Paul Winter brings Russian folk music to students

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(Host) This week, the world got a little bigger for students at Newfane Elementary school – thanks to a visit from jazz artist Paul Winter. The Grammy-winning musician brought along a Russian performance troupe. The performers brought to life the music and dance traditions of rural Russian villages.

VPR’s Susan Keese was there.

(Keese) Winter had played a benefit concert in Brattleboro with the Moscow based Dmitri Pokrovsky ensemble. The next day, they staged a special performance at the Newfane School. About a hundred students watched raptly in the school’s multi purpose room. Winter stood alone before them and began to play. (Sound from Winter’s performance.)

As if summoned by the notes of his soprano sax, a dozen Russian dancers enter the room. They’re the Dmitri Pokrovsky ensemble. The Moscow-based troupe has kept alive centuries-old music and dance traditions of rural Russian Villages.

Holding hands, they weave and circle. The woman wear printed aprons and swirling skirts with colored ribbons. The men wear white embroidered tunics and high black boots. The children are mesmerized.

Winter is known for his musical collaborations. Every year he brings in musicians from a different part of the world for his Winter Solstice concerts. The concerts are held in the resonant vault of New York City’s Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Winter says he loves working with the Pokrovsky troupe because their music is earthy and old.

(Maria Nefedova) “We are Dmitri Pokrovsky troupe and we came here from Moscow. Who knows where is Russia?”

(Keese) Maria “Masha” Nefedova is the ensemble’s designated English speaker. She asks the children, Who knows where Russia is? One boy says it’s on the yellow part of the map.

(Nefedova) “So I see you know a lot about our country!” (Sound of laughing.)

(Keese) They listen to a simple reed flute. Masha says it’s the most ancient instrument in the world, and only Russian men are allow to play it. The women have their own ancient instrument. They use it to call the birds back in the spring.

As the music continues the students absorb Russia and reflect it back with their clapping hands and tapping snowboots. Afterwards there’s a pot luck lunch. Winter says he loves making musical connections like this one.

(Winter) “You watch the faces of the children and you see some that are absolutely enthralled and some that are fascinated by the rhythm and then some that are maybe lost in space daydreaming like I always did. And you don’t have a clue what might come from it, but you don’t need to. Cause you have the sense that some seed might get planted in the soul of somebody there. Somebody will think, Gee, that would be really be fun to dance like that, or to sing or play and instrument.”

(Keese) Several students said they’d like to visit Russia and learn to speak the language.

For Vermont public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Newfane.

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