Ethnic Platter of Sound

Ryan deBiase

Russian Orchestra to Perform at University Auditorium

The balalaika, domra and bayan are symbols of ethnic heritage. The names may be unfamiliar, and may cause one to conjure images of exotic deserts or yoga techniques.

The three, however, are a matter of sound.

This ethnic platter will be served at the Carol A. Cartwright Auditorium this Saturday. The Balalika and Domra Association of America (BDAA) will hold its annual Festival of Russian Music.

The concert will be a culmination of a week’s worth of workshops and rehearsals held in Cuyahoga Falls by the BDAA, said convention coordinator Mary Jane Malackany.

Festival of Russian Music

Where? Carol A. Cartwright Auditorium

When? Saturday at 7 p.m.

How much? $15 for students

Malackany said the BDAA was formed out of a desire to promote ethnic heritage outside of Russia.

“It was founded in 1978 by a group of Americans who dedicated their musical lives to Russian Folk Music,” said Malackany. “They wanted to create an organization that could give much needed support to musicians who practiced their art outside of Russia. Since that time, the association has grown to over 500 members, including aficionados from Australia, Europe, and, of course, Russia.”

The association derived its name from the Russian stringed instruments balalaika and domra. Both will be featured at the concert, as will the bayan, a Russian accordion.

“The balalaika is a melody instrument,” said Malackany. “It has the triangular soundboard with the beveled back and long neck. It has three strings that are played with your finger, not with a pick. There’s a prima, an alto, a bass–which is in a cello range–and the big contra bass, which is like a bass in a symphony orchestra.”

The cousin to balalaika is the domra, which is a member of the lute family. The domra resembles a mandolin and ranges from piccolo to contra bass, like the balalaika. These three instruments possess a rich history, and when assembled into a symphony, they mount a distinctive sound, Malackany said.

“These crude, handmade instruments can play as well as any symphony orchestra,” she said. “They’re all handcrafted by master craftsmen. In the beginning, they were just done by the peasants with what little they had. You would think you were sitting in front of a symphony orchestra when the whole thing happens.”

The concert will feature appearances by ensembles from cities throughout the US, as well as solo balalaika, domra and bayan artists from the US, England and Russia. The highlight will be the 100-piece balalaika orchestra conducted by Victor Gorodinsky, a Russian immigrant from Madison, Wisc.

“The people that play this music really love it and have an attachment to it,” Malackany said, “and you just want to share it with everybody.”

Audiences respond to this dedication and often get emotional, Malackany said.

“When you perform it before audiences and you see those tears coming down-that says it all,” she said. “It’s just so rewarding because people don’t hear it all the time and when they do hear it, they’re overwhelmed. They had no idea that it could be like this.”

Malackany said that the best way to learn about Russian folk music is to experience it in person.

“It’s something so unique and you will never see it again like it in your life,” she said. “I think everyone should experience it. The music is from the heart and that will come across in the concert.”

Contact features reporter Ryan deBiase at [email protected].