalaika is a three stringed instrument that was brought to Russia from Mongolian Tatars in the 13th Century and developed in Russia through the 15th Century. It is plucked with the thumb or strummed with the index finger and to this day is popular in Russia. 

     I love the sound of the instrument but I am a slow learner and did not feel prepared when we were told we would play in front of an audience—everyone aboard the cruise ship!  So I quickly handed my balalaika to someone who really wanted to play it.  Victoria said I should play the spoons with the group—easy enough— and so I did keep rhythm with spoons along with the balalaika ensemble.  Then she suggested I sing some Russian songs with a chorus, so I did.  I love Russian music.  There is something about the music that is the soul of the Russian people.  We sang Dark Is The Night, My Heart and several other Russian songs that were translated into English for us to sing. The words to these songs are heartfelt and the melodies lovely. 

     Victoria Zyablatseva, our lovely young mentor, played classical music on the three stringed domra for us.  The melon shaped instrument, older than the balalaika, was burned in Red Square by Ivan the Terrible, the unstable Tsar of Russia in the 1500’s.  He had the hands cut off of anyone who played it.  Good thing for Victoria it is not like that in Russia any more. Music in Russia is everywhere: on board our cruise vessel where a young lad accordion player entertained us on the way to the dining room, and we heard classical music played by an orchestra of children at their music school.  This was more than I had expected as a young girl played her own composition on the piano. It blew me away.   I had brought kazoos to give the kids and their teacher rolled her eyes when I presented them. 

     At Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin three men serenaded us a capella with Russian songs.  The acoustics were marvelous in the grand palace. 

     At our hotel we enjoyed a jazz trio in the lounge and then we went to the ballet, Swan Lake, with the beautiful music of  Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky at a Moscow Theater.  The ballet troupe and the music expressed the soul of Russia.  We enjoyed the lovely white marble theater with its winding staircase.
     Music made the trip to Russia memorable.  Music is the people's soul and the soul of Russia's places.






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