In the 1867 a tradition of holding Archeological Conferences known as Congresses was established in the Russian Empire. The aim of these conferences was to discuss and to make public studies dealing with matters of antiquity and ethnography. The Conferences were hosted by a different city of the Russian Empire every three years.
The Third Archeological Congress was held in Kiev in 1873 and featured the renowned kobzar - Ostap Veresai.
In 1902 the XIIth Archeological Congress was held in Kharkiv. By that time Ostap Veresai had died and ethnographers had come to the mistaken conclusion that he was the last kobzar. Bandurist Hnat Khotkevych was invited to give a presentation at the Congress. He organized a concert to demonstrate the various studies which included the performance by a number of kobzars from a number of regions of Ukraine. The concert was extremely successful and changed the status of the kobzars who up till then were persecuted by the Russian tsarist authorities treated as common street beggars.
The XIIIth Archeological Congress took place in Katerynoslav in 1905. Interest in the performance of the kobzari was very high. Attempts to repeat the performance of the kobzars at the XIIth Congress were not successful. It was attended by Tereshko Parkhomenko and two other kobzars.
The XIIth all-Russian Archeological Congress that took place from August 14–27, 1902. It took on an epochal importance, which is worthy of more detailed investigation. Initially the scientific community in Ukraine became interested in the art of the kobzars in 1873, when the matter of the Poltava kobzar Ostap Veresai was raised at a special meeting of the South-Western chapter of the Russian Imperial Geographic Society. Apart from a number of papers presented regarding the kobzar, the participants also had the chance to listen to his renditions. The performance of the 70-year-old kobzar left a great impression on the participants.
The next set of Archeological Conferences, were organized outside of Ukraine, and the matter of kobzar art was not discussed. The XIIth Archeological Congress however was planned to take place in Kharkiv - a region that was a major hub for kobzar art. This was one of the reasons why the art of kobzars was included in the program of the proceedings. There are indications that professor M. Dashkovych, the head of the Nestor the Chronicler Society, made the uggestion that the conference focus its attention to the art of the kobzars.
The organizational committee of the conference was led by Kharkiv University professor and noted ethnographer M. Sumtsov who decided to liven up the discussions and papers about the kobzars with the inclusion of live performances. The committee turned to Hnat Khotkevych to co-ordinate the performances during the conference and to also give a short paper on the current state of the art form.
Khotkevych agreed whole-heartedly. He used the forum to turn the participants awareness to the difficult lifestyle of these blind folk musicians and the persecution they underwent from the local police.
For the conference six kobzars were invited; four from the regions around Kharkiv: Petro Drevchenko, Pavlo Hashchenko, Ivan Kuchuhura Kucherenko, Hrytsko Netesa; one from Poltava province; Mykhailo Kravchenko; and one from Chernihiv province: Terentiy Parkhomenko. To this group of six were added three lirnyks. Later, in order to balance the voices which had a tendency of being made up exclusively of basses (apart from Parkhomenko who was a tenor), a local street singer was invited. He usually performed without an instrument, however, knew the repertoire of the kobzars. (It was not possible then to find a kobzar in the Kharkiv environs who sang tenor).
All the participants were housed in one of the university buildings - a basement which was dry and warm where preparations took place. On the first day, as Khotkevych would write, each of the participants became acquainted with each other. Initially they showed off what each knew how to sing and play.
The demonstrations started with the host group from Kharkiv. They were very nervous. It is noteworthy that each of them was an artist, and had become used to performing in front of various audiences. But this was at bazaars, marketplaces and dwellings. But here was a new environment, a different auditorium made up of other kobzars - all of which had become very agitated. After the Kharkiv kobzars finished performing, it was M. Kravchenko's turn from Poltava. His music and method of performance was the most artistic of all the participants, but... Mykhailo did not receive the highest honours at that gathering of blind minnesingers. The simple-minded auditorium, even though it was made up exclusively of musicians, enjoys performances that are loud, bright and confident, These characteristics were heard in the performance by the Chernihiv kobzar.
