Yurko Fedynsky is an amazing phenomenon, that is liked to make a film in the style of “Americans emigrate to Ukraine.” In fact, he is not an American at all, and he did not emigrate anywhere, but just returned to where his ancestors had once lived.
Yurko arrived in Ukraine with a huge desire to stay here, to understand and increase the intellectual and cultural wealth of this country. This story is about what has come out.
Sometimes you need a fresh look on an outsider to see the traditions and culture of your area from the inside. Such person became Yurko Fedynsky in the Kryachkivka, Poltava region.
Yurko was born and grew up in the USA. Being a child he found in the family library a pre-war record of the Bandura chapel. The melodies and the voice that he heard had impression on him. Since then, he has become interested in kobzardom, Ukrainian music and musical instruments. Yurko received his first musical education in Detroit, after that he travelled to America with concerts of Ukrainian music. He came to get his second education in Ukraine:
— When I realized that there were Ukrainian instruments, which were developed here, I wanted to learn how to play one of them. Later I got this opportunity. I remember well the day I was holding the bandura for the first time. It was the Chernihiv bandura for 50 rubles. I could even afford to buy it. It was a great delight. I didn’t want to continue training on the Greco-Roman wrestling. I wanted to go home and feel my bandura. Only then I realized that my instrument was not the best. It is cheap, and it’s great that there exists as such one, otherwise I would not have played bandura at all. Now, in the end, I have the honor to make good instruments. So far, I feel ashamed because of the overall quality of Ukrainian instruments. But the problem is that we have a few left, scoops destroyed everything. They would not want us to talk about it today. They have done a great deal of harm: no instruments, no information on how to make them.
Before Kryachkivka, Yurko got a chance to live in urban life in Lviv and Kyiv. When he met Maria, a musician from Poltava, he married her and decided to go away from the city. His family wanted to build their own house, have their own garden, find friends and work together. Surrounding people are very important for Yurko. While looking for a place to settle, he didn’t choose the fertile soils and picturesque landscapes, but first of all good people, like-minded people:
— We chose between the Drevo group in Kryachkivtsi and the Tafiychuks in the Carpathians. First we decided to live in Kryachkivtsi, and then in the Tafiychuks. But here we have already become members of the Drevo group. They’ve wanted me to be their producer and finally I agreed. But I still can not solve the money issues. It’s not mine at all.
Yurko and his wife have already changed their minds to go further to Verkhnyi Bukovets village, where the famous Tafiychuk family ensemble lives:
— It’s not easy. We have settled down here. Seven years in Kryachkivka. This is the place where you can always return, if we go somewhere further. Who knows what will be in the future. Mr. Mikhail Tafiychuk is still live here and I would like to play and master with them. But we’ll see.
Mr. Mikhail Tafiychuk Here people come to me constantly and expect that I will teach them to make musical instruments in the studio. Leaving this post is too serious. We are building houses here and the workshops have been made, and not like it used to be: they crafted in a shed.
Yurko’s father is partially an Irishman, partly a German, and his mother has Ukrainian roots. Their long line’ve been continuing in the United States:
— I know that there was a certain Fedynskyy ancestor from the Carpathians and perhaps even from the village of Yabluniv. There are grandfathers from Kiev. But the ancestors of my great-grandmother’s family were from Poltava region. And I’ve come here with the idea that my ancestors lived here and this is my land. I’m not a guest here. Who knows, maybe they were from Kryachkivka.
I can say that I came back home after 250 years since the destruction of Sich
People from Kryachkivtsi are not still used to new people in their village. The Fedynsky family is still called “aliens”, despite the fact that they’ ve been living here for ten years.
Most of the local people are surprised that someone does not live according to their rules. For example, Yurko just here, in Kryachkivtsi, began to master agriculture. For the first time he picked up a shovel and a hammer. For the local, at least, it is weird. Neighbors also did not understand why Yurko was building a house not like everyone else did, but choosing natural materials. They said that the house would not stand. Now they are surprised how this “American” does not plant more potatoes than is needed and why Maria cares about vegetable lot. The difference in perception and attitude towards simple things, as we see, can be colossal.
