Articles, Blog

EPISODE | RUSSIAN 7 STRING GUITAR FESTIVAL

November 5, 2019


Iowa City is the mecca
of the Russian guitar revival. My friends, they ask me
how do Americans listen to the
seven string? What can I say? Iowans want to
listen to good music. I grew up in Moscow. Living in Iowa is
very different. Lots of Russians
have been exiled. For political reasons they
were sent to Siberia. Siberia, Iowa,
it’s all the same. ♪♪ Greetings from
Iowa is brought to you by the Gilchrist Foundation,
founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist, furthering the
philanthropic interest of the Gilchrist Family in
wildlife and conservation, medical care and social
services, the arts and public broadcasting
and disaster relief. ♪♪ I grew up in
Moscow in the very middle of the town, maybe 20
minute walk from Kremlin. I was among the first
Russians to actually run to Berlin. The idea to go to Berlin
was completely new in the late 1980s because all of
my generation assumed that we will live our entire
lives and we’ll die under this era of trying to
build Communism, it didn’t seem to work. But then I met a
musicologist from the University of Iowa who got
so excited that they could invite me here and I
could be his assistant. That’s exactly
what he did. The University of Iowa
Library was the richest collection of music
I’ve seen in my life. What was unusual about was
the fact that you could just come to the shelf
and pick up a book. Just that alone showed me
incredible opportunities were here. ♪♪ I live
in Iowa City. I teach at the
University of Iowa. The only little catch is
that I never have taught at the School of Music. ♪♪ I play concerts
all over the world, I record award winning CDs,
but I teach a course on the Romani cultures, the
Gypsy cultures and of course on the Ukraine. What I would like to offer
to the world is this alternative universe
of the Russian guitar. And I’ve been doing that
in other ways, not by teaching at the
university. ♪♪ It started
actually in 2004. My closest friends and
I started a non-profit organization dedicated
to Russian culture, the International Academy for
Russian Music Arts and Culture, IARMAC. ♪♪ The first
festival was in 2006. It’s an event that
everybody in the world who knows something about the
seven string guitar or who plays the instrument or
who wants to play should come to our festival,
and they do. Now I would like to
introduce you to my dear friend, Marco — who
is coming from Norway although originally
he is Serbian. Alexander — of Russian
origin but they live in Germany. When we talk about six
string and seven string guitars we should realize
that the main difference is not in the number of
strings but is in tuning. ♪♪ The Russian guitar
is always tuned to the G chord. ♪♪ I toured with
Madonna, a pop singer that you know. And we represented the
Gypsy music and I was playing on the Russian
seven string guitar. ♪♪ We have tried to
keep this tradition alive. ♪♪ I would say the
Russian guitar festival is the only one in the world,
that is happening in Iowa. (applause) The thing is
most guitarists in Russia don’t know about the
existence of this national treasure, the
Russian guitar. ♪♪ In the late 18th
century in Russia the seven string variety was
dominating, it was really flourishing culture
until about 1900s. By that time it became
more of a folk instrument. ♪♪ There were several
attempts to make guitar more popular, sort of
discovering the glory of the past. That was brought on by
the October Revolution. A human sea, joyous —
overflowed onto the city streets in mighty
demonstrations. The revolutionary fire of
the masses was finally unleashed. Because the revolution was
about the future works like variations of the
anthem, God Save the Czar. Well this was a
forbidden melody. The Revolution of 1917
made guitar the enemy of the people in a way,
considered aristocratic, associated with the
merchants, with the gypsies — all the
wrong associations. In fact, the main problem
was that it was intimate. ♪♪ People were
not encouraged to have intimate, private life. People were encouraged to
march outside accompanied by gas masks. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Growing up in Moscow I didn’t think
of myself as a Russian. ♪♪ Being Jewish it
was a kind of cultural marker in a way and
it also offered some limitations, certain
jobs were not available. ♪♪ Whenever there was
this pro-Russian agenda, Russians are the best, I’d
say well what do I have to do with it? ♪♪ ♪♪ I
discovered in the States that I am actually a
Russian and that the Russian culture — ♪♪ What I would like to do is to start a
department of the Russian guitar, the guitar that
has seven strings, the guitar that is different
and I know that there are some people from around
the world who will come to study with me. ♪♪ (applause) Iowa
is a perfect place for someone to discover their
roots because if you are in a place which has a
very dominant culture you’ll just not belong and
it will be not a very, you kind of look around and
say yeah, what I have inside me is worth
sharing with people. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ (typewriter dings)

3 Comments

  • Reply Patrick Boberg May 2, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    Forbidden Melody… sounds like a great screenplay. Something to counter Warren Beaty's 'Reds.'

  • Reply Michael R. October 16, 2018 at 5:48 am

    Absolutely amazing music. Fascinating story. I found, like the man in the video said, that the most fascinating part of the Russian 7 String is the tuning. I have played 7 string guitars before, but always in standard 7 string tuning. I find it very interesting that these are tuned to an open G major. Personally speaking, I do not like playing in open tunings. I can't imagine playing lead lines in opening tuning. Rhythm or chording would actually be fun..but no lead work. Although, I guess if you learned that way, it would be natural to you. Anyway, very good, interesting piece.

  • Reply Alex Mag March 20, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    Вообще конечно интересно.
    Гитару изобрел Сихра – чех по национальности из Вильнюса. Играли повально на ней в основном цыгане которые тоже ни разу не русские.
    И гитара почему то называется русской )))
    Тяга к воровству у этого народа неистребима…..

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