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Myron Bloshchychak, master of ancient instruments and exotic sounds
Myron Bloshchychak is an accomplished musician from Lviv who collects Ukrainian folk instruments and creates the instruments he plays. Both his music and his instruments are of superior quality. The spectrum of music he plays is amazingly wide — from classical to folk.
To describe music in words is a futile attempt. It’s doomed to even greater failure than an attempt to retell in your plain words an exquisite poem. Those who were lucky to hear Myron Bloshchychak at least once are looking forward to listening to his music again. For those who have not heard him play — just to get a very general and very approximate idea of what his music is like, close your eyes and imagine you are high in the forested mountains, listening to the sounds of nature.
If you climb up high into the mountains to be closer to the sun and sky, leaving behind the lures, noise and bustle of urban civilization far behind and below, you will suddenly realize that “eternity” no longer seems to be too pathetic a notion — and then you may come to grips with the idea that human music is born out of the music of Seven Heavenly Spheres, of the Breath of the Holy Spirit and of the Wind. The instrument that will let you hear this music is your open heart. A telenka and God-given talent can help exteriorize this music and make it audible for others.
Telenka is a very simple pipe, the oldest one of its kind in the world, says Myron Bloshchychak who has been studying ancient instruments and ancient music for thirty years. In spring, when warm days come and the sap begins to circulate in the willows, a willow twig is cut, the bark is carefully removed, then it is hollowed out lengthwise — and you’ve got a telenka.
Once, Myron Bloshchychak gave a concert in the Museum of Man in Paris which has a big collection of ancient instruments, beginning from the times of the Cave Man. Among the exhibits there were hollowed-out bones with lateral holes. The Ukrainian musician was told by way of explanation that bones discovered in archaeological digs at the sites of camps of pre-historic humans had been carefully examined and those which were hollowed and had at least one lateral hole, were thought to be pipes for playing music. And consequently were given to the museum to be put on display. But after the concert, at which Bloshchychak played his telenka, the French ancient music experts said that bones without lateral holes could also have been used as musical instruments.
Myron Bloshchychak went from village to village in the Carpathians, gathering information about ancient instruments, watching these instruments being made and played. That was the way he himself learnt how to make and play them. The range of ancient folk instruments he can play is impressive indeed: trembita; koza; zozulka; rebro; floyar; dvodentsivka; drymba; harmonica, to mention just a few.
He was educated at a musical school and conservatory, majoring in the clarinet. Among the modern instruments, he excellently plays the saxophone, but ancient and folk instruments are closest to his heart. There is hardly anything that he cannot use for playing music — a length of garden hose or a bottle filled with water would do — and his concerts are impressive shows of his talent and his skills. And no matter what he plays there will not be a single false note.
Myron Bloshchychak was interviewed exclusively for Welcome to Ukraine by Natalya KOSMOLINSKA. Photos by Iryna Baranska.
When did you become aware of your love of music?
Oh, very early but it was in my teenage years that I became particularly attracted to what you could call “sounds of nature” and then to the sounds that can be produced by the simplest of instruments. There’s something charming and bewitching in them. Telenka, compared with saxophone or clarinet, may seem a much simpler instrument to play, but in this simplicity there is so much richness. All the ancient music is music of the earth. Our progenitors picked their music straight from nature. Wind instruments were believed to have some magic in them. There are so many fairy tales about the magic flute… Unfortunately, there are very few people left in Ukraine who can play ancient folk instruments. But folk culture is a very important facet of general culture. The skills of playing the ancient pipe were passed from generation to generation and thus a cultural continuity was maintained. But then there was a break in this continuity and it is only recently that the skills of playing ancient folk instruments began to be revived. One of such instruments is rebro. It provides unique sounds! Similar instruments are known in many places – in the east of Ukraine it is called kuvytsya or svyril; in the Land of Bukovyna it is called nay; in Russian it is svirel; in Latin America they call it samponia, and the ancient Greeks called it “the flute of Pan.”
You used to play with the Kobza group from Kyiv, you even went on tours with them, but then you left. Was it because you wanted to devote yourself entirely to playing folk music and folk instruments?
