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Interview with Professor Natalia Nikolaevna Gilyarova

А. N.: Natalia Nikolaevna, what program will be performed by the ensemble in Japan? What would be the difference between your show and what the Japanese may perceive as a “Russian folk song”?

N.N. Gilyarova: Our group’s concert program is composed of the material that may still be recorded in Russia, in villages. This material is minimally rearranged; we try to preserve the original intonation, texture, tone quality, timbre, tempo - perhaps, this is the most important.

Secondary, this program does not have a thematic focus; we would like to acquaint listeners with different materials, recorded in various parts of Russia. Russian folklore is so diverse, which, of course, derives from history, and from such factors as who populated a given territory, where people moved, what they brought with them, what they took from the locals... All this constitutes the specifics of a given region. The character of polyphony, musical quality, and songs as such have distinct stylistic traits in each region. This is why we will perform different genres from different regions of Russia.

Speaking of genres, it can be said that a part of our performance is songs traditionally performed during ceremonies and rites: holidays that are marked on the calendar as well as wedding celebrations. On the other hand, traditional Russian culture can not be imagined with out drawn-out chants, with their love lyrics, homesickness, death of a young hero in a foreign land, and so on. These are eternal themes, that are characteristic of, perhaps, every ethos.

Of course, we will perform dance songs as well.

In addition, we would like to show, at least partially, instruments that had been preserved in Russian villages until not long ago. An unprepared listener always associates such instruments solely with garmoshka (an accordion-like instrument) and balalaika. That is why in our program there is a fast dance accompanied by a ‘zaslon’, a, so-to-speak, percussion instrument. In a village, any house hold implement at hand could become such an instrument: a scythe, a ‘zaslon’ (a stove cover), or any cover, banged with a knife.

We will also perform a bit of traditional folk tunes, played on Pan’s flutes.

These folk tunes had, by and large, a ceremonial function, or they were an accompaniment for a fast dance. The tradition of playing the Pan’s flute was preserved in select regions of Russia until the 1970s, and, in some cases, until the beginning of the 21st century. This instrument is easy to make – from a hollow reed or grass pipe; but the playing technique is quite complicated; this is why, even if the instruments are still available in some villages, in Briansk or Kaluga regions, it would be hard to play them without practicing daily or at least several times a year.

А. N.: How, in your opinion, a Japanese listener will perceive this music? What reaction do you expect?

N.N. Gilyarova: I already experienced singing a folk song for a Japanese audience. When I finished singing a song, traditionally performed during holidays, marked on the calendar – and Russian songs are very loud, ringing, sonorous – I sang for the audience who was musically prepared – the audience was to some extent taken a back. The listeners were taken aback due to the very sound, because, as far as I understand, our ethnic traditions are so divergent, that it is hard to readjust one’s perception. Moreover, an educated Japanese listener almost certainly is used to classical Russian music – as far as I know, the Japanese like Tchaikovsky, even Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov; or else the Japanese are used to the sound of Russian songs performed by academic choirs, who sing with soft timbre, or, maybe not very soft, but more or less uniform, smooth timbre.

In contrast, we endeavor to reflect, as precisely as it is possible for a city dweller, the native timbre, native sound, and native polyphony. Russian polyphony has a variety of types; sometimes these are sharp, cluster accords. It is possible that at first Japanese listeners will have an unfamiliar experience.

I suppose, it would be easier to absorb the sounds that coincide with the previous auditory experiences of the listeners. However, we want to demonstrate the Russian tradition with all its diversity, and, in this case, there will be no one-size-fits-all sounds.

Surely, we would like to explain and tell some things, once again, as much as it would be possible, because it is not always easy to do.

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