CHICAGO – Any normal summer, young bandura students in the United States and Canada would be attending bandura camps, where they could perfect their playing, learn new songs and enjoy time with friends in the great outdoors. This year, the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to dreams of bandura camp.
The North American Bandura Camps Committee works to create cohesion and foster a collaborative spirit among the camps for the betterment of their programs and participants’ experiences. Committee members represent the four camps: Bandura@Bobriwka (Colebrook, Conn.), ODUM Bandura Camp (London, Ontario, in the past, but this year’s venue was to be Brighton, Mich.), Kobzarska Sich (Emlenton, Pa.) and Litnia Zustrich (Hawkestone, Ontario). Their aim is to be a hub of bandura education, especially camp-based instruction. When it became obvious that no physical camps would take place, the committee decided to convene a four-week online camp – a virtual workshop – and called it the “Bandura Hangouts.”
The program attracted over 50 participants, aged 8 to 72, from four Canadian provinces, eight U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Twenty-seven volunteer instructors were recruited to work with the “campers.” Bandura players were divided into five groups, based on proficiency of play. Each group had one primary leader and several instructors who worked with the bandura students within their groups and provided more individualized instruction. Each group was assigned a song to learn within the group, and all participants learned “This Land Is Your Land” with bilingual lyrics and the “Zaporizhskyi March.” The plan is to gather participants for an actual concert sometime during the winter, if possible.
Every group’s schedule was posted online daily, with 30- to 40-minute segments of individual and group instruction, demonstrations of technique, topical lectures, vocal coaching sessions, mini-performances and even some surprise fun activities. While not a substitute for a full-fledged bandura camp, Bandura Hangouts allowed bandura students to continue to learn over the summer, advance their knowledge, and maintain a connection with Ukrainian music, bandura and their bandura-playing peers.
Afternoon and evening activities included presentations and lectures. For example, Julian Kytasty shared stories about bandura virtuoso Zynoviy Shtokalo and also explained the art of musical improvisation on the bandura. Andriy Birko conducted a tour of his bandura workshop. Mykola Deychakiwsky introduced the virtual campers to the bandura as an instrument for rock music and even hip-hop. The Toronto group Banduraliscious gave a lecture on improvisation. Another musician, Myhailo K. from California, explained how he provided rhythm to his performance by playing the drums or a tambourine with his feet. Marko Farion explained how music is arranged for the bandura. Irene Kytasty-Kuzma commented on a montage of photos from past bandura camps. Stephan Zaets entertained and instructed with his bandura performance, and Oleh Mahlay told about the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus.
The virtual campers also participated in two direct connections with performers in Kyiv. Maryna Krut told of the experience of participating in the Eurovision Contest, shared her music and answered a volley of questions from the audience; bandura virtuoso Taras Yanytsky talked about bandura in Ukraine.
Oksana Fryz, one of the founders and an instructor for the past 10 years of Bandura at Bobriwka, commented: “It’s also been wonderful and heartwarming to see the other famous bandura performers, friends and students from all over North America and Ukraine. Hearing Marina Krut perform in an intimate, natural, live, question-and-answer video session for us was definitely a highlight for me. She’s an incredible talent with a beautiful voice and mesmerizing bandura playing.”
One young participant, who most years would fly to camp and therefore had to play on a borrowed instrument (taking a bandura on a flight is “complicated”), explained that it was delightful to actually use her own bandura. She also noted that “Bandura Hangouts connects people from all over the world.”
A young bandura student who was scheduled to attend Litnia Zustrich camp for the first time said that what she liked a lot was meeting other kids who play bandura, as well as playing games on Friday and listening to cool performances. Another Litnia Zustrich camper commented that she “loved to work with new people and learn more difficult songs featuring new and helpful techniques, as well as being able to listen to professional bandurists.”
A few youngsters who have been attending the ODUM Bandura Camp (run by the Organization of Democratic Ukrainian Youth) for five years already said that Bandura Hangouts had lots of interesting sessions, that meeting other participants was fun, and that “the month flew by just as it would have at a regular camp.”
One bandura student commented: “It was an incredible opportunity to be a part of this, especially since I live so far away.”
The camp organizers were Mr. Deychakiwsky, Ms. Kytasty-Kuzma, Alina Kuzma, Oleksander Petliura, Mykola Mursky, Oksana Rodak and Oksana Zelinsky-Shevchuk They are all members of one of the three major North American bandura ensembles: the Canadian Bandurist Capella, the Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus.
The organizers expressed thanks to all the participants for their diligence and their enthusiastic participation. Big thanks were given also to the financial sponsors of this first Bandura Hangouts.
More information about this successful program can be found at www.BanduraHangouts.com.