Yurko looks like a hero of the film of the early twentieth century. He speaks well in Ukrainian, and for 16 years of his life in Ukraine he still has not lost a bright American accent. During a conversation, he smiles, still shines from the inside. Even when he speaks about his own problems and about what kind of damage to Ukraine was caused by the Soviet occupation.
Everywhere in the house – Yurko rebuilt it from the old country house, turning it into a modern apartment in the traditional style, there are hanging cards with English words. So Yurko and Maria study three of their English children. Mary tells about their home work:
— We have a kindergarten here in the summer. All children from the surrounding houses gather together. For the most part, people do not live permanently here, but only in the summer they come from the city. It is difficult to live here, we are now reclaiming a village school. But the school system in rural areas is ineffective. We want to make our own, but I do not think that our fellow villagers, who grow their children here, will support or understand us.
Mary exchange the city for the village and did not regret. She seriously got to the reformation of the village and even became a deputy to the local village council. She tries to embody her ideas and dreams in spite of the complex bureaucratic system.
Yurko said that he taught English for local children for free. Only a few students studied, and later their parents took them away:
— I suggested all local teachers teach them English every Sunday. Both older and smaller. But nobody comes, nobody needs it. They do not understand at all how it can be: I came here and I will teach them something. But they must teach me!
And I’m learning, but there’s no exchange.
There is a school in Kryachkivka. It is located in an old manor estate. There are more than 20 children in the local kindergarten, they are future schoolchildren. For the village it’s pretty much. However, schools want to close, in order to cut costs from the local budget. People started taking their children because of the threat of closure. They believe that better education can be provided by a school with more children in the classroom, so they transfer their children to a school in the neighboring village. The Fedynskyy do not think so and see no reason to close the school. They tried to convince everyone that they should not do that. They already have four children and their son Myroslav has recently gone to school. Yurko tells:
— We say that this is nonsense, it’s fictitious, it’s some sort of machinations, and Miroslav will remain at school, and they say he will study only one hour per day. Perfect, but Miroslav will save the school.
Therefore, the school in Kryachkivka is not closed, because according to the law, if at least one of the parents does not take the documents of his child, then the school must work:
— Parents will not take the documents until their teacher forces them. And it happened. We went to this teacher and asked why she did this, what makes her take the documents. Of course, she didn’t respond.
Yurko believes that they will find a way out anyway:
— The next year there’ll be more children at school because the girls are growing up. Maybe somebody will think over and undertake. At first we wanted Myrosyk to study at home. If they give one hour extra – it’s even better. But if they close the school, we will learn them at home.
The new Yurko’s project is a kobzar museum. He plans to bring together work and instruments from the family collection and by using money of the Ukrainian diaspora, create a modern museum in the village, where tourists will come:
— A few months before my uncle, who lives as an emigrant told me to build a museum. And I’m building. I have huge financial problems. Relatives say that it can’t be museum in Kryachkivka, where Putin takes everything. We will give away him nothing.
But even if Yurko don’t get some money for charity, he is fully intended to build a museum, though it will be much smaller. Reconstruction of the old Ukrainian instruments, which he made in his own studio, will become new exhibition samples. Yurko believes that such a museum is very necessary here, in Poltava region:
— I am increasingly convinced that the Poltava region is the core of the kobza. They say that the kobzar was created here, in the city of Zinkiv, near Poltava. But in Poltava region there is no museum of kobza. So someone has to set it up. And here I am ready to serve as I can. Previously, it (kobzardom – ed.) was in a different form: there were Cossacks, kobzari or something like that. We still know very little about this.
Once a year, Yurko and Mary carry out a small festival “Tree of the Kobzar generation” in Kryachkivtsi:
— It all began as a camp for training my students and the formation of a kobza work shop in general. Because there are other work shops in Kharkov, Lviv, Kyiv. We had a couple of weeks for working in order to become better as an institution. But it turned out that other shops were not so interested in our promotion, because they have their own shares. We have been holding the training camp more than six years and were ready to present our work to the public. There were activists and I offered them to hold the festival without money. They said it was impossible, because we needed to bribe an official. And I want to do everything honestly, according to the rules. And where should we do it? Maybe here in Kryachkivtsi? And we did everything with the minimum efforts, because we had already prepared for the camp, we had everything. It is not an artificial festival – it’s a real place of work. We put the music in a practice and make some instruments. We have had several festivals, and my dream came true. The festival is called “The Tree of the Kobzar’s Family”. The Kobzar tradition has its own family tree, the roots of which is traditional kobzardom. We are the present branches of this tree, some of us are the leaves that have just begun. It is not a commercial festival and not for the mass audience. Of course, we’re just waiting for people to come. But most of them do not understand this program. They need a vodka, they need a drum. And what is fun without this? It also has to be something for sale. But there are people from the city, who love to visit us, people from abroad who are interested in kobzardom and Ukrainian culture. They come. But I would like my neighbors to come too.
