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From Seed to Fruit
Olha Dubovyk thoroughly enjoyed a performance given by the Zernyatko Children Song and Dance Ensemble at a concert staged to mark the Ensemble’s twentieth anniversary. Later she talked to Rayisa Zakletska, Zernyatko's director, and now she tells the readers what she learned.
Zernyatko translates from Ukrainian as “a little seed.” What is now a group of children and young dancers and singers that call themselves Zernyatko, began from “the seed” of a mother and her two daughters. The sown seed has brought forth excellent fruit.
The mother is Rayisa Zakletska and her daughters are Anya and Ivanna. Rayisa Zakletska is a former singer at the Hryhoriy Veryovka Academic National Choir, and now is director of the Vitrayny Hory Children’s Creativity Center. She was and continues to be a great enthusiast of Ukrainian folk music and song.
In May 1990 she, out of sheer romantic enthusiasm and love for things Ukrainian, brought together eight children, her two daughters included, to start training them in singing Ukrainian songs and dancing Ukrainian folk dances.
When the group achieved a good level of proficiency in signing and dancing, Mrs Zakletska agreed to let the children take part in a television show-competition called Debut. To her and the children’s great but very pleasant surprise, they came out the winners. As winners they were entitled to a Mediterranean cruise as a prize.
In 1990, there were many signs of the nearing collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the signs was the emptiness – in many cases literal — on the shelves of food stores. The most important and daily used things like soap, for example, were defitsit — in short supply. So the cruise came as a welcome uplift.
The cruise began in Odesa. The first port of call in the foreign lands was Istanbul. Then Athens, Marseilles and other cities on the Mediterranean coasts of France, Greece, Italy and Turkey. The children under the care of Mrs Zakletska were asked to perform for the passengers and they were an immediate and unqualified success. They were implored to keep giving their performances through the length of the cruise. In Marseilles, the mayor of the city organized a reception at the Town Hall for the singing and dancing children and it was then that the group invented a name for itself — Zernyatko. At the reception, they scored another spectacular success.
Mrs Zakletska continues to be taking care of the Zernyako Ensemble. Since that Mediterranean cruise, Zernyatko, with new and constantly changing members, of course, has toured with performances so many countries that, in the words of Mrs Zakletska, “it would be easier to say which countries we have not been to.”
The Zernyatko Ensemble now numbers about 500 members. Children who show dancing and singing talents, can be accepted to be trained at the age of three.
Says Mrs Zakletska: “One of the questions I am often asked is — What is the secret of your success? I don’t have a straight answer to that, but here is what I believe in and what I do. I believe in God, I believe in the spirit of Ukraine and of the primordial Ukrainianness. I do my absolute best not just to teach children not just to sing Ukrainian songs and dance Ukrainian dances but to imbue them with the very spirit of things Ukrainian. I want them to have Ukrainianness in their heart and mind. How do I manage to do it? Come, bring your children and see for yourself. Children who are raised on the values of Ukrainian culture will never become drug addicts or prostitutes. They become conscientious citizens of Ukraine with good knowledge of Ukrainian culture and of Ukrainian traditions that come from our ancestors. We accept all the children — but it is only the most gifted who are promoted to become members of our concert group.”
The age of the Zernyatko concert group range from five to twenty four. Since 2000, the Zernyatko Ensemble, in addition to staging regular performances, has been taking part in international projects such as Youth against Drugs, Human Problems Caused by Technology, Youth for Sports and Life, Equal Possibilities and others.
Zernyatko continues to appear at television shows to collect prizes and awards.
The Ensemble performs Ukrainian folk songs and dances meant and designed to be performed by children. Songs include those that can be described as Cossack songs, patriotic songs, seasonal songs and songs of many other kinds that come all over Ukraine. In search of songs and dances, ethnographic expeditions are organized to all parts of Ukraine. Some of the songs are written specifically for Zernyatko. The same with dances — some are authentic folk dances, some are choreographed to be in tune with the traditional dances.
Says Mrs Zakletska: “This year we celebrated out twentieth anniversary. We had prepared well for the celebrations. It was a meeting of several generations of people who once were members of Zernyatko and who are members now. The oldest are about thirty now… There is one song that is particularly liked by Zernyatko of all generations — “Oy ty nichenko, charivnychenko, ne smuty moye bile lychenko” (it is nigh impossible to translate it into English; it can be rendered approximately as — Hey you, tender night, beautiful night, do not upset me, do not put sadness on my white face). One of the former members of Zernyatko told me that Zernyatko had been for him an exciting world in which he had been encouraged to find his values and sense of life… I just love my work with Zernyatko children. When I happen to come to work in a sad mood, I am immediately cheered up once I see the excited bright eyes of the children. I stop thinking of everyday matters, of chores — I give myself fully to what I am doing in upholding the Spirit of Ukraine. If we keep it up, we’ll overcome all the difficulties.”
Zernyatko Ensemble has toured many countries.
A festive cake is presented to Ms Zakletska on Zernyatko’s 20th birthday.
Rayisa Zakletska, Director of Zernyatko ensemble,