Ukrainian Folksongs and Bols

David Johnston

2011 Composer-in-Residence Kamala Sankaram and guest artist Dr. Maria Sonevytsky


This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend 2011 Composer-in-Residence Kamala Sankaram’s free public program at Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy – a workshop on Ukrainian folk singing and how these traditions have influenced Kamala’s composition work. Not being at all familiar with folksongs of the Ukraine, I was looking forward to learning something new and eager to hear excerpts from Kamala’s new opera “The Thumbprint of Mukhtar Mai.” Kamala and her colleague, ethnomusicologist and singer, Dr. Maria Sonevytsky, presented a fabulously fun and interactive program, introducing the audience to various Ukrainian regions with their particular vocal styles and singing traditions.  Never did I imagine that I would be the one belting out Slavic tunes for an hour, all the while having a blast. A particular favorite was an 18th century “top hit” from the Poltava region. I got to join the men for this rousing three-part tune.

Another highlight was learning an excerpt of Indian bols composed by Kamala, so that we (the audience) could accompany Kamala and Maria as they sang solos from “The Thumbprint of Mukhtar Mai.” This new opera is based on the sobering true story of Mukhtar Mai – a Pakistani woman who, despite being a victim of an “honor revenge” gang rape, decides to pursue her cause and ignites the attention of the world. While it was challenging to learn how to sufficiently sing and enunciate the bols, with lots of encouragement, we managed to sing a whole excerpt. It was fascinating to both listen and take part in an amazing new work that incorporates a true modern tale in Hindustani, Western and folk singing traditions.

If you haven’t listened to Kamala’s music or heard her sing, you must do so here. You’re in for a memorable experience. And thank you Kamala and Maria for a most wonderful Saturday afternoon!


P.S. Interested in being a Con Edison Musicians’ Residency Composer? Sign up for our e-blast to get news for the next round of the 2012 Con Edison Musicians’ Residency.


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