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The Ukrainian bandura is more than a national musical instrument: It is the voice of Ukraine. It is unique to the culture of Ukraine and so its history is closely tied to the turbulent history of the Ukrainian people.
The bandura combines the musical characteristics of both the lute and the harp. So it produces a sound similar to a harpsichord but with a wider range and tone.
The modern bandura has between 20 and 65 strings and is tuned like a piano rather than a guitar. The concert variety (the kind played by the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus) has levers that allow the Bandurist to quickly change keys during a performance.
Although the bandura can be used to perform complex works like sonatas and concerti, the Ukrainian bandura was historically used as an instrument for vocal accompaniment. The Ukrianian Bandurist Chorus continues this tradition by combining the two great loves of the Ukrainian people; the artistry of a bandura orchestra with choral singing.
There are 3 styles of the modern bandura
- The classical bandura which has 20 string and wooden tuning pegs.
- The Kyiv bandura is the most common bandura found today. It was mass produced during the Soviet Era in two areas of Ukraine and has 55 to 64 strings.
- The Kharkiv bandura has 34 to 65 stings and often includes a key-changing mechanism. This style of bandura has virtually vanished from Ukraine and is at risk of becoming extinct. This makes the instruments you see on stage priceless.
The story of the Ukrainian bandura
Bandura ancient history
In the middle ages the Bandura became prominent in the courts of Eastern Europe where it was primarily used as an accompaniment to song and dance. It was also popular among the Ukrainian Kozaks from whose ranks rose a new kind of Ukrainian professional musicians called the Kobzari (similar to the troubadours of The Kobzari developed a unique form of ong known as the duma (literally translated as "thought" or reflection"). The dumy (plural for duma) were sung while accompanied by a bandura and depicted the heroic exploits of the Ukrainian kozaks and their quest for peace and freedom.France).
The modern Bandura
Hnat Khotkevych is considered to be the father of the modern bandura. A trained pianist and violinist, he learned to play the instrument by observing and learning from old Kobzari. While always honoring the traditions and methods of the Kobzari, Hant contributed to the evolution of the traditional Kobzar bandura into what today is known as the modern Kharkiv bandura. He was instrumental in expanding its voice and repertoire to include ensemble playing.
Persecution of the Bandura and the Ukrainian Kobzari
Throughout the Cold War Era, the Soviet government resolved to wipe out all vestiges of Ukrainian nationalism by attacking and destroying Ukrainian culture. In 1935, blind Kobzari from all corners of Ukraine were assembled in Kharkiv (under the pretense of preserving their songs through recording) and executed. Among them was Hnat Khotkevich.
However, the Soviet Authorities quickly realized that it would be impossible to fully eliminate the bandura from what proved to be a resilient Ukrainian identity. Instead, they attempted to separate the bandura from its past and traditions by developing the modern Kyiv bandura. Training to play the bandura was taken in a more academic direction. And its traditional repertoire was abandoned for the alien works of Bach, Beethoven and other classical composers.
Continued persecution, arrest, and exile became a way of life for countless Ukrainian Bandurists clinging to their traditions. So many, like the members of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, headed West seeking refuge in the United States and Canada where they were able to continue practicing their art unhindered.
The Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus has adopted the Kharkiv bandura as its instrument of choice to show case its technical versatility and preserve its great history and tradition.