Yurko began to make his own instruments simply because he didn’t have his own kobza. He had no money to buy an instrument. Now he is already able to make kobza, bandura, torban, lyre and harp:
— Then I had just the opportunity to do everything myself, I had some wood. I hadn’t got an instrument, then I started making the first kobzas. I liked the process of mastering. As a child, I loved the building of Lego. And it’s like grown toys. You do what you want. I’ve already made not only banduras and kobzas, I’m already making the most complex Ukrainian instruments. One of the most difficult is the torbans. And I’m already playing it. But I’m no going to stop. This can be a good and profitable profession, but in fact, I’m not earning anything at all. But I want to make even better instruments. The bandura I’m making now has to be even better than the previous ones. It is special in sound, in shape, even in ornament. The previous banduras are much heavier, they have metal strings, but mine will have nylon strings. It has got a very thin deck. It’s a very resonant instrument. Most of the bandura is made of willow, and this one is made of maple. There will be possibility to compress the fingerboard, not just play as the harp. The instruments should be traditional, but we have so little left of traditional ones. I believe it’s possible to make the instrument even better.
Yurko with such enthusiasm and love tells us about his instruments:
— For example, in the construction of my bandura, there is a lot from the lute. Lute players still have a lot of information on how to do a good resonance instrument. I learn from them. Here we have not 5 basses, but 10. Or rather, they are duplicated. Such duplication is found in Ukrainian traditional bandura, but not often. With the help of these basses there will be total sound spectrum. This is a moment of a certain development for me. We have already made the exemplary kobzar banduras. Now we are making some creative reconstruction. This should be the musical instrument itself, and not the one that hangs on the wall. The old kobzars had bad instruments that sounded bad, difficult to play. This is due to the fact that the kobzars lived in a poor country. In tsarist Russia, the king was hostile to the kobzardom. Therefore, skill level was very low, judging by those preserved instruments. Unfortunately, there are too few of them. Were there such gorgeous samples of bandura in those days? Probably, they were.
Hetman Mazepa did not play on some firewood, his instrument was made from rosewood. Where did he find a rosewood, maybe in Asia
Perhaps there were even the shops in Baturin or Glukhov. We have a lot of things in Ukraine, many cheap, unfortunately. Ukrainians are smart, they say: “Do not buy Chinese thing!” But then we make something worse and more expensive, unfortunately. And how can we take some firewood for a concert? If our ancestors played such a thing, so must we do the same? So they did not pay attention to the appearance of the instrument, it was secondary. But not for me.
My first instrument was the piano. It stood in our house. I was 6. I had the first banduras in the age of 16. Then my aunt and my uncle told me to go for studying to Julian Kitastoy, that it would be interesting. I got carried away with it. I loved the diaspora companies, because we did not live in the diaspora, we lived among Americans. And the spirit that was there, was the spirit of Bandura Chapel, music and social affairs – it was extremely interesting. And I have been studying for 10 years. It was time to look for something new in the kobzardom, and I came to Ukraine. And I found. At first I studied at the music conservatory. But later I realized that I was more interested in the tradition of playing bandura. Because there are Soviet traditions in the conservatory, they were not kobzar traditions. There were also teachers who were totally uninteresting in kobzar traditions. I decided to stay away from such people. And this decision was correct. During my studying in conservatory I found out about the existence of the Kiev kobzar shop. That was an extremely interesting group. I have lived and worked with them for 10 years in Kiev. Until the moment when the time has come to say goodbye and create my own kobzar group, where the kobzardom would be in my own way, as I understand it. I am independent, I teach in the way I want. Because I do as I believe it is right, not like others.