"So that is how you play .... we play like this!" So saying he struck his strings. His bandura was huge, the method he used to play was totally different from that of the Kharkiv players (a form of tremolo in thirds, where the fingers move in the direction of the finger pads, and then the direction of the nail). A high clear tenor, confidence in himself and on top of this a song that stunned the listeners. And thus Terentiy Parkhomenko was acclaimed as the best kobzar of the gathering. After this the daily grind began for the preparation of the concert commenced. Our work was energetic. All day we rehearsed, especially the ensemble pieces. This was the first time that these blind men had played in such a large group. Those who sat on the right flank, could not hear the person sitting on the left flank. The orchestral members could not see the conductor, so there is no way of correcting problems during the performance. We had to learn all the pieces to perfection, which we did.
There has been some discussion in recent times as to the amount in which Khotkevych had interfered with the kobzars "authentic" performances. His paper and his methodology was thought of as being invasive of the traditional art form. However, had he not taken such a stand it is possible that traditional bandura playing would have disappeared much earlier, and contemporary bandura playing may not have happened.
The program included solo performances, duets, trios and other ensembles, something akin to an orchestra of folk instruments. The group of kobzars and lirnyky was supplemented by a traditional folk ensemble known as a "troyista myzyky" (two violins and a cello), which were invited to participate from the village of Derkachi.
This meeting during the conference, which officially was called "the Conference of the 2nd division of the historic-geographic and ethnographic antiquities", took place in the public library. The higher administration of the city as well as the governor were also invited.
The meeting was opened by the chairman of the conference, professor of the University of Kharkiv - A. Krasnov. In his opening address he noted: "the collection of folk songs is difficult, because such a collector required not only the understanding of the regional ethnography and a keen sense of observation, but also had to have musical training in order to correctly notate the song, and to correctly recreate it. The final task is particularly difficult, so this conference decided to take an easier route, and to hear the performance of these works by the carriers of this music directly, in this case from the kobzars and lirnyks .... To this live antiquity, which is gradually disappearing, the conference is dedicated. "
A short paper "About the kobzars and lirnyks of the Kharkiv province" was read by professor M. Sumtsov. After this was another short paper - "The association of the blind, their organization and current state" which was read by V. Ivanov. He completed the reading with the following word: "The nelips -(that is what he called the blind singer-kobzars) this is live walking archeology. Let us all preserve the clean and good, and disregard all that which is bad and offensive. People sometimes can be born blind but no-one is born a beggar. Begging is an offensive industry. Let us wish our singers recognition for their humanity and dignity. Let a person born blind continue to be a man."
The final paper before the concert was read by Hnat Khotkevych. It was read out, "in a manner unusual for an Archeological meeting, and for the members of the ultra-polite academics in general." The second section of the paper, which was dedicated to the persecution and oppression of the kobzars by the organs of the state administration was considerably severe.
The main points of the paper were such:
"Almost every nation, particularly on the European continent, gave music a divine source. It is certain that people did not look upon it as a form of unsophisticated culture. The general thought was that music was the thread that unites human beings with the unknown beauties of this world, far from hustle and bustle of daily life. They say that only the old and the young say the truth – and it is certain: civilization in the early times called music: "the language of the gods." Unfortunately we are currently in a state, we can say a more adult state, or a more mature state, and for us music is a method "pour passer le temps". Even professional people "do not understand what they create." One can expect, that in time when humanity grows more mature and rather than instinctively, they will through derived knowledge move music to its proper place in society, where it again will become a heavenly divine gift, worthy of adoration.
"The singer does not sing from himself, this gift was given him by Zeus" is what is stated in the Odyssey. And our Ukrainian rhapsodies even today, despite the musical and moral degeneration, have preserved within themselves the concept that they are the people that should elevate the ethical life of the people to a higher level, singing occasionally for their listeners religious-moral materials from the past. As an example, Kulish wrote that the kobzar Andriy Shut thought that the profession of a kobzar is a matter of salvation, because the kobzar exists to remind people about God and about benevolence and charity.
