Lecture series celebrates Russian folklore



    The Russian people have a deep, rich heritage — a heritage that BYU is helping to preserve.

    Galina Sysoeva, a professor in the Voronezh Art Institute in Voronezh, Russia, gave a series of lectures last week on traditional Russian culture.

    “This sort of thing is a great benefit to students to learn about folklore from another country and people from another country because there’s only so much they can learn from a book or videos,” said Eric Eliason, BYU assistant professor of folklore.

    Sysoeva was invited by the English, German and Slavic Languages, History, and General Education and Honors Departments to give the lecture series. The series included lectures on traditional Russian folk costumes, traditional calendar rituals, genres of Russian musical folklore, the current state of Russian folk traditions and traditional Russian weddings.

    Sysoeva said she wants people to know about the rich history and traditional culture of Russia.

    Deirdre Paulsen, director of Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing Fellows, said her perceptions of Russia changed as she began learning about the country’s heritage.

    “I had always thought of Russia as being male dominated, but it’s a matriarchy. It’s the Babushkas (older women) who are the repository of traditional values and beliefs,” Paulsen said.

    Sysoeva also said giving the lecture series was a way for her to say thank you to BYU. BYU sponsored an expedition into Russia in 1995 in order to make a documentary on Russian folklore.

    The documentary, called “Russia: Hidden Memories,” won seven national awards in 1996 including the Catholic Gabriel award, given to media which uplifts humanity, and the Rocky Mountain Emmy.

    “Some political leaders in Russia are worried that Mormon missionaries in Russia are a threat to traditional Russian culture, but the fact is, Mormon institutions, particularly BYU, have been active in helping to preserve traditional Russian culture and expose that culture to a wider Mormon audience. This lecture series and the video ‘Russia: Hidden Memory’ is an example of that,” Eliason said.

    To make the documentary, BYU had to venture into remote Russian villages to film. To make arrangements for BYU to do this, Sysoeva had to rent a car because she did not own one herself.

    Paulsen said Sysoeva willingly sold her mother’s gold earrings so she could afford to rent the needed car. This sacrifice was especially significant because the earrings were the last of her mother’s possessions that Sysoeva owned.

    Sysoeva also brought a group of her students from Russia last summer to perform at the Springville Folklore Festival. Her students sang old traditional Russian songs.

    In order to learn these songs, Sysoeva said she and her students had to walk to villages to search out the few people remaining who remembered them.

    Sysoeva made a CD of her students singing these traditional songs. The CD’s title, “Volya,” means freedom in English.

    The CD and video, “Russia: Hidden Legends,” will be on sale in the BYU Bookstore soon.

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