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Passion and Vitality. Australians Take Russian Songs to Heart

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Passion and Vitality. Australians Take Russian Songs to Heart


Natalia Naumova

It was an unusual summer evening last Saturday at the Russian Community Centre in Brisbane. Two hundred people became not just spectators and guests but participants in a long-awaited concert by the male chorus DustyEsky. The chorus is made up primarily of native Australians but they perform Russian songs.

The male chorus DustyEsky—who are famous all across Australia, and have recently become quite well-known in Russia as welldoesn’t fit the classical image of an academic chorus: they dont wear formal costumes or ties, they dont stand in even formations or have strained expressions. Very much the opposite. Their total abandon and sense of humor are what differentiate the guys in the DustyEsky chorus from all others. They are true Australianswell-wishing and inviting open conversation. The participants are dressed in their most comfortable clothes, or what they like most, or justever what they happened to see in the closet first. They perform on stage, near the stage, and among the audience. They have sincere smiles on their faces because they feel good right here and now. One unexpected attribute of this choruss performances is that just about every other singer was holding a cold bottle of beeryou know, to keep their voices pure and in tune.

[Photo: Anastasia Verchak]

The evenings program opened with a performance by Gregori Scanlan and Ashleigh Denning, who sang with the accompaniment of Ben and Irene Drozdovskii. The audience heard such compositions as “Katyusha,” Silver Night, and From Russia with Love.

Next, the DustyEsky chorus took full control of the stage. They seemed to pick up the audience and carry them somewhere outside the centers walls. In the cheerful atmosphere reigning in the hall during those moments, we felt like intimate friends who understood each other well.

Ive had the idea of a male chorus for a long time, says the chorus director Andrew Swain. So when my friend, who organizes a musical festival in Mullumbimby, had the idea of bringing over a Russian chorus, the thought came into my head: why dont we organize such a chorus ourselves out of the local talent? We had three months until the festival began, and only seven people came to the first practice. By the third practice, we had twenty-two. Three months later, we called ourselves DustyEsky and knew three songs: The Volga Boatman, Through Valleys and Over Hills, and Monotonous Rings the Bell. But we really werent sure if people would listen to us at the festivalor whether they would like us or think we were crazy.

To the great joy of the chorus members and organizers, their performance was colossally successful and the audience was moved. Whats more, none of the performers wanted to give up their new occupation after the festival was over. And so, every Tuesday for four years now the DustyEsky guys have got together to sing Russian songs, get together and have a good time.

[Photo: Anastasia Verchak]

As Andrew and Mark Swivel explain, the chorus only puts certain Russian songs in its repertoire. They perform those that exhibit a sense of passion, vitality, strength, and couragethose that were sung by soldiers in the Red Army, as well as Russian folk song that arent known to a wide audience.

At many of our concerts, its easy to identify the Russians in the audience: the Russians sing along with us, say Andrew. People often come up to us after our shows and tell us that their parents used to sing our songs to them before bed.

The guys love singing these songs, Mark says. They are well-suited to be performed by men. Sometimes it even seems like the songs themselves are making us sing them.

The chorus has long dreamed of performing in Russia, ideally during the World Football Championship in 2018. However, in order to make such a grandiose plan a reality, DustyEsky needs adequate aid and support from interested sponsors. As the chorus members told me, the film crew for the SBS television channel has expressed an interest in accompanying the chorus during its upcoming trip across Russia to shoot a documentary.

It is truly a wonderful surprise that you Russians take pleasure in what we do. We hope that our prospective film and our trip across Russia will help people abroad come to love Russia instead of telling tall tales about it. We would also like to translate Waltzing Matilda into Russian in order to perform it for a Russian audience. In this way we can finally put our cultures onto more intimate terms, says Mark.

[Photo: Anastasia Verchak]

In Brisbane, the DustyEsky chorus had their first concert for a Russian-language audience. This was an audience who knew and loved the songs they were singing. It is no exaggeration to say that the concert was marvelous. The Australian male chorus DustyEsky managed to bring together not only an audience of all ages, but also two distant countries and two historical moments. The two sections of the concert program flew by before we could notice to the sounds of loud applause and shouts of bravo.

We dont think it would be an exaggeration to say this is one of the few landmark events to take place in our Russian-speaking community! affirm audience members Dmitrii and Nadezhda Pakhomova. We have met Australians who are learning Russian and can already speak it well and sing Russian songs. But at this concert we saw an ensemble with a well-rehearsed programa true collective that has put serious work into their repertoire. In every performance, including the acapella ones, we could hear that soulfulness belonging only to Russian songs and the Russian soul!

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