The Balalaika (балала́йка)

Balalaika WOmanAnother folk instrument of Russia, here’s a short post about a beautiful and well-loved instrument that might be heard at the Winter Olympics this year in Sochi.

A balalaika is a three-stringed instrument from Russia that is known and loved all over the world. Although it hails from Russia, you can hear it in many of the regions that made up the former Soviet Union (USSR) and it has also become popular in different countries around the world. If you listen to pop music, you will hear the balalaika mentioned in the Beatles song “Back in the USSR” as well as the Scorpions “Winds of Change”. You can hear Ian Anderson play balalaika on the Jethro Tull album Stand Up and Oleg Bernov plays a huge red electric contrabass balalaika with the popular Russian-American rock band, the Red Elvises.

So what is a balalaika? Well, it actually is a family of stringed instruments that are triangular in shape. They range from the smaller, mandolin-sized prima balalaika to the huge contrabass balalaika which is so large that it needs wooden legs to support it as it stands on the floor. Most often the prima balalaika is heard as the solo instrument and is generally strummed or played with the fingers. The larger balalaikas (listed below in order of size and tone) are generally played with a pick. The largest contrabass balalaika needs a pick so large it may be made from a large piece of leather or even a boot heel – wow!

Types of balalaikas (from smallest and highest in tone to largest and lowest in tone) are:
· Piccolo (rare)
· Prima
· Sekunda
· Alto
· Bass
· Contrabass

Would you like to hear a balalaika played with an orchestra? Check out this version of the popular Russian song – the Volga Boatmen. You will see the large contrabass balalaika right in the center of the orchestra behind the vocalist.

Want To See A Balalaika Dance?

I’ve just finished recording and creating a video animation for the song Tum Balalaika. It’s a Yiddish folksong and the title of the song talks about strumming the balalaika. You can see and hear the song here.

Want To See a Balalaika Orchestra?
In this group, you can see kids and adults in a balalaika orchestra performing a beautiful version of the Beatles song “Yesterday”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjdDq0IqBDc&feature=related

Color A Balalaika And More Fun Things To Do
You can also find a great balalaika coloring page below as well as links to other fun balalaika-related info! What a great way to share beautiful music and learn about the exciting cultures of the world!

Balalaika Coloring Page
http://www.dariamusic.com/images/Balalaika%20Coloring%20Page.pdf

The Wikipedia balalaika page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balalaika

Videos
Tum Balalaika – Daria’s Video

Multicultural Kids Music Vid’s
Shares many videos from all over the world

Yesterday (The Beatles) is played by Balalaika Orchestra

BALALAIKA VIRTUOSO DMITRY BELINSKIY, Moscow

Even Santa plays the balalaika

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Song Of The Volga Boatmen

This is one of those songs that everyone knows when they hear it, but almost no one knows it’s title.  Or that it’s a sea chantey.  Or the story behind it.  In fact, the song is so popular that it has popped up in cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny, movies such as Shrek, TV shows such as the Three Stooges and The Simpsons and in video games such as Mike Tyson’s Punch Out and Team Fortress 2.

In case you still can’t place the song, take a second and check out this rendition that appears on my world music for kids videosite, complete with a mammoth balalaika:

THE VOLGA BOATMEN
http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?p=165

So what is the song of the Volga Boatmen?  Let’s start with the basics.  The Volga River is the longest river in Europe and is located in northwestern Russia where it is navigated by workers on barges called burlaks. As you can imagine, the work is difficult and dangerous and the barge haulers often sing to pass the time and make the work seem lighter.  Most folks categorize this song as a sea chantey and a work song similar to songs like “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor?”.   One verse of this song was collected in a compilation of folksongs in Russia in the 1860’s.  Later, two more verses were composed to create the version that is heard now and the music is often used by bass singers as a way to showcase their beautiful deep, rich voices.

What does this song say?  Wikipedia offers this translation of the Russian into English:

Yo, heave ho!
Yo, heave ho!

Once more, once again, still once more

Yo, heave ho!
Yo, heave ho!

Once more, once again, still once more

Now we fell the stout birch tree,
Now we pull hard: one, two, three.

Ay-da, da, ay-da!
Ay-da, da, ay-da!

Now we pull hard: one, two, three.

As the barges float along,
To the sun we sing our song.

Ay-da, da, ay-da!
Ay-da, da, ay-da!

To the sun we sing our song.

Hey, hey, let’s heave a-long the way
to the sun we sing our song

Yo, heave ho!
Yo, heave ho!

Once more, once again, still once more

Volga, Volga our pride,
Mighty stream so deep and wide.

Ay-da, da, ay-da!
Ay-da, da, ay-da!

Volga, Volga you’re our pride.

Yo, heave ho!
Yo, heave ho!

Once more, once again, still once more

Yo, heave ho!
Yo, heave ho!

With the recent tragedy of the sinking of a ferry boat on the Volga river in July 2011, it’s easy to see how life in this area can be a combination of hard work, joy, pride and genuine tragedy.  All these emotions are heard in this iconic song which has traveled from the mighty Volga river to all parts of the world, offering a glimpse into the hard-working and resilient Russian soul.