Bandura   A musical instrument. Its sound unifies acoustic principles of both the lute and the harp. This produces a sound that is emphatic and gentle, resembling that of a harpsichord, but with a wider range of dynamics and tonal control. Read more...
Bandurist   Bandurists (bandurysty). Also known as kobzars, bandurists were folk musicians who performed their songs and recitatives to the accompaniment of a bandura. In Ukraine, the first mention made of them is in historical documents of the 16th century. Bandurists or kobzars were wandering folk bards who originally composed and performed their own lyric-epic historical songs (duma) in the recitative style and later added songs of various other genres (religious and humorous songs, dance melodies) to their repertoires, which were passed on to their students. Bandurists were held in high esteem by the Zaporozhian Kozaks, as well as by the general populace. Hetmans and members of the upper nobility often kept bandurists at their courts.

In the 19th century the best known bandurist was the blind Ostap Veresai (it should be noted that bandurists were very often blind men); others who gained prominence were Mykhailo Kravchenko, Terentij Parkhomenko, F. Kholodny, A. Shut, I. Kravchenko-Kryukovsky, Tymofij Bilohradskyj, and I. Kukharenko. During the 19th century the bandurists were persecuted by the Russian government, and the art began to wane.

In the early 20th century bandura playing revived and was actively pursued on both an amateur and a professional level. Professional bandurists, educated at music schools and conservatories, performed as concert soloists (Hnat Khotkevych, Vasyl Yemetz, Hryhory Kytasty, Volodymyr Kabachok). By the mid-20th century the individual art of the wandering folk bandurists had disappeared completely, giving way to organized bandurist ensembles. The first bandurist ensemble,which later became known as the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, was organized in Kyiv in 1918. In the 1950's bandura music was introduced into the curriculums of music schools, and bandurist ensembles were formed both independently and by oblast philharmonic orchestras. Bandurists, as representatives and bearers of the Ukrainian folk tradition, were persecuted by the Soviet regime, as they had been in the tsarist period (they were prohibited from appearing in public places, etc.). In the 1930's many renowned bandurists were repressed and deported (V. Kabachok, H. Khotkevych, D. Balatsky, et al). Some were even executed.

In the past centuries the art of bandura playing was an exclusively male domain. In the 20th century women became involved as well (for example, women's bandurist trios became popular; a women's oblast bandurist kapelle was formed in Poltava).

The more noteworthy contemporary ensembles include the State Bandurist Kapelle of Ukraine in Kyiv and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of North America in Detroit, USA. Contemporary composers such as A. Kolomyiets, Kost Miaskov, and H. Kytasty have provided new repertoire for the bandura.

W. Wytwycky. Kubijovyc, Volodymyr (ed.). Encyclopedia of Ukraine (Toronto 1984)

Duma   Duma. Lyrico-epics works of folk origin about events of the Kozak period of the 16th-17th century. The dumas differ from other lyrico-epic and historical poetry by their form and by the way in which they were performed. They did not have a set strophic structure, but consisted of uneven periods that were governed by the unfolding of the story. Each period constituted a finished, syntactical whole and conveyed a complete thought. The poem's lines varied in length from 4 to 40 syllables. Rhyme played an important role. Usually the verbs carried the rhyme and in this way bound several lines together. The dumas were not sung, but were performed in recitative to the accompaniment of a bandura, kobza, or lira. The chanting had much in common with funeral lamentation. The poetics of the duma were similar to that of Serbian poetry. Synonym pairs (plache-rydaie, bizhyt-pidbihaie) and standard epithets (buinyi viter, synie more, syva zozulia) were frequently used.

Origin. Scholars connect the dumas with the poetic forms that appeared in Ukraine in the 12th century, particularly with the Slovo o polku Ihorevi. One widely accepted theory of the origin of the dumas is that proposed by P. Zhytetsky, according to which they were a unique synthesis of popular and 'bookish-intellectual' creativity. The dumas were based on the folk song, modified by the influence of the syllabic poetry produced in the schools of the 16th-17th century. The language of the dumas retains many archaisms and Church Slavonic expressions. The bookish elements could have been introduced into the songs by traveling tutors and cantors in the 17th century. V. Peretts described the dumas as 'a harmonious synthesis of cultural-individual creativity with folk creativity.' The dumas were first mentioned by the Polish historian S. Sarnicki, who, in his Annales under the year 1506, mentions that mournful songs - dumas - were composed in honor of two brothers who died during the Wallachian campaign. The dumas arose from the military life of the 16th-17th century.

