People’s Accordionist Dmitry Rovensky, from Russia, and his three creative groups, have brought the joy of music to thousands
Wise men spend their whole lives in search of that which defines life and gives us purpose. Perhaps the answer is music, which rouses our souls and ignites a flame within our hearts. It’s said that pipers hear the ‘voice of heaven’. The Belarusian sibling of the Scottish bagpipes has perhaps become a sacred voice.
In Yakub Kolas’ famous poem Symon, the Musician, an old man gives a talented boy a pipe, telling him, ‘You — musician, brother — will become a piper...’ Since ancient times, pipers have been respected and loved.
Dudariki are beginners, who learn on ordinary reed pipes and fistulas. Who knows if Honoured Cultural Figure of Belarus Mr. Rovensky was a master of the pipes himself when he created the children’s Dudariki group, in 1970, at the Minsk School (now school #14). He can certainly play now, owning an authentic pipe in his large, unique collection of musical instruments.
Why did he call the group Dudariki? Let’s listen as Dmitry tells us about his musical pedigree and the role of music throughout his life.
What goes around comes around
My father was born in Chernigovshchina, the Ukrainian Region, giving me my Cossack origins. My grandfather, Fiodor Alexandrovich Rovensky, was a well-off nobleman. He was managing the factory, which produced matches and chic furniture. He was educated and all three of his daughters were given higher education before the war. My grandfather played the violin, which helped my family survive in Soviet times.
According to my aunt Oksana, foreseeing confiscation, my grandfather gave all his property to the Bolsheviks, keeping only his violin. He took a job at a school, as a music teacher, also teaching singing.
In the next war, all three daughters went to the front but only my aunt Oksana survived. One was burnt in a plane while the third was burnt in a tank. My father wasn’t yet 18, but added a year to his age to be allowed to fight as a Cossack. His unit, under General Belov, reached Berlin and helped liberate Belarus. Cossack Rovensky met my mother there — a Belarusian from the Nagorny family.
Since we’re talking about music, I’ll mention that, when my father returned after the war to find my mother again, he was a sergeant: an eligible bachelor with a sabre and an accordion (which I still have in my possession). He loved music — as my grandfather did. My parents married and my father then graduated from the school of police in Kaunas. He returned to work in the Kopyl District as a local police officer, then became an inspector. As a lieutenant in the police, he was killed in 1968. At the time, I was in the army.
I was born in Kopyl on November 15th, 1947, and my mother was from the village of Rzhavka, near Bobovnya: these are the places of my childhood and youth.
My interest in music began with the trophy accordion, which father sometimes played; he gave it to me when I was five and I picked up some melodies. My mother, Lina Anufrievna, also helped me. My own granddaughter, Lina, who performs in Dudariki, plays it now. Mother sang very beautifully, and I tried to play along. It’s best to study music as a child, of course. You won’t believe it, but I played at a party for the first time, with my friend Sashka, before I was school age. I was invited to more parties afterwards.
Before I began school, I lived in the village of Rzhavka with my grandmother, Serafima; she waited her whole life for her husband to return from the war. She sang at weddings and festivals, accompanied by folk musicians, and danced wonderfully. She used to ask me to accompany her singing. I know that my grandfather, Onufry-Ambrozhy, who was killed during the war, was a good drummer.
My whole Belarusian family adored music: both my mother’s brothers, for example, were notable folk musicians. Older people remember that almost all members of the Nagorny family played instruments, though they lacked formal musical education. My relatives even formed an orchestra. Those talented musicians from the village of Kazakovka in the Kopyl District were called ‘Slepye’ (Blind), as their leader, Vladimir Davidovich, was absolutely blind and almost without fingers: a shell had exploded in his hands. Of course, many children had been injured or killed during the war. However, he played the accordion brilliantly!
Known far and wide, ‘Slepye’ was not just invited to play at weddings and festivals. It was booked for concert tours six months or more in advance, usually for weekends. I played a great deal with ‘Slepye’ later, moving to Minsk in 1966; I learnt so much from them.
Accordionists were well respected in each village. Since fifth grade, I’d worked on a collective farm during the summer holidays, always taking my accordion. Sometimes, while the men were working, I’d play and the girls would sing. It was fun and helped us work harder. As we took the hay through the village, I’d sit on top of the cart, playing a polka. I had plenty of musical practice. At 12, I graduated as a baritone from wind school, at the Palace of Culture, in Kopyl, later joining the orchestra. Sometime in 1961, I played with my father and sister in ‘Kopyl Dudary’: a band known throughout Belarus. Playing alongside my father in this group is one of my most cherished memories. The film ‘Belarusian Tunes’ detailed our story. We even had our music broadcast on the radio quite often.
I learnt a great deal from Alexander Vikentsievich Yanushka and Alexey Fedotovich Kiyakin, who were military musicians. Thanks to them, I mastered the saxophone and trumpet. People’s Master Nikolay Astreiko played the pipes for the group.
