The school of kobza players (kobzars), which is like a child for Vasyl Lytvyn, a kobzar, may be abolished because this year it has not managed to find 12 gifted boys and girls who dream to play bandura. Perhaps, it is not too late yet?
Kyiv – the village of Stritivka, Kaharlyk district – Kyiv
That night, Ihor Likarchuk, a famous educator, reposted a text of not less famous actor Oleksandr Ihnatushi. He is concerned about Stritivka Teacher’s College of Kobza Art. He asked for help – the only Ukrainian school of kobzars can disappear. The school accepts pupils who finished their Year 9 and who are only gifted but do not have a musical education. The school needs help. Parents and pupils are going to protest against arbitrariness, but they need support.
We arranged with parents, who were going to Stritivka, where other concerned people were gathering to look for solutions. The point is that even though the intake was from 2 till 14 July, there were just several applications. It meant that there would be no freshmen. Although many involved people wrote that this problem had appeared not this year, it would be a pity if the creation of Vasyl Lytvyn, a world-known kobzar, could not live till its 30th anniversary, which, as we hope, will be celebrated on 31 August the next year.
…The meeting of parents, pupils, teachers of the school of kobzars, which all they call a college, and of those who care about its future is to be held at 12 o’clock, as Volodymyr Kushpet, a teacher of old-world instruments, said. The school is formally called Stritivka Teacher’s College of Kobza Art. It is the only teaching – musical establishment of I level of accreditation in Ukraine, which provides “Folk Instruments” program for junior specialists.
I visited Kaharlyk district, which is near Kyiv, long time ago so I worried to get lost and be late. However, I was lucky to meet Lilia and Viktor Starikovy, parents of one of the pupils. They were going to Stritivka as well. “We are very concerned about the future of the college where our daughter is studying, Mrs. Starikova, a teacher of a Kyiv grammar school, said to me on the phone, their PR campaign is not strong enough, they fail to encourage new pupils to enter the college, so they will try to look for solutions together. If you can join, they will be very grateful.
I met Lilia Starikova at about 10 a.m. on the territorial road at Kyiv’s exit. I followed Lilia’s car. As soon as traffic jam was over, it turned out that we had to catch one more caring person – an alumnus of the school – Serhii Potienko, a member of a world-famous “Shpyliasti Kobzari” band. We waited for him a bit on one of the highways and continued moving.
Looking at picturesque landscapes from the car, I was thinking about kobza art and its importance for Ukraine. I recalled the poem by Panteleimon Kulish “To Kobza”:
… My kobza! You are pure pleasure!
Why are you silent? Play in quiet measure!
Tell me the truth,
Remember the youth,
Maybe one’s yet kind heart
Will kindness start,
Like kobza strings’ ruth.
Bandura players who are breaking the mould
This is exactly how my colleagues from 1+1 TV Channel Breakfast Show called this band. It consists of six alumni of the Stritivka School of Kobzars. Unfortunately, this really unusual band is more famous abroad than in Ukraine. Guys have already visited Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Poland, Spain, Canada, Italy end even China. They play not only kobza, they combine it with… guitar, for example. They make covers of world hits and modern versions of Ukrainian folk songs.
“Shpyliasti kobzari” was founded in Autumn 2010. They were one of the first who tried to help their alma mater, which had opened the doors to a prosperous future for them. They launched a flashmob #SupportKobzaCollege. Yaroslav Dzhus, a frontman of the band, said to Opinion that they learnt this sad news between their trips to Odesa and Lviv region. However, as soon as they learnt that the cradle of their talent needed help, guys rushed to Kyiv to think of possible solutions. ”The college has given much to us, it’s shaped our perception of the Ukrainian national idea,” the musician says, “while studying, we were playing in the dormitory not only folk traditional songs. We were experimenting, combining bandura with guitar, playing modern music of Ukrainian famous bands, for example, “Skriabin” music. At one moment, we realized that it sounded good… So now, by supporting the School on Facebook and by coming here, we want to make people understand: we must save this school, not only the alumni need it, Ukraine needs it…”.
