I grew up in a singing family, it was part of our life, and whether our experiences were happy or sad, our singing was an expression of our feelings deep in our souls. It was our way of communicating with each other and the world, and even if, at times we did not understand the words, the spirit of each song was felt in our hearts. So this introduction came early in life for me and I was very grateful that I felt a yearning to listen and learn. This also gave me the opportunity to learn from some of our great masters of Doukhobor singing, here in the Kootenays and Grand Forks. This all happened in the late 1960’s,70’s and 80’s when my husband and I joined various choirs in the areas – we refer to these years as the “hay day” of Doukhobor history. It was a great time and learning experience for us.


The late John J. Verigin knew the importance and worked tirelessly, to organize these choirs in the U.S.C.C. organization. He felt members of these choirs made up a valuable resource centre of talent, which possessed knowledge and expertise necessary to teach others Those who go through the learning process associated with being members of choirs, would be prepared to share their knowledge of singing with others, especially the youth and future generations.


At this time, I tried to learn all the best that each choir master had to offer. This helped to shape my understanding and awakened a passion in me for singing. I felt in these years many changes started to evolve in our singing, especially with our hymns and folk songs. The psalms basically were kept the same, even though the longer and harder psalms were already not sung as often. In this period English translations and English songs were now being introduced. This was due to the fact that we were now singing more outside of our own community and all the intermarriages that were taking place amongst our young people. However, the Doukhobor unique style of singing from the soul, without notes, music or a conductor in front of the choir, was still retained.


Now one can see and thank our Doukhobor leaders for their vision in foreseeing the future and knowing the importance choirs would have, in promoting peace and justice in the turbulent times of our era. Choirs play a well organized vessel for furthering the Doukhobor cause in the world.


In 1982 and then again in 1986 we had the privilege of the expertise of Alexander S. Shirovkov from the Moscow Academy of Musicians in Russia. He was invited by Mr. Verigin from the U.S.C.C. organization, to assist in preparation of a two part expo’86 program, that would depict a professional quality to the choir’s presentation. Mr. Verigin knew that singing, often referred to as an international language, lends itself very well to both communication and cultural exchange. Mr. Shirokov introduced singing by notes to us. This opened up a new and exciting time, for it took us back to our Russian roots. He never touched our Doukhobor portion of the program, for he felt he did not understand or could even tackle our way of singing. He taught me to breathe properly during singing, not to be afraid to have some movement and be expressive in my singing. For the public should see, hear and feel one’s performance.


In 1995, in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the burning of weapons by our ancestors in Georgia, a “Voices for Peace” choir was organized to take our message of peace and non-violence, to parts of Canada. the United Nations and Russia. Going back to our roots in Russia had a big impact on the choir and me personally. Our interaction with our Russian Doukhobor brothers and sisters, took us back to the singing of our ancestors. When we were met in Archangleskoe on the fields of their village, their group singing, which we heard on our tour bus before we stopped, touched us to the deepest depths of our souls. These people had come from the Caucasus area in Georgia, where they were isolated for150 years and they had retained the old style of Doukhobor singing. With our 100 years of life in Canada we had modernized and Canadianized our singing. Of course this did not stop us from singing together, for our spirits were united and we communicated in song.


This experience had a big impact on me and upon my return, I felt this yearning to sing some of their songs-their way. Thus in 1996 The “Friends in Unity” ladies choir was organized. In this choir, I tried to teach a variety of Russian Doukhobor songs, our own Doukhobor hymns and folk songs and contemporary Russian songs. Showing how diversified our singing could be, from our rich heritage, we were able to take our singing back to our roots in Russia and also try to maintain our Canadian style of singing here. I tried to teach the ladies to sing with expression, movement and passion from the bottom of their hearts and portray the story of the song. From our past we were always taught to stand still and correctly, not to act up and show good discipline in our performance. So now this was quite the change and of course every time change is introduced, it opens up to controversy amongst our people. Our choir persevered, we formed our unique identity and style of singing and we have now sung for 15 years together.


Today it is very gratifying to see the younger choirs have now incorporated more expressions and movement in their performances. It is also interesting to note, that at this time, more women are taking on the leadership of directing choirs than ever before.


Over the past 20 years, my husband and I were very fortunate to have made many trips back to the land of our ancestors and visit with the Russian Doukhobors. I had the opportunity to study the essence and style of their singing and it was interesting to learn that they sing in a 3 part harmony—melody, Podgalas{ soprano- tenor} and alto- base. Comparing to our Canadian singing where we harmonize in 4 to 5 part harmony. We have canadianized our singing here, that’s not to say it is wrong, It is just a slightly different way. They are intrigued with our singing and we enjoy listening to theirs and share the love of singing together. From these precious encounters, many ancestral hymns, folk songs and contemporary Russian folk songs have been collected. In 2004, a DVD “Celebrating Doukhobor Women” was composed by the ladies choir, depicting these various songs that had been collected through these years.


Psalm and hymn singing in Russia is mainly done by the elders and it is very noticeable as the elders pass away, less and less is now being sung. As a matter of fact in The Rostov area it is almost lost. With Doukhobors intermarrying with Russians, they have been joining the church and have started to rely on the services of the church for their funerals. The changes in Russia with their singing have been more dramatic, than here in Canada. They are also very concerned about the loss of their culture and have been taking some steps to encourage younger members to join in. Singing of psalms,hymns and folk songs is still retained with the Georgian Russians that came to Archangelskoye and Tambov, possible due to their long isolation in Georgia, however, the mainstream Russian Doukhobors have almost all assimilated. they only seem to enjoy singing Russian folksongs. It is very evident through these years the toll it has taken, with the elders passing away and the youth not having much interest or leadership to uphold the Doukhobor culture in Russia.


We too are being faced with the same problems in Canada, perhaps, not at the extreme rate as in Russia, however this is becoming evident here, especially with our funerals. It has become increasing difficult to conduct a traditional Doukhobor funeral if you do not have the singers of the psalms and hymns. Psalm singing is the foundation for our molenye-prayer services and provides consolation for our souls, especially in times of need and sorrow. It is very gratifying to know that in our U.S.C.C. restructuring, steps have been taken to identify 10-15 of our most important psalms, so that we can all –elders and youth, sing together and not lose this part of our culture. I feel it is not important in how many psalms one knows, but it is important to learn to sing and understand them correctly. Much advancement has already been made with translation of our hymns into English and that is very encouraging, for the need is there!


So now, that we have been in the 21st century for a few years, it is very evident and exciting for changes to come forth. Change is progress and in order to survive, we should embrace these changes. The elders should not go into a panic mode, that all will be lost. We must have faith, that the younger generation knows and appreciates their rich heritage that is so interwoven with our way of life and allow them to come forward and take a leadership role to have a voice in their future. Perhaps they will simplify some of the traditions, perhaps change some of the singing style, however, with our wisdom and guidance and through co-operation with one another, I am very encouraged, they will create the path for the Doukhobors they want to be and continue to sing, ” the Doukhobor song.”


From a speech presented by the author at the Doukhobor Discovery Centre, Castlegar, BC
On its Official 2011 Season Opening