The genealogical tree of our Ukrainian bandurists is very high. Its direct ancestor was the prophetic Boyan-- "the nightingale of ancient times"
As the people developed and changed, so did the expression of their spirit. The Boyan, in the past a pagan priest, a wizard, a foretell of supernatural events, was all-mighty and wise, a leader of the people, an indicator of the direction one's life would take or an advisor to the tsar; later an organ for the statement of community feeling, a rhapsody of heroic epics and an igniter of national ferment for the lifting of national spirit and self-awareness—he has only now, in recent times been reborn in the guise of a blind beggar, who puts up with hunger and cold on the beaten path and believes more in his unhappy lot, than the sound of his poor instrument.
We have little information about the early period of the musical life of our people unfortunately, but still history has left us with these singer-rhapsodies with unblemished epic purity, as if they were the true carriers of truth, the singers of heroic deeds, fed and inspired the folk masses. Shevyriov wrote about the Boyan: "He knew well his poetic destiny, he was a singer of independence and easily put together songs in the praise of princes, not giving up his inspiration for anyone else." All this can be applied to the moral face of our old kozak bandurist. It should be considered, that this rich period of Ukrainian history allowed itself to be distorted by all sides, and in particular the musical dissipation's of the people. In those times all Kozaks were bandurists. The kozak era was a very generous era for the creation of songs. The folk lived in all is fibres; happiness and sadness were intertwined and influenced every soul. There was no rest for the nerves, and artistic souls always found a way to express themselves. A so it was: in this period a huge body of songs and dumy were created; women would poetically speak about their feelings, Kozaks sang about war and chivalry. One can be assured that on a rich soil would grow fantastic fruit—folk poet-rhapsodies, genius bandurists: these are the creators of these songs and dumy.
Then came the destruction of the Sich, feudalism – and the people felt the full weight of Moscovy's hand. All who stood in its way were quashed. This persecution did not evade the kobzar. In captivity he no longer became a singer of the Kozaks, because they no longer existed. Now he sang only about the past, which was sacred to the Ukrainian soul. Years passed and the retelling of stories of the past began to disappear one by one from the memory of the people. Life took on different forms, and that which interested the folk in the past slowly lost its value. Because of this so did the bandurists. One after the other they began to forget dumy, and gradually became accustomed to their new conditions of existence. Today in front of us we have the contemporary kobzar and lirnyk, the contemporary carrier of the richness of folk song. Let us investigate what this is.
He is known to all of us, the contemporary singer. He comes into our courtyards, scratches something out on the lira or plucks something out on the bandura, and they give him a scrap of bread. He bows down and thanks the people, and goes on to the next building,..... and that is all—a blindman, a beggar and that is it. But there is more to him, than this. Firstly the bandurists disdregard the fact that the Kozaks are now gone and will never return. They do not consider the fact that the previous way of life will never return. The Kobzars are still are a repository of the memory of the past—each of them knowing a number of dumy, and ancient kozak songs.
About the kobzars of the Chernihiv province I would like to say somewhat more, because this is a new type of bandurist, who is being currently formed and has a great future. This is Terentiy Makarovych Parkhomenko, from the Chernihiv province, Sosnytsia region, from the settlement of Burkivka, (which is pronounced by the Chernihivites Bourkwuwka). He is 30 years old and initially studied from Andriy Haidenko. Haidenko in his turn learned the kobzar art from some old man named Danylo. Terentiy however had not managed to learn any dumy at all from his teacher, nor from his friends. "No matter how much horilka I gave them, nothing would come out" he states. In the mean time Tereshko wanted to learn dumy very badly; something called out to his soul and I have not seen a bandurist who would listen with such interest to historic songs and dumy, like this Parkhomenko. And that drive to learn about the past did not end without results. He met up with various Ukrainian intellectuals, who as a result of his queries about dumy, purchased books and songbooks. He chose a literate lead boy specifically in order to have him read out the texts of dumy and historic songs. "I came to the conference not so much to be a participant, but more so to learn something"—he told me. Now he knows nine dumy, many historic songs (one of theme about Morozenko he will perform this evening). Taking the motives for his songs from the intelligentsia who can write and print, Terentiy does not step into the art form blindly. Despite using modes and scales which are not traditional, he adds to them his individuality, and returns them from forgotteness into live performance. He inserts into them a lost feeling, so that the song in this rendition does not have a bookish feeling. In such a manner in this bandurist we can observe that the intelligentsia has begun to return the borrowed treasures, and although it was not looked after very well, it was indeed saved for posterity. Let God grant Terentiy the fulfillment of his wishes—the future is his.