According to Yaroslav Dzhus, the problem appeared long time ago – the problem with intake, with PR. There were certain conditions for what we see now, but it has become so disturbing only this year. “We managed to create the band which seems to play modern music with old-fashioned instruments, however only a person who has no idea about music can consider our instruments old-fashioned,” Serhii Potienko says, “What we are doing today is, in my opinion, the proof that our college is the only establishment where pupils are taught to play not only a classical bandura but also old-world instruments: kobza, lyre, turban. And the country needs our college. Because bandura is awesome. Did you know?”
“We have to support, giving the last we have”
Stritivka, surrounded by ponds and lakes, welcomed us with a beautiful nature, birds singing and emotions of those who had come to make up how to save the college. As I was looking at those people, I tried to realize what has led each of them to that place. There were not only pupils with parents and teachers but also guys from “Shpyliasti Kobzari”: Serhii Potienko came with us, Yaroslav Dzhus came later. Somebody said that district authorities arrived. I guess that region officials also had to come. They know about the problem but did not come… As I was speaking with Volodymyr Kushpet, a teacher, famous bandura player and art expert, who has been working at the college from first days, emotions took over me. People were very emotional, the administration of the college called them and told that the situation was critical and the college could be abolished. That is everything parents could hear. So will it be abolished or not?
“We created this school of kobza art when the communistic party ran the country,” Ihor Likarchuk, a then-head of Region Education Office, posted on his Facebook some days earlier. “Personally I was proving for hours the importance of this college to the authorities. They couldn’t stand the idea. But we overcame their resistance. On 1 September, on the opening day of the school, for the first time in Kyiv region, we brought yellow-blue flags (Ukrainian flag), which scared district and some region officials then. When there was no money but a huge budget deficit, we managed to include the school in the asset list of the region and give it the status of a college of I level of accreditation.”
According to Mr. Likarchuk, Borys Oliynyk (Ukrainian poet, political activist) was at the waterhead of it. “Vasyl Lytvyn, a famous kobzar, was a mastermind and the first teacher of the school. He was traveling across the country to find children who wanted to study. Mrs. Halyna Ivanova (unfortunately, now late), the first school mistress, became the second mother for dozens of girls and boys, who came there from different corners of the country. Some alumni are people who still advocate for Ukrainian national values. The dormitory was built, the school was made comfortable, specialists were brought. In comparison with the region education budget, the school required almost nothing.”
During thirty years of work, as local people tell me, interrupting each other, almost three hundred of singers-bandura players graduated from the college. Many of them work as musicians. Somebody works in the leading art bands in Kyiv: National Bandurist Capella, Academic Male Chapel Choir, State Theatre of Operetta or Opera Studio. You can hear their voices across Ukraine or abroad – in Germany, Italy, America, Belarus and other countries. So, according to Mr. Likarchuk “we shouldn’t abolish such colleges, we should support them, giving the last we have. Local officials have begun to destroy it on purpose by not supporting it so in order to abolish it. They should have to travel across the country, invite gifted children for studying, create appropriate conditions for studying and living, care for them. If nobody had done it, cared about PR, colege’s authority, who would come there to study?”
One future kobzar “eats” 156 thousand hryvnias per year
We are going to the hall where the meeting will be held. Svitlana Kolosovska, who became a mistress six years ago, is the first to take the floor. In a nutshell: this year, the state demand is 12 people, however, there were only three applications. Three people cannot form even one group; it means there will be no freshmen. There are students of Years 2, 3, 4 – 21 people in total. To improve the situation, the intake has been extended till 25 June. So, pupils who have just finished their Year 9 at school and feel like they want to play bandura, are still able to apply to the Stritivka college.
