The bandura's song has long been considered the voice and soul of Ukraine, its strings echoing the nation’s turbulent history. Structurally, the bandura is similar to the lute and the harp, and usually has around 60 strings. Concert banduras, like modern harps, have mechanisms that allow the musician to change the key in which the instrument is tuned.
Historically, the bandura was used to accompany singing or dancing and was generally played by blind folk singers known as “kobzari."
Bandura's Arrival in North America
In the early 20th century, groups of solo kobzars began joining together to form the small bandurist ensembles. These first ensembles were almost always male and were encouraged in the early part of the Communist regime. However, when the policy of Russification was enforced to strengthen the Soviet Union, the ensembles were disbanded, and any remaining performers were forced to play approved repertoire. Thus, in Ukraine, the bandura was finally accepted as a classical instrument in the conservatories during the 1960s. Today in Ukraine, both male and female musicians continue to study the bandura in this formal setting.
The bandura and its music emigrated to the diaspora with 17 members of the original Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus (UBC). The group settled in Detroit, Michigan after World War II.
Many ensembles and summer camps were created by members, colleagues and students of the UBC and CBC (Canadian Bandurist Capella) as a way to pass on the bandura tradition. Through the tireless work of people such as Mykola Czorny, Ola Herasymenko, Hryhorij and Petro Kytasty, and Valentina Rodak and many others, hundreds of young people have learned to play this unique instrument.
The WBE is proud to be continuing the mission to teach and preserve the bandura and bring it to the global stage.