As in all cases of Ukrainians, there are lots of superstitions in the kobzardom. After all, superstition is part of tradition. They say, for example, that a woman can not make or touch the instrument. You must also write not only a name, but also some prayers on the bandura. About prayer, I think it helps, anyway, if it’s genuine. There is such a film “The guide”. There is such a moment when the say: “Yeah, without soundposts * *the soundpost is a small piece of wood that connects the sounding board and body, there is no voice, no soul in the instrument. Therefore, they say, an instrument without a soundpost is no longer a kobza, not a bandura”. I understand that the director just paid attention to our workshops, because we do not put soundposts on our instruments. As for me, this is a myth, a superstition. But many masters of bandura, kobza and lyre have no examples to follow. And violin masters have got lots of their violins. Many things from violin mastering are transposed to bandura, for example, a soundpost. But it’s not necessary to have it. The masters often follow the myth instead of making a good instrument. Mastering is a social process and most of masters are not professional craftsmen, but fans. But all that is done with love and it’s great. And so, there is great success in our community of masters. Because there are also those, who want to make not only with love, but want to become professional craftsmen, to have the best instrument. And that’s fine.
One bandura can be made quickly or for a long time. I can make a kobza for 2 weeks, as I made. I will not do this anymore because it is a compromised instrument. But there is also a need for cheap instruments so everyone can afford to play. There are already enough masters who handle with it. I want to make the best instruments, without any compromises on time. Sometimes it lasts for too long. But I’m not in a hurry, I don’t work to order, no one forces me. I make the instruments on which I would play myself, and I would not be ashamed of that. After all, the instruments have to sound. This is not for a wall or a museum. Yes, they will be in a new museum for a while. And that’s fine, because I’ll see that the instrument is stable, that it does not move, does not spin, is not destroyed. But, finally, someone has to play the instrument, so that they serve a long time for somebody.
I have all sorts of drawings for the kobza, the bandura, the torban. We make them more often. These are precise drawings, so that we know how to make the smallest details. I’ve already made 20 instruments. It’s hard to say exactly how much time it takes for a separate instrument, because I usually make a few at once. Now I’m making kobza and torban. It’s a bit hard, but I have a choice every day. This is also important for inspiration.
— Money multiplies problems, but do not solve them. Of course, I do not have all sorts of material things I’ve had in America. For example, auto. But it is conditional. One day you are happy, because you can go, and the other day you are unhappy because you break down and you can not go. Therefore, I do not believe that you will find happiness through material things. The philosophers say that we have everything. Maybe you want to go somewhere, but it’s better not go there. I have to go home and work. It will be perfect happiness. Someone can find a benefit from my example. I want to show that you can live, how Ukrainians live. And then you don’t have to get money. You’d not get by without money in America. It is possible, while living abroad, to transfer money here, but this is not the best way. If you are Ukrainian, and if you are leaders, intellectuals, many of whom emigrated, then your being should be here for really helping, not just send money transfers.
There are followers of Yurko Fedynsky, who are moving to Ukraine:
— I know among Americans, Ron Pastelan who moved to Ternopil region, Lida Matyiashyk-Chorna moved to Kiev. There is also diaspora in other countries. I know people from Poland who have moved here, one woman from France comes here very often. A guy from Australia came here to make a bandura. And he also wants to move to Kryachkivka. He says he will finish the university and come.
Yurko brought us to a new rural house, which he built for a year from scratch. The house now has its own new studio, which holds dozens of instruments.
— This is a super warm home, here’s one small oven which warms up everything. My students live here. We did it as a studio of recording a disc for the Tree. I have equipment for work with other groups: Khoreya Kozatska, Carpathian. We make quality records. I call this place a church-house, but it is also the first museum object where we can imagine instruments. This is not a mud hut, though it looks like that one. This is an American straw house. The bales are simply folded, compressed, then clay-sand mixture is rubbed. But I built such a small house to understand the technology, if I build a museum – I will need a better one. And I wonder will it stand? Neighbors did not believe: they said that the mouse would eat everything. And the mice are still creeping a little bit there. We need to close the holes and, possibly, put the poison or get a cat. And I’m ready to do something more with my own hands, I do not doubt. It will be cheap, warm and worthy.
Ukrainian history and musical tradition are the things which can drive this man. It is likely that without this record in the record library or without the chernihiv bandura for 50 rubles, the life of Yurko Fedinskyy could have been formed quite differently.