Let the Bird Fly
Many of the songs you are about to hear are more than a thousand years old. For centuries, these songs have been carried on from generation to generation, preserved only by the oral tradition. Then, in the early 1990's, a Russian singer and ethnomusicologist Juliana Svetlitchnaia made it her life's mission to eternalize the sounds of her culture's past. Juliana traveled to some of the farthest outposts of Russian civilization, places accessible only by helicopter and lacking basic amenities. Yet it was places like these that gave Juliana the most authentic sampling of the fading tradition she had sought to preserve. She worked day and night, interviewing singers, listening to their songs, singing along with them-and recording it all on a simple tape recorder. Upon her return, Juliana combed through hundreds of hours of the recorded material, transcribing the lyrics and notating the songs. Driven by her passion to share these gems with the world, Juliana founded PAVA: the ensemble of Russian female folk singers. 'Pava' is the Russian word for peacock, a symbol of the beauty, strength, and grace of a Russian woman. In the years that followed PAVA's inception, Juliana has painstakingly selected every singer who has performed in the group. She believes that a PAVA singer must have two indispensible traits: a zeal for the Russian folk singing, and a voice that radiates that unmistakable effervescence of the quintessential Russian female folk singer. This album owes it's existence to Juliana's endless energy as much as to the unique singing ability and boundless enthusiasm of each PAVA member. Although PAVA is an a cappella group, some of the songs in this album are accompanied by musical instruments. These include the traditional Russian balalaika, kalyuka (overtone flute), kugikly (panpipes), and kolyosnaya lira (hurdy-gurdy); the small percussion instruments such as treshchotki (clapper), bubenchiki (jingle bells), and a washboard; and a few less commonly known instruments, such as a scythe. Although a departure from the pure a cappella singing, the use of accompaniment in this album is not surprising: hand-held musical and percussion instruments have often been used in Russian folk music to enhance the liveliness of the songs and to draw out their rhythmic patterns. In concerts, PAVA singers wear authentic Russian folk costumes, some more than 300 years old! The singers admit that this intricate attire has an almost mystical effect on them, as if moving them back into the world that bore the sounds they now hope to reproduce. The costumes are sometimes donned for rehearsals, too, and some singers insisted on wearing their costumes in the recording studio. Whether or not they did, the results speak for themselves: the superbly rendered, first-of-it's-kind collection of melodies, harmonies and lyrics that intrigue and lure us into the amazingly vibrant Russian folk singing culture! Alex Mandel.