Themes. The dumas can be divided into two thematic cycles. The first and older cycle consists of dumas about the struggle with the Tatars and Turks. Among these the following groups can be distinguished: (1) dumas about Turkish captivity ('The Escape of the Three Brothers from Azov,' 'Marusia Bohuslkavka,' etc.); (2) dumas about a Kozak's heroic death ('Samara Brothers,' 'Ivan Konovchenko,' 'Khvedir Bezridnyi,' etc.); (3) dumas about the successful liberation of Kozaks from slavery or their return from a campaign ('Samiilo Kishka,' 'Oleksii Popovych,' 'Otaman Matiash,' etc.). In addition, the older group of dumas includes (4) moralizing songs about daily life ('About the Widow and Her Three Sons,' 'About the Brother and Sister,' etc.). All the older dumas are distinguished by their lyrical quality, mournful tone, and profound moral insight. Their linguistic richness and style point to their close connection with the older folk songs, particularly funeral laments.

The second cycle consists of dumas about the Kozak-Polish struggle. By content they can be divided into two groups: (1) dumas about the Khmelnytskyj period (Khmelnytskyi and Barabash,' 'The Battle of Korsun,' 'Leases,' 'Khmelnytskyi's Moldavian Campaign,' etc.) and (2) dumas on social themes ('The Duma About Handzha Andyber,' 'Duma About Kozak Holota's Duel with a Tatar,' etc.).

History of collection and scholarship. The collecting and study of dumas has evolved through three periods. During the first period, in the 1820's-1830's, the earliest collections of Ukrainian folk songs were published by N. Tsertelev, M. Maksymovych and P. Lukashevych, and these collections contained the first transcriptions of dumas. In this period no scholarly analysis was attempted. In the second period there was a great surge of interest in the dumas. They were widely used by such writers as Taras Shevchenko, Ye. Hrebinka, Nicolai Gogol and Pantelejmon Kulish. Kulish tried to construct an anthology of dumas in his poem Ukraina od pochatku Vkrainy do batka Khmelnytskoho (Ukraine from the Origin of Ukraine to Father Khmelnytsky, 1843). Dumas were collected and published by D. Metlynsky in Narodnie iuzhno-russkie pesni (South Russian Folk Songs, 1854) and by Kulish in Zapiski o Iuzhnoi Rusi (Notes on Southern Rus', 1856-7). In this period many new variants were discovered, and new standards of transcription were established. Scholarly research on dumas was begun, particularly by M. Kostomarov. The third period of collection and research came in the 1860's-1890's, and its achievements have retained their validity to this day. V. Antonovych and M. Drahomanov's publication of dumas entitled Istoricheskie pesni malorusskogo naroda (The Historical Songs of the Little Russian People, 2 vols., 1874-5) had an epochal significance. The texts of the dumas were accompanied by an extensive historical and comparative-literary commentary. P. Zhytetsky's works were very important. The earliest research on the music of the dumas was done by Mykola Lysenko.

In connection with the Twelfth Archeological Conference in Kharkiv in 1902, there was a great increase of interest in the professional duma singers-bandurists, kobzars, and lirnyks. Research on the duma reached its scholarly culmination in K. Hrushevska's work Ukrayins'ki narodni dumy (Ukrainian Folk Dumas, 2 vols., 1927-31).

The dumas have been translated into various languages: into Polish by M. Grabowski in 1837 and M. Kasjan in 1973, into German by F. Bodenstedt in 1845, into French by A. Rambaud in 1876, and into English by Florence K. Livesay in 1916. The best and most complete collections were translated into French by M. Scherrer (1947) and into English by G. Tarnawsky and P. Kilina (1979).

P. Odarchenko

Kubijovyc, Volodymyr (ed.). Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. I (Toronto 1984)

Lysenko, N. 'Kharakteristika muzykal'nykh osobennostei malorusskikh dum i pesen ispolniaemykh kobzarem Veresaem,' Zapiski Iugo-zapadnogo otdela Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva, 1-2 (1873-4)

Rambaud, A. 'L'epopee petite russiene,' in La Russie epique (Paris 1876)

Zhitetskij, P. Mysli o narodnykh malorusskikh dumakh (Kyyiv 1893)

Franko, I. Studiyi nad ukrayins'kymy narodnymy pisnyamy
ZNTSh, 83, 94-5, 98, 101, 103-6, 110-12 (1908-12)

Andriievs'kyi, O. Bibliohrafiia literatury z ukrayins'koho folkl'oru, 1 (Kyyiv 1930)

Kirdan, B. Ukrainskie narodnye dumy (Moscow 1967) 'Ukrainian Dumy', trans G. Tarnawsky and P. Kilina (Toronto-Cambridge, Mass 1979)


A member of the community which had existed on the frontiers of the Kievian Rus Empire, forming a social and cultural entity without being a specific national group, indigenous population of Dnieper and Don areas, descendants of Scythians, Sarmatians, Torks, Klobuks, Brodniks, etc., who experienced strong Slavic influence under the Kievan Rus.

