“Polýnushka”, founded in July 2004 in Berlin is Germany’s first vocal ensemble of authentic Russian folklore music. We are five singers from different countries (Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine) who have all been working with Eastern European music for many years. We created the ensemble in order to save a unique, but disappearing, Russian vocal tradition. Our mission, insofar as this is possible in an urban context, is to preserve this musical tradition and make it known to a wider audience by sharing the beauty and depth of Russian village songs with others.
Nowadays it is only the generation of 75 year olds, the grandmothers, who have grown up with this tradition. Because we have learnt from them we see ourselves as their successors and carriers of the tradition. Due to Soviet censorship, the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, and later, due to the appearance of television in the villages, this music is a rarity today.
We sing songs from different regions of Russia and neighbouring lands (Ukraine and Belarus). Local traditions present a variety of linguistic and musical dialects. These traditions also comprise various genres, which formed during different cultural epochs. Our repertoire contains songs for Christmas, springtime and weddings, lyric and dance songs, circle dances, laments and spiritual songs.
The songs of the calendar and life cycle form the oldest layer of Russian folklore. The common feature of these songs in different local traditions is the use of heterophony . This type of harmony can be found in Russian folk music and also in many other traditions of folk music, with melodic and rhythmic improvised variations heard at the same time as the main tune. As these variations come about spontaneously, the songs are reborn each time they are performed. This is seen as a considerable distinguishing feature between living folklore, based on improvisation and oral transmission, and academic, notated folk music.
We learn the songs by ear, as done according to village oral tradition. Before starting to sing a song we work extensively with text. We keep as close as possible to the dialect of each individual region. It is very important, and in our case quite challenging, to agree on a common accent, a thing that the grandmothers innately possess because they have grown up with their local dialect.
The grandmothers do not sing their songs, they tell stories. It is very important to be able to understand the stories and learn to tell them ourselves. Due to the symbolic nature of the texts, as well as the meaning of the song-stories being subject to individual interpretation and insight or emotional state, our personal contexts and experiences play an important role, and can result in the songs changing in meaning over time.
Ongoingly we ask ourselves: How can one create a common framework, particularly when it comes to ritual songs? How can one reach an emotional and physical as well as musical state of mind that allows for the magic of the ritual? And how can each individual singer create her own space in this common frame for her individual style of expressing herself, her own story, her timbre, her movements and her accents? In the seeking of answers the specific sound of our ensemble was and is created. In this respect we are not a copy of the Russian grandmothers but just as authentic in our own urban culture.