The Psalmist Project
In the history of the Doukhobors, Psalm-Singing was a regular activity, as common place as working, eating or sleeping. It wasn’t an ‘art’; it wasn’t a ‘craft’ – nor was it simply a pastime. It was an integral part of their lives.
Though an oral culture and lacking formal education, one might not be able to spell their own name, each Doukhobor child learned many of the hundreds of psalms in the ‘Сборник’ or ‘Collection’ throughout their childhood. Known as The Living Book, these psalms, though practiced and handed down for generations, were not written down and collected until 1902. They were remembered; ‘Written on the heart’, and then sung (or chanted). From birth to death, every Doukhobor was attuned to this practice, for it was a birthright of generations of Doukhobors – a practice that endured over three and a half centuries.
These psalms were dedicated to specific occasions ranging from births to weddings to funerals. When sung with spiritual intensity, they produced what is known as Soul Communion among the participants; a meditative rhapsody which results in spiritual tranquillity – a connection to God – between the brethren – a feeling unlike any other.
In modern times, this practice has been less pronounced and relatively few Doukhobors still practice the art; a way of life that has been largely forgotten except by some. Due to forced assimilation in the 30′s and 40′s, the inevitable replacement of their devout Russian-Doukhobor-based principals for western ways and ideals, many of the psalms have been long-forgotten – or at least, not practiced in many a year. While a century ago it was common that the average Doukhobor could remember and recite a hundred or more psalms (and many elders claim they remember their own mothers and fathers remembering by heart, two hundred and up), today, the average number of psalms that are rehearsed and recited total about thirty, though estimates vary. But whatever the number, Psalm-Singing is no longer the practice that partially defined a Doukhobor, as it once was.
Ottawa Musicologist Kenneth Peacock, who recorded and documented some of the Doukhobor music in the mid 1960s for the National Museum of Canada stated in observation, “Should the Doukhobors ever cease to practice the singing of psalms, it will truly signify the end of Doukhoborism.”
The Doukhobor Discovery Centre’s mandate is not only the preservation of the Doukhobor Village located in Castlegar BC, but ‘to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the Doukhobor Peoples in British Columbia’. In this project, we continue to fulfill our responsibilities.
The Psalmist Project represents in digital form, a collection of just a few Psalms (and some Hymns) that are still practiced today by some Doukhobors – that they learned as their forefathers did; by hearing, listening, rehearsing, and participating. The audio in the collection was recorded with high quality digital equipment – apparent when listening. Along with their practice, the video contains interviews with historians and participants alike, and their views on the archaic art of Psalm-Singing.
If you are here to study Doukhobor psalm-singing from an academic perspective, there is a plethora of information, that just one text medium cannot fulfill. In addition to the actual audio segments of this project, you will find enlightening video interviews that will shed light on the subject in a more personal manner. Read well into the Origin Of Psalms page of this section (coming soon), where you will find additional reading materials for download, not found on public, or other websites.
We are proud that we have been able to preserve this digital record of some of the psalm-singing that is still being practiced by some today, and are pleased that through the CD, upcoming DVD, and this section of our website, we can share with the world, a cultural heritage that is sadly becoming less and less a way of every-day Doukhobor life.
The Doukhobor Discovery Centre is located across from the Airport in Castlegar and is open 10am – 5pm daily from May 1 to September 30.
Contact Us to arrange your tour, bus tours, corporate tours, or school tours today!