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Ukrainians are known as a very musical nation. Singing songs is like meditation, the way to express your emotions and feelings (there were no phycologists in the past). Music accompanied all life events: from birth untill death.
Today let’s learn about 10 interesting musical instruments.
- Kalatalo (калата́ло)
It’s a wooden self-sounding musical instrument that consists of a wooden plate with a holder and one or several moving elements that make knocking sounds as it’s moved.
Originally this instrument was used during the Holy Week when it was forbidden to ring church bells. Mostly this tradition was present in Halychyna where it probably came from the western countries: Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France.
Here is how the kalatalo sounds.
- Drymba (дри́мба) (Jew’s harp, jaw harp, or vargan)
It’s an instrument, consisting of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame.
The frame is held firmly against the performer’s parted teeth or lips (depending on the type), using the jaw and mouth as a resonator, significantly increasing the instrument’s volume. The teeth must be parted sufficiently for the reed to vibrate freely.
This instrument is present in many countries worldwide: India, Cambodia, Nepal, some regions of Russia, Austria, and others.
Here is how the drymba sounds.
- Derkach (дерка́ч) (ratchet, rattle, or noisemaker)
It’s a musical instrument of the percussion family. It operates on the principle of the ratchet device, using a gearwheel and a stiff board mounted on a handle, which rotates freely.
The player holds the handle and swings the whole mechanism around. It makes the board click against the gearwheel, producing a clicking and rattling noise.
This instrument is present in many European countries and plays a significant role in Judaism.
Here is how the derkach sounds.
- Tsymbaly (цимба́ли)
It’s a stringed instrument made of a trapezoidal box with metal (steel or bronze) strings strung across it. The tsymbaly is played by striking two beaters against the strings.
The strings are strung in groups of 3-5, which are tuned in unison.
Persian santur (the prototype of tsymbaly) entered Europe in the Middle Ages during the Crusades.
Then, a hammered dulcimer became popular in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, quickly spread by Jewish and Romani (Gypsy) musicians. Next, it spread to Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Here is how Hutsul tsymbaly (гуцу́льські цимба́ли) sounds.
- Husli (гу́слі)
It’s the oldest East Slavic multi-string plucked instrument, belonging to the zither family, due to its strings being parallel to its resonance board.
It may connect to the Byzantine form of the Greek kythare, which derived from the ancient lyre.
These kinds of instruments are presented in Europe: kantele in Finland, kannel in Estonia, kanklės in Lithuania, kokles in Latvia, Zither in Germany, citera in the Czech Republic, psalterium in France, etc.
Here is how the husli sounds.
- Lira (лі́ра)
The lyre is a string instrument that dates back to 1400 BC in ancient Greece. The Ukrainian variant derives from the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument that can trace its history back to the 10th century.
The traditional lira has three strings, one on which the melody is played with the aid of a special keyboard, the other two producing a drone of a fifth. The sound is produced by a wooden wheel which is rotated by a crank held in the right hand. This wheel rubs against the strings, setting them into vibration like a bow on a violin.
Listen to this beautiful instrument here.
- Buhai (буга́й)
It’s classified as a friction drum. Buhai is the Ukrainian word for great bittern, and its use as the name of the instrument refers to the sound produced.
The instrument consists of a conical barrel (sometimes a wooden bucket). A sheep membrane is stretched with a hole in this skin’s centre at one end. A tuft of horsehair with a knot at one end is passed through this hole.
Usually, two performers are needed to operate the instrument, one to hold the instrument, the other to pull the horsehair with moistened fingers.
Famous Ukrainian singer and musician ONUKA uses this instrument in her performances. Check it out here.
- Ocarina (ока́рина, зозу́ля)
It’s a wind musical instrument. Variations exist, but a typical ocarina is an enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body.
Ukrainian zozulia is usually wooden, ceramic, or porcelain.
Ocarina-type instruments have been of particular importance in Chinese and Mesoamerican cultures. One of the oldest ocarinas found in Europe is from Runik, Kosovo.
The modern European ocarina was made near Bologna, Italy, in the 19th century.
In Ukraine, as a musical instrument, it is presented in Haluchyna and Bukovyna and as a kid’s toy all over Ukraine, especially in the Poltava region.
Listen to ocarina’s tender sound here.
- Sviril’ (свіри́ль, куви́ця, фле́йта Па́на), Pan flute
A pan flute (also known as panpipes or syrinx) is a musical instrument based on the principle of the closed tube, consisting of multiple pipes of gradually increasing length (and occasionally girth).
The pan flute is named after Pan, the Greek god of nature and shepherds were often depicted with such an instrument.
The pan flute’s tubes are stopped at one end, at which the standing wave is reflected, giving a note an octave lower than that produced by an open pipe of equal length.
The Ukrainian sviril’ is usually wooden.
Listen to this instrument here.
- Trembita (трембі́та)
Trembita is the longest musical instrument in the world. It’s made of solid wood and looks like a tube length of up to 4 meters. It was widespread in the Western part of Ukraine, particularly in the Carpathians, and used mainly by hutsuls. Shepherds used the trembita to communicate with each other.
Listen to the trembita here.
I hope now you are excited to listen to all these impressive instruments in person. So don’t hesitate to visit some of Ukrainian’s folk festivals.
What instrument did you find to be the most interesting?