This is the full story of this search for a song. A condensed version will be appearing in The Ukrainian Weekly soon.________________________________
HIS MOTHER’S SONG – A MELODY MYSTERY
Orysia Paszczak Tracz
Actually, I should call this article “Percy’s Mother’s Song” – but that’s too convoluted.
With apologies to Helene Hanff and her 84, Charing Cross Road, this story can best be told by the emails exchanged. As I’ve said so many times before, you couldn’t make these things up if you tried!
My family and friends are blasé, and even joke and roll their eyes, about the phrase “Orysia vs’o znaye” [Orysia knows everything], said when so very often people from all over contact me about things Ukrainian, since “Orysia will know.” Hah! If they only knew how much she doesn’t know! But still, they do call and write, and some mysteries get solved.
So the email from Andrij Makukh, a Senior Manuscript Editor of the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine at CIUS Press in Toronto, was just another query, an obscure, truly nebulous one. The emails are included here with permission of the authors. “I was wondering whether you (basically off the top of your head or with the aid of a book right beside you rather than any great searching) might have any idea of the song to which this fellow is alluding? It may be, forgive the wording, something akin to searching for a needle in a haystack, but we do try to answer the queries that come our way.” Percy Black wrote: “I'm looking for an old Ukrainian folk melody that may deal with gathering in the harvest. The first word may begin with what sounds to me as "Tvee-oo." I'm especially interested in the music score. Can you help?”
Orysia to Andrij
Nu, I'm guessing he's hearing “siyu” (sowing) ? There are one or two songs like that. Should I reply directly to him? To get more details.
Andrij to Orysia
Your query to EU about the Ukrainian song made its way to me. Question -- any more details? There are around fifty million Ukrainian songs, give or take a few..... If this is a ritual harvest song, I'm guessing it may begin "siyu" (phonetically "seeyou") -- i.e., I am sowing. Well, chronologically not a harvest song, but maybe it ends up with gathering what was sown?
But -- any hints? Where did you hear it? How? We'll find it yet!
Wow, Orysia, you may have hit on the very song that was one of my late mother's favorites. She lovingly remembered the song from her childhood in the early 1900's, and she sang it often so that it became implanted in my musical memory. I can easily call it to mind and it easily translates into my singing voice.
My daughter, Deborah, an accomplished musician, would like to play the melody on her cello at the upcoming annual Nurse's Day event, May 6, at the Central Vermont Medical Center (Berlin, Vermont) where my mother, Rose Black, bequeathed an annual award for nursing excellence.
What we're especially hoping is that you may be able to refer us to the notes for the song so that Debbie could practice the piece before the big event.
I wish I could musically convey the song to you. Your reaching back to me so responsibly is itself a melody.
We have not found the song yet! "Siyu" can be the first word of many songs! Will check one massive reference volume today. You'll have to sing the melody to me -- I may recognize it (she said optimistically...). We can arrange a time for you to call me.
Hello again, Orysia,
If you can tolerate my attempt to sing one of my mother's favorite melodies, or perhaps her most favorite, I'm ready to sing on the telephone.
So please email me your phone number. If we can arrange a connection today (Sunday), my phone cost will be lower than on week days.
Thank you, Orysia
How about betw. 9-10 a.m. your time (you're in the east, right?) I'm on Central -- right now it's 7:23 here. Soon -- no guarantees, but maybe?
Percy calls. We have a great conversation acquainting ourselves. Again, I caution him that this is more than searching for a needle in a haystack.
And he sings – in a strong, easy baritone. “Da-da-da-da…” The melody seems familiar, almost, almost familiar. “Again, please, Percy.” He sings again.
I’m not sure, but the closest song I can think of, and I sing to him, is “Viyut’ vitry, viyut’ buini, azh dereva hnut’sia...” [The winds are blowing, the fierce winds, so strongly the trees are bending…]
“That’s it! That’s it!!!” Percy and I are laughing and crying at the same time. That is the song! In one try! We are both so happy, and so surprisingly befuddled that we got the song on the first try.
