Ukrainian music has always been an important part of the cultural life of our country. Music, like poetry, is the Ukrainians’ blood and soul. The songs tell about our history and glorify our national heroes. They also describe the landscape, talk about rules of social life, the ethics and qualities of the people. Choir singing is extremely popular in Ukraine. When guests come to our homes, we often sit at the table and sing together. Nobody pays attention to the quality of the singing on these occasions; we just sing and enjoy being together. Everybody feels that they are part of a team and is accepted the way they are.
The German writer Frederick Bodenschtedt wrote, “In no other country, does the soul of a nation become so vibrant and authentic in its songs, as in Ukraine”.
Singing is not the only element of Ukrainian folk music. It includes an assortment of instrumental performances and ensemble playing. Some common instruments and combinations are, solo on the pipe (flute), violin, bandura, the traditional musical trios “troyista muzyka” and bandura ensembles. There are many unique musical instruments which are only common for Ukrainian performers. A more in-depth description can be found at Victor Mishalov’s site “Folk Instruments of Ukraine”. If you are going to visit St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, there is a big chance for you to meet a handsome bandurist in the yard. Sitting there or somewhere around the area he plays his bandura with aristocratic dignity, you will be able to hear his wonderful voice singing Ukrainian songs full of beauty, desperation and tragedy. Long after you leave Kiev you will have memories of the music he played and your experiences in Ukraine.
Beyond its distinctive folk music, Ukraine has also produced a large number of fine classical composers, musicians and all around great performers who have been preserving Ukrainian musical traditions. The National Ensemble of soloists, “Kyivska Kamerata” (I highly suggest listening to their music), is a leading Ukrainian performer of chamber music of varying styles and epochs. A description of Ukrainian musical culture wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention the phenomenon of Ukrainian dance. The roots of Ukrainian dance originated from ritual pagan rites. Energetic, boisterous and exhausting, Ukrainian dance is easily recognizable and impressive. Performance of P.Virsky Ukrainian National Folk Dance Ensemble is the brightest sample of Ukrainian dance.
If you have listened to Ukrainian music before, but didn’t like it, there is likely only one reason. You did not hear authentic professional performers. Just because somebody is dressed “like a Ukrainian” and “sings” Ukrainian songs in an odious voice similar to a drunken cat, don’t mistake that for authenticity. It is not Ukrainian music, but more of a mockery to Ukrainian music.
From the other side, there is a certain magic to live performance which even the best technology is not able to transfer. Perhaps it is the special energy and sensation of community during the performance. If you have a chance while you are in Ukraine, try to find an opportunity to listen to live music. The experience will be one of the highlights of your trip that you will talk about for the rest of your life.
Now that I have helped get you started on understanding Ukrainian music, here is a small gift for you. A short list of (musical names) for you to listen to and sample Ukrainian folk songs and music and also orchestras, acappellas and singers. You can search it online to listen or to watch videos.
These are real treasures
of Ukrainian music and culture. Enjoy!
Ukrainian Folk Songs.
Kyiv Chamber Choir. Ukrainian Easter.
Ukraine National Orchestra of Folk Instruments
Choir of Spiritual Music “Vidrodgenya”
Dmitro Gnatyuk (1925)
Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993)
Anatoly Soloviyanenko. (1932 – 1999).