“The problem with the intake isn’t new to us. For example, last year we fulfilled the state demand only for 60 %, because our program is quite special – only those who have the gift for it and are keen on it, apply for our program,” Svitlana Kolosovska, a mistress, explains to Opinion. “There are several reasons for the problem. In the first place, it is the lack of a powerful PR campaign, however we have done our best: we’ve had concerts in the Kyiv region sponsored by our partners (one trip costs at least 3 000 hryvnia), because having concerts in other regions are more expensive, and we don’t have money. We have advertising on social networks as well, but it isn’t enough. Our college is losing its popularity among the youth because not only students but alumni as well don’t want to participate in concerts if they are free. I want everybody to understand that although there is a threat of abolishing in future, now we are not going to close: if parents with children don’t want to go to another college (Bohuslav Teacher’s College could take our students as they have a related program), then we must teach them to the end. Though, we do want to have freshmen again…”
Teachers say that the biggest intake was in 1989 when the kobza school opened its doors for the first. There were 25 future kobzars in total. There were years when 15, 12, 10 people applied. The biggest amount of students of all Years studying at the college at once estimated 56 young bandura players. This year, if there will be less than 5-6 people, the college will have no freshmen, because, according to the mistress, the law doesn’t provide private classes at the state colleges.
“Our student is very expensive for the budget, however, nobody told about the abolishing until now,” Mrs. Kolosovska adds. “Taking into account our 2017|2018 budget, teaching one bandura player costs 156 thousand hryvnias. In general, authorities allocated 5 million hryvnia budget to us – for teachers’ salaries and paying for utilities. This money is not enough for concerts or school repairing. You know, we have never had competitors but our college has attracted boys and girls because we take even those who have no musical education.”
“The village lives while the School exists”
A part of parents blames it on the school administration. They say that neither mistress nor her deputies did their best to find in Ukraine 12 teenagers who wanted to become bandura players. “Because of this situation, the whole country now really knows us. Although it is not the PR we wanted, we hope that we will manage to sort everything out,” Svitlana Kolosovska explains. “As for my guilt, I don’t care… You know, I am responsible not only for students but for teachers as well. If the college is abolished, where will they go? Only to an employment office?! That’s why we do our best, and if we don’t do enough, we are ready to admit it. But in the first place, we want to get some assistance.”
The idea of closing the school is said to belong to the head of the Education and Science Department of Kyiv Region Administration. “I was in Kyiv, visited the department and even talked to the head,” a 70-year-old Volodymyr Kushpet, a bandura player, tells to Opinion. “and Vira Rohova (the head) said that if there is at least one student, the college won’t be abolished. However, now the closing threatens to college because we don’t have a proper amount of applications. I have invited officials from the Region Department of Education to our meeting. They promised to come, but they haven’t… I offered to parents to go to Rohova together…”
Anatolii Vorona, a local businessman, also came to support the college. He bought equipment for the sports hall as well as sponsored concert tours. The college wished it had some more such sponsors. Then, they will be able to give concerts in other regions and repair the school a bit, because there are many rooms, which need some renovation. “We have to save this school because it is the history of Ukraine,” Anatolii Vorona says. “We can’t blame only on the administration or somebody in particular, we are all to blame: teachers, parents, the government in general, the whole society. It was hard the last year as well, and parents also blamed on the mistress, so she even wanted to leave the work. I said to her then: let’s fight till the end! And I say the same now. The village lives while the school exists…”.
Local authorities also care about the college: Ivan Semtsov, the head of Kaharlyk District Council came to the meeting. I asked them how local authorities could help. “We do our best,” he says. “in the first place, we welcome in the villages of our district. As for gifted children who could study here, it’s true, we should make more efforts to find them.” Oksana Shershen, a coordinator of the Kaharlyk District State Administration also came to the meeting. Her husband is Vasyl Shershen, a famous kobzar. “Instead of uniting and thinking of possible solutions,” she says, “people are arguing and looking for a scapegoat. You know, what did previous alumni do? Each of them tried to take one student to the school. This is how my future husband came here. Perhaps, this is what we should think about?!”
The recipe of the rescuing is assistance
The idea expressed by the wife of Vasyl Shershen is really a good one and should be considered. Tymofii Lohanovych, a local priest, also thinks so. He is sure that without the college there will be no village of Stritivka.