Once, at a big international music festival, I heard Carlos Santana and Michael Davis play, and I realized that the music they played was what lived inside them, it was their own music, and there and then I was hit by another realization — ancient, folk music was my kind of music. I wrote the Koza band manager a letter saying that I would not play with them any longer, that I was leaving Kyiv to go to live in the Carpathian mountains. I never regretted my decision. When I began collecting samples of local folk music, at first I thought I was discovering music which was three or four hundred years old, but the more I learnt the more convinced I become that I was dealing with music which was thousands of years old. When I had enough of ancient musical pieces in my repertoire, I started touring Ukraine and foreign countries. Everywhere I went, my music was thoroughly enjoyed. I went to the United States several times, I toured across America performing practically in all of the states. In 2000, I went on tour of Canada, I was on at least a dozen of tours of France. Regularly, at least a couple of times a year, I go to Paris to perform my music. Incidentally, I like the sound of the French language very much. When I just started to learn French, I used French translations of some works of the Ukrainian writer and philosopher Ivan Franko which I knew well in Ukrainian. It helped to make my first steps in French. I approached English from a similar starting point — I used English translations of works of the remarkable Ukrainian poetess Lesya Ukrayinka. On tours of North America I make comments to the music I play in English.… Also, I know a bit of German, and now I’ve just started learning Italian.
Where have you been on your most recent tours?
There was an excellent show jointly with the most remarkable guitarist Enver Izmaylov at a music theatre in Kyiv; I gave several concerts in Berlin; with Oksana Herasymenko who is a composer and bandura-player, we went to Rome to perform there. From Rome I went by plane to Prague to attend an international tourist exhibition which had a Ukrainian section, set up by the National Tourist Organization of Ukraine. In Prague, I performed at a big concert in a formerly royal hall. But I refuse to go anywhere for more than several days — I have a wonderful family, and my children need my attention.
I know that when President of Georgia Mykhail Saakashvili visited Ukraine, you agreed to perform for him.
Correct. I was invited to do so by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko. It was a sort of a family concert, with both presidents and their families present. They said they had never seen anything like the instruments that I played, they did not know their names. Not only they – I’m sure many teachers of music would not know either. I let Yushchenko’s children handle the instruments and even try to play some of them.
Are all the instruments that you play made by you?
No, not all of them but many. Sometimes I make instruments of my own design that has never existed before. I use all kinds of materials for them. Recently, for example, I made a “windophone” which makes musical sounds when it is exposed to the wind.
Is it true that the president of the Lviv Art Academy made glass instruments for you?
Absolutely true. I played on them at several exhibitions of artistic glass. I’ve even recorded an album of “glass music.”
I heard a story that you once played music using a length of garden hose as an instrument.
It’s a true story too! That hose could be made to sound like a telenka. The only inconvenience – it’s a bit too flexible but this quality can also be used for producing nice musical sounds. When I perform using such unusual “instruments,” people think I do it just to show off. But the thing is that in the times of old, people used all kinds of things made of wood or metal or of glass to play music if they did not have proper musical instruments. So why can’t I do the same? There is a term they use in describing a certain genre of painting – “neo-folklorism.” I think you can apply it to the kind of music I play when I use, say, a bottle filled with water. I can perform, for example, a very difficult musical piece, “The Flight of Bumble Bee” using a plastic bottle, and I don’t know whether anybody else in the world could do it.
But have you ever met musicians who could do anything similar?
On one of my trips to Paris, I went to a musical instruments store. I had a bag with me full of the instruments of my own make. The attendant asked me to play, and I did. He was so fascinated that he immediately called a musician, Didier Malerb, on the phone, and told him that there was a guy in his store who could play all kinds of weird instruments. I was invited to attend a concert of this musician which was given that very night. The next day we got together again and recorded a number of improvised musical pieces. He played all kinds of pipe and flutes and what have you, and I played Ukrainian folk wind instruments. We both thoroughly enjoyed it.
Do you do a lot of recordings?
I don’t know whether it can be called “a lot” but I do have some of my music recorded. Mostly, its variations based on the themes of Ukrainian folk music, and then I give those recordings to my friends. I’ve had several compact disks released too. One of them is Viter z Ukrayiny, Wind from Ukraine, based on folk tunes; Viter lyubovi, Wind of Love, an album of instrumental music played on “the Flute of Pan,” with string and pop-music orchestras; Rizdvyany sny, Christmas Dreams, — kolyadky (Ukrainian Christmas carols) played on two banduras (string instruments) and various wind instruments…