I will say a few words about the extinction of the kobzars. In the general public there exists a well-established thought that Ostap Veresai was the last of the Ukrainian Bandurists. This is an erroneous idea; the kobzars, are not dying out, and if they are, are doing so very, very slowly. I did not do a systematic inquire about live kobzars, but I do have the following statistics; in Kharkiv province in the Bohodukhiv and Akhtyrka region live 28 bandurists and 37 lirnyks. The Chernihiv bandurist stated, that he knows in the Sosnytsia region and in the surrounding areas 9 kobzars and 15 lirnyks, and such figures can indicate many things—but do not indicate extinction in anyway.
Finally I would like to raise the matter about the persecution of the kobzars by local town and village administrators.
Once upon a time one of the major concerns of the orthodox clergy was the "persecution of lay singers of songs, the players of music, dancers and acrobats." In those times they were sure "the husli would make sound – and just as bees are chased out by smoke - so are angels of God chased out by such music, and such cacophony makes the devil happy." Apart from this, they believed that music was one of the main problems in the country, and that "it is worth incarcerating in the name of God and to punish such law breakers." It is not unusual that the government mirroring the actions of the clerics "attempted to destroy this accursed devil worship". Even the "quiet spoken" Tsar Oleksiy Mykhailovych sent out a draconian proclamation "to destroy the instruments of the skomorokhy, and to beat them with sticks without mercy" and their innocent "surmas, drums and domras are to be broken up to the last and to be thrown into the fire." But at that time everything was possible....
What can one think when even today, after many centuries they are "beating musicians" but this time not the skomorokhy, but the unfortunate blind Ukrainian bandurists. What can one think when they destroy their simple instruments? This is not a rhetorical formula: two years ago one of the bandurists came to me in tears. What had happened? A simple matter: his kobza was smashed against a post by some police officer and the unfortunate blindman had lost his last method of earning an income. Just 30 years ago, the eminent Mr. Rusov at the meeting of the South-western section of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society stated, that this blindman was difficult to tell apart from a standard beggar, and no-one paid any attention to these words. It is easy to differentiate: A beggar can work but does not, but the blindman wants to work but cannot. Each of them apart from playing his instrument, tries to learn some sort of trade: one plies ropes, another weaves baskets a third makes nets. The kobzar Mykhailo Kravchenko for example stated: "When you wind those ropes for a month or two, twenty layers of skin peel off your fingers." Another of the bandurists present can ring church bells very well. Tears form in his eyes when he recounts how he once came slightly late to take up his position as the bell ringer in one of the churches in his village. "Now there is a sighted person – he states – but a sighted person can find many other tasks to do." It is the true that he does not want to be pictured as being lazy. He wanders from house to house, adhering to those laws which apply to us all which no-one opposes. He needs only to feed his hunger. But maybe this fundamental need is a crime, as one of the blind kobzars O. Bar stated: " Eh - what happens when one comes across one of those city dwellers, government officials, civil servants etc.! He'll tear the strings on your bandura, and he will threaten to smash your instrument, and if you argue with him - he'll box in your sides - just don't walk around." ..." Where will I, your eminence, get that piece of daily bread? It is understood that no-one will bring it to me at my home?"
"Such it is, die, but do not wander round here, because it is forbidden."
And this is not a rare occurrence, but unfortunately, a chronic one, which has been occurring for many tens of years. "So we hide from them - says Kravchenko - as if we, let God forgive, are some sort of criminals or something. When we hear that one is coming or riding, you turn away in any direction, and often you may fall, just in order that this misfortune passes you by. So what sort of times have come: young Jews can walk around with barrel organs, and they are allowed, even those who are so loud that you can hear the noise through the whole neighborhood, but here we sing about God, we turn people away from sin - no that is not allowed."