As I already came back to Kyiv, I couldn’t but thought that we were talking about wrong things. Because as priest Tymofii said, it is bad when there are two bosses for one worker. Meanwhile, Ihor Likarchuk, who is very concerned about the issue, posted a kind of report. “I talked to Lilia Hrynevych, the Minister of Education. She understood the problem and promises to sort everything out. She believes that this school can’t be abolished. But it needs fresh air. I am ready to meet those who care for this college. Because the foundation of this school is an important and difficult page of my biography.”
Svitlana Semeniuk, told on Facebook about one more problem, “I’ve read everything above and have a question: why is it so difficult to buy the instrument in Ukraine, and why does it cost so much? If we want to develop traditions, we should make them available. It is easy to buy a guitar in Ukraine, but buying a bandura makes parents get a loan. Price and availability will boost the development.”
Lada Topchan, a Kyivan, taking part in the discussion, offered her own solution, “every kobzars and bandura fans from all over the world should give 100 $, and we will build a great school on the outskirts of Kyiv (20 km to the metro) to revive bandura art as well as other Ukrainian national instruments.” The woman believes that her idea could be implemented immediately, and during two years people could “create an academic and cultural activity, but we need to self-organize.”
Finally, I couldn’t fail to call to Vira Rohova, the head of the Education Department of the KRSA. But she had many meetings that day, a new academic year begins in September and it was expected. I managed to talk to her only late at night. “The point is,” she said, “that amount of children who enter establishments of I-II levels of accreditation decrease around Ukraine. We try to do our best to save this college: where does teaching of one student cost so? Nowhere. But we do it and try to save it. When the mistress of the college called me and described the situation, she asked if she could talk to parents about transferring students to the Bohuslav Teacher’s College, which had a related program. Of course, we can talk to parents. But the law guarantees to students the right to study where they have entered. Parents who are at panic should understand that it was the Kyiv Region Council who founded the college. It hasn’t adopted the decision about abolishing or reorganization of the college. Nor I neither the mistress are entitled to do it.”
And the last. Having analyzed everything which was said that day, you can easily make a conclusion, which nobody expressed, but it could be read “between the lines”. The college, although it is financed, in fact, is struggling to make ends meet. Authorities can say they support the school, but in fact, they do not. A classical bandura, old-world instruments are part of Ukrainian nation and mindset. Today, when we have heard and said so much about self-identification, that Ukrainians must be Ukrainians, perhaps, it is high time to help this school indeed and not in name?
For example, to create a state program – to launch a powerful PR campaign, provide modern instruments and everything needed. Or to help to find investors who will repair the rooms, sponsor tours and participation in festivals. Or better to make up how to provide alumni, especially if there are not many of them, with work and appropriate salary and not make them struggle. I will say common things now, but these are things everybody thought of but didn’t articulate: the biggest problem is looking for a work and little money after the graduation. Indeed, they cannot play in the metro in the city centre to convey a Ukrainian song to people.
Anyway, kobza and bandura (some people think these are the same instrument, others claim they are different) are not the past of Ukraine, they are its future. As Serhii Potienko from “Shpyliasti kobzari” said – bandura is awesome! Don’t you believe? Check the band’s website and listen to their songs. As “The Manifesto of Kobzar” says (you won’t believe, it exists) by Yaroslav Chornohuz:
Let the string alive sound,
Tell about its heroes,
Love from the sky to ground,
Kobzars are fighters, not zeroes.
P.S. Who can really help to solve this issue? Lilia Hrynevych – the Minister of Education and Science? Or Yevhen Nyshchuk, the Minister of Culture? Or maybe Viacheslav Kyrylenko, Vice Prime Minister for Humanitarian Matters? Please, get involved, don’t wait until the college will be abolished because of the lack of gifted students who are sent by parents to study for lawyers, economists, dentists to be able in future to feed their families. Help Ukrainian soul to survive…
P.P.S. “In 1930 in Kharkiv, 337 participants of the Meeting of Folk Singers of Ukraine (kobzars) were executed. In 88 years, the only school of kobza art is abolished. Authorities cynically claim that there are no people who want to become kobzars,” Ihor Likarchuk posted on his Facebook. Dear Ukrainian government, persuade us that it is not true…
Text by Larysa Vyshynska
Photo by Anton Vyshynskyi