Of course, in creating my children’s group in Minsk, I called it ‘Dudariki’ in memory of those who helped me begin my journey onto the prestigious stages of Belarus. Of course, our pipes differ from Scottish bagpipes. Our traditions live on in the hearts of our countrymen, in my native Kopyl District. ‘Dudariki’ recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and we retain the same goals of teaching young people to love and enjoy music. Many have gone on to become professional musicians.
We called out to the past, to the traditions of Belarusian piping, and a juicy echo responded in the present! Our repertoire includes over a hundred melodies, with children not only playing folk instruments but dancing and singing. We’re known far beyond Belarus, having toured and taken part in various competitions. We’ve given hundreds of concerts abroad and have won several prizes in France, the UK, Italy and Taiwan. In recent years, ‘Dudariki’ has even performed in South Korea, as well as Austria and Poland — always successfully.
Mr. Rovensky moved to Minsk after graduation, aged 18, having been warned that he’d never achieve much in Kopyl. He worked as an accordionist at the District House of Culture and led a pop group. However, at a contest in Nesvizh, the head of the jury, composer Dmitry Lukas, strongly criticised the Kopyl musicians for their repertoire. Dmitry then understood that music should be close to its origins and traditions, leading him back to folk music.
With support from musician and conductor Vladimir Kiselev, Dmitry made his way in Minsk. Over the years, he worked at the Bearings Factory, initially at a bench. Later, he became an accordionist at a factory pioneer camp, teaching children to play the pipes. He then served in the army, going to Moscow, being given the honour of standing guard at Lenin’s mausoleum. After his national service, he taught music and singing at a Minsk school headed by his Kopyl District countryman Konstantin Antonovich Pisarik. He had been born in the village of Patseiki, where Dmitry had played at a wedding. They founded Dudariki in the academic year of 1970-71, with young Rovensky leading a brass band, playing at weddings in the Kopyl District, studying at a music school (named after Glinka) and, later, gaining his higher education at the Minsk Institute of Culture.
As you sow, so shall you reap...
I once saw ‘Dudariki’ in full force at the National Library of Belarus. The children were bright-eyed and sweet-voiced, full of lively folk spirit. They performed their music, dancing and singing in traditional costume, with Dimych (as they all respectfully refer to their artistic director) alongside them. The night ended with them winning the contest: ‘Love for the Motherland through Love for the Family’.
The event was organised by the Family-Unity-Fatherland International Foundation, the Belarusian Union of Women and the magazine ‘Alesya’, inspired by the work of historian Anatoly Statkevich-Cheboganov, who has written several volumes of ‘I’m Your Son...’ within the series ‘Annals of the Belarusian Gentry’.
The audience was delighted, as Dudariki performs well live. Their many years of work pay tribute to the legacy of our creativity and traditions as a nation. Their music respects the past and looks to the future. Mr. Rovensky was keen to take part in the celebration when he learnt that Lyudmila Shchaslivenka had been a former winner of the contest. From Novosibirsk, she worked at the Belarusian Cultural and Educational Centre named after St. Yevfrosiniya of Polotsk. Dmitry has enjoyed fruitful collaboration with Lyudmila and the Centre’s director — her husband, Alexander Lagutenko.
Dmitry tells us, “I take my talented students each year to Novosibirsk. Over Christmas this year, young accordionist Anton Lukashevich, aged 11, gave a number of concerts locally, at the International Music Contest named after Ivan Malanin. I’m proud that I’ve been several times invited to chair the jury of Malanin’s Folk Festival, which is one of the most significant in Russia.” The most recent Novosibirsk tour was very successful, as Dimych and Anton gained the Grand Prix in the nomination ‘Teacher and Student — Creative Self-Expression’. They surprised everyone by playing their instruments in absurd positions: underfoot, under their heads and, even, behind their backs.
Anton also took second place in the solo programme and Dmitry Rovensky was given the honorary title of ‘People’s Accordionist of Russia’ for his long service to promoting accordion music and
teaching young musicians. Many of his protйgйs have gone on to take part in prestigious competitions in Belarus and Russia.
Keen to know how the youngsters in Dudariki view their leader, I met them at Minsk gymnasium #14’s special museum of folk life and musical instruments — created by Mr. Rovensky, his wife and the teachers and students.
Ksenia Yeliseeva: ‘I’ve been a member of Dudariki since I was 8 years old, learning musical skills and performing — which I love. Our group is quite large, including 40 people from various classes. There are even girls from the 11th grade. We’re all very friendly with one another. We have a Dudariki blog online and a preparatory group of about 50 children who are learning instruments. They performed recently and it was truly beautiful! We applauded a great deal and were happy, as we can see so much progress.’
Anton Lukashevich: ‘Music helps us to find new friends, to travel and to show our talents... Dudariki is like a big friendly family. We perform in Belarus and abroad; last year, we were in Austria and Poland. We gained so many wonderful memories! I was impressed with the City Festival in Austria; we performed at its opening, near Vienna. We were welcomed nicely and there were so many performances: concerts were held almost every day.’
Ksenia Yeliseeva: ‘In Poland, we stayed near Gdansk, hosted by Maryan — a friend of the father of one of our members. We camped out and performed often, including at the Dozhinki Folk Festival, in August. In Poland, people understand Belarusian. Many were surprised that we play actual saws — as used on the railways and to cut timber.’
Victoria Malyavko: ‘I’ve been playing the pipe in the group for two years, learning from scratch. At first, it was difficult: we learnt to ‘hold the press’ and mastered our playing techniques. I was nervous about being on stage, as audiences will certainly notice if you make a mistake. However, I overcame my fear and now really enjoy being in the group. We also dance, and master stage movement.
Dudariki includes various teachers, for singing, as well as playing the cembalo, violin and pipes. Dimych teaches those who want to play the accordion. He jokes, “The audience will be gnawing their chairs.” However, he’s full of praise for their hard work, rarely having to reprimand them for slacking. Music rehearsals are held twice weekly, as are choir rehearsals. All those in the group learn the accordion or pipe, violin or dulcimer, as well as songs and dances.
Membership is open to all with the caveat that you must be ready to work hard, as well as have fun and make friends. Newcomers tend to love the group. Past performances are also watched regularly. Among the most recent concerts was that marking the 40th anniversary of Dudariki — now an honoured amateur orchestra of Belarus.
Every year, at the initiative of Dimych, the ‘Accordionist Gathers Friends’ Festival is held at the MAZ Palace of Culture, gathering talented musicians from various countries — although most are from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
When members become too old to stay in the group, they have the chance to join another led by Mr. Rovensky: Minsk Musicians. The Rovensky Family Ensemble also perform every now and then. They won the Grand Prix at the Minsk City Contest ‘Family of the Year’ and first prize at a national competition last year.
Often, past members of Dudariki take up a career relating to music. Dimych’s granddaughter, Lolita, is studying at the Music College now, playing the cymbals.
Nastya Zubovich: ‘All Dudariki members are interesting. Wonderfully, you can play or sing for birthdays and at parties. My grandmother always makes requests of me when I visit her or when she comes to us. She lives in the village of Lithuania in the Stolbtsy District. In the group, I play the pipe and percussion instruments, but I play the accordion for her. She loves to hear me sing.’
Lina Rovenskaya, granddaughter of Dmitry Dmitrievich: ‘We’re trying to create a Dudariki website, uploading songs and giving our news, but we haven’t managed it yet. We’re looking for sponsors! The site would contain information about the history of our musical family: about Dudariki and Minsk Musicians, as well as the Rovensky Family Ensemble (which is also called Inflorescence). We’d also give information on our talented musicians. It’s a big project and we never really have enough time: I have my final exams this year. I’d like to enter the BSU’s Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences.
Incidentally, members of Dudariki don’t receive musical diplomas and not all study music formally. However, we can be good amateurs! I’m among the oldest of Dmitry Dmitrievich’s grandchildren. His wife, Lidia Yevgenievna, children and grandchildren play in the family ensemble, as do I. At the Family of the Year contest, we had 13 representatives of the Rovensky family on stage.’
Thank you, Dmitry Dmitrievich!
Having heard so many views on Dimych, I’ll try to present them as a beautiful chorus or orchestra.
‘This man means so much in my life. Thanks to him, I have a great many friends and have experienced interesting trips across Belarus and abroad. He is kind and teaches us to play various instruments. I play the accordion.’
‘My grandfather is the best: he is like a father to me, as well as like a grandfather and teacher. I’m so proud of him. He has golden hands, able not only to repair, for example, accordions, of which he has a great collection, but to make other interesting instruments. In summer, I watched him make a pipe over 2m in length from a huge piece of alder. He says that his pipe is the longest in Belarus. In Moldova, such an instrument is called a trembita. The process is very complicated and took over three months. In the summer, at our cottage, I saw him working on it the whole day and felt quite sorry for him!’
‘Dimych is a very kind person. Our band is like a family, and he is our dad. Thanks to him, we know how to live as a big group in harmony, concord and peace. Even if he’s angry, he manages to joke, as if playing with us, so our feelings aren’t hurt. He makes us want to do better. Thanks to him, we can play so many instruments; he shows us and we do everything. I’d probably be sitting sadly at home without Dudariki.’
‘He’s a talented man, who has taught us to play various instruments. He is in love with music, which is his main occupation. I’m very grateful to him for teaching me about life!’
In time, I think a detailed book will be written about Dudariki and its father-founder. I hope there will be place for this article, in which so many names are mentioned, as well as facts from the biography of Dmitry Rovensky. Probably, the main theme of the book will be not Dimych himself, and not the three creative groups created by him, but the majesty of music.
By Ivan Zhdanovich
‘Dudariki’ descended from pipers
[b]People’s Accordionist Dmitry Rovensky, from Russia, and his three creative groups, have brought the joy of music to thousands[/b]Wise men spend their whole lives in search of that which defines life and gives us purpose. Perhaps the answer is music, which rouses our souls and ignites a flame within our hearts. It’s said that pipers hear the ‘voice of heaven’. The Belarusian sibling of the Scottish bagpipes has perhaps become a sacred voice.