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Local ‘bard’ concerts help revive Russian culture
March 30th, 2001
Oleg Yusim, 22, was born in Yekarterinburg, a city in the Ural mountain range, the traditional border between Europe and Asia. Now a computer science major at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Yusim is well aware that life is better in America, where he has lived for two years.
Nevertheless, he misses aspects of the culture in which he was raised, particularly a repertoire and style of songs that he calls “bard music.”
For that reason, he and other predominantly Russian Jewish students and members of the local Russian Jewish community have been organizing, at their own expense, “bard concerts” and presenting them on Saturday nights at the Hillel House on N. Stowell Ave.
Last Saturday, about 20 people attended the hour-and-a-half concert featuring Boris Aaronson, a bard music artist from New York City, originally from Kharkov, Ukraine. He was accompanied by Erik Sootes, a professional guitarist from St. Petersburg who also resides in NYC.
Bard music features poems sung to the accompaniment of one or two acoustic guitars. The genre emphasizes profound, thought-provoking lyrics, which unfortunately are lost on the non-Russian speaker.
“Bard music is different from other kinds of songs,” said Yusim. “It is very good poetry and this poetry has very deep meanings. It is not just a few [repetitive] sentences.... You can think about it.”
Kharkov native Yuri Itskovich, who has lived in Milwaukee for 11 years, echoed Yusim’s sentiments. “I like the fact that compared to most modern music, the meaning [of the lyrics] is deeper in bard music,” he said.
Yusim said not everybody in the former Soviet Union was a bard music fan. “People from my generation very seldom like to hear music like this. But people who study in the universities, who are scientists and engineers, intellectual people.... It is more popular for educated people,” he said.
Liya Chernyakova, also originally from Kharkov, has been the main organizer of bard concerts. “I participated in such events in Russia,” she said. “This is a part of our culture that we missed.”
She said she and friends in Milwaukee started organizing bard music gatherings in their homes about five years ago. “We would sing to each other but we wouldn’t invite anybody,” she said. Later, they decided to start inviting other listeners and other artists, “even from other cities and sometimes we have had the chance to invite people from Russia and Ukraine.”
Chernyakova said the bard movement in Russia peaked after the death of dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1940s. “[There] was a great political movement in the late fifties of all these young poets and people would come and sing their poetry and play guitar,” she said.
Even without Stalin, Soviet society still restricted the ability of bard music artists to speak — or, rather, sing — their minds. One of the most famous bard performers, Alexander Galich, “ended up being persecuted and being sent out of the country,” said Chernyakova.