A characteristic answer by the kobzar Mykhailo Kravchenko when he was asked before traveling to Saint Petersburg: "Well Uncle Mykhailo, if you were able to sing in front of the Tsar like that biliny singer Riabinin - what would you say to him?" To this the blindman answered - "For me personally, I need nothing, and if the Lord God made it so that I would indeed have a chance to speak to his eminence the Tsar, I would ask that he allow my brothers to walk freely everywhere". To such statements comments are superfluous.
How to understand and clarify for oneself such persecution - I do not know, but I feel that no one else but men of science should turn their attention to it, because not only the bandurists have to put up with such persecution, but also science. Organizations are created for the collection of ethnographic materials, but what will they collect if, all these kobzars " "throw out from their heads" all their song riches. Mykhailo Kravchenko for example has already forgotten a number of dumy, not being able to expect any improvement of matters, he has prematurely uttered incantations to himself that have meant the premature death of himself and his music. But the bandurists themselves? Many of them have to starve, not only by themselves but with their families -because that unlucky kobza or lira which was the only breadwinner of many mouths.
Beaten by nature itself, and placed in a position in which it is impossible to fight for the elements of life - what do they think of the need for their art when their bandura is smashed against a post? We become angry when thickheaded sons of landowners shoot at crosses placed on kozak burial mounds; we get even more upset when we discover that some unsophisticated people are killing off some nice birds somewhere, we write books, read lectures - why do we not take to this matter, when the same thing is happening with live people .... a kobzar - this is the same good bird, feeding itself it does good for those around him - and to science, passing on good in their dumas and psalms. Let us look after and conserve these good singing birds!.... Let us expect that the XIIth Archeological conference will not leave their work just at a discussion, but will make inquiries to the higher administration. In such a manner each of the people present can help our Ukrainian kobzars with their kind words."
Such an open accusation to the government, spoken out with young hot-headedness and at such a large gathering of people in the conference hall, and in front of the governor and high police officials, was unheard of, and no-one could expect to know how this would end up, had not the concert of these above mentioned kobzars discussed by the orator started up immediately. The concert was so unique and made such a huge impression on everyone, in particular those in high administration, that if anyone wanted to take up the matter against the daring free thinking orator, such ideas were neutralized by the concert. All that happened as a consequence was that such a "free thinking" paper was not included in the publication of the "Conference papers".
The program of the concert was made up of two sections. In the first were historic pieces.
- The duma about the poor widow and her three sons - lirnyk Laryvon
- The song about Morozenko - kobzar T. Parkhomenko
- The duma about the escape of the three brothers from Azov - kobzar M. Kravchenko
- The duma about Khmelnytsky and Barabash - kobzar Ivan Kucherenko
- The duma about the storm on the Black sea - bandurist Hnat Khotkevych
- The duma about Stepan - bandurist M. Sadovsky
- The song about the destruction of the Sich - M. Sadovsky's troupe.
When the first half of the concert ended, as Khotkevych wrote - "you could not recognize the hall. You could not recognize the people who had filled the hall. All of them had delighted faces, all of them crowded around the blindmen, they shook their hands, noted down their addresses and invited then to visit as guests. The blind men themselves were excited no less: the powerful feeling of winning over the audience overfilled their hearts. For a moment they forgot that they were blind, they were filled with life. And it was pleasing to look at their re-animated joyous faces. These moments were truly unforgettable. "
The second half consisted of four subsections:
The first subsection was made up of religious and moralistic songs.
- "The Skovorodinian psalm" - duet by kobzar I. Netesa and lirnyk S. Veselyj
- Psalm: "The angels awaken the soul" - trio by M. Kravchenko, T. Parkhomenko, P. Drevchenko.
- "About truth" - kobzar choir: I. Kucherenko, P. Hashchenko, P. Drevchenko, lirnyk Ivan Zozulia, and the singer Pavlo.
Photo: A kobzar trio - M. Kravchenko, T. Parkhomenko and P. Drevchenko'
The second subsection consisted of ritual and traditional folk songs.