Now I have to send Percy the notes. There is no problem, because this is such a well-known and beloved song.
It is from the opera Natalka Poltavka by Ivan Kotliarevsky, music by A. Barsytsky, later by Mykola Lysenko. A sad song about heartache -- my heart aches but the tears don't come.
The following emails from Percy are so poetic and, to me, embarrassingly effusive. But, dear reader, they are copied verbatim, and are part of this story.
...talk about responsibility and responsivity, not to mention being on the ball--
Orysia, you seem to have it all!
Wow! Just as you assured me in your first note, despite the dark shadows that
stood in the way of your taking hold of a song with only one word, poorly
communicated, and with no melody against a backdrop of a google of Ukrainian folk melodies -- and despite these million-to-one odds, you came up with the song, the lyricist,and the composer.
Bravo, Orysia. My family and I are delighted with the breadth of your expertise. We look forward to your next surprise: the lyrics and the score. Deborah hopes to play the piece, but first she may have to transcribe the score for cello.
Thank you so much!
Please click on the blue link below -- the notes are there
Question -- may I write about this for an article for The Ukrainian Weekly (Parsippany, NJ). I have a column in the paper (it's an award-winning paper) -- and I couldn't make up this story if I tried! If you wish, I can leave out names.
If you think this is ok, could you tell me more about your mother, about Lukashivka, when she left there and arrived in the US, where here family settled, did she always sing (I'm sure she did).
I'm overwhelmed by the sharpness of your intuition, your guessing into what my mother may have felt in a new land, a new language, unfamiliar customs, and never to see her family again. I am perhaps even more in awe that your knowledge of the Ukrainian culture and language did not permit you to be overwhelmed by my description of what I remembered about my mother's beloved song. Bravo.
I've passed on your four emails today to my sister Edith. She emailed me immediately with her admiration of your knowledge and your responsible helpfulness. She wrote that she plans to thank you herself.
I intend to be in touch with you again when I have had a chance to digest your musical missives.
Orysia Tracz to Percy
Thank you for your kind words. I'm just so glad it was the right song! My mother sang all the time, so from the time I can remember I absorbed Ukrainian folk songs, and know very many - and just love them.
So you did get the notes I scanned? They're for piano, but that's better than just the plain melody I send earlier.
And -- may I write about this? With (any) conditions you require (no names, whatever). I just think this is so unbelievably interesting. Talk about serendipity!
Earlier this evening, my daughter Deborah promised to look over the piano score
you sent me last Sunday to see whether she might be able to transcribe the score to cello. She is a very, very busy physician who is also involved in research and in multiple good works, hence the delay.
You, too, have been involved in a piece of Good Work to help my family forward one of the Good Works my mother established at two hospitals to honor the devoted efforts of nurses to further the life of others. My family, and I, in turn, feel grateful to your for your efforts that will help further our mother's good heart.
I hope to write you quite soon.
This past May 6, a the large audience gathered at Central Vermont Hospital to celebrate Nurses Day in the United States and in particular to present Rose Black awards for Nursing Excellence to outstanding nurses. As part of the truly elegant arrangements that had been prepared by the President and Administration of the Hospital, the program called for a cello interlude by my daughter, Dr. Deborah Black.
I introduced the first of Deborah's two pieces, the Ukrainian melody, Viyut, by Kotliarevsky (lyrics) and Barsytsky (music), a song often on my mother, Rose Black's lips as she expressed longing for her early life in her village Lukashovka in the Ukraine. Although the piece is short, Debbie's cello sounds evinced the haunting meaning from the music and this brought forth empathic applause
from the audience both the for the melody and for Mom. (A large portrait of her was projected on the wall throughout the proceedings.)
Dear Orysia, my family are deeply grateful for your willingness to undertake the long shot into the "50 million Ukrainian songs" to search for the one that this stranger, Percy Black, who presented himself at your email door to ask for your expertise in Ukrainian culture. Now the song and its makers have found a new airing among a large audience in Vermont, and for the Black Family a firm connection to a beloved melody of their Mom and Grandma.