Kobza   The history of the kobza can be traced back to 6th century Greek chronicles and it was often mentioned by wandering Arab scholars who visited Kyivan-Rus in the 10-11th centuries. The term itself is thought to be of Middle Eastern extraction and was introduced into the Ukrainian language in the 13th century to differentiate this instrument from other string instruments generically known as husli.

The kobza became a favorite instrument of the Ukrainian kozaks and was widely played by the rural masses and in the courts of Polish kings and Russian tsars, where it served a role similar to the lute in Western Europe. Unfortunately, the kobza, like its cousin the lute, fell into disuse and was gradually replaced by the bandura, guitar, and mandolin, with the term 'kobza' later becoming a synonym for the bandura.

The instrument was traditionally carved out of a single piece of wood and consisted of a soundboard with strings strung across it, the number of strings varying from three to eight. Occasionally it would have frets made of gut and three to four additional strings strung along the soundboard. The strings were either plucked with a plectrum or with the ends of the fingers.

In recent times attempts have been made to revive the original fretted kobza. However, this has met only with limited success.

The contemporary kobza is made in two versions. The first is a seven-stringed instrument and the second a four-stringed orchestral variant. The orchestral kobza is tuned in fifths like the strings of a mandolin and violin, being played with a plectrum. It is used in orchestras of Ukrainian folk instruments, and is produced in prima, alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass sizes.

The Rumanians and Moldavians also have a similar instrument which they call a cobza. It appeared in the 16th century and has 8 to 12 gut or metal strings tuned in fourths or fifths. It originated in Bukovyna. It is also a term used to describe the guitar.



Wandering folk bards who performed a large repertoire of epic-historical, religious, and folk songs while playing a kobza or bandura. Kobzars first emerged in Kyivan-Rus and were popular by the 15th century. Some (e.g., Churylo and Tarashko) performed at Polish royal courts. They lived at the Zaporozhian Sich and were esteemed by the kozaks, whom they frequently accompanied on various campaigns against the Turks, Tatars, and Poles. The epic songs they performed [duma] served to raise the moral of the Kozak army in times of war, and some (e.g., P. Skryaha, V. Varchenko, and Mykhajlo 'Sokovy's son-in-law') were even beheaded by the Poles for performing dumas that incited popular revolts. Read more...


Kobzar Brotherhood   County organizations of kobzars and lirnyks that were widespread in the mid-19th century. Modeled on artisans' guilds, they protected their members' interests. Some ran kobza schools. Every brotherhood had its own secret traditions and regulations. Its members collectively chose as their center a church, for which they bought icons, candles, and oil. They met at the church on certain holy days to attend requiem services for deceased members and to settle urgent matters. In the spring they secretly gathered elsewhere (usually the forests near Brovary outside Kyiv) to elect their officers, to define the territory on which individual kobzars could operate, and to initiate new members according to a prescribed ritual. If necessary, the elected leader (pan otets) would call additional meetings. To become a member one had to have a physical handicap, to study kobza playing with a master (usually for at least two years), and to obtain permission (vyzvilka) to perform independently, to know the kobzars' lebiiskyi jargon, and to pay dues regularly.

Only kobzars with good reputations were accepted into a brotherhood. A member who had violated a brotherhood's moral code was tried by a brotherhood court. The severest punishment was ostracism. Lesser transgressors were whipped or fined. Civil judges in rural counties did not try kobzars, but handed them over to brotherhood courts. A member who chose to marry received a dowry from the brotherhood's treasury and was thereafter addressed in the polite second person plural by other members. If members caught a kobzar performing who had not received a vyzvilka, they destroyed his bandura, and he was fined and even beaten. The brotherhoods propagated the idea that kobzars were not beggars but professional artists, and instilled a sense of pride among their members; e.g., in asking or waiting for a reward, a member was forbidden to fall to his knees.

Lira   The lira, or relia, is a variant of the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument which can trace its history back to the 10th century. It is thought that the lira was introduced into Ukraine in the 17th century. It was used as an instrument to accompany religious psalms and epic ballads performed by wandering blind musicians called lirnyky (sing. lirnyk). Occasionally lirnyky were hired to play dance music at weddings. They often organized themselves into guilds or brotherhoods with their own laws and secret language.
The traditional lira has three strings, one on which the melody is played with the aid of a special keyboard, the other two producing a drone of a fifth. The sound is produced by a wooden wheel which is rotated by a crank held in the right hand. This wheel rubs against the strings, setting them in motion like a bow on a violin.

A number of different types of chromatic liras have been produced in Ukraine, however interest in the instrument has declined considerably.

For more information on the lira visit the Hurdy Gurdy Home Page.

Mizynec, Victor Folk Instruments of Ukraine (Australia 1987)

August 23, 2003



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