THE UKRAINIAN WEEKLY (Sunday, February 27, 2005)

Mariana Sadovska performs rare songs from Ukraine's regions

by Yaro Bihun

Special to The Ukrainian Weekly

WASHINGTON - Mariana Sadovska, a vocal artist known for her performances of ancient songs and rituals from rural Ukrainian villages, presented the Capital area with another bouquet of these gems on February 13 in an afternoon concert at The Lyceum, in Alexandria, Va.

Like her last performance here in 2001, this concert was sponsored by The Washington Group Cultural Fund, in cooperation with the Embassy of Ukraine. The program consisted of old songs Ms. Sadovska learned while visiting villages in various Ukrainian regions - Polissia, Podillia and Poltava, as well as Rusyn villages in Slovakia and Lemko villages in Poland.

These were not what would commonly be called "folk songs" of the popular "Marichka" variety. These old songs of village life never made it to the city or crossed the ocean to be sung at Saturday schools and summer camps.

When performed by Ms. Sadovska, however, these songs took the audience on an immeasurably more meaningful and deeply emotional journey a century or more into Ukraine's past, when poverty drove tens of thousands of poor villagers to seek work in distant lands ("Pishla by ya, Pishla do Toyi Ameryky" - I'd Love to Go to that America); or closer to home as indentured servants ("Oi Davno, Davno" - So Long Ago); when a young man's life was dashed by an Austrian army draft notice, ("Ked Mi Pryishla Karta" - I Received a Draft Notice); and when girls' wedding songs were sung in a minor key.

There were some happy songs in the program - songs of springtime, for example - but they are among the few.

Except for an intermission, which was inserted at the request of the organizers, the 20 or so songs on the program were presented by Ms. Sadovska as an uninterrupted composition, one song flowing from another or tied together with a narrative, which at times may well have been spoken but seemed as if it were sung with the same emotional intensity as the songs. The entire medley was performed to a continuo on the Indian harmonium she played for accompaniment.

The narrative was based on letters home from immigrants and from her village women song sources, as well as on literary material by various writers. Ms. Sadovska also included a personal tale about an old Hutsul healer she met during an expedition last summer who claimed he could cure her headaches, and many other ailments she might have, with a magic potion he called "devil's blood."

Not only a singer and musician, Ms. Sadovska is a composer and actress as well. Born in Lviv, she began working professionally there in 1991 with the Les Kurbas Theater. Later, she worked with Anatoly Vasiliev's Festivals in St. Petersburg and Moscow, the Slavic Pilgrim Project led by Jerzy Grotowski in Pontedera, Italy, and spent 10 years with the Theater Gardzienice, where she began exploring indigenous music and cultures, which led her to expeditions in Ukraine and other countries.

She first came to New York City in 2001, working as a music director with the Yara Arts Group and giving solo performances of old Ukrainian songs and rituals. In 2002 Global Village produced her solo CD, "Songs I learned in Ukraine." Since then, she has been invited back every year for solo concerts, workshops and theatrical collaborations.

Her permanent residence now is in Cologne, Germany, and she works throughout Europe and the United States, conducting workshops on the techniques she has learned and developed through her travels.

This spring, she will be a guest musical director for the Art Atelier Program at Princeton University, and in July she will be teaching workshops at the University of Kabul in Afghanistan. Most of those in the audience at the February 13 concert probably had never heard the songs before Ms. Sadovska performed them, although a few songs were repeated from her last concert here.

"I try to find and perform songs that are, for the most part, unknown, that are not part of the widely known folklore repertoire," she said later in an interview. Many of them were new to her as well when she heard them for the first time during her ethno-musical expeditions in Ukraine and historically Ukrainian villages in neighboring countries. And the words and melody of each song may vary from village to village, she said.

One of the songs in the program, for example, the army draft notice song, "Ked Mi Pryishla Karta," had a closing line that was markedly different from the version some may have heard earlier. In most other versions, the draftee ends the song by lamenting that three girls will cry for him when he is killed, the last of which is "the girl who wears my ring." The song Ms. Sadovska performed at the concert, which she said she heard during her visit last summer to Poliana, a Lemko village now in Poland, had a much more poignant last line: "the girl who bears my child."

In her musical interpretations of these old songs, Ms. Sadovska does not try to imitate the style in which these songs were or are still being sung in those villages. Hers is not the open-throat, loud-only-volume rendition people normally associate with rural village singing.

"I try to get to the essence, to what is the most important meaning of the song, and then try to interpret it in a contemporary way," she says. "In doing so, I try to unite the past with the present and, possibly, even with the future."

She incorporates non-traditional singing styles to enhance the story of the song, at times borrowing from other cultures. The heavy breathing evident in her performance of "Oi Letila Zozulia" (The Cuckoo Flew) is borrowed from Eskimo singing, she explains, and having her voice break while singing comes from a style found in Bulgarian and Persian singing.

"I have always tried to learn the singing styles of other traditional cultures," she said. And she has also always been impressed with what composers did with voice some 20 years ago in using various "voice phenomena," as she described it, such as breathing sounds, whispers and vibrations, and weaving them into the melody.

At the end of "Oi Davno, Davno," in which the indentured servant daughter yearns to become a bird so she could fly home and visit her mother, Ms. Sadovska's voice sounds like the call of a wounded bird. And at another point in the same woeful song, her voice descends to a low guttural sound reminiscent of Tibetan monk chanting or Tuvan singers on the verge of throat singing.

In yet another surprising and effective instance, at the end of a midsummer-night Kupalo song cycle - a night not unknown for its witchcraft - Ms. Sadovska's voice turns into what one would expect a witch to sound like.

Ms. Sadovska will remain in the United States until mid-April. Until then, her U.S. schedule includes three engagements: the Satalla Club in New York City, March 9, at 10 p.m.; the Tryton Club in Philadelphia, March 13; and Cleveland on April 9.

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Mariana Sadovska was not the only Ukrainian cultural treat in Washington on February 13. Later that evening, pianist Thomas Hrynkiw accompanied two Austrian baritones, Peter and Paul Edelmann, at a National Gallery of Art concert

The only drawback of the day was at the Grammy Awards, where the only Ukrainian contender - Valentin Silvestrov's "Requiem for Larissa" - did not win in either of the two categories in which it was nominated.