Orysia, you asked me to tell you about the circumstances of my mother's having left the Ukraine. The full story is long, bitter, tragic, so I restrict myself here to a bare outline, based on what I heard from my parents. I think it was in 1917, as the Russian army retreated before the overwhelming onslaught of the German forces, bands of Ukrainians formed under the loose leadership of former military leaders, and they fell upon villages where Jews dwelt to plunder, rape, and murder. My parents would mention with horror the names of such bands, but I do remember the names of these two: Denniken and Petlura.
My father had originated from the town of Monasterisch, was attached to the cavalry, and fought at the front as part of the Russian line to hold off the heavy German onslaught on the western front. When the command to retreat was given, he along with officers and regulars scattered across the heartland. This was 1917. Finding himself back in his hometown, and witnessing the devastation wrought by the bandits, some of whom had themselves been in the army, he was both angry and downhearted.
Finally, in 1919, having endured years antisemitic harassment even prior to World War I, my parents saw no reasonable hope for a meaningful life in their homeland. So they decided to leave. They crossed into Rumania,and found work in the tobacco fields to eke out a bare living. After two years, a refugee aid group
learned about them and helped gain entry to Canada. They arrived by ship in Halifax in late December, 1921, and thence travelled by train to Montreal.
There they found a home free of harassment, and indeed encouragement to flourish. Our family remains ever grateful to Canada. Pop died many years ago; Mom finally moved to the U.S.A. to be close to her children who had been variously invited to accept work-related positions there.
Although the above outline is longer than I thought it might be when I started to write it, and possibly more detailed than you wanted, it is but a pinhead of the complexities that my parents encountered before leaving Ukraine. I hope it is the kind of information that you asked for to write a piece for a Ukrainian newspaper in New Jersey.
Thank you, Dear Orysia, for your contribution to a meaningful Nurses Day event and for the meaningful connection you've given us to a melody close to the heart of Rose Black.
Sorry for the delay in replying (I'm trying to catch up to myself..... hopeless).
Thank you for all the information -- will marinate before I write it ... Serendipity and a Song? (possible title)
A few days after we talked, I was meeting some friends for dinner, and told the story, and sang the song -- and one of the women was thrilled -- "That's the song my baba always sang! Do you have the notes?!" Yes, I did!
Do stay well, and my best to your family
Good to get your email of yesterday. I empathize with the breathlessness in your
"trying to catch up on myself," as you colorfully put it. And your metaphor of marinating the information I sent you before you organize a piece around it for publication—also enlivens my attention.
The story about your friend's baba who, like my mama, often sang "viyut"--might well serve as an interest-maker for your literary composition. But your own impressive musical detective work to accommodate the desire of a modern family of an emigre from a village in the Ukraine 92 years earlier -- strikes me as the star drawing card After marinating the intricacies of the story, if you should wish to share it with me, please do let me see the product.
It's interesting to learn that a nephew of yours, a PA, lives in New Hampshire. How complete the circle would be if, in visiting him, you could stop by for a visit with the family here in Vermont for whom your musical detectmanship disclosed a lost treasure of their late beloved mother and grandmother.
A whole lotta shakin' goin' on? In Vermont, too?! Hope the earthquake was just an adventure and no harm done...
Will begin unmarinating the article soon, one of these weeks.
fyi -- some info on Denikin (not Ukrainian): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Denikin
and different points of view on Petlura:
Hunczak, T. Symon Petliura and the Jews: A Reappraisal (Toronto and Munich 1985)
Don't worry, Orysia, about not yet having formulated a write-up that you feel meets your standards. When your ideas have marinated to your satisfaction, my family and I will of course want to read it.
And now, after a more than full day's work, my head feels heavy ...it doesn't want to stay at work anymore. But tired as it is, it wants to thank you again as it did some weeks ago for your musical detective work on behalf of my mother, done with warmth and dedication.
End of story.