Troitsa ethno-trio plays even on a rainstick
By Andrey Vasyanin
Ivan Kirchuk is always at the front of the stage, in a lavishly decorated cap, with a gusli on his knee or ocarina in his hands. His beard and powerful bass voice remind you of an ancient shaman. Yuri Pavlovsky is on the drums to the left while Yuri Dmitriev has his guitar, as ever, on the right. Troitsa folk-trio performs ancient Belarusian songs, singing in a lively manner. They can adjust their performance to suit any audience: from Malaysia to Portugal.
Our MT correspondent interviewed Troitsa’s soloist and leader, Ivan Kirchuk, and drummer Yuri Pavlovsky.
Something always hangs on the microphone stand during your concerts. Is it just for fun or is that your talisman?
Ivan Kirchuk: Nothing on the stage is ‘just for fun’. I hang various bells, goat hooves and shells on my microphone — everything I need to produce the necessary sound.
You seem to have 40-50 instruments on stage during each performance.
Yuri Pavlovsky: We bring only a small part of our ‘instrumental arsenal’ to each concert. In total, we use about 250 instruments, but many are only heard on our CDs; it’s impossible to take everything with us.
Why do you need so many? Electronic technology can reproduce any sound.
Yuri Pavlovsky: We like to be different. From the very beginning, we refrained from using electronic music or electric guitars. The call of the cuckoo is played by Ivan using a pipe or ocarina; it’s a completely different sound, with live energy rather than synthesised. We use various forest bird sounds on our ‘Sun’ song — from our ‘Zhuravy’ (Cranes) album; we create all these ourselves, as our forefathers did.
Your CDs feature not only the Belarusian zhaleika or smyk, but the Turkish darbuka drum and, even, a rainstick, as the cover of one of your CDs explains…
Yuri Pavlovsky: This is an African instrument — made from a dried cactus. Inside, dried seeds fall, recreating the sound of rain. We like to experiment. We’re interested in every sound and the timbre of instruments from around the globe, so we try to use them all.
Ivan Kirchuk: Once, in Holland, we were presented with a German cither. We didn’t have any idea how to play it but our guitar player, Yuri Dmitriev, adjusted it. We then used it on our ‘Zhuravy’ album. Yuri began to pluck the strings with a beater in one of the songs and the cither sounded like a bell. We liked it and adjusted several songs to incorporate it.
Did you listen to folk music from childhood?
Ivan Kirchuk: I used to listen to a diverse selection of music. In the 1970s, I played in a group and I liked ‘Deep Purple’ and ‘Led Zeppelin’. I come from Lida, but many of my relatives live in villages. In my childhood, I often attended rural weddings and christenings, hearing how powerfully my family sings. After musical training school, I happened to hear the ‘Valachanki’ Student Choir in Minsk. This inspired my studies and my decision to recreate folk customs. I also finished my postgraduate course at the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Arts, Ethnography and Folklore. Fellow student Yuri Dmitriev and I began our musical experiments in those early years.
What do you aim to achieve in adjusting a folk song?
Ivan Kirchuk: We have no particular goal. We take an original melody and lyrics and interchange some lines or invent our own refrains, while reinforcing other parts with instruments and our voices.
Maybe such freedom gives your songs greater power…
Ivan Kirchuk: This is what we inherit from the chants. Every part of those songs had a purpose. When we told our Dutch producer that each song is linked to a particular custom or ritual he was very surprised; Europe lacks this. At Kupalie — a summer solstice holiday — certain songs are performed and circle dances are performed; these have a direct link to nature and are hundreds of years old. The lyrics can sometimes date their creation to 300-400 years ago. It’s almost impossible to do this with music, since many songs pre-date Christian times.
Where do you find these songs? During expeditions?
Ivan Kirchuk: Not only during expeditions. We also use the archives of the Republican radio and phono-laboratory at the Institute of Arts and Ethnography. It takes some time, as there are hundreds and thousands of songs. I have 100 tapes in my personal archives, and dozens of CDs. It’s very difficult to select 15 songs for an album from such abundance. Several years ago, we were on a trip where we met a 92 year old woman, in the Logoisk District’s Mikhalkovichi. She sang to us for an hour.
Where do you keep your archive?
Ivan Kirchuk: It’s packed into bags and is in Warsaw, where we were writing our latest album. I’ve spent many years recording songs and gathering folk instruments, rushniks, covers and ancient clothes from villages. Several times, we’ve brought our collection to festivals and it has ‘performed’ with us. Once, in Holland, we were given a house for ten days to host the collection. We all were demonstrating performances of our Batleika Puppet Theatre.
It seems that Troitsa is more famous in Europe than in its homeland or in Russia.
Yuri Pavlovsky: We’ve gathered thousands at Minsk halls but have now moved away from such concerts. It’s interesting to liaise with audiences in smaller venues.
Does your musical work really pay dividends?
Ivan Kirchuk: Certainly… it has strong roots and its own energy.
The MT reference:
Troitsa folk-trio was founded in 1995. Since 1999, its members have been Ivan Kirchuk (vocal, domra, smyk, gusli, pipes, zhaleikas, mouth harmonica, lyre, ocarinas and rainstick) — an Associated Professor of the Maxim Tank University and known for recording folk customs for educational programmes, Yuri Pavlovsky (percussion) — who played in Knyaz Myshkin band and is a technology teacher, and Yuri Dmitriev (string instruments) — who is a guitar teacher. Troitsa has released six CDs, recorded sound tracks for films and has performed at dozens of folk festivals abroad.