- Chumak song - M. Sadovsky
- Oh beyond the hills are columns of smoke - M. Sadowky's troupe
- Near the forest is a pathway - M. Sadowsky's troupe
- Wedding motives - the troyista ensemble
- It rain, it pours -All the bandurists and lirnyks
- Beyond the meadow - All the bandurists and lirnyks
The third subsection was the collection of various instruments into a musical ensemble, despite the unclear sound of the liras and the somewhat unblended voices. This produced such a round of open applause rarely is awarded even to the performance of the best symphonic orchestras.
Section three consisted of humorous and satirical songs:
- About the priest's wife - P. Hashchenko
- Kyselyk - I. Netesa
- The city woman -lirnyk Ivan Zozulia
- Chechitka - P. Drevchenko
- The white snows - Sadowsky's choir
- Kynu kuzhil' - Sadowsky's choir
And the final section was made up of instrumental works:
- Dudochka - bandura ensemble
- Horlytsia - bandura ensemble with liras
- Hrechanyky - bandurists, lirnyks, and the troyista.
The concert ended but the audience did not leave the hall. It is difficult to describe the euphoria - impossible.
A review of the concert appeared in the magazine "Etnograficheskoye obozreniye". "The Great Hall of the Kharkiv Public Library, where the meeting took place, was full, despite the fact that entrance to the hall was extremely restricted. The kobzars and the lirnyks, these carriers of south-Russian songs, were met by loud applause of those in the hall. Their artistic renditions of folk songs, about which the participants had only heard about, left such a huge impression, that the choir of the Society of Russian-Ukrainian artists directed by M. Sadowsky seemed to be quite poor in comparison to the original performance of the blind kobzars and lirnyks. The non-synthetic folk poesy, the singing of the bandurists and the soft, full of rich and textured harmony of the sounds of the bandura surpassed the performance by the professional artists and created a spark of love to folk poetry and to its carriers and people."
The expectations set by Khotkevych in the organization of this event were met. The performance demonstrated the high value of kobzar art, and in the preceding speech had shown that for the performance of such songs and creations, the blind kobzars were being harassed by the police officials. This created an unusual paradox. As a result, the conference put forward a proposition to lobby the Imperial Ministry of Internal Affairs to give the kobzars and lirnyks protection, to give these last survivors of the carriers of these ancient songs the right to sing their songs without repercussions and harassment. This petition was forwarded by the Moscow chapter of the archeological society to the then minister of Internal Affairs - V. Pleve.
Because of the authority of the Archeological Conference the persecution of the kobzars ceased for a short period of time. The community began to be more interested in the kobzars and began to invite them to various conferences, exhibitions and private performances. As Khotkevych wrote - "the preservation of kobzardom became a cause; it became clear to all, that the bandura would not die. This was accomplished by the XII Archeological Conference in Kharkiv ".
A second important side of the work done by Khotkevych as a result of the conference lay in the professional preparation of performances by the various kobzars, and the organization of these performers into a kobzar ensemble. This demonstration showed that the bandura was an instrument with huge technical potential. The Bandura could be used not only as an instrument for the individual accompaniment of the voice, but also in an ensemble and orchestral setting. This meant that the bandura could now move from being played in the market places and the village and city streets and began its migration to the stage. Professional musical instrument makers began to gradually make improvements, and in its new incarnations was able to win over new audiences and fans, gradually moving towards an instrument that waIvan Kuchuhura Kucherenkos capable of general acclaim.
All this came about because of the XII Archeological Conference, although it may be fairer to say that all this is due to Hnat Khotkevych realized through the XII Archeological Conference.
Hnat Khotkevych had the desire to repeat the concert performances in a large concert tour of Ukraine. Unfortunately this was not possible, because his appeals to get permission from each of the governors of all the provinces in Ukraine resulted in blatant refusals. Even in Kharkiv he was unable to get permission to repeat the concert for the general public. This first kobzar concert was a nationally arousing experience and was not in the interests of the Imperial Tsarist administration. This became very evident in the governor's letter where he wrote: "If it were to take place in Tambov (in the ethnographic centre of European Russia), I would allow the